The first of two special Air New Zealand repatriation flights taking home Samoan fruit industry workers left on Friday morning, the airline announced.
Air NZ flight NZ990 departed Auckland at 9am and is expected to land in Apia at 1:40pm on Friday (local time).
Onboard are 300 Recognised Seasonal Employees from Hawke's Bay, Blenheim, Gisborne, Martinborough and the Bay of Plenty.
Earlier this month, it was reported some of the more than 2000 Samoan workers in Aotearoa were depressed and anxious as a result of being stuck in the country due to COVID-19 as the fruit picking season came to an end.
Air NZ says it worked closely with New Zealand Apples and Pears Inc - the largest employer of Samoan seasonal workers in Aotearoa - while coordinating the return of workers employed by several orchards from across the country.
"We are family, and when regional leaders in Samoa asked our industry and the Samoan Government to bring seasonal workers home safely, we responded immediately," says Gary Jones of NZ Apples and Pears Inc.
"We're working closely with Recognised Seasonal Employers across New Zealand and Air NZ to ensure their workers from across New Zealand are able to get home."
The airline received approval from the Samoan Government to operate the flight on Friday along with another on Friday, July 31, both of which are only carrying seasonal workers.
The special fruit picker flights are in addition to the fortnightly repatriation flights Air NZ has been operating between Auckland and Apia since May 29.