Flight Centre grounded

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WHAKATANE’S Flight Centre closed its doors on Wednesday afternoon until further notice and its staff have been stood down.

The travel agent is one of 58 Flight Centre stores countrywide that are shutting because of the impact travel restrictions around Covid-19 are having on the industry. Three hundred staff nationally have been stood down although the company said they would be supported by the Government’s wage subsidy.

There was also hope the stores could resume trading once the travel industry picked up again post-Covid-19.

Flight Centre managing director David Coombes said the company was determined to ensure the closures were a temporary measure.

“Our people who are stepping down remain a very important part of our whanau, and of our future. We will welcome them back with open arms when restrictions are lifted and demand for travel starts to improve.”

He said Flight Centre was also working hard to find alternative income sources for employees while they are stood down and had set up Project Remedy to tackle this.

“We have been thrilled with the response so far from New Zealand businesses. We are still welcoming employment prospects, any companies in a position to do so can email projectremedy@flightcentre.co.nz.”

The manager of Whakatane’s Flight Centre, Paula Roberts, notified clients on Wednesday about the imminent closure. She said in her email to clients it had happened very quickly and she had been notified only at midday on Tuesday.

“I’m absolutely, completely and utterly heartbroken to say the least.”

The Whakatane store has four travel agents employed including Ms Roberts.

Mr Coombes said customers with outstanding bookings or enquiries would be contacted after Easter weekend by the nearest contact. For Whakatane clients this will be the Bayfair Flight Centre.

However, clients might have to wait for refunds as it has been indicated that any refunds will take months to obtain from suppliers in the current environment.