Chaos at airports as Kiwis desperately try to return home amid coronavirus pandemic

As New Zealand closes its borders to non-residents for the first time in its history, one Kiwi woman was caught up in scenes of chaos at Heathrow Airport trying desperately to get home.

From midnight last night, no one except citizens, permanent residents, their children, guardians and partners is allowed in. 

The Prime Minister took the unprecedented step yesterday, saying it is necessary to protect New Zealand from people coming here from countries experiencing major outbreaks of Covid-19. 

Airlines around the world are in turmoil, cutting services, and laying off staff, making it even more complicated and stressful for travellers scrambling to make it home. 

Auckland woman Jo Cummings was turned away from Heathrow check-in and firmly told New Zealand has closed its border.

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Cummings has returned to her sister's home near Heathrow and is waiting to find out if she could get on another flight tomorrow.

"I'm just hoping that I do get on the Malaysian Airlines flight tomorrow." 

She says tomorrow's flight has an hour transit through Kuala Lumpur then goes straight on to Auckland. 

"Fingers crossed that will happen." 

Cummings had originally planned to spend a couple of months in Europe and do a bit of travelling, but after seeing what was happening with the virus, decided to cut it short and return home. 

"I brought my Singapore Airlines flight forward to today and I saw Jacinda Ardern's statements last night that New Zealanders can come back so I was confident about that. But when I looked this morning, I saw the Singapore to Auckland leg had dropped off my app. 

"I still went to the airport and when I got to the check-in counter and it was a bit chaotic. It was very slow, there were lots of young Asians who didn't have permission to travel, so they were getting turned away. One guy was shouting that New Zealand and Australia had closed their borders, so I was quite stressed at that point. It took a long time to get to the counter and they basically said I couldn't travel."

Cummings says she was told by the airline that New Zealand was only accepting direct flights. 

"I told them I had just listened to my Prime Minister and she's assured me I can go back. But they said no, the only way people are getting around it is by staying in Singapore for two weeks in isolation and then flying to New Zealand."

She says that since booking the Malaysian Airlines flight, she's had confirmation it's going ahead. 

"What was originally a $1500 flight back has turned into close to $8000 in changing flights and booking an additional flight, but the money doesn't matter - I just want to get home. I've got two children who are 18 and 25 and I just want to get home to them."