Air New Zealand has been forced to cancel over 1,000 flights between Australia and New Zealand through to 31 December, as hopes are dashed for a resumption of the trans-Tasman bubble by Christmas.
The airline said that the slew of cancellations, which will affect in excess of 20,000 passengers in total, were necessary due to “uncertainty” over the resumption of quarantine-free trans-Tasman travel.
It comes after New Zealand first announced the suspension of its quarantine-free travel agreement with Australia in July, which has since been extended. The trans-Tasman bubble was first implemented in April.
“Now, due to recent statements by the New Zealand government that quarantine-free travel between Australia and New Zealand is unlikely to recommence this year, we’ve had to make the difficult decision to change our schedule,” said Air New Zealand chief customer and sales officer Leanne Geraghty.
“This will be particularly tough news for families and friends who were hoping to catch up over Christmas.
“I appreciate how difficult this news will be, but our hands are tied until border restrictions ease, and we receive further clarity from the New Zealand government.”
According to Geraghty, some of the 20,000 impacted customers have already begun to move their bookings into credit, and the airline is actively working to ensure customers are aware of flight cancellations and assist in making alternative arrangements.
Customers are offered a full refund if they have purchased a refundable ticket, while other fares will be held in credit.
“We appreciate this latest news means some customers will have to wait longer before reuniting with loved ones,” Geraghty said.
“We’re continuing to do everything we can to get them home safely as quickly as possible.”
The airline’s schedule to and from Australia from January onwards currently “remains in place”, until the New Zealand government provides certainty on when trans-Tasman operations can restart.
The airline also continues to operate a reduced schedule of flights into Sydney and Melbourne and “red flights” from Australia into New Zealand for those who have reserved spots in the New Zealand government’s managed isolation facilities (MIQ).
The news comes despite the fact that New Zealand, like Australia, has given up its elimination and “zero COVID” strategy, and adjusted to “living with the virus”.
While now seeing upwards of 200 cases per day throughout the country, the New Zealand government has announced it will lift lockdown restrictions in Auckland, and allow fully vaccinated people to travel from the North Island city to the rest of the country.
Unvaccinated Kiwis can also cross the Auckland border, however, they need to present a negative COVID-19 PCR test beforehand.
In light of the news, Queenstown Lakes mayor Jim Boult questioned why Australians are not once again allowed to travel to New Zealand, given the current state of play.
“I don’t see a lot of difference between somebody coming out of Sydney and somebody coming out of Auckland,” Boult said.
“COVID is rife in both cities. It’s going to be a long time until they get rid of it.
“If a Sydneysider is vaccinated and has a very recent COVID negative test, then I can’t see too much reason why they can’t come here.”