26 Jan 2016

Air NZ's Vanuatu move hits student in pocket

7:18 pm on 26 January 2016

A student has been left with an $800 bill after Air New Zealand cancelled her flight to New Zealand from Vanuatu.

Air strip at Bauerfield Airport in Port Vila

Passers-by wait at Bauerfield Airport in Port Vila, Vanuatu. Photo: RNZI / Johnny Blades

The airline has suspended flights in and out of Vanuatu's capital, Port Vila, because of concerns about the safety of the airport's runway.

Medical student Ashley Insley speaks to Checkpoint with John Campbell from Vanuatu. Her flights was among those suspended by Air New Zealand due to concerns about Port Vila's runway.

Ashley Insley Photo: RNZ / Checkpoint

Medical student Ashley Insley, who was there on work placement, told Checkpoint with John Campbell she booked tickets through Air New Zealand, but was due to depart on an Air Vanuatu plane because the airlines have a codeshare agreement.

But Ms Insley said Air New Zealand unexpectedly cancelled the flights.

"They gave me no warning, and then said to me 'you need to rebook your flight, which is now $1000' and I originally paid about $250 for it," she said.

"It's left me out of pocket. I have to come up with $800 in order to get home, which I don't have."

Air New Zealand declined to be interviewed but the company's chief executive, Christopher Luxon, confirmed codeshare tickets bought through the company had also been suspended.

Those customers would receive a full refund and could work with the company's customer service team to be rebooked, he said.

Ms Insley said she had been given a refund for her original flight and had rebooked with Air Vanuatu after family and friends helped pay the difference between the two flights.

Seasonal workers stuck in Vanuatu

Meanwhile, Horticulture New Zealand national labour co-ordinator Jerf van Beek said more than 500 seasonal workers were stuck in Vanuatu and could miss out on crucial work in New Zealand.

Seasonal workers booked to fly to New Zealand with Air New Zealand in the next few weeks to pick fruit were grounded until a solution to the runway problem was found,

The situation was urgent as growers needed pickers, and workers needed work, Mr van Beek said.

"These workers come here for seven months but predominately the harvest season is the most important," he said.

"In Hawke's Bay, there's about 480 [workers] still to come. There are already quite a number here - close to 3000 will be here working - and we've got a very big crop. It's going to be a record once again, which is good for New Zealand economy, it's good for Hawke's Bay economy."

Solomon Airlines, Virgin, Air Vanuatu and Fiji Airways have said they will continue international flights in and out of Port Vila as normal.

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