Don’t call us.
That’s the plea from Air New Zealand, after cancelling dozens of flights to and from Rarotonga.
Twenty-two flights to and from Cook Islands were quietly wiped from the schedule without any wider public announcement.
And yesterday the airline referred media enquiries to the Immigration Division – which seemed bemused to be handed responsibility for flight scheduling.
The airline blamed Covid-19 for the cancellations, reducing customer demand for seats. The news comes just hours after struggling Virgin Australia announced it would be stopping flights to Rarotonga for good.
It also comes as New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announces strict new controls on people departing to the Pacific, including health checks and a 14-day stand-down in New Zealand first.
Air New Zealand’s Auckland-Rarotonga-Auckland flights on March 30 are the first ones cancelled. Twenty more flights scheduled for April have also been canned, with more cancellations expected in May and June.
And the airline said it would make further schedule announcements in response to Ardern’s new travel restrictions.
The airline is snowed with a “very high volume” of customer enquiries. It issued a public statement yesterday, asking customers to contact them only if their flight was departing within the next 72 hours.
They referred all enquiries about Covid-19 to the travel alerts section of their website. “We appreciate the patience and support of our customers at this difficult time.”
The cancellation of these flights is expected to hit the Cook Islands tourism industry which is grappling with the fallout of the coronavirus outbreak.
But Graeme West, Cook Islands Tourism’s general manager New Zealand and Australia, said there would still be “one or two Air New Zealand flights” on the days these flights have been cancelled.
“The cancellations are all on days when Air New Zealand had either two or three flights already operating, which means they are still operating one or two flights on all of those days.”
West was unable to provide specific numbers yesterday “as things are changing daily”. But he said he would be in a better position to provide further information on the impact the cancellation would have on the local industry, later this weekend.
“It is important that members of the public are informed of these kind of things as it helps keep perspective.”
Air New Zealand in a statement on Thursday said they had to make some changes to their international schedule due to the continuing impact of coronavirus on customer demand.
“As a result, we’ve customers impacted by these schedule or aircraft changes will be contacted directly by Air New Zealand in the coming days, via the contact information provided in their booking, or the travel agent they booked through,” the airline said.
“Continuing to get our customers to their destinations is our first priority and we thank customers for their understanding.”
Last night, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced:
· Every person entering New Zealand from anywhere in the world will be required to self-isolate for 14 days, excluding those from the Pacific;
· Health assessment including temperature check;
· Cruise ships are banned from New Zealand until at least June;
· Strict new health measures at the border for people departing to the Pacific;
· No travel to the Pacific for people who have travelled outside of New Zealand in the past 14 days;
· No travel for close or casual contacts of confirmed cases.