Airlines have rushed to schedule hundreds of flights between Australia and New Zealand every week from April 19 in response to the opening of a “bubble” allowing quarantine-free travel between the two countries.
Air New Zealand boss Greg Foran said he expected strong demand from people desperate to reconnect with friends and family after being cut off for the past year, and had scheduled close to 50 per cent of his airline’s pre-COVID capacity across the Tasman.
Mr Foran said it was not clear whether the risk of the bubble closing again would deter visitors, after New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern warned on Tuesday it could be paused or suspended at short notice in response to COVID-19 outbreaks which could leave visitors stranded.
“There’s no doubt that some people will be a little bit wary. Others will say: ‘I’m going and I’ll take the risk’,” he said.
Australia has been open to visitors from New Zealand since October but New Zealand has until now forced anyone travelling in the other direction into 14 days quarantine.
Qantas was more bullish, saying it would operate up to 122 return flights per week across 15 trans-Tasman routes from April 19, including with its budget arm Jetstar. That is the equivalent of 83 per cent of its pre-COVID capacity, up from just 3 per cent currently.
“We know Australians are keen to head overseas again, so we expect strong demand for flights to New Zealand,” said Andrew David, Qantas chief executive of domestic and international. “And there are many Kiwis who can’t wait for a winter escape to warmer weather in Australia.”
Unexpectedly, Virgin Australia broke with its competitors and cancelled all New Zealand flights until October 31, with the exception of a handful of services to Queenstown from September 18.
Virgin had been selling New Zealand flights from June 19 in anticipation of a travel bubble opening but said on Tuesday it would not return there until October because of the “evolving border requirements which add complexity to our business”. Virgin is still rebuilding its domestic network after going into voluntary administration in April last year.
Qantas has opened two new routes in response to the bubble, from Auckland to Cairns and the Gold Coast, while Air New Zealand is launching flights from Auckland to Hobart – directly connecting New Zealand and Tasmania by air for the first time in two decades.
Mr Foran said his airline could quickly ramp up capacity to 75 or 90 per cent if there was strong demand, with the New Zealand school holidays starting on April 17 and expected to boost traffic when the bubble opens on the 19th. Ms Ardern said her government believed two-way traffic would return to 80 per cent capacity by the end of 2021.
Flight Centre managing director Graham Turner said he expected travel between the two countries to ramp up quickly to pre-COVID levels provided travellers weren’t deterred by a snap decision to close the border again. “The demand will be a little bit cautious at first but I think there will be a lot of good deals, a lot of [visiting friends and relatives] tourist traffic and later quite a bit of business traffic,” he said.
“As long as the borders stay open, I think demand will be quite substantial. If they keep closing it… that will be a problem.”
Australia’s travel and tourism industry believes the risk of state border closures has been a significant handbrake on the domestic tourism recovery.
The cheapest Sydney-Auckland fare for travel in mid-May available on Tuesday afternoon was $658 on Qantas and $618 on Air New Zealand. Budget carrier Jetstar is yet to make its flights available.
Both Qantas and Air New Zealand have implemented flexible booking policies allowing unlimited booking changes for all fares booked for travel this year.
Flights to and from New Zealand made up 17 per cent of the total international passenger traffic at Australian airports in 2019. With around 1.5 million visitors going in each direction, the two-way route accounted for 15 per cent of visitors to Australia and 40 per cent of visitors into New Zealand.
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Source: Thanks smh.com