Quarantine-free flights between Australia and New Zealand could take off on April 19, if the forward schedule of Air New Zealand is anything to go by.
The Kiwi carrier has dramatically boosted its Australian roster beginning Monday April 19, ahead of today’s announcement by NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at 4pm NZ time – 2pm Australian eastern – on when the long-awaited travel bubble between the two countries will open.
From a current baseline of just four Auckland-Sydney return flights this current week, Air New Zealand’s timetable from April 19 shows a whopping 23 return flights.
April 19 also sees a return of direct flights between Auckland and Perth and from Wellington and Christchurch to Sydney, with Queenstown to Sydney resuming one day later, on April 20.
It’s also worth noting that New Zealand’s autumn school holidays commence on Saturday 17 April 2021, and a confirmation today of the trans-Tasman bubble’s starting date is expected to unleash a rush of bookings by Kiwis after a year of ‘cabin fever’.
Australia and New Zealand have long been each other’s number one travel destination: 2019 saw some 2.6 million residents of each country jetting back and forth across the Tasman, according to Stats NZ.
Qantas ready to ramp up
Qantas’ own timetable still lists only two Sydney-Auckland flights per week, but this is certain to change – and quickly – once the kick-off date for quarantine-free travel is in place, with both its workhorse Boeing 737 and larger twin-aisle Airbus A330 jets shuttling across the pond.
Virgin Australia has for now ceased all overseas flying, but CEO Jayne Hrdlicka has said she is “looking forward to short haul international flights coming back. It will be one of the first things we do. It will be anywhere where a (Boeing) 737 can fly, so that will include New Zealand, Fiji and Bali.”
Read more: Virgin Australia eager to restart international flights
Air New Zealand is also primed to unlock the doors of its international airport lounges in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch “when quarantine-free trans-Tasman travel restarts” the airline’s Senior Manager Global Lounges and Valet, Alison Swarbrick, recently told Executive Traveller.
“We have been optimistically planning the reopening of our… international lounges since before Christmas”
Similar plans by Qantas, American Express and Plaza Premium remain under consideration.
“We’ll reopen our international lounges as soon as there’s enough commercial demand, particularly at Sydney and Melbourne, if they’re the likely Australian ports” for travel bubbles, Qantas Chief Customer Officer Stephanie Tully enthused to Executive Traveller in December 2020.
Read more: When will Australia’s international lounges reopen?
How the travel bubble would work
Australian and New Zealand airports participating in the bubble would be divided into ‘green zones’ for travellers coming in from either country, and ‘red zones’ for passengers arriving from elsewhere in the world for transit or quarantine.
It’s not known what requirements such as pre-flight and/or on-arrival COVID tests might be imposed on bubble passengers.
Part of the working arrangements between the Australian and New Zealand governments will include contact tracing and how each country will respond to COVID-19 outbreaks.
“If we open a bubble, we have to be confident that both sides of the Tasman will be prepared to respond to small outbreaks without stopping the bubble,” says New Zealand Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield.
However, NZ PM Ardern has previously hinted that any COVID-safe travel corridor between New Zealand and Australia might begin on a state-by-state basis.
“Our view is, rather than trying to work through a solution that sees all of Australia with New Zealand, that we can work through an arrangement that sees us operating with some states but not others,” she said.
In recent months New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland opened their borders to quarantine-free travel for Kiwi visitors under a “safe travel zone” arrangement, although passengers returning to New Zealand still having to spend 14 days in isolation.
As previously reported, Australia has also revised its biosecurity laws – which currently ban all international travel without special exemption – to allow anyone who has been in Australia for at least 14 days to travel “directly to New Zealand.”