The government and Air New Zealand have agreed to manage bookings to ensure New Zealanders arriving home can be safely placed in a managed isolation or quarantine facility.
Housing Minister Megan Woods said the airline had agreed to put a temporary hold on new bookings in the short term, as well as looking at aligning daily arrivals with the capacity available at managed isolation facilities.
People who had already booked flights with Air New Zealand would still be able to enter New Zealand subject to availability of quarantine space.
Woods said the government was also talking to other airlines about managing flows.
"We have seen similar moves in Australia, where passenger numbers into Sydney have been limited following the suspension of flights into Melbourne because of the surge in COVID cases in Victoria," Woods said in a statement.
"They too are having to manage the flow of people into the country to match availability of managed isolation beds.
"We are seeing rapid growth in the numbers of New Zealanders coming home as the COVID-19 pandemic worsens.
"Our number one priority is stopping the virus at the border, so everyone must to go into quarantine or managed isolation. The government is also talking to other airlines about managing flows.
"The last thing we need are hastily set up facilities to meet demand, so we must have a manageable number of fit-for-purpose, safe facilities that do the job of stopping COVID at the border," Woods said.
Air Commodore Darryn Webb said almost 6000 people were in the country's 28 managed isolation facilities, and new facilities needed to be "watertight" before they were opened.
"Standing up new capacity at the required levels for people to stay in for 14 days of isolation is a hugely complex undertaking; it needs appropriate levels of health and other services near by, New Zealand Defence Force personnel and extra security to ensure that people are looked after properly and the risk of Covid getting out into the community is minimised."
The numbers of those arriving has continued to increase in recent weeks, with 5697 people currently in managed isolation and quarantine, the government said.
More than 26,400 people have been through managed isolation and quarantine since 26 March.
Air New Zealand chief commercial and customer officer Cam Wallace told Nine to Noon the hold will give the system an opportunity to absorb its current demand.
Wallace said the company is "very hopeful" it will only be a three-week period and the government will expand its ability to isolate returnees.
He said, going forward, Air New Zealand will work more closely with the government on managing supply and demand for returnees.
"We have been quite surprised with the demand surge we're seeing."
Wallace said most of the demand for flights home is coming from Australia and the United States.
He said many of them are expat Kiwis who've recently made the decision to return.
Air New Zealand currently has too many customers booked over the next few weeks and will need to move potentially hundreds of bookings back.
Wallace said Air New Zealand expects demand for international flights back to New Zealand will continue to grow.
"We're looking at a 20 percent increase for Air New Zealand services," he said.
Juggling isolation capacity and arrivals
National Party leader Todd Muller has again described the government's handling of border quarantine as shambolic.
In response to the Air New Zealand announcement, Muller said any New Zealander who wanted to come home should be allowed to return.
He said it was the government's shambolic handling of the border in recent weeks which had put the facilities under pressure.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said freezing new Air New Zealand bookings for three weeks was a better option than putting a cap on arrivals from overseas.
Ardern said the number of people looking to return home was increasing and the government has had to juggle that with hotel capacity.
She said a good solution has been reached with Air New Zealand.
"I wouldn't call it a drastic step when we look at things like New South Wales, they've put a hard cap with no flight any more than 50 passengers and a total of 450 per day. We, this week, will be managing more than that."
The number of people arriving into the country would continue to be monitored over the coming weeks, she said.