A distressed Jetstar passenger who was stranded at Rarotonga Airport without food and water decided to confront the Cook Islands Prime Minister demanding answers.

Kiwi passenger Kimberly King and her friends and family were due to board Jetstar flight JQ129 home to New Zealand on Saturday at 1.30am, but just minutes before boarding the flight was cancelled, leaving more than 60 passengers stranded.

But instead of being put up in accommodation, King's family, as well as many others, were abandoned by Jetstar and were forced to sleep on the airport floor without food, water, or any explanation as to what was going to happen.

She explained there were a number of children and elderly people who were thirsty and hungry.

Advertisement

According to King, Jetstar employees had barricaded themselves in their office and locked the doors after passengers continued to seek answers surrounding accommodation, basic essentials, and questions surrounding a new flight.

She also claims a Jetstar employee told passengers to find their own accommodation and that their Rarotongan office was closed on a Saturday.

King claimed passengers were instead forced to purchase phone data to call Jetstar's head office in an attempt to find a solution.

Bleary-eyed and sleepless, a distressed King then spotted the Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna dining across the road from the airport at The Islander Hotel.

The woman's family were abandoned by Jetstar and were forced to sleep on the airport floor for more than two days without food and water. Photo / Supplied
The woman's family were abandoned by Jetstar and were forced to sleep on the airport floor for more than two days without food and water. Photo / Supplied

Sensing an opportunity, King ran up to Puna and interrupted his meeting with an Australian businessman to demand answers in the hope of invoking movement at the airport.

"I know I shouldn't interrupt people's important meetings but I couldn't not say anything," she told the Herald in an exclusive interview.

"I went up to the Prime Minister's table and said: 'Excuse me, I heard you guys are really important people on the island. My name is Kimberly and I've just been stranded by Jetstar. I wanted to let you know it was really bad at the airport. We've got elderly lying on the floor, everyone is exhausted and we have no food and water.'

"He [The Prime Minister] got angry with me and jumped on his phone. I told him: 'You know this is giving Rarotonga a really bad look? People are going to go on social media and write bad things about your country. It's going to ruin the name. I don't want that to happen as it's a beautiful country.'

Advertisement

"He turned to me and said: 'What are you going to write about Rarotonga?'. I was shocked. Is that all he cared about? We were stranded. I was like 'excuse me? I'm telling you about all these people stranded at the airport with no solution. No food, water, accommodation, or end in sight. I thought you would care.'

"He was with two other delegates from Rarotonga. All they said was 'write a letter to Jetstar'. It's not their fault. It's not the Prime Minister's fault. But I hoped he would have cared. If I was the Prime Minister I would have been on the phone to Jetstar and said 'what are you doing to my country?' I wouldn't have called the Tourism Minister.

"I was frustrated because I was told the Prime Minister called Rarotonga Airlines about the situation. If he has time to call them, why couldn't he have called Jetstar?

"It was the most ugliest situation, but the Prime Minister was more worried about his country's reputation rather than offering a solution to our woes. When I was describing the scene they just dismissed it.

"One of the delegates even said 'we're with an important Australian businessman right now'. So does that mean one man's time is more important than a plane full of passengers stranded with no basic essentials?

"It shouldn't have been about what people were going to say on social media, it should be about what Rarotonga is going to do for us. We came to experience your beautiful Island, we chose it over hundreds of other destinations, and this is the feeling I get, that you [the Prime Minister] don't give a shit? And then the Prime Minister turns around to be and says he does care, that he was on the phone to the Tourism Minister. I just walked away. I was over it."

While King's frustration was vented towards the Prime Minister, she understands fault lays solely with Jetstar, who she also took aim at, describing their customer service as "appalling".

The woman's family were finally given food and refreshments and given accommodation the following day thanks to two sympathetic Rarotonga Airline employees.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister's chief of staff Ben Ponia said Puna had instructed Cook Islands Tourism to look into the Jetstar stranding incident.

Passengers were left stranded at Rarotonga Airport for days without any communication as to when their next flight would be. Photo / Supplied
Passengers were left stranded at Rarotonga Airport for days without any communication as to when their next flight would be. Photo / Supplied

"On behalf of the people of the Cook Islands the Office of the Prime Minister would like to express sympathy to any passenger affected by recent airline cancellations," Ponia told Cook Island News.

"It is the sincere wish of every Cook Islander that the visitors to our islands have a satisfying experience."

He added: "Government, for its part, will continue to strive for improvements where possible, noting that within the region the Cook Islands already enjoys a remarkably high [98 per cent] level of visitor satisfaction."

Jetstar has blamed the unscheduled weekend cancellation on crew sickness, and is expected to front to Cook Islands Tourism over the incident.

"Our goal is always to get our customers to their destination safely and on time and we sincerely apologise for the recent cancellation and any issues around accommodation availability at short notice during the busy holiday period," a Jetstar spokesperson told Cook Island News.

"Unfortunately the crew member became unwell after arrival in Rarotonga which meant we had to cancel the return service from Rarotonga to Auckland."

In an interview with the Herald, Kiwi father Brenton Barker, who was meant to be on the same flight, said he'd never been treated so poorly by an airline in 40 years of flying.

Barker said there was no explanation for the last minute cancellation from Jetstar at the time and there had been no subsequent correspondence about when they would depart.

"It's impacted a lot of people. It's very ordinary. It's just not acceptable for a professional carrier.

"I think the worst part about it is the lack of communication.

"In 40 years of flying across the globe, never have I nor my family been treated so poorly."