Prime Minister Henry Puna has ordered tourism officials to investigate the cancellation of a Jetstar flight that left 60 passengers stranded.
It comes as more tourists come forward to speak of their fury at being abandoned by the airline late at night, with no accommodation and no information and no Jetstar staff to help.
One of them approached the Prime Minister, bleary-eyed she said, after two days stranded in Rarotonga without sleep. She saw him dining across the road from the airport at The Islander Hotel.
Jetstar customer Kim King took her distress with the airline to social media, in an open letter to Puna.
“Prime Minister of Rarotonga, I was the lady who approached you at your table,” she said. “I love your country, and I was trying to tell you how much this will affect it,” King wrote.
She told how she and her family slept on the airport benches.
“We had no idea what was happening since the cancellation announcement, and we had no food, water or blankets – the airport has no walls on two sides and there were kids asleep on the floor,” she wrote.
Another stranded passenger on the same flights, 57-year-old New Zealander Brenton Barker, has already spoken out in New Zealand media about his frustration with Jetstar’s lack of communications, closing down their office and leaving passengers with no information.
Barker and other passengers are calling for the Cooks government to take action against the Australian budget airline.
King said she wanted to warn Puna of the impact it would have on the country’s reputation, and had asked him to take action. She felt he had palmed her off by telling her he would make some calls.
Jetstar has blamed the unscheduled weekend cancellation on crew sickness, and is expected to explain that to Cook Islands Tourism.
“Our goal is always to get our customers to their destination safely and on-time and we sincerely apologise for the recent cancellation and any issues around accommodation availability at short notice during the busy holiday period,” a Jetstar spokesperson said.
“Unfortunately the crew member became unwell after arrival in Rarotonga which meant we had to cancel the return service from Rarotonga to Auckland.”
Yesterday, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Ben Ponia said Puna had instructed Cook Islands Tourism to look into the Jetstar stranding incident.
“On behalf of the people of the Cook Islands the Office of the Prime Minister would like to express sympathy to any passenger affected by recent airline cancellations,” Ponia said.
“It is the sincere wish of every Cook Islander that the visitors to our islands have a satisfying experience.”
He added: “Government, for its part, will continue to strive for improvements where possible, noting that within the region the Cook Islands already enjoys a remarkably high (98 per cent) level of visitor satisfaction.”