Coronavirus: Questions raised over high cost of repatriation flights for stranded Kiwis

By Jordan Bond of RNZ

Two more repatriation flights are likely to go ahead in the next few days, but some are questioning the $5500 price tag to get home.

Some New Zealanders in India and Philippines said they just can't afford the fare because it'd put them in too much debt.

A single fare is the equivalent of two or three months' rent for an average house. For a family of four, it'd cost $22,000.

In Western India, Palak Magwana and her daughter were visiting family when the country shut down and their return flight was cancelled.

She has no choice but to fork out to try get them home, and then cut the few luxuries she has on her single income.

"No more expenses, possibly no more going to the movies, dining, no more new clothes for a year until I save all $11,000. That's the only way I can save all the money," she said.

"I still have to pay my rent, my car, my daughter's day care because I work full time and I'm a single mother."

On the 900-strong 'Kiwis stuck in India' Facebook page, more than 100 people said they would turn down the flight because of the cost.

The country went into lockdown before New Zealand did. With only four hours notice between the announcement and when it took effect, there was no way out for foreigners. Others have said flights in the days leading up to the lockdown were cancelled anyway.

A rescue flight was also announced from the Philippines this morning, where Natalie Maria's mother is.

Although her mother has had some periods where even getting food hasn't been easy, she's thinking about staying there, because the fare is so high.

"If they're going to that effort then they need to make it accessible financially for people, especially given that so many people in that situation will already have had extra other unexpected costs or losses," Maria said.

On Thursday Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern defended the price, saying the flights were an expensive exercise.

"They go no way near covering the cost of bringing New Zealanders home... We are substantially subsidising bringing those Kiwis home," Ardern said.

"What MFAT [the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade] have tried to do is create a framework broadly in line with some of the commercial rates you would pay to come home on a commercial flight if it were available.

"They have tried to be fair. It's based on the number of hours that you're on a flight, and there's different levels based on how long or short the flight is.

"I do acknowledge that we are asking for a payment, and that's because the expectation is if you're overseas you'd have to get home somehow, and it just so happens you'll be doing so via a flight that New Zealanders are supporting substantially."

Last week a group of Australian citizens organised their own repatriation flight from Delhi to Melbourne. It cost passengers A$2300 each, less than half of what the New Zealand Government-chartered flight will cost.