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Virgin won’t fly most New Zealand routes until 31 October

written by Adam Thorn | April 6, 2021
A file image of Virgin Australia Boeing 737-800 VH-YIR at Auckland Airport. (G B_NZ/Wikimedia Commons)
A Virgin Australia Boeing 737-800, VH-YIR, at Auckland Airport. (G B_NZ/Wikimedia Commons)

Virgin Australia has surprisingly announced it won’t fly most of its New Zealand routes until 31 October, despite quarantine-free travel from Australia beginning on 19 April.

The airline hinted potential suspensions to the arrangement, already common to the existing one-way bubble, would add too much “complexity”.

It comes after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern revealed on Tuesday afternoon the bubble could be paused at short notice, under the guidance of what she termed “flyer beware”.

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“New Zealand remains a key part of our short-haul international network and we look forward to re-entering the trans-Tasman market later this year,” said Virgin Australia in a statement.

“While the airline remains committed to trans-Tasman flying when the market fully recovers, we are mindful of evolving border requirements which add complexity to our business as we push ahead with plans to grow our core domestic Australia operations.

“For this reason, we have suspended the sale of most New Zealand services until 31 October 2021. A limited schedule for flights to and from Queenstown will remain available for booking from 18 September 2021.

“We are working with Air New Zealand to provide impacted customers with alternative options and will be contacting them directly. In all cases, options to select new travel dates or obtain a refund to the original form of payment are being made available.”

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Virgin Australia joined Qantas in suspending most regular international travel in March 2020, at the start of the COVID pandemic.

Former chief executive Paul Scurrah then said he didn’t think the revived airline would fly long haul routes abroad for the next two years.

It comes as PM Ardern warned that passengers travelling to Australia must “plan for the possibility of travel being disrupted” if there is a COVID outbreak.

“While we absolutely wish to encourage family and friends to reunite and visitors to come and enjoy the hospitality New Zealand is ready and waiting to offer, those undertaking travel on either side of the ditch will do so under the guidance of flyer beware,” she said.

“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.

“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.”

Last month, Australia paved the way for the trans-Tasman bubble by amending its Biosecurity Act, which gives it the legal right to ask all returning residents to quarantine for 14 days.

“Australia is ready for any potential travel bubble with New Zealand,” said Health Minister Greg Hunt. “We’re prepared. We understand New Zealand has to go through its processes, and we’re deeply respectful of those, but we are ready when they are.”

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.

12 Comments

  • Trevor

    says:

    Probably this is ‘Bain speak’, for not wanting to spend money on VA.
    There’s more to this decision than they’re letting on.
    Never heard of an airline so oddly ‘run’ by its’ owners since this US mob took ‘em over.

    • Ben

      says:

      Actually it seems logical, they don’t want to roll the lockdown dice, so have elected to stay out of it for now. Gives them the ability to focus on domestic as that sures up and then relaunch NZ when the stability returns. Rather than QF and NZ who will be busy trading blows and dealing with the inevitable fallout when the next outbreak occurs and the borders slam shut again.

      • Trevor

        says:

        Am sure the wording you seek is ‘shores up’!

  • Paul

    says:

    Virgin can’t afford to operate the NZ routes especially if there is a border closure after starting. It’s not worth the risk, its bad enough in Australia.

  • S

    says:

    Trevor I think you are Correct. One would have thought that the investment and ‘risk’ as such would be fairly small. Using existing fleet (737s) would help amortise current overheads. But over the years Virgin have always been slow to capitalise on opportunity.

    • Trevor

      says:

      Yes, S, one gets the feeling that the VA owners’, are certainly not running it to the practised norm.
      It’s blatantly obvious Bain doesn’t want to spend ANY money on it in any way, shape or form, irregardless of border lockdowns.
      Their ‘market share’ Trans Tasman would be poor, with the QF/NZ combined competition anyway, & they know that, at least.
      This leads to only one conclusion, IMHO. They’re probably going to sell it ASAP, which is what these types of businesses’, like Bain, do, & that’s possibly been their goal since purchasing.
      As usual, time’ll tell…….

  • Peter

    says:

    We have to remember Virgin is a shadow of the airline it was this time last year. It is much much smaller.

    Their fleet has more than halved, thousands laid off, cost cutting everywhere – they simply don’t have the capacity to execute even short haul international at the moment.

  • Lynne D'Aquino

    says:

    RAAF 100 Centenary- comment

    I was disappointed that the Iroquois wasn’t included in the RAAF 100 Centenary.
    I understand that the Iroquois is now part of the Army and not the RAAF, but should have been included as it was a big part of the RAAF and the Vietnam War.

    Just a thought….

    Lynne

  • Ota

    says:

    The truth is that Bain/Virgin barely have enough aircraft and pilots to operate domestic services, let alone international.
    Bain has invested heavily in a bankrupt airline and their focus will be sorting out the mess left by the JB administration.
    None of the remaining Virgin pilots are qualified to fly into Queenstown, so Bain will have to start from scratch by training up pilots with no experience.
    With nearly 1000 ex NZ Virgin crew now unemployed, it will be pretty unethical to start operating to and from NZ with replacement Australian crew. Notably, both Qantas and Jetstar have retained their NZ crews and are consequently ready to hit the ground running when the borders open.

  • Rod Pickin

    says:

    Poor old VOZ, they made a decision some time ago to exit almost all regional routes, dispose of or park their B777’s and A330’s and reduce their B737 numbers so in reality, not much wriggle room now that operational opportunities are on the improve. Sure, possible annoying ad hoc border closures have to be factored into to the plan but let’s face it, we are in positive territory and we must plan accordingly. Interesting to note that whilst VOZ is dropping some east coast ports REX is adding more destinations. Another point to consider from the passenger viewpoint on Tasman travel, would you travel on a B737 (VOZ) when possibly the options of a B787 (TE) or an A330 (QF) are an alternative option. VOZ, I know I don’t have to pay the bills but it is now time to slowly reintroduce the A330 from storage to Oz trunk routes and to Tasman ports too so when other “bubbles” are confirmed you are ready.

    • Glenn

      says:

      Virgin won’t be reintroducing A330’s or B777’s as they made all the crews redundant and got rid of the aircraft. They could have kept the A330’s on dirt cheap renegotiated leases during voluntary administration but had no foresight. If a Japan bubble was to open, they would still have aircraft to operate those services – and Haneda slots. ANA will be the winners out of that.

      Maybe REX will see an opportunity to fly to NZ?

  • Vannus

    says:

    Oh Rod, you’re showing your years’!
    It’s not TE anymore, & hasn’t been for quite a long time!

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