An Auckland father of four has been stuck in a Brazilian airport with just $14 to his name after Qatar Airways prevented him from boarding the second of his four flights home.
Kepa Harris said he paid $3100 three weeks ago for flights from Montevideo, Uruguay to Auckland via São Paulo in Brazil, Doha in Qatar and Sydney, Australia. When he went to collect his boarding pass in São Paulo, however, airline staff told him he couldn’t fly.
“They refused to give it to me because I wasn’t on a list of 50 people that had been accepted into Australia. There was nothing the airline could do. They told me to get in touch with my consultant or the [New Zealand] Embassy, and I’ve been kind of going around in circles since yesterday 5pm.”
Phoning the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s (Mfat’s) emergency assistance number, Harris said he was told there was nothing they could do to help him financially while he remained stuck in Sao Paulo Airport.
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“They told me there’s nothing they could do to get me home any earlier, so it forced me to ring the New Zealand Embassy in Brazil, and they are my only hope at the moment.”
Harris, who works as a supervisor in steel fixing for a company in Manukau, said he had about $200 on him when he arrived at São Paulo Airport but, with no food or water on him, the money quickly dwindled.
“This morning I was down to $30, which is what forced me to ring the New Zealand Embassy for help in Brazil. Currently, I have $14 to my name.”
Unable to access his checked-in luggage, he has just two sets of clothes on him – “both worn for four days and unwashed”.
With his next flight out of São Paulo set to leave on August 10, Harris said he is finding it “mentally hard.
“I had a few cries through the airport. It’s been stressful. Very, very stressful. For me, it’s very important to get home because I have four daughters in New Zealand. I have a job that’s been waiting for me to get back for a long time.”
Updating Stuff on his situation this afternoon, Harris said the Embassy in Brazil had contacted Mfat about helping him out financially while he is stuck in São Paulo.
“They grant me $433 for two nights in a hotel here and $30 a day to eat and $100 for me to buy a change of clothes. In two more days, I have to fill out another form for funding.”
Harris’ predicament comes at a time when many Kiwis are struggling to get home due to cancellations, few and expensive flights and a freeze on new international bookings. Yesterday it was revealed that the Government had asked Air New Zealand and Singapore Airlines to manage international bookings to New Zealand over the next three weeks to ensure quarantine facilities are not overwhelmed.
Megan Woods, the minister responsible for managed isolation and quarantine of returning New Zealanders, said that anyone who had already bought a ticket to fly back to New Zealand in the next three weeks would still be able to fly.
“However, Kiwis who did not already have tickets would not be able to book flights in the next three weeks,” Woods said.
While Harris’ stranding is unlikely to be a result of the booking freeze given he was flying to Doha, he wants the New Zealand public to know that Kiwis are still struggling to get home.
“I was really just reaching out to let people know that the things Megan Woods was saying about people having no problem coming home are not correct… She said if you have a ticket home, don’t worry but that’s not the case because I’ve been stuck in an airport for days and it is a worry. A big, big worry.”
An Air New Zealand spokesperson said Harris’ flight from Sydney to Auckland on Thursday had not been cancelled.
“We have also not cancelled any flights between Sydney and Auckland in recent days.”
The booking freeze “hasn’t resulted in the cancellation of any flights, we have simply put a hold on new bookings for three weeks,” she said.
Harris’ first flight from Montevideo to São Paulo was booked with Bolivian airline Linea Aerea Amaszonas. The remainder of the journey was booked with Qatar, including the final Air New Zealand-operated leg to Auckland.
Qatar Airways, Mfat and the New Zealand Embassy in Brazil have been approached for comment.