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18.03. Disgraceful Airline

Abandoned by Air New Zealand
Written on Wednesday, 18 March, in Buenos Aires

I am in Buenos Aires and trying to get home to Lyttelton after Air NZ’s announcement that they will stop their Buenos Aires flights with immediate effect. The last flight with capacity increased by 30 seats will depart in about 2 hours, and I am not on this plane. 

Had my husband and friends back home in NZ not heard the news, I would still be unaware of the fact that I am stranded in Buenos Aires. My booking on the Air NZ website still says that my flight will go ahead on Sunday, 22 March, at 11.45pm local time (Monday in NZ; NZ is 16 hours ahead of Argentina). I have not received any notification from Air New Zealand, and no alert from the New Zealand government’s TravelSafe website has come through.

In an article of the NZ Herald, Air New Zealand chief operational integrity and standards officer Captain David Morgan is quoted as: "Our teams are working through options for customers impacted by the earlier than planned suspension and will be in touch in coming days." He also said: "This is a rapidly evolving situation and we thank customers for their patience and understanding at this challenging time."

I for my part have no understanding despite the challenging times because I find it indecent by Air New Zealand to leave their customers who are desperate, panicking and not patient, in a far-away country, with more and more international flights being suspended and cancelled, and Air NZ not feeling the need to at least inform these loyal customers. I have checked the status of my return flight every day, and I didn’t doubt that the confirmed status was correct, as I had just re-booked it a few days ago.

Quick thinking not quick enough

I was four days into a five-week trip to Argentina and Chile when I thought I better get back home. In the night from Saturday to Sunday (14 to 15 March) I changed my return flight from 16 April to 22 March, paying the difference on the ticket cost because I upgraded to Premium Economy. This cost me an extra NZ$ 1,286 on top of the original fare.

Several hours later Air NZ announced that they would suspend the Buenos Aires service on 30 March. I was relieved that I had booked a flight before that deadline and moved from an apartment to a hotel in order to get faster information on restrictions and new regulations, and get help if needed. 

(Later on Sunday night - 15 March - Argentina’s President announced in a press conference that was transmitted on TV, that Argentina would not let any foreigners into the country anymore, unless they had permanent residency, so only Argentinian citizens and residents would be allowed in. And many Argentinians BTW are in Asia right now and have booked their flight back home on Air NZ via Auckland, as I was told on Facebook.)

As I had come into Argentina from New Zealand, I did not have to go into the 14-day quarantine required for people coming from high-risk countries like China, Italy, Germany etc. My temperature was taken at the hotel. 

It was helpful to come from New Zealand

As I had travelled on my German passport, there was some irritation at first, so I asked my husband at home in NZ to email me a copy of my NZ Citizenship certificate and the accompanying letter with my NZ address on it. The receptionist was overjoyed to get this paperwork to be on the safe side – and me as well, just for the case I would be controlled on my walks through the city. 

Police have been checking hotels since Monday to make sure guests from high-risk countries go into self-isolation. According to media reports nearly 300 individuals didn’t comply and were going to be deported. (Now in hindsight I would have found immediate deportation to NZ a very pleasant thought!)

Do Air NZ seriously think we are sitting still and waiting patiently for being contacted “in coming days”, knowing that there will be fewer and fewer international flights?

I tried to call the Air NZ number in Buenos Aires several times and got a bilingual announcement to put me through shortly, and every time I was kicked out of the line.

The New Zealand Embassy was not on the case

I then called the NZ Embassy in Buenos Aires, thinking that they would work overtime in such challenging times, and not just from 10am to 1pm (Mon – Fri). But no, the emergency number given on their website went straight to a screeching fax machine.

After having rebooked my flight three days ago, I had contacted the Embassy by email, asking if Air NZ and the NZ government would make sure that all New Zealanders would get back home from Buenos Aires, and got the following information:

“You should receive the latest information through SafeTravel. New Zealand is not an affected region, so travel bans haven't been announced officially yet.

You should be able to travel to New Zealand with Air NZ, and you will be required to self isolate for 14 once you arrive. The guidelines for self isolation can be found in https://www.health.govt.nz/our-work/diseases-and-conditions/covid-19-novel-coronavirus/covid-19-novel-coronavirus-health-advice-general-public/covid-19-staying-home-self-isolation

Should the situation change in the following days, you will be updated though SafeTravel.”

SafeTravel "urges New Zealanders to consider returning home"

Yesterday, Tuesday (17 March), this information from SafeTravel came through:

“We urge New Zealanders currently travelling overseas to consider returning home while commercial options remain available. Take your personal circumstances into account. Countries around the world are imposing strict travel restrictions. This is leading to a reduction in passenger numbers and many air routes will not remain commercially viable for long. The options for New Zealanders to get home are reducing dramatically. We are therefore urging New Zealanders travelling overseas to consider returning home as soon as possible.”

That’s exactly what I have done several days earlier – but now Air NZ lets me and many others out in the cold, wondering when and how we will get back home to NZ. The self-isolation there would be a pleasure for all of us.

Lucky me, my husband booked an alternative flight for me, fully refundable, just for the case Air NZ makes alternative travel arrangements “in coming days”. But it’s also a waiting game. What if other airlines also decide to abandon their flights and customers – who mostly are foreigners and not citizens of the countries the airlines are based in?


Information:
I returned to New Zealand on Qatar Airways on Tuesday, 24 March. The ticket cost me NZ$ 11,000 (nearly 6,000 Euros) for Economy Class.

Update: 
I received an email from Air New Zealand on 22 March, telling me that the online check-in for my (no more existing) flight was open!

Update 27 March:
Trying to get a refund for my cancelled flight, the Air NZ website leads me to my booking and says: "Customer service staff are currently arranging the best alternative and will be in touch."


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