Kiwis stranded in Peru are being asked to pay over $5000 to get home - more than double the fares quoted to Australian citizens by their Government.
On Monday, Foreign Minister Winston Peters announced a "mercy flight" had been arranged for the 83 New Zealand citizens trapped in the South American country since it went into lockdown to contain the spread of Covid-19 on March 16 with little notice.
With the borders closed, no commercial flights, no transit options available and a domestic situation becoming increasingly restricted, Kiwis there have been pleading for the Government support to get home.
For those stranded, the news a flight had been arranged was initially met with joy, especially because Peters said the flight would cost the same as a normal commercial flight from Peru.
A one-way ticket from Peru to Auckland with two stops would cost $1677.52 according to Flight Centre on May 1. Meanwhile, a one-stop flight would cost $2927.22.
But stranded Kiwis have been told the government-arranged flight will cost $5330 from Lima, and an extra $500 for those needing a connection from Cusco, and many say it is simply unaffordable.
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Meanwhile, the Australian Government has announced a flight to bring its citizens and residents home on April 8 will cost them A$2550, about NZ$2615.
"It is ridiculous," a young Kiwi traveller told the Herald from his hotel in Lima.
"It is nowhere near the price of a commercial flight, as had been announced, and it is more than twice the price Australians are paying."
Like many Kiwis trapped in Peru, he had little warning before the country closed its borders on March 16, with no way of making it to an international airport in time.
He was near the end of a three-month trip before the lockdown, funded by his "small amount" of savings, with plans to live and work overseas.
But with the only option now to return to New Zealand with no job, forking out $5330 was simply unaffordable, he said.
Johanna Thomas said while she was grateful to be offered the flight and mindful of the costs of chartering a plane, for many - who had already chewed up their savings seeking other flights and paying for accommodation - this was way out of reach.
"It is exorbitant, especially given that the flight is being offered three to four weeks after the border was initially closed and people will be running out of money."
Thomas said although she was a tourist she was in Peru with her Peruvian partner visiting his parents, and had decided to stay on until commercial flights resumed.
"My preference is of course to go home, but I simply cannot afford at this point after already incurring such high costs for flights in an attempt to get home before the border closure.
"I am grateful to have a safe place to stay here, and really feel for my fellow Kiwis who don't have this option available to them and are having to make an impossible choice right now."
The New Zealand Government was working with tour operators Viva Expeditions and partner Chimu Adventures to bring New Zealanders and family members home from Peru via flights departing Cusco and Lima.
In an email sent to New Zealanders registered with SafeTravel, it said the price reflects the "high operational costs of charter flights in the current environment".
"They are in line with the prices for recent charter flights."
Kiwis were recently quoted a similar price for a charter flight via Australia, although they were bumped off the flight days before departure due to a mix-up over Australian border restrictions.
Anybody who wished to join the flight but was unable to pay the costs upfront was asked to still register their interest but also contact the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Mfat) to discuss finance options.
But registering for a flight needed credit card details and was non-refundable, with situations decided on a "case-by-case basis".
Peters told RNZ this morning that 68 people had already registered interest in the flight.
As with other repatriation flights, Kiwis who could not afford the fare up front could arrange an "I owe you" with the Government, he said.
The cost was "comparable" to other repatriation flights the Government had organised around the world, and was underwritten by the taxpayer, he said.
In February, 98 New Zealanders stranded in the Chinese city of Wuhan were able to return to Auckland on an Air New Zealand-chartered flight for $500 per person.
The flight from Peru is expected to depart Lima in the coming days, transiting through Santiago, Chile, before continuing to Auckland.
One flight will depart from Cusco to Lima in time to allow passengers to connect to the flight to Auckland.
A Mfat spokeswoman said the cost of the flight was based on the number of passengers versus capacity, the cost to passengers on comparable recent charter flights from South America - including Uruguay - and the overall high cost of chartering the aircraft.
"It's a matter for the Australian Government to decide the proportion of cost that they absorb," she said.
New Zealanders unable to pay the cost upfront should still register their interest for the flights and payment arrangements would be worked through "case by case", she said.
"No New Zealander will be prevented from getting on this flight because they don't have the means to pay for it at this time," she said.
New transit arrangements
Meanwhile, Peters on Tuesday announced New Zealand transit arrangements with a range of countries to make it easier for each other's citizens to get home.
As part of Covid-19 restrictions New Zealand airports were closed to transiting passengers on March 25, with the exception of Australian citizens. New Zealanders trapped overseas also faced similar challenges getting home.
Cabinet decided on Monday to seek reciprocal transit arrangements with other countries opening up the potential for transits by foreign nationals, in a "carefully-managed way", Peters said.
"There are millions of people around the world stranded by Covid-19 and we are continuing to do our part to help them get home," Peters said.
New Zealand had received an increasing number of requests from foreign governments to allow the transit through Auckland of their nationals, including those currently in Pacific Island countries, so that they can connect with commercial or evacuation flights to their home countries, Peters said.
"We will be adopting a strict criteria in determining who can transit New Zealand, which protect public health and meet New Zealand's Covid-19 level four requirements."
Criteria for passengers transiting through New Zealand:
• They must remain airside
• Cannot enter New Zealand
• Must have a maximum 10-hour window to leave on their onward flight
• Must have no Covid-19 symptoms nor contact with a suspected or confirmed case and not be awaiting test results
• Must have confirmation from the airline that they will be permitted to board for their entire journey – as well as confirmation prior to boarding that their destination country will permit arrival