Air New Zealand restarted commercial flights from Rarotonga, on the Cook Islands, to Auckland on Thursday, following the announcement of a one-way travel bubble.
The A321-271NX, ZK-NNB msn 08542, departed Avarua Rarotonga Airport at 7:48am as flight NZ941 and landed at 11:03am in Auckland.
It comes after New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Cook Island residents would able to fly into the country without quarantine but not the other way around – in an effective reversal of the country’s bubble with Australia.
The airline’s chief executive, Greg Foran, said he was encouraged by bookings following the announcement of the bubble, particularly for January and February.
“The first couple of flights inbound have had strong uptake, which is terrific,” Foran said. “We knew there was pent up demand from Cook Islanders waiting to come to New Zealand without quarantining.
“We’re thrilled to bring the first wave of Cook Islanders who meet the quarantine-free requirements into New Zealand. We see this as a really positive step towards a two-way airbridge with Rarotonga.”
The business said health checks for the quarantine-free travel would occur at both Rarotonga and Auckland Airports on arrival.
The unique arrangement will also allow some specialist workers, contractors and the judiciary to travel the other way for short terms without the need for quarantine.
“There has been a desperate need to clear one year’s worth of court cases due to the inability to conduct trials and hearings before a judge,” said Cook Island Prime Minister Mark Brown previously. “Private companies have been ham-strung by the inability to bring in specialists for major projects and infrastructure work.”
The positive news comes shortly after Air New Zealand said it would maintain a minimal international schedule through to 30 June 2021 despite hope vaccines could end the COVID crisis sooner.
The business said low demand and ongoing travel restrictions were behind the decision that includes flying to LA just twice a week, compared with five times a week in May 2020.
Air New Zealand’s general manager of networks, Scott Carr, said, “We understand these are very uncertain times and it can be tricky for people looking to get home with a lot of things needing to line up including flights, testing and managed isolation bookings.
“We feel a responsibility to ensure Kiwis can come home and are doing our best to make this happen as smoothly as possible. We strongly recommend customers check government border restrictions for the relevant countries and/or individual passport requirements before booking a ticket.”