Plane ban leaves travelers stranded

The Government's new restrictions on incoming flights is leaving Samoans stranded and with travel plans in disarray, with some being told it will take nearly two weeks to book new flights. 

A Government health advisory, issued on Wednesday evening, stipulated that only the Airbus A-320 or Boeing 737-800 are aircraft permitted to fly to and from Samoa.

Further, only five flights are permitted for both Samoa Airways and Air New Zealand per week between Samoa and New Zealand.

Air New Zealand is presumed to have lost roughly 500 seats a week plus freight capacity because of the changes, while Samoa Airways has lost zero seats.

Several Samoans stuck in New Zealand because of flights cancelled are being told that the earliest flight on which they can arrive back home is now two weeks away. 

One affected passenger, Jasmin Ziedan, was meant to fly out of Samoa next Monday evening but was notified of her flight cancellation on Friday.

Ms. Ziedan says a promised follow-up email from Air New Zealand was never sent; the airline's office has said they are unable to do anything. 

She said the airline told her the earliest possible date for her to be rebooked on a flight out of Samoa would be March 21.

Two recent requests for comment from Air New Zealand about what assistance they are offering stranded passengers have been unanswered. 

On Friday the airline said they are working through the changes and what they mean for Air New Zealand services between Auckland and Apia.

The airline did update their online notice for the Auckland-Apia route saying: "Air New Zealand is currently working through schedule adjustments and will directly contact customers affected by these changes."

On Saturday, the Government updated their travel advisory stating that “both carriers (Air New Zealand and Samoa Airways, [should not] exceed 830 passengers per week.”

"Customers [who] booked via a travel agent (including online travel agents) will be contacted by their booking agent," the notice reads. 

Since Monday, March 2 to Monday, March 9, Air New Zealand has cancelled four flights in and out of Samoa each.

Ziedan is one of many frustrated travellers who have been forced to look at other airlines, requiring additional costs.

On Friday, the Samoa Observer reported that out of the last six Air New Zealand flights from Auckland to Apia, the 787-900 was used three times; the plane has a capacity of approximately 300 seats.

The banning of larger planes from entering New Zealand has been criticised by former Polynesian Airline General Manager and businessman, Papalii Grant Percival, who said that the Government should be making sure that tourism – already reeling from measles and coronavirus – stays afloat.

"If the Government restricts the number of seats coming in, people can't come in. It will kill tourism, [and] it will make sure that it is on the ground," he said.

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