Passengers flying from Wellington to Napier today have faced delays of nearly three hours after a plane was struck by lightning.

A passenger of Air New Zealand flight NZ 8894 told the Herald the flight returned to Wellington Airport after being struck by lightning after it took off at 3.20pm today.

"The weather has obviously been pretty rubbish today, windy and rainy, and we had just departed - we were probably five or so minutes into the flight," he said.

"There was a big flash outside and the plane definitely shook a little bit, then after that there was quite a lot of turbulence."

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The passenger, who wished to remain unnamed, said he wasn't sure what it was at first until the captain announced it over the intercom.

"About 20 minutes later the captain said that the plane had been struck by lightning but he hadn't noticed anything wrong so we were carrying on with the flight.

"We then got about 10-15 minutes away from Napier and the captain instructed us that the operations team had recommended that we return to Wellington so we did a full U-turn and flew all the way back to Wellington."

The passenger said despite the turbulence, people remained pretty calm.

"Nobody appeared anxious or anything like that and the crew were very helpful, but you could definitely tell that something out of the ordinary had happened."

Speaking from Wellington Airport almost three hours later, the passenger said the next flight had been delayed until 7.30pm.

"It is unfortunate definitely, but I think at the end of the day they didn't have the engineering department at the Napier Airport so I guess they put safety first.

"It was a bit of a nuisance but they are doing the best that they can. I will give them credit when credit is due."

An Air New Zealand spokesperson said an engineer had inspected the aircraft and it is now back in service.

"Customers were accommodated on an alternative flight," they said.