Air New Zealand has taken just on 17,000 international bookings in less than a day, as the airline readies for freed-up transtasman travel.
Although it has cancelled flights for about 50,000 passengers in December through to mid-January, the surge of re-booked flights and fresh bookings are “up there” with the busiest pre-Covid days and are the best since the pandemic hit.
From January 17, vaccinated and negative-tested arrivals from Australia can skip MIQ, although they’ll have to self-isolate for seven days and meet other requirements. But combined with open entry into New South Wales and Victoria (and signs of more relaxed requirements in some other states) transtasman travel will be much more free than now.
The airline is also fielding inquiries from New Zealanders wanting to travel beyond Australia from February 14 (when MIQ for Kiwi arrivals from the rest of the world goes), and network planners worked overnight assessing when and where to reinstate capacity.
While an airline group says overseas carriers are puzzled at the Government announcement, Air New Zealand chief customer and sales officer Leanne Geraghty said her airline was “absolutely delighted” by the timetable announced yesterday, which puts dates on border plans.
“We’ve been waiting for such a long period of time for the certainty that was given, albeit we appreciate there are some requirements, but on the whole we’re incredibly excited with the fact that we can get Kiwis moving again,” she said.
There were a broad range of fares into open parts of Australia.
“There’s obviously some disappointed people because they’d love to reunite with family and friends for Christmas or ahead of Christmas, but the fact that they’ve now got some certainty and are able to book has been a really positive scenario.”
Geraghty said in the past day, Air NZ had taken bookings from Kiwis flying across the Tasman before Christmas who would return later in January, so some reunions were now able to happen in Australia.
“The team have been working furiously throughout the night to get the services all lined up.”
It was still too early to tell how much capacity will be operating from mid-January, which would be influenced by how quickly states such as Queensland, South Australia and West Australia drop their quarantine requirements.
Major competitor Qantas is also cancelling flights that it and Jetstar operate because of delays opening up the New Zealand border, and isn’t upbeat about demand beyond January 17.
“It’s really disappointing that people on both sides of the Tasman won’t be able to reunite before Christmas despite the fact vaccination rates in both countries will be among the best in the world by then,” said a spokesperson.
Qantas and Jetstar would be contacting customers booked to travel early next year to discuss alternative arrangements.
Shane Solly, a portfolio manager at Harbour Asset Management, said the resumption of transtasman travel would be helpful for Air New Zealand.
“But the key will be the ability to consistently operate – on/off operations are challenging not just for passengers, but for Air NZ operationally and financially. Recent Covid waves in Europe have led to weakness in travel stocks.”
Rebuilding the network
Air New Zealand hasn’t finalised its post-January 17 schedule to Australia, but Geraghtysaid there would be plenty of capacity with more narrow-body Airbus A320/21 planes brought back to the Tasman. The airline had kept its operation “warm” with freight flights, mainly using Boeing 787 Dreamliners, which would carry more passengers from mid-January and it had retained staff to come back as crew at short notice.
“We have crews and the right amount of resource available for the schedule. And then beyond January as things start to ramp up further, then we will probably look to bring some further resource back in, depending upon how demand goes.”
The immediate focus had been on transtasman traffic, but the Valentine’s Day date for ditching MIQ from other parts of the world had renewed focus on the international network.
Already there was strong interest in Los Angeles and popular sun spots Fiji and Hawaii were back on the radar, said Geraghty.
“We do expect that demand will continue to grow over the coming days and weeks across the network – we know that Kiwis have some favourite holiday destinations such as Fiji andHonolulu. The team are working to get some flights into the system, particularly into Fiji to help with that demand that we anticipate will be coming through.”
Many airlines had paused operations in New Zealand and while some are unlikely to return, she said others would.
“We would have to expect that competition will come back into the market as demand increases, but for now we are ultimately focused on ensuring Air New Zealand is up and ready to carry as many Kiwis as we possibly can across our network.”
Quarantine-free travel will return for the Cook Islands from mid-January and Geraghty said demand had been strong for those flights.
From April 30, fully vaccinated foreigners can skip MIQ but, with other conditions, must self-isolate for a week and will be staged by nationality. This could discourage most tourists and has been criticised as a killer blow.
Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson said today that the Government could further relax restrictions on health advice before that date, and Geraghty hoped that would happen.
“The seven-day isolation requirement is more of a challenge for the tourism market. What we see around the world as other countries open up is some of those requirements have been relaxed.”
The travel bug
Air New Zealand has gained from strong post-lockdown bounce-backs. Before being sunk by the Delta outbreak in Australia and New Zealand, demand was consistent for transtasman travel and the airline’s domestic network was running hot earlier this year, with July holiday bookings stronger than before the pandemic.
Geraghty said the same was happening out of Auckland, after internal borders open in mid-December and travel resumes for vaccinated travellers or those who must test negative for Covid-19 if they are unjabbed.
On December 15, 8000 seats had been booked out of Auckland and for the last two weeks of the month 300,000 passengers have been booked to travel domestically.
“That does show that Kiwis want to travel.”
As travel gears up, Geraghty has advice for Air NZ customers.
“One of the simplest things a customer could do would be to download the New Zealand app, which will help them navigate through travelling with the new Covid requirements that are in place.”
She said passengers need to be fully aware of passport and entry requirements for countries as they start looking beyond Australia.
From February 1, passengers will need to be double-vaccinated to travel on Air New Zealand international Services.
“So we would really encourage people to make sure they are double-vaccinated and make sure they’ve got a vaccination certificate and all their documentation ready.”
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