UPDATED: Air Vanuatu’s CEO ‘Atu Fīnau has described the late cancellation of a group of stranded Tongans to fly on a special flight from Vanuatu to Tonga today as “cruel.”
The flight was due to leave Port Vila this Thursday.
In an e-mail to Tongan Prime Minister Pōhiva Tui’onetoa, Fīnau said Air Vanuatu was told a group of Tongans planned to fly on air Vanuatu to Tonga could not go ahead today – only 24 hours before it was scheduled to depart.
“This would appear to be cruel timing and an incredibly insensitive decision.”
Fīnau said a small group of Tongan citizens were led to believe they could finally return to the kingdom.
Air Vanuatu First Officer Luseane Fetuani wrote to Tonga’s Director of the Ministry of Communication Officer Andrew To’imoana describing the cancellation as “totally unacceptable” and asking for the decision to be reconsidered.
“I understand that these are hard times and some hard and tough decisions must be made to protect the country and it’s livelihood,” she said.
“However, that does not mean that we are immune to being considerate.
“It has been a very stressful couple of weeks for some, trying to get this flight organised. Tongan nationals here have paid their tickets and did Covid-19 tests to be in line with your requirement”.
Fetuani said it costs VT$25,000 per person, the equivalent to TP$500 for a Covid-19 test.
“You already know how many repatriation flights there are into Tonga until the end of the year and how many people want to be in Tonga at any one time,” Fetuani said.
“With this knowledge in hand, I am wondering why were we strung along for this very costly exercise. Totally unacceptable.
“The least you could have done is let us know last week . . . even on Monday 24th before people went ahead and paid money that cannot be refunded; money that came from students, church workers, half pay workers and people who lost their jobs.”
After the Covid-19 outbreak, the Tongan Government restricted travel for Tongan nationals travelling from Vanuatu.
A repatriation flight from Auckland is expected to arrive in Nuku’alofa on June 2.
A similar flight from Brisbane is expected to arrive on June 3.
A flight from Fiji due on April 28 was cancelled because of the Covid-situation in that country.