Air New Zealand is racing to get 50,000 people home from around the country inside the 48 hour government deadline.
Chief executive Greg Foran told Checkpoint it is a tough ask to meet the deadline and there will be around 800 flights.
"We've had a reasonable amount of no-shows, it varies by port. It's a bit heavier in Auckland and Wellington. In Queenstown however, we've got the best part of a couple of thousand people to get home today and tomorrow," he said.
He said they're bringing in around three extra flights to Queenstown and have upgraded from the A320s to the larger A321s which are used to fly over the Tasman.
"We're doing what we can there and the network is going reasonably well."
Air New Zealand will be enhancing safety protocols and PPE due to the risk presented by the Delta variant.
By Friday, Air NZ will be down to about 10 percent capacity, Foran predicted.
"On Friday there will be very few planes in the air because the only ones travelling domestically will be those carrying essential workers.
"It is what it is and we knew this could potentially happen. We've gotta get through this, like we have in the past, and get out the other side.
"We've just got to be patient and get through this, then we'll be back up and running."
He said they are already working on getting the wage subsidy which is helpful, but doesn't cover the costs associated with running an airline.
At least 80 percent of Air New Zealand staff are fully vaccinated.
Nelson school group return after short trip to Wellington
Meanwhile, a Nelson school group who arrived in Wellington on a ferry last night just before lockdown were among those scrambling to get home again before the 48-hour grace period expired.
The 47 children and five adults from the Waimea school were to return home next week on the Bluebridge ferry but could not rebook for today or tomorrow.
They managed to get a berth this afternoon on the Interislander.
Interislander general manager Walter Rushbrook said staff have been busy rearranging travel for passengers.
Once the 48-hour grace period ends, the Interislander will only move freight and essential workers, he said.