Cook Islands tourists stranded as backlog of flights continues

Photo: Air New Zealand

A backlog of flights is likely to remain for at least another week in Rarotonga, as the Auckland floods disrupt travel plans for thousands of visitors, with some people having to rebook for the end of the week.

Cook Islands Tourism Corporation chief executive Karla Eggelton confirmed there was a backlog of flights and they understood they would be addressed hopefully by the weekend.

“We are watching the weather updates over the next 24-48 hours for greater Auckland and will stay in touch with airlines to understand any further disruptions if any,” Eggelton said.

“Our advice to travellers is to stay abreast of developments and be sure to have travel insurance – this will assist in peace of mind.”

Cook Islands Tourism Industry Council President Liana Scott, of Muri Beach Club Hotel, said it had been a “mixed bag” at present.

“We’ve had some who have had to rebook, others who have had to extend, and others who are trying to get back,” Scott said.

“We have been pretty flexible with our customers during this disruptive time.”

Scott said she knew of a couple of tourists who tried to book a flight back to Auckland from Rarotonga, but had to wait until 07 February.

“It’s obviously frustrating for them, as they have to go to the airport every day to see whether there are any available flights,” she said.

“We can only do what we can from our end.”

New Zealander Holly Kendrick, who was due to fly back on 27 January, told Cook Islands News she and her family had been staying at The Rarotongan.

“The team at The Rarotongan have been incredible,” Kendrick said.

“So very accommodating and going over and above to make sure our stay is as positive as possible.”

However, Kendrick said “Air New Zealand in New Zealand were horrendous to deal with”.

“We were informed we would be rebooked within 48 hours only to find out that didn’t happen. The Rarotonga Air New Zealand office was wonderful via email and were able to rebook our flights for us. We now depart on 05 February,” she said.

“There are many families here who are here until late next week.

“We are so lucky to be looked after by an exceptional team of people who are working so hard to ensure people can enjoy their extended holiday.”

Kendrick said they were very lucky to have travel insurance which will help when they returned home.

“In the meantime, however, we are required to pay thousands of dollars so we can stay on for the additional nine nights,” she said.

“We have a daughter who is unwell who we were very keen to get home so attempted to get a standby flight yesterday (Sunday), however after three hours at the airport we returned to the resort.

“We have jobs to get back to in New Zealand and three children who are due back at school. It’s an exceptionally stressful time. The silver lining is the amazing team here looking after us.”

New Zealand-based Cook Islands businessman Mike Pero was also among “the disrupted”.

“I was due to go back to New Zealand on Friday, but I’ve managed to get a flight out for Wednesday (Cook Islands time),” he told Cook Islands News.

“I do sympathise with the Air New Zealand staff, it must be very disruptive for them.”

Pero advised people “stuck” in the Cook Islands to enjoy the experience, and “don’t sweat over the things you can’t change”.

“Use your time creatively. I’ve been able to get some of my business done through Zoom.”

The Edgewater Resort chief executive Andrew Whittaker said the situation had been a “catch-22”.

“We’ve got people who can’t get in to Rarotonga at the moment, and we’ve got people who can’t leave,” Whittaker said.

“So, it’s affecting people from both directions.”

Whittaker said Air New Zealand had been providing the hotel with regular updates about the situation with flights.

Pacific Resort Hotel Group chief executive Marcus Niszow said: “All our resorts have seen a number of inbound and outbound visitors impacted by Auckland Airport disruptions, about a dozen bookings in total.”

“Most of the affected outbound guests are in good spirits and making the most of their extended stay. Inbound guests are understandably disappointed with delays and working with their airlines and our reservations team to rebook their travel,” Niszow said. An Air New Zealand spokesperson could not give numbers of those affected in the Cook Islands, but said “our teams are focused on rebooking the 9000 customers we need to rebook.