With so many global travel restrictions and border closures in place at the moment due the chaos caused by Covid-19, navigating travel and flights has never been harder.

If you are `stuck’ overseas and trying to fly home it can be incredibly difficult knowing which airline will be the right choice for you. Airlines and countries have different requirements for Covid tests and the timeframes they need to be taken in. Some countries want tests taken before you travel as well as after you land, some airlines won’t carry non-vaccinated travellers, and some countries have stopped transits and ceased granting visas. Websites are selling flights that aren’t actually travelling and people are finding their money tied up in different flight credits that can’t be used, and now, more than ever, it’s really hard to know where and how to book a flight to get you home.

Since the beginning of the pandemic and during New Zealand’s lockdown xtravel have continued working, keeping abreast of the changing restrictions and requirements, giving advice to and repatriating many people home to over 50 countries including those in the South Pacific, South America, Europe, Asia and North America. We’ve helped over 2000 people with flights and advice and as borders start to reopen and travel restrictions are loosened we are able to help even more people find a flight home.

How does a repatriation flight work?

There are a few different types of flights available for people trying to get home.

  • Embassy organised flights: these are flights that travel to the specific country of that embassy. These flights now tend to be for those countries whose borders still remain closed to commercial flights. Most countries have now opened their borders to at least their own citizens, so we are now seeing less and less of these particular types of flights.
  • Private charter flights: private charter flights might be organised by different companies trying to get employees home such as those flights organised for seasonal fruit picking staff in New Zealand or film crew who may need to travel either as a group or into a country that doesn’t have open borders.
  • Cargo flights: very occasionally there may be some seats available on cargo flights which are generally allocated to a travel agent to sell on behalf of the airline. An example of this are cargo flights on LaTam airlines which operate between Australia, New Zealand, Chile and Brazil. These flights do not run according to a schedule and can often be very last minute.
  • Commercial flights: these flights are normal flights that are available for sale by airlines to their regular routes. As Covid-19 has severely impacted the tourism and travel industry these flights operate on a reduced schedule and changes in border restrictions, visa and health requirements and cancelled services can all play a part in whether or not these flights actually travel to your final destination.

If you do need to travel home there are a few handy hints and things you can do that can make your travel a little less stressful for you:

  1. Make sure you register with your embassy
    Even if you’re not planning on going home now, your situation may change here, or things may change at home, so it’s important to know what repatriation flights and support are available to you. Contrary to popular belief, your embassy doesn’t actually know where you are or what you ate for dinner last night. When you leave your home country you don’t have an address to go to or a local mobile phone number for the country you are going to live in, so if you don’t let them know where you are, they don’t know how to help you if you need it.
    If you haven’t yet registered with your embassy you can find their details here:  https://www.mfat.govt.nz/en/embassies/
  2. Register with xtravel
    Travel agents have the most up to date and detailed information on the latest commercial flight options, different visa and transit requirements, COVID-related international flying requirements such as what to expect on-board your plane, at transiting airports and what PPE you might need, and we can offer immediate assistance with your existing bookings. We work directly with airlines and can hold and waitlist flights and guarantee that price for a few days rather than you needing to book instantaneously online. We see availability that is not available to the public because we have direct access to airline inventory, we can put passengers on wait lists when flights are sold out so that you have the best chance of getting a seat if a cancellation by another passenger were to happen, we can arrange travel bubbles on your flight if you are travelling with friends and family, and we can organise check-through to final destinations. You may not know this but travel agents are paid by the airline directly, so we make our money exactly the same way that online travel agencies such as Skyscanner and Webjet do, meaning flight prices are the same as what you find online. And booking with a travel agent gives you direct access to someone who can assist with schedule changes and any flight re-routings, rather than having to wait several hours, or days, to speak to airlines if you have booked direct, even if you have booked with an online travel agency.The team at xtravel have worked with various embassies and High Commissions to assist in getting their nationals and citizens home. We know the in’s and out’s of getting home, and we are your repatriation experts.
  3. Plan ahead and be ready to travel
    If you are thinking about going home it’s really important to make sure that you have a plan to be ready to travel at a moment’s notice. You may need to get your documents in order, to have a plan in place for what you’re going to do with possessions such as cars, sporting equipment or musical instruments that you can’t take with you. You’ll also need to know how to arrange the disconnection of your power/gas/phone once you have finalised your lease and handed back your keys to your landlord. Plus, of course, you will need to negotiate with your landlord if you can get out of your lease. You may need to re-home your pets, plants and favourite items so that you are ready to travel if you need to go quickly. Repatriation flights may only be offered at very short notice – we have seen many flights travel within a few days of being announced- so it’s important to be prepared.
  4. Be prepared with PPE
    Most airlines now require the use of face masks on a flight. As some face masks don’t last very long you might need to have a supply of masks to last you for your entire journey. You may want to travel with a change of clothes on board your plane that you can change into at your transit point, take hand sanitiser and wipes with you and maybe even also gloves. Knowing what is required for you to board your plane will save time and stress at the airport.

Flights from New Zealand to the UK

While there are commercial options available there will be no further flights organised by the embassy. Out of New Zealand we now have daily flights to the UK and Europe with Air New Zealand, Singapore Airlines, Emirates, Etihad and Qatar.
Things can still change though so it’s important you choose an airline with a strong flexibility policy, and the team at xtravel are perfectly placed to give advice as to which airline will be suit your requirements.

Flights from New Zealand to the Philippines

There are limited flight options to the Philippines but we are starting to see some flight routes to Manila and Cebu open up with different airlines. At this stage Philippine Air are not flying between New Zealand and the Philippines but there are some options via other points in Asia.

Flights from New Zealand to India

India have begun to accept some flights but the country largely remains closed to travellers.
All flights to India at present are occasional commercial flights, private chartered aircraft or some embassy organised flights still exist from certain countries. The border to India remains closed to commercial tourist travel, but we are able to assist with the commercial flights for Indian nationals or dual citizens.

Flights from New Zealand and Australia to South America

Commercial services are due to resume between South America and Australia and New Zealand in March 2022. As xtravel have been working directly with LaTam airlines chartering planes for the past two years we have a great relationship with the airline and we will continue to work closely with them to get you home.
Since the beginning of the pandemic xtravel have organised 14 flights between South America and Australia with LaTam and while we are no longer organising such flights, travel between these two parts of the world remain an important part of our business. We have helped get over 1000 people between South America and Australia and NZ, so we know this type of travel intimately.

What to expect at the airport before you fly

Each airport has different facilities open, and will have different check in requirements, so it is important you know what to expect before you can fly. Some airlines and airports will ask that you only do an online check-in to avoid human contact, while others will require you to do a personal check in so they can check your temperature and conduct other health assessments.

Additionally some airports are not allowing retail and food outlets to open, which means you may need to travel with snacks and an empty water bottle for your transits through airports. We would recommend that you have easy to carry snacks that are not prohibited to travel with such as muesli bars, biscuits, chocolate and other easy to carry food. Fruit and fresh items should be avoided a these may be prohibited in your transit airport. This is information we are able to provide if you are booking with us.

What to expect on your plane

The travel experience has been changed dramatically because of Covid-19. Some airlines are social distancing on aircraft with vacant seats between passengers but due to the cost of this not all airlines are. It is likely you can expect a reduced service on board your plane with fewer drinks and snacks served.
Masks should be worn on all planes. Some airlines will provide these free of charge but again not airlines will, so it’s important you check this information when you book.

What to know about your destination

Depending on where home is for you there may be quarantine requirements that are either funded by yourself or by your government which mean you have to quarantine in a managed facility for 7 – 28 days. Some countries require you to arrive with a Covid-19 negative test, some require you to fill in health declaration forms before arrival, and for many that don’t require quarantine in a managed facility there may be a requirement to self-isolate at home. Knowing this information in advance will assist you in making the decisions about whether and when to head home.

What NOT to do for your flight home

If you need to get home there are a few things NOT to do which will make an already stressful time less stressful for you:

  • DON’T book online! Many online agencies are selling combinations of tickets which aren’t valid for travel. Their systems do not recognise the rules and regulations of what is and isn’t allowed for transiting and we are finding many people are booking with an online travel agency and then being denied boarding their plane. If you have a cancelled flight or a schedule change, online agencies can take days, or even weeks, to get a hold of. Using a local travel agent will save you time if the flight gets changed.
  • Don’t book two separate tickets. Airlines can only see the one ticket you have booked with them, so airport staff are obliged to check you in only as far as the final destination on their ticket. If you book two separate tickets and you do not have citizenship of the destination of the first flight you may be denied boarding your flight.
  • Don’t take your time to make a decision. If you know you need to go then book your flight with xtravel once a seat is being held for you. Once a flight is ticketed you have more security from the airline’s flexibility policy, and the price is guaranteed. Because there are so few flights operating at the moment the prices change quickly as seats fill up fast. Also, if you aren’t going to fly but you leave it to the last minute to decide this then you might be stopping someone else who really needs to travel the opportunity to travel to do so.
  • Don’t book until you have checked all of the visa and health requirements.

If travelling home is looking increasingly like an option for you then make sure you register with xtravel. We have daily updates from the different airlines about when they may be flying and what their flexibility policies, and we are here on hand to help make your journey home as easy as possible.