26 Jul 2021

Air New Zealand 'willing and able' to increase flights from Australia

10:07 am on 26 July 2021

The clock is ticking and New Zealanders have until 11.59pm on 30 July to get on a quarantine-free flight back home from Australia. However, travellers from New South Wales must go through managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ).

Air New Zealand planes

Air New Zealand aircraft. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

The trans-Tasman travel bubble is paused for at least eight weeks as the Delta variant continues to spread.

Air New Zealand chief executive Greg Foran told Morning Report the airline would do everything to help New Zealanders wanting to return this week from Australia.

"Trust us," he said.

"We have seen plenty of people reach out over the weekend. We've got about 7500 people booked to return to New Zealand through to midnight this Friday."

The prime minister this morning said it was not known how many of the 21,000 New Zealanders in Australia would want to come home but there would be space for them on return flights.

There were still about 2000 seats available, and about 4500 people were booked to go back to Australia, Foran said.

"We've put on now four extra flights and had put on some planes that have got some more seats on as well so at this stage things are looking very much in control and ... we're going to do everything we can to ensure that friends and whānau get back home."

He said the airline could increase the number of flights if need be.

"At this stage, the people who want to get back have already taken some action. I'm not saying it won't continue to be a little bit busy this week.

"But we're ready, willing and able to get people home at later notice if we need to."

Foran said the team was now working towards a drop in the number of flights over the next eight weeks when the travel bubble is suspended.

"Demand is going to fall away pretty quickly across the Tasman both ways. So we'll make the adjustments there and ... we're putting on some extra activity domestically.

"Domestic is continuing to perform well, we're now actually running above pre-Covid levels, we're running at about 104 percent."

He said about 250,000 seats had gone on sale today for under $100 around the country.

And Rarotonga flights were also running about four times than usual.

He could not say how the travel pause would affect finances but was sure "the length of this will have a bearing on it".

"This is not a situation that has caught us completely by surprise."

He said the Delta variant of Covid-19 had "changed the game in terms of how not just here in New Zealand, but any airline is regarding travel".

"We're committed to vaccinations. I can tell you that in Air New Zealand over 80 percent of our frontline workers are now vaccinated."

'Mad scramble' to get on flights

Travel Agents Association president Brent Thomas told First Up travel booking portals had been busy.

"There's been a rush ... people trying to get home through this situation.

"But it does highlight that the government needs to continue with this process of getting vaccinations, hopefully 60-65 percent by September, 80 percent by November, and then they can tell us what the plan [is] so people can travel safely when they are fully vaccinated."

He said it was a "mad scramble" with people trying to book flights, and travel agents were being sought after as travel became more complex.

"Time is of the essence and there's only so many seats and so many flights. Air New Zealand and Qantas have been looking at that ... can they put on more because there's certainly demand there."

It was not an easy operation for an airline, he said.

Thomas said it was possible not everyone wanting to return would make it back on flights this week.

He urged the government to open emergency MIQ spots.

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