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”.
“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.”
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.