The volcanic ash cloud which closed the skies over Europe, leaving thousands of passengers stranded, has given some tourists a dose of Kiwi hospitality they did not bargain for at the end of their holiday.
Air New Zealand believes more than 2000 passengers have been unable to leave New Zealand because they would get only as far as Hong Kong or Los Angeles on their flights back to England and Europe.
Some of them were broke at the end of their holiday and desperate for accommodation when Tourism Auckland stepped in with an offer to find billets for the stranded passengers in New Zealand homes.
Tourist Auckland chief executive Graeme Osborne said the scheme had not been widely promoted but already they had received far more offers than they needed with only about eight passengers needing beds.
“We are surprised at the level of uptake and we are a little over subscribed.”
He said one of the more unusual billets was a couple from a remote village in England who were billeted with another English couple from the same village.
“There have been some really nice stories,” Mr Osborne said.
The number of stranded passengers was expected to rise as the ash cloud from the erupting volcano in Iceland continued to cause serious problems in the Northern Hemisphere for airlines.
Passenger jets cannot fly through the could because the ash could easily stop jet engines with fatal results.
Mr Osborne said the response to the call for billets was warm and encouraging and showed New Zealand was a nation of travellers and knew how vulnerable people could be overseas when things went wrong.
“It is quite nice people in New Zealand have rallied around to put their hands up to help these interrupted travellers. It’s marvellous.”
He said some of the tourists were “at the end of their wick, had run out of money and at their wits’ ends with what to do with themselves until they could get out of the place.”
Mr Osborne said the “100 percent pure New Zealand experience was based as much on the people experience as the landscape and I think a lot of people who come here have it high on their list to engage with Kiwis. We feel obligated to make sure we act as reasonable hosts.”
He said stranded passengers could approach Tourism Auckland or Air New Zealand.
Authorities in England said today the volcanic ash cloud from Iceland showed “continued and extensive cover” of the United Kingdom and restrictions on air space would remain at least until 7am tomorrow (NZ time).
Air New Zealand said because of the restrictions its flight to Los Angeles and London tonight would end at Los Angeles. There was no scheduled service tonight from Auckland to London through Hong Kong.
The airline also repeated its warnings for people heading to Europe and the United Kingdom to delay their travel because the airline would not meet their accommodation costs if their flights were not completed.
It said there was no accommodation available in Los Angeles or Hong Kong.
The airline said it was paying the hotel costs for some passengers who left New Zealand last week and had been stranded in Los Angeles and Hong Kong half way through their trip but it would not do the same for passengers who ignored their advice and left New Zealand knowing flights to United Kingdom and Europe had been cancelled.
Passengers could defer their travel to another Air New Zealand flight without penalty and those who no longer wished to travel could apply for a full refund, the airline said.