A Kiwi family stranded outside Dusseldorf are frustrated they are being refused access to Air NZ planes chartered by the German government to repatriate their own citizens stuck in New Zealand.
The Ewers family have been travelling around the world since 2017, and are stuck in a village just outside the German city of Dusseldorf, hoping to get home to Auckland.
• Premium - Covid 19 coronavirus: Air NZ repatriation flight heading to Germany this afternoon
• Covid 19 coronavirus: Repatriation flight gets Kiwis from Peru lockdown to London
• Covid 19 coronavirus: Kiwis in Peru to be assisted by Government charter flight
• Covid 19 coronavirus: 'It's a scandal', father of stranded German teen angry at NZ Govt
With very limited commercial flight options back to New Zealand amid Covid-19 international travel restrictions, the Ewers have been in regular contact with the NZ Embassy in Berlin, hoping to jump on a government chartered flight.
Over the weekend, the Ewers were pleading with the NZ Embassy to allow them to board the return leg of Air NZ flight 777-300 that flew German citizens from Auckland on Friday, April 3, to Frankfurt via Vancouver.
But they were not allowed on the plane, or any of the several other Air NZ scheduled flights from New Zealand to Germany in the coming days.
"We saw the articles [reporting the Air NZ flight] and thought this would be a fantastic way to get home, with our national carrier," Paula Ewers said.
The NZ Embassy told Ewers they could not get on the plane because of "crewing issues" for the airline.
Th embassy encouraged the Ewers family to continue to look at commercial flight options.
Ewers was baffled at this reply.
"It seems crazy to have all of these empty planes returning to NZ without trying to help repatriate citizens," Ewers said.
"Canadians in Germany, and possibly surrounding countries, could get back to Vancouver and Kiwis in Germany and Vancouver could get home.
"Surely returning on these charter flights is a whole lot safer for New Zealand residents and reduces risk of infection rather than flying through Doha or LAX and having to spend time in transit at these airports."
A Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFAT) spokesperson told the Herald they were open to taking advantage of other governments' repatriation flights into Europe to help Kiwis stranded where possible but this did not include the chartered government Air NZ flights to Germany.
"The German government has made requests under the repatriation framework approved by Cabinet, to charter flights to repatriate German nationals from New Zealand. Some of these flights have already departed and more are planned," the spokesperson said.
"Although it is increasingly difficult to return to New Zealand, the advice is to utilise commercial options where they remain available. There currently are commercial options from Europe, including Germany."
MFAT said Switzerland offered New Zealand seats on a Swiss International Air Lines flight, due to leave Zurich for Auckland on Sunday evening, and a number of Kiwis took up this option.
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Winston Peters, said on April 2 that the Government was looking to use the return legs of repatriation flights chartered by European governments.
"Given that Air New Zealand intends to fly charter flights from New Zealand to Europe for European governments, we will explore the extent to which New Zealanders can return in the planes on the way back," Mr Peters said.
Air NZ said on Friday the April 3 flight was the first of several 777-300s chartered by the German Government.
More would take off from Auckland and Christchurch in the following days.
Four pilots and 12 cabin crew would fly the first leg to Vancouver and a replacement crew would fly on to Frankfurt.
Air NZ said they have no say in allowing Kiwis onto the return leg of flights chartered by international governments: "Repatriation of New Zealand citizens is the responsibility of the New Zealand Government, not Air New Zealand. For New Zealanders to be able to be repatriated would require agreement from the charter client and the New Zealand Government."
On April 4, National leader Simon Bridges said the Government needs to ensure the international flights being chartered for stranded tourists are returning home with New Zealanders. "These chartered flights are a lifeline for the many tourists stuck in New Zealand with no way of getting home," Bridges said.
"It should be a no brainer that we fill up returning flights with Kiwis who are also stuck overseas and desperate to get home."