Emotional reunions expected as Samoa's borders reopen on Monday

Samoa will officially open its borders to the world again tomorrow - and it seems Kiwi travellers have been eager to go, with the first few flights out of New Zealand completely booked out.

Hundreds of people have booked flights in the first two weeks of August and there is strong demand right through to the school holidays and Christmas season, Air NZ's Karen Gatt said.

NZ Herald reports borders will open on Monday, but the first flight - Air New Zealand NZ990 - will touch down at Faleolo International Airport the next day.

“Next Tuesday will be a significant day for the community here. I expect there will be lots of emotional welcomes and smiles at the airport,” she said.

The island nation was one of the first countries to suddenly close its borders to international travellers in early 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic started to spread around the world.

As a special touch, Air NZ has put on an all-Samoan flight crew to work that day and all passengers will receive an ula lole - lolly necklace - to celebrate the first flight back to Samoa.

A welcoming ceremony will also be held for passengers and crew on arrival.

Among the flight crew for that day are colleagues Samantha Tumuauatasi Matafeo and Jireh Lalotoa Peniata.

Tumuauatasi Matafeo was in Samoa in March, 2020, when Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made the historic announcement that New Zealand would be closing its international borders and called on overseas-based Kiwis to get home as soon as possible.

“I was on holiday and once Jacinda made that announcement for everyone to start making their way back home, me and my partner cut our trip early by three days just to get home.”

Suddenly becoming emotional, she spoke about how hard it had been over the last two years not being able to see family overseas and particularly her last surviving grandparent, who is now in her 90s.

“My nana's still over there and it's just hard to be here knowing that I can't visit her. I think that's why this flight is so important [for many]. We just want to go back home.

“I want to see my nana and the rest of the family. Seeing that with other passengers and being able to connect them with their loved ones, it's going to be an emotional day.

“It's just going to be overwhelming - it's already overwhelming.”

Lalotoa Peniata has been a flight attendant for the last two years and said being a part of the cabin crew working the trip back to Samoa is an honour.

“I think it's really special to be able to serve our people and there's this sense of pride too.”

His own family mostly live in New Zealand, but the fact no one could go to the motherland over the last couple of years had also been hard.

“I can definitely relate to so many people who couldn't go back to Samoa during the Covid pause - especially in important times like funerals or weddings, all those special events.

“That's what makes this flight special because we're able to do that again.”

The first passenger flight back to Samoa comes a day after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern arrives in the Pacific Island country with a delegation of politicians, Pasifika community leaders and media.

Ardern is travelling there as part of commemorations honouring the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Friendship between New Zealand and Samoa and coincides with the 60th anniversary of Samoa's independence.

Air NZ will operate four passenger flights every week to Samoa. The number of flights will increase to five from October and then every day in November....


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