Kiwi man's real life The Terminal experience

Kiwi man Kepa Harris, 29, faces a month eating pizza or subway in Sao Paulo's transit lounge...
Kiwi man Kepa Harris, 29, faces a month eating pizza or subway in Sao Paulo's transit lounge after being denied entry to his connecting flight back to New Zealand. Photo: Supplied via NZH
Kepa Harris was stuck in a South American airport's transit lounge after he was stopped from boarding his flight home because of the Government's latest announcement.

Harris had just $40 left to his name at the time and he's been unable to access his luggage as he waits, confused and hungry, in Sao Paulo's transit lounge in Brazil.

However, after speaking with the NZ Embassy in Brazil and the Herald, the Aucklander was given two nights accommodation and $30 a day to see him through the next two days, when he will have to reapply for assistance. He was initially given $200 for food for three days.

Megan Woods, the Christchurch-based minister in charge of Covid-19 quarantine and isolation facilities, announced that the Government would restrict seats on international flights for people wanting to return to New Zealand.

She said the Government and Air New Zealand had agreed to manage incoming bookings in the short term so they could manage isolation and quarantine facilities.

Harris said when he went to board his flight, he was stopped by Qatar Airways staff who said he wasn't allowed on as his connecting flight between Sydney and Auckland had been cancelled. However, adding to his confusion, Air NZ told the Herald today the flight was still operating.

A spokeswoman for Woods' office also this afternoon confirmed Harris' flight shouldn't have been affected by the announcement.

Tom Hanks in the 2004 film The Terminal. Photo: YouTube
Tom Hanks in the 2004 film The Terminal. Photo: YouTube
Although nervous about how long he's stuck for, Harris couldn't help but laugh when comparing his situation to that out of Tom Hanks and The Terminal, based on the true story of Merhan Nasseri who lived in a French airport terminal for 16 years.

Harris went to visit a friend in Uruguay in February. He ended up getting stuck there because of Covid-19 and his return flight with Latam Airlines was cancelled in May.

His father then bought him a new ticket to fly home three weeks ago. He flew out of Uruguay on Saturday bound for New Zealand. He had a two-day transit in Sao Paulo - he stayed in the transit lounge - and was due to fly to Doha with Qatar Airways today.

He was then flying to Sydney and on to New Zealand after a 15-hour transit.

Air New Zealand chief commercial and customer officer Cam Wallace said yesterday it had put a three-week hold on new bookings for international services landing in New Zealand after a request from the Government.

The airline was also looking at aligning daily arrivals with the capacity available at managed isolation facilities. This might mean some passengers would need to be moved to another flight.

However, when contacted today, an Air NZ spokeswoman said the flight from Sydney was still operating and Harris' situation was out of their hands.

"Yesterday's announcement hasn't resulted in the cancellation of any flights. We have also not cancelled any flights between Sydney and Auckland in recent days.

"We can see in our system that Mr Harris' ticket was purchased through Qatar Airways so I'm unable to comment on why he was denied boarding.

"We can also see this customer was due to fly on Air New Zealand flight NZ104 between Sydney and Auckland tomorrow – again this flight was booked through Qatar Airways.

"This flight has not been cancelled."

Overlooking Sao Paulo, Brazil, where Kiwi man Kepa Harris is currently stuck. Photo: NZH file
Overlooking Sao Paulo, Brazil, where Kiwi man Kepa Harris is currently stuck. Photo: NZH file
A Qatar Airways spokesperson said: “Due to the current travel restrictions imposed by the Australian authorities, all international flights into Sydney have been capped at 50 passengers per flight.

"As a result, the airlines must rebook some customer travels to Sydney in order to comply with these regulations.

“In this particular case, our customer was not among the 50 passengers allowed to travel to Sydney on the flight he planned to take, and therefore could not be boarded in Sao Paolo.

"In the meantime, he has been rebooked on an alternative Qatar Airways flight, which has already left Brazil to Qatar, from where the passenger will travel to Australia and onwards to his final destination in New Zealand.”

Harris said before leaving Uruguay he had been granted an exemption to quarantine in Sydney as his transit is 15 hours, longer than the nine hours allowed by the NSW Government.

The earliest flight back to New Zealand from Sao Paulo was August 10 - meaning he would have to spend just over a month in the transit lounge.

"I was just real annoyed. I saw Megan Woods say that Kiwis who did have a way home wouldn't face any problems but that's not the case."

He was this morning down to his last $40 and only ate a 6 inch Subway yesterday.

However, he was relieved to receive some financial assistance from the NZ Embassy and was now just hoping he won't have to live through his movie-like nightmare in Sao Paulo's transit terminal.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Woods have been approached for comment.







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