Stuck In Limbo In New Zealand
-2 backpackers stuck in New Zealand due to covid-19 restricted travel
-Multiple job offers withdrawn due to covid-19 impact on hospitality and farming
-Flights home cancelled and now stuck here with not enough funds to stay as money tied up with travel agent
I'm writing to you from Lake Tekapo New Zealand, one of the country's most visited tourist attractions, but right now it is a ghost town of unoccupied holiday homes and vacant gift shops. We have been here for the past week and have no idea how much longer we will be here. How we ended up by the lake is a series of Covid-19 forced events.
I am from Ireland, my girlfriend from Canada, and we have been in New Zealand for 6 months. We had worked in hospitality for the first 4 months in the country and then had been travelling around both islands, living out of our car for the last two months. We were just coming to the end of our travels and already had job offers from two hotels to start early April when things started to take a turn for the worst. In mid March we came back from a 4 day hike with no internet or phone service to messages from home that Covid-19 had hit, schools closed and "social distancing" first mentioned.
New Zealand hadn't really felt the impact of Covid-19 yet and as backpackers, we certainly didn't notice any difference to our day to day activities. Quickly this changed as we heard from one of our job offers:
"I am really sorry but after last nights announcement from the government...this puts us in a position of not being able to take on more staff."
This was the first time we had been directly impacted by Covid-19 but it would not be the last. We still had the other job offer so we were still content with staying in New Zealand as planned. It was not for another entire week of continuous communication with the other employer that they decided to let us know that they "would not be able to go ahead with the offer."
Now we really had to scramble as the industry we work in has all but closed at this stage. We were deciding between going home or finding work in a different industry. At the time, New Zealand only had about 8 cases and it seemed like they were putting in the right measures to keep it that way and our home countries' numbers were rising by the day, so we decided to stay and look for work in the fruit industry. We found work easily but just as quickly as we found it, work was taken away as the country moved towards a total lockdown.
We booked two nights in a hotel so we could have some time to access everything and decide the best thing to do. We arrived at the hotel for them to inform us that we could only stay for one night as they were closing down due to the lockdown. This is when we started to feel trapped as everything we had been doing on a day to day basis was now beginning to be outlawed. We called campsites, they were closed, we needed to drive to get to a place we could stay but only essential workers were entitled to be on the road.
It was decided for us, we were going home, we had no other option really. We had no jobs, no accommodation and no reason to stay on lockdown here when we could be doing it at home with our loved ones. So we started looking at flights, last minute flights are always more expensive than usual but at a time like this they were unbelievable. Flights within the next few days to Dublin averaged 7,000 NZD and Toronto 5,000 NZD. We managed to get a flight to Dublin for 3,000 NZD and one to Toronto for 2,000 NZD, but we had to wait a week for them.
So this brings us to Tekapo, a company that owns holiday homes opened its doors to people in our situation. People who had no where to go during this lockdown period. We were very fortunate to be able to afford the place for the week after spending most of our money on flights. As each day went by, things changed rapidly, rules changed rapidly. One of which severely impacted our plans. No domestic flights for non-citizens. Our flights included a domestic flight. So we thought about maybe driving to Auckland airport but we are not allowed drive that far from your lockdown location and even if we could drive, Auckland is a ferry ride away and only essential workers can take the ferry. So then we looked at flights that flew directly out of Christchurch, there are none, the government is only allowing international flights out of Auckland.
So we are stuck here. Now we need the flight money to afford to be stuck here. Luckily enough my girlfriend's flights were directly with Air New Zealand so she was able to get her money back within a few days. I, on the other hand, booked through an online travel agent. I have had a lot of trouble with them trying to get my money back. In fact, the original flights I booked already had a cancelled flight in the booking (the booking had 4 flights in total). So I got a notification stating that one of the flights was cancelled instructing me to call them to reschedule (after looking into it, the flight was already cancelled before I had booked). After being on hold for 4 hours, I was spoken to for 1 minute, then told I would be called back in a half hour. After 4 hours, I call back and was on hold for a further 3 hours, I got through and was informed that they could not reschedule my flight and I was directed to the website where I can request a refund. There were two option for a refund:
For my 2,800 NZD flight they are offering me 18 dollars
or pay them an additional 37 dollars to wait 6 months for a
refund for a flight that they let me book knowing that it
was already cancelled.
I have spent days talking to all airlines involved attempting to get my money back.
It only really involved 2 airlines, Aer Lingus, who can't work with me as the flights were booked through a third party and Air New Zealand who can offer me a credit of 1900 NZD for one flight and 200 NZD for another flight. The two can't be combined and can only be used under my name, in the next 12 months, only used on a flight that has to cost 1900 or more (or 200 or more). The air fare must be 1900+, I cannot get a flight that is less than 1900 and just lose the difference, it has to be more. The flight prices at moment are 1700 or 3000 and I can't up the price of a flight by adding bags or picking seats so I would have to go for the 3000 flight.
Another term and condition of the travel agent is that if I work with the airlines to get anything directly from them I forfeit my rights to get any refund from the travel agent. I have gotten the price of the tickets from each airline and they add up to 400 dollars less than what I paid to the travel agent, their service change, so that money is gone either way. I can't get anything from Aer Lingus, I could only use the 1900 credit from Air New Zealand as I wouldn't have any use for the 200 credit as I'm just booking one flight home.
There are no good options for me, I am going to pay the agent more money for their "assisted refund" option because if I go through them I should get cash back and not just a credit. From my conversations with Air New Zealand, the ticket is refundable to the agent and they say they will give me "the maximum refund" they can get from the airlines. So I'm taking that chance.
I have well and truly been scammed and am now out of pocket money that I need to survive the lockdown. I just want to share my story so that people make sure to stay vigilant at times like these.
Luke Davis & Megan Wickens