Air New Zealand and Qantas have different views over whether the trans-Tasman bubble will reopen, with Air New Zealand’s boss giving a glimpse into the numerous hurdles customers will need to jump in order to travel.
Last month Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern suspended quarantine-free travel from Australia for two months, as New South Wales and other states struggled to contain a Covid-19 Delta outbreak.
Following Auckland’s Delta community outbreak the Australian Government said it was also pausing quarantine-free flights from New Zealand.
On Thursday, after both airlines posted heavy losses, Air New Zealand and Qantas gave insights into the future of trans-Tasman travel.
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Air New Zealand is operating a heavily reduced trans-Tasman schedule, largely to keep cargo moving, while Qantas and its subsidiary Jetstar have suspended flights.
On Thursday Qantas said, based on vaccination rate projections and the Australian Government’s plan for reopening borders, flights between Australia and New Zealand would begin from mid-December “in line with the anticipated restart of the trans-Tasman travel bubble”.
They will go on sale “on the assumption some or all parts of the two-way bubble will restart”.
It was also planning to resume flying to Fiji, Singapore, the United States, Japan, United Kingdom and Canada around the same time.
It was expecting flights between Australia and Hong Kong from mid-February and flights between Australia and Bali, Jakarta, Manila, Bangkok, Phuket, Ho Chi Minh City and Johannesburg from April onwards.
The plans were subject to government and regulatory approval, Qantas said.
“This remains dependent on Government decisions in coming months, so we’ll keep you updated if the plans change.”
Air New Zealand chief executive Greg Foran said it was also planning to ramp up flights to Australia before the end of the year, but it was unlikely to be under a trans-Tasman bubble arrangement.
“A bubble is quite an interesting concept, and I’m not convinced in my own mind that we’re going to see too many more bubbles or even a return to bubbles,” Foran said.
Bubbles made travel a seamless experience for customers because they did not need to provide proof of a pre-departure test or vaccination, he said.
“I’m not sure that even in a few months Australia becomes a bubble again.”
Instead, travellers would probably need to show proof of Covid-19 vaccination, conduct a pre-departure Covid-19 test and be tested again at designated clinics on arrival.
A pre-departure test before their return flight as well as a test on arrival in New Zealand may also be required, he said.
“All of this is sort of unfolding before our eyes at the moment. It’s what we’re seeing in other countries around the world.”
He said when the bubble was open things were “pretty good”.
Air New Zealand chief financial officer Richard Thomson said before the bubble opened there had been a belief that pent-up demand would result in “an avalanche of travellers” looking to travel again almost immediately.
“That’s not really what we saw,” Thomson said.
Instead, there was a “short sharp spike” in people visiting friends and relatives, he said.
Demand out of Australia was stronger than demand from New Zealand, and people outside the friends and family market were not booking at short notice, he said.
They were booking months in advance, and that was expected to be even more pronounced when long-haul markets returned.