There have been chaotic scenes at Queenstown Airport today as travellers struggle to get home after flight disruptions at the end of the school holidays.
Queues ran out the door of the airport as Air New Zealand struggled to clear a backlog of flights.
Some travellers say they have been trying to get home for days, and have struggled to find accommodation because the resort town was at capacity.
Air NZ has been battling high demand during school holidays, staff sickness because of Covid-19, and weather-related disruptions. Up to 130 flights were cancelled on Thursday and Friday because of stormy conditions.
The airline warned at the beginning of the July school holidays that higher-than-usual employee sickness and bad weather could cause delays.
Tony Versey, from Auckland, said he and his wife were originally scheduled to fly home from Queenstown on Thursday night.
That flight was cancelled and he was offered a Friday morning flight but he told Air New Zealand staff that he was relatively flexible and was rescheduled until this morning.
When he arrived at Queenstown Airport at 8am this morning, there was a queue out the door and the self check-in machines were not working. After an hour's wait, he discovered their flight had been cancelled again and they were directed to the information desk.
"Of course, now there is already a queue half-way down the concourse, literally. It took us I think three and a half hours to finally get to the front of that queue."
They were given the option of busing to Dunedin, then flying to Wellington and on to Auckland tomorrow - with the caveat that the flights may be affected by Covid-19. They took a second option, to fly directly home on Tuesday night.
"I'm not feeling super confident that will even happen," he said.
People queue at Queenstown airport to try and rebook seats after flights were cancelled. Photo / James Allan
Versey said they had been well looked after by the airline, with a $250 accommodation voucher and a $100 food voucher each day and $300 in travel vouchers. Staff had been friendly despite the intense pressure on them, he said.
Another traveller from Aucklander said she was stranded at the airport with her partner and two children after their flight was cancelled.
"Kids are due back at high school tomorrow, there's no accommodation, no rental cars, we've been here an hour and a half - still waiting for some help."
It was not just Queenstown being affected by flight disruptions.
James Gaunt, a businessman from Auckland, said he was struggling to get staff back from Christchurch.
Two of his staff had flights cancelled and he had been unable to find new flights for them.
"One has a child to attend to tomorrow, and they've been booted off, and they've got no ticket for the next couple of days."
Air NZ's website shows there are no available direct flights on that route tomorrow and flights for Tuesday were fast selling out.
Gaunt questioned why the airline continued to schedule a large number of flights only to cancel many of them with little notice. He estimated that 30 to 40 per cent of flights were being cancelled each day.
"Every day it is the same. They are selling tickets for every hour to Christchurch and back," he said.
"But there are so many flights cancelled every day. I'm just trying to get staff back at home with their families - it's a nightmare. I've got no idea what I'm going to do for them."