22 Nov 2021

NZers returning forced to take long routes to meet MIQ dates

From Checkpoint, 5:42 pm on 22 November 2021

Some New Zealanders heading home are being forced onto "milk run" flights hopping from one destination to the next to marry their arrival up with their MIQ spot. 

Flights to New Zealand are still limited so that literally means going backwards - sometimes thousands of kilometres - to go forwards. 

House of Travel's Tim Malone has been designing complicated travel arrangements so people meet their MIQ commitments. 

Malone told Checkpoint airline schedules were very unreliable right now because of governments' changing rules around the world were in flux.

While he welcomes Chris Hipkins' announcement that a date for progressing out of MIQ restrictions would soon to be revealed, he said travel agents have to be realistic about changing rules both here and in other parts of the world.

Those New Zealanders returning from overseas and forced into long flights via several destinations to arrive in Aotearoa on the correct date for their MIQ spot are coming from places you'd not expect there to be an issue, Malone said.

"Australia is one that can be difficult for some people. Air New Zealand don't fly from Sydney to Auckland Airport every day, or from Brisbane to Auckland every day," he said.

"So if someone has an MIQ spot that is for the wrong day and there's no flight coming directly from Australia, then ultimately they're going to have to look at some other routes, or if they don't know how to do that they'll just give up their MIQ spot and that's a pretty terrible situation.

"New York and anywhere in the states is another one, because there aren't daily flights from those places."

Air New Zealand only flies from LA to Auckland three times per week. Two years ago Air New Zealand was travelling that route twice per day inbound and outbound, and one flight per day to San Francisco, Chicago, Houston and other major US cities.

"So, if you have an MIQ spot which is one of the other four days of the week then ultimately we'll probably fly you back via Dubai, with Emirates, or via Singapore with Singapore airlines, or even Doha, with Qatar Airways. It's the long way around but you have to arrive on the day that your MIQ is scheduled," Malone said.

He says people are getting caught out all the time and seasonal demand to return home was adding to the problems.

The reasons for return were not just Christmas visits and holidays, but because many job contracts ran out at the end of the calendar year, he added.

"Kiwis tend to come home from the middle east or the UK. Typically they'd come home every two year's for a month and then get a new contract and then back for another two years."

The three other big airlines that operate regularly in New Zealand - Qatar, Emirates and Singapore fly in daily but with limited passengers onboard, maybe 80 or 90 - the restricted number who can get a space in MIQ, he said.

"There's plenty of capacity on the airline side, but there isn't in MIQ."

Other like Cathay Pacific from Hong Kong used to fly daily, but now they arrive once a week, with little indication those operators will beef up their schedules.

"It's going to be very hard for other airlines who used to fly to New Zealand to return," Malone said.

"Malaysia Airlines, Philippine Airlines, Thai Airways. Even Hawaiian Airlines and United Airlines for example. They certainly can't do it while MIQ is in place because, how many of their passengers would be able to secure MIQ spaces, 20 or 30? It's just not economical.

"Those airlines that are still flying here... they are ultimately heroes for the New Zealand public I think. They've toughed it out and never stopped flying here.

Malone welcomed Hipkins announcement today about the imminent transitioning away from MIQ systems, but sounded a note of caution. The international rules of travel remained in a state of flux, so that planning trips was still fraught.

"We also have to be realistic that airline schedules are very unreliable right now, because of the unchangeable government rules," he said.

"There's a lot coming into play here when we talk about leisure travel for New Zealanders going outbound."

Malone warned that 'ghost flights' - where operators put flight schedules online, but cancelled flights when not enough passengers booked - were also making travel a risky proposition in some cases.