The first of Air New Zealand’s ‘repatriation’ flights taking Kiwis in COVID-hit NSW back home sold out in just 15 minutes, with the first departing on Tuesday.
The 787-9, ZK-NZM msn 38180, left Sydney at 12:13pm on 13 July as flight NZ1104 and is due to land in Auckland at 4:43pm.
Those on the so-called mercy flights will have to undertake two-week quarantine in the country’s government-run managed isolation facilities (MIQ).
Currently, nine flights are currently scheduled between 13 and 23 July. Of these, two will fly into Christchurch, with the remaining to Auckland.
According to Air New Zealand, when booking a ‘managed return’ seat on a repatriation flight, customers will automatically have their MIQ place confirmed
When more MIQ allocations are provided, more seats will be made available for booking, according to the airline.
“We would love to be able to bring more Kiwis home to their families, but we’re limited by the availability of MIQ spots,” said Air New Zealand chief customer and sales officer Leanna Geraghty.
“Only between 40-60 seats per flight will be available to be booked by customers as these are directly linked to MIQ spots.
“Flights will be available on a first-in, first-served basis.”
Geraghty added that around 20 per cent of all MIQ allocations will be reserved for cases on compassionate grounds, which is managed through the New Zealand government.
Customers wishing to apply for compassionate grounds must do so via the government directly, the airline said.
“Our teams have worked tirelessly with the government over the weekend to get these managed return flights up and running so we can reconnect Kiwis with their loved ones,” she said.
“We recognise this is a very stressful and emotional time for those customers wishing to return from NSW, and we’re doing everything we can to get them home as quickly and as safely as possible.”
The news comes just days after New Zealand re-started its quarantine-free trans-Tasman arrangement with much of Australia on 5 July. However, passengers will now be required to take a pre-flight COVID-19 test within 72 hours of departure in a significant change to the rules.
Today, Queensland has been readmitted to the bubble, leaving only NSW blocked out.
It is not yet known how long the additional restrictions will last, or when the bubble will open up to the remaining states of Australia.
New Zealand’s COVID Response Minister, Chris Hipkins, said earlier that travellers from SA, ACT, Tasmania or Victoria can only fly if they have not been in NSW since 22 June; or Queensland, the NT or WA from 26 June.
“Cabinet carefully weighed up the evidence this morning and we consider that partially lifting the pause at this point is an appropriate course of action, particularly when bolstered with the introduction of a mandatory pre-departure test,” Minister Hipkins said.
Quarantine-free travel between the two countries only started in April, but Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had warned the agreement would be temporarily halted in the event of a lockdown.