Air New Zealand has pushed pause on all in-flight food and beverage services aboard its domestic flights, in light of Omicron outbreak fears.
As of 1 January, the New Zealand flag carrier will no longer offer passengers a complimentary snack on board its domestic flights, so that customers will continue to wear their face mask throughout the duration of the flight and minimise possible infection of others.
Instead, passengers will be given their complimentary snack at the end of the flight, as they disembark the aircraft.
While the airline’s usual tea and coffee service will also be paused, customers will be able to request water while onboard.
Air New Zealand chief customer and sales officer Leanne Geraghty said the new policy will add “another layer of protection” for New Zealanders who choose to fly domestically over the busy summer season.
“We know customers look forward to their cookie, popcorn or bliss bites so rather than pause food and beverage service, we have made the decision to offer our popular snacks to our customers to enjoy when they arrive at their destination,” Geraghty said.
She noted that the decision has been made in anticipation that New Zealand will soon face a surge of COVID-19 cases off the back of the Omicron variant, as has been seen in other countries around the world, including Australia.
“Masks are one of the key ways to limit transmission, so making this change will enable our customers’ masks to be kept on throughout the flight and ensure they are as safe as possible while onboard an Air New Zealand aircraft” Geraghty added.
The change will be temporary, and the policy will be reviewed on a regular basis, the airline said.
The move is largely conservative, given that aircraft have largely been considered as poor conduits for COVID-19 infection.
In October 2020, the World Health Organization ruled that the risk of COVID-19 being spread on a flight is “very low”, albeit not impossible, given the air filtration systems used onboard, onboard mask mandates, and the additional cleaning and sanitation standards of airlines.
However, it comes after New Zealand saw its first confirmed case of the highly contagious Omicron variant last week, after a traveller from England tested positive to the virus at the end of their managed isolation period.
The news comes just two weeks after the New Zealand government delayed its planned restart of quarantine-free travel for its citizens and residents until the end of February, due to the current COVID outbreak.
The government had previously announced that fully vaccinated New Zealand citizens would be able to travel to Australia and return home without entering a two-week quarantine from 16 January.
Meanwhile, double-jabbed Kiwis would be free to return home from anywhere else in the world from 13 February – in a system very similar to Australia’s.
However, this easing of border restrictions has now been delayed until at least the end of February, in light of Omicron variant fears.
COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said, “All of the evidence so far points to Omicron being the most transmissible COVID-19 variant yet.
“There’s no doubt this is disappointing and will upset many holiday plans, but it’s important to set these changes out clearly today so they can have time to consider those plans.”
New Zealand has also previously announced that double-jabbed tourists from around the globe would once again be welcomed into New Zealand for the first time since the pandemic started, from 30 April, however it is expected for this date to similarly be pushed back.