Qantas and Jetstar will operate 83 per cent of their pre-COVID capacity to New Zealand when the two-way, trans-Tasman bubble launches on 19 April.
The airline group also said it would launch two new routes from Auckland to Cairns and the Gold Coast alongside restarting all its traditional routes between the two countries.
It comes after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern revealed on Tuesday afternoon the bubble would launch imminently but could be paused at short notice, causing Virgin to opt out of flying most routes until 31 October.
The Qantas Group revealed it will operate up to 122 return flights per week across the Tasman on 15 routes, or 52,000 seats each week. It has been operating at just 3 per cent pre-COVID capacity during the current one-way arrangement.
A new daily service from the Gold Coast to Auckland will also start when the bubble opens, marking Qantas’ first-ever international flights from the Queensland airport.
A second new route, Cairns-Auckland, will also launch in time for the June long weekend, operating three days per week. Flights will initially operate for nine weeks until late July, and Qantas said it could potentially add more flights beyond this period depending on demand.
The business will operate trans-Tasman services using a mix of 737s and A330s.
Qantas Domestic and International CEO, Andrew David, said, “We know Australians are keen to head overseas again, so we expect strong demand for flights to New Zealand and there are many Kiwis who can’t wait for a winter escape to warmer weather in Australia.”
Qantas’ new schedule will include year-round, direct flights to Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown, plus direct flights from Brisbane and Melbourne to Queenstown, usually only operated seasonally for the ski season peak.
Jetstar will initially operate to Auckland from Melbourne, Gold Coast and Sydney using its A320s, with schedules of both airlines connecting on to Jetstar’s New Zealand domestic network of more than 120 return flights per week to five destinations. The budget carrier will resume flights on the remainder of its pre-COVID routes from the middle of the year.
Qantas also extended its travel credits policy, allowing customers who book flights before 31 July 2021 unlimited fee-free date changes when travelling before 28 February 2022. Jetstar offers the option of purchasing “FareCredit”, which allow passengers to cancel flights for any reason.
The news comes despite Virgin Australia surprisingly announcing it won’t fly most of its New Zealand routes until 31 October. It followed PM Ardern warning passengers travelling to Australia to “plan for the possibility of travel being disrupted” if there is a COVID outbreak.
“For instance, if a case is found that is quite clearly linked to a border worker in a quarantine facility and is well contained, you’ll likely see travel continue in the same way as you could see life continue if that happened here in Australia,” explained Prime Minister Ardern.
“If, however, a case was found that was not clearly linked to the border, and a state responded by a short lockdown to identify more information, we’d likely pause flights from that state in the same way we would stop travel into and out of a region in New Zealand as if it was going into a full lockdown.
“And if we saw multiple cases of unknown origin, we would likely suspend flights for a set period of time.”
A one-way ‘travel bubble’ first opened in October 2020 allowing Kiwis to enter Australia without quarantine, but not the other way around.
Both countries indicated it would be made reciprocal in the first quarter of 2021, however, the move was postponed due to numerous small outbreaks of COVID in both countries.