Air New Zealand will for the first time force all passengers departing Auckland to wear masks, following news the city will re-enter lockdown for three days.
The airline also announced seats will now be kept free between travelling groups, food and drink will not be served on board, and lounges and valet parking will close.
On Tuesday, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the Auckland region would re-enter an ‘alert level 3’ lockdown from Wednesday at midday due to four new COVID-19 cases being identified, with people back to working from home and gatherings of more than 10 people banned.
The rest of the country will face lighter ‘alert level 2’ restrictions, which will limit mass gatherings to 100 people and see the return of social distancing.
Air New Zealand chief executive Greg Foran said, “Customers are welcome to bring their own masks, otherwise these will be provided by the airline once on board. We’re also encouraging customers travelling from other ports to consider wearing a mask, however this is not compulsory.”
Previously, during the height of the pandemic in April, the airline’s staff wore masks but passengers were not required to.
Recently, the business has said customers are simply “welcome to bring” their own. In contrast, Auckland Airport itself has said the wearing of masks isn’t mandatory in the terminal but simply “strongly recommended”.
Local publication Stuff previously reported that the national advice around face masks for air travel was that they were neither required nor discouraged.
Air New Zealand’s other changes include:
- Asking all of its front of house employees to wear gloves and masks;
- Closing every second check-in kiosk at larger airports;
- Reinstating social distancing at check-in desks via floor stickers;
- Keeping middle seats free between groups;
- Slowing down boarding and disembarking;
- Removing in-flight magazine Kia Ora;
- Shutting lounges and valet parking;
- Stopping food and beverage services; and
- Stopping the distribution of in-flight lollies.
Meanwhile, Auckland Airport itself has announced changes now that the city is technically entering ‘level 3’ restrictions.
It still, however, expects 13,000 people to pass through its domestic terminal today, though asks only those who have a ticket booked for travel to arrive – effectively ending family reunions.
“As we manage physical distancing and the changes to our operations we ask for patience and understanding from travellers. We are working hard to make sure everyone who needs to, can travel safely,” said general manager Anna Cassels-Brown.
Its new restrictions mean that passengers flying to and from Auckland, can:
- Fly into Auckland on a domestic flight if they are returning home, an essential worker or are coming to Auckland to undertake an essential service;
- Travel in Auckland to catch an international flight departing from Auckland Airport;
- Transit through Auckland Airport to catch an outbound international flight;
- Transit through Auckland Airport domestically on flights, but must not leave at Auckland unless they live in Auckland or are undertaking essential travel; and
- Leave on a departing flight out of Auckland Airport if they are travelling home or are leaving to undertake an essential service.
On Tuesday, New Zealand PM Ardern asked 1.5 million workers in Auckland to remain at home, while schools and pubs have been shut. It follows four cases being identified after more than 100 days without ‘community transmission’.
“This is something we have prepared for,” PM Ardern told a news conference on Tuesday.
“We have had 102 days and it was easy to feel New Zealand was out of the woods. No country has gone as far as we did without having a resurgence. And because we were the only ones, we had to plan. And we have planned.”
Air New Zealand had previously been celebrating a remarkable recovery from the coronavirus crisis. Australian Aviation reported last week that a record number of Kiwis flew during the school holidays, and domestic capacity is now back to 70 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.