Air New Zealand is now allowing passengers to sit in the middle seat after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern scrapped social distancing on public transport, effective immediately.
The airline responded by offering 160,000 fares for under $50 in an attempt to sell off the now spare capacity.
The Kiwi flag carrier first axed social distancing in June but was forced to reintroduce the measure after the country experienced an apparent second wave of COVID-19 cases, which also led to flights from Auckland being cancelled. Passengers will still be asked to wear masks on all flights.
Air New Zealand chief executive Greg Foran said, “We had been planning for physical distancing up until late this week, so this news allows us to immediately make those seats available for those who want to travel in the coming days.”
The sale will see 180,000 of its cheapest fares available for booking across all 20 ports, with 9,000 of those coming during the upcoming school holidays.
Separately, Air New Zealand has also said it will remove change fees for domestic flights booked for travel up until 31 March 2021.
“Waiving domestic change fees also means customers can book with confidence in the coming months knowing if their circumstances change, we’ll look after them,” added Foran.
Last week, Air New Zealand blamed the resurgence of COVID-19 for its decision to send many of its 777s to desert boneyards in Roswell, New Mexico, and Victorville, California.
The airline also announced the grounding of its entire 777 fleet would be extended from the end of 2020 until “at least” September 2021.
Now the flag carrier’s international schedule will be operated by more fuel-efficient 787 Dreamliners, with A320s and A320/21neos flying trans-Tasman and Pacific routes.
The resumption of full capacity will be a tonic to the business after it recorded an enormous statutory loss before tax of $575 million (NZ$629 million) for the last financial year.
Pre-coronavirus, the airline recorded an interim profit of $181 million (NZ$198 million) for the first half of the financial year, before restrictions led to an almost three-quarter drop in passenger revenue.
The inclusion of school holiday flights in the sale is likely a reaction to Air New Zealand reporting record passenger numbers for the July school holidays.