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‘The only way’: Australians stranded in New Zealand charter private jets to get home | New Zealand | The Guardian

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Australians desperate to get home from New Zealand are going to extreme lengths to do so, forking out tens of thousands of dollars to charter private jets.

New Zealand suspended quarantine-free travel from Australia in July, after New South Wales and other states struggled to contain their Delta outbreaks. The government has indicated that the trans-Tasman bubble is unlikely to reopen anytime soon.

The Australian government then suspended all quarantine-free flights from New Zealand on 18 August, amid the Delta outbreak in Auckland.

The pause has left Australians and New Zealanders stranded on either side of the ditch, and with “red flights” booking out in minutes, some people have been chartering private jets at great expense.

Sharon Russell was on what was meant to be a two-week trip to Queenstown, which turned into eight weeks when the Australian government suddenly closed off travel from New Zealand, Stuff reported.

After six flights were cancelled and she and her husband missed out on both of Air New Zealand’s red flights, she pulled together a group and booked a private jet from Auckland to Sydney on Monday.

“I just said to my husband, ‘we need to go, we need to get out of here’,” she told Stuff.

“It is the only way home.”

Russell had about 50 messages from people who were interested in chartering a flight, after posting to social media, but many pulled out when it came to fronting up with the money. A 14-seater plane would have set the group back $85,000 NZD.

In the end she downsized to an eight-seater plane at a total cost of $40,000, through Australian private jet company Airly.

Airly’s chief executive officer Luke Hampshire said there had been an “abnormally high” increase in inquiries for charter services, since the bubble was paused. While it is great the service is available to take people home, the situation was “incredibly unfair”, Hampshire said.

He said while many people have inquired about the service, most cannot afford to follow through.

“Unfortunately, with private, there is no cheap way to do it. But we get everything lined up for them, so when they do touch down, their quarantine is taken care of, ” Hampshire said.

The company has provided one flight out of New Zealand and has two more scheduled.

To manage quarantine capacity, Australia has a cap on the number of people who can fly in, with commercial airlines allocated quotas. However, smaller planes such as private jets are not subject to these quotas, even though passengers still have to be quarantined.

Another traveller, who spoke to RNZ, Tim Knowlman, said he, his husband and baby chartered a flight after their planned move to Australia was thwarted by the lockdown.

The family were due to leave New Zealand two days after the lockdown was announced, and had already shipped their belongings to Brisbane. They were stranded without work, a home or flights.

“The (charter) company made it very, very straightforward. They said they would organise all of our MIQ bookings in Australia when we arrived and we actually found the process with the charter company incredibly easy.

“Once we decided that we would do it, we swallowed our pride and paid the huge amount of money.”

“The whole process with cancelled flights, cancelled tests, and chartering a plane. I’d say that the total will probably be close to $40,000 NZ.”

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