By Liu Chen of RNZ
New Zealanders stranded in Australia are increasingly frustrated as returning flights are snapped up moments after going on sale. Bookings opened at 10am today for flights from tomorrow on Air New Zealand's website, but they were all gone in 15 minutes.
Auckland man Cam went to Australia for a short work trip late June just before the travel bubble pause was announced.
Based just outside of Sydney, he has already had four different returning flights cancelled due to the changing situation.
He said it was chaotic when he tried to book this morning - no flights are available for the next few days.
"The site obviously kept loading or reloading every time. You would partially get through a booking and then you'd be bumped, so I'm assuming that was just people booking seats further along the process than I was," he said.
The Government said people with existing return bookings who had been waiting the longest would be prioritised. However, Cam said he had never heard about the so-called priority list and the lack of information was staggering.
"I haven't had any contact from anyone from anywhere. I've had to do a lot of the phone calls and I guess I'm not expecting to have my hand held, but information has been pretty light on the ground around booking or getting home and then leaving it up to Air New Zealand to get a slot in MIQ."
Although the bubble was traveller-beware, the Government could do better, Cam said.
"To cancel flights at the 11th hour and constantly change ... I'm fortunate that I have a place to stay and I have the means to support myself, but there are a lot of other people that don't seem to be in that situation and there doesn't seem to be a huge impetus around getting people home."
Air New Zealand said there were only 40-60 seats per flight available across the nine flights in the next 10 days, as they were linked to the limited spaces in MIQ.
It was encouraging people to keep checking back as more seats would be made available when more managed isolation allocations were provided.
Travel Agents' Association president Brent Thomas said the instant sale of return tickets from Sydney showed more MIQ spots and flights were needed.
"Health does come first. That's the most important thing at this stage, but it does show that we do need a clear plan for these kind of events, but also that we need a clear plan for when we get fully vaccinated so that we can travel freely," he said.
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said 1000 rooms were available over the next fortnight and after that, it would go down to around 500 for the transtasman contingency.
The extra rooms were achieved by pausing maintenance of some rooms and relaxing the group intake rules, he said.
"Bearing in mind that cohorting is only recent and we were very successful in containing Covid-19 without it, but it's an extra layer of protection that we would like to get back to as quickly as we can.
"We can do 1000 rooms over the next fortnight, it will then be something closer to 500 rooms for transtasman. Beyond that, for as long as we need to do that in order to provide people with the pathway home."
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Australian returnees are not going to compete with New Zealanders returning from other parts of the world for MIQ spaces.
The Government said anyone found to be trying to enter New Zealand by travelling from New South Wales via another Australian state will immediately be placed in a managed isolation facility at their own cost, and a fine may also be imposed.