Air Vanuatu cancels New Zealand, Australia flights, disrupting travel for hundreds

Air Vanuatu Boeing 737-800 registration YJ-AV8.
Photo credit: Air Vanuatu

New Zealanders are stranded on Vanuatu and others planning travel there during the school holidays can no longer go as the country's national airline cancels dozens of flights due to an engineering problem. 

Air Vanuatu said it is "extremely apologetic" for the disruption as it provides accommodation and meals for travellers stuck on the island, while working with other airlines to transport people out.

Refunds have been offered to people with travel booked who now cannot go or no longer want to take their chances.

Flights between Auckland and Port Vila were cancelled on Saturday as some of at least 26 flights to Aotearoa and Australia that have been cancelled or rescheduled since Friday.

The airline cannot say when it will be on top of things, but it anticipates "the possible resumption of international flights by the end of this week".

Air Vanuatu is advising customers not to go to the airport for flights they have booked and to check its website for updates. 

Air Vanuatu would not confirm how many New Zealanders are stranded.

"Currently, our Boeing 737 aircraft that services the New Zealand and Australian routes is grounded in Brisbane, Australia, awaiting a mechanical part. We are working with partners around the world to source it as quickly as possible. But, until then, there are significant disruptions to our Australia and New Zealand services," the airline's NZ commercial manager Jonas George told Newshub.

"These disruptions were unforeseen, and we are very aware that numerous guests are either stuck in Vanuatu waiting to get home or unable to get to Vanuatu for their holiday.

"We are deeply sorry for the inconvenience and frustration this has caused our guests, particularly during the busy school holiday travel period, and we are doing what we can to get guests where they need to go as quickly as possible."

Australian media reports hundreds of people are stranded at the popular island destination after flights were cancelled, with some of the frustrated travellers posting angry messages online.

"Our partners at Nauru Airlines are operating a number of flights this week to help New Zealand and Australian travellers in Vanuatu return home, and our codeshare flights with Solomon Airlines are still running," said George.

"We are assisting with accommodation and meals for guests stranded in Vanuatu, and our service desk at the Port Vila airport remains staffed to help with questions.

"We are hopeful the New Zealand and Australia services will be back on track before the end of this week. Again, we are extremely apologetic for the impact these disruptions have had on our valued travellers."

An Australian woman posted on Facebook about cancelled flights at the start of her holiday to Vanuatu on September 15, before having her return flights home cancelled over the weekend.

"Here we go again with Air Vanuatu cancelling flights - supposed to be coming home Monday, it's been pushed back to Tuesday, now we are seeing maybe Friday," she said.

"Nice place to be stuck I guess but looking forward to be going home."

The cancelled flights this weekend follow similar disruptions Air Vanuatu faced last month, with a statement posted August 29 saying: "The cause of these disruptions is unscheduled technical work that is required on the aircraft."