Man walks in front of a sign saying we've missed you

A passenger arrives at Sydney airport

Australian and New Zealand residents can travel freely between the two countries for the first time in more than year, after a travel bubble opened on Monday.

The long-awaited initiative removes the need for visitors to quarantie.

Both countries have contained Covid outbreaks and kept infection rates low, in large part due to hard borders.

Excited passengers crowded Australian airports ahead of reunions with family and friends.

Thousands of people are expected to travel on Monday with some rising before dawn to get ready to board.

“I didn’t realise how emotional I was going to be today,” passenger Dawn Tratt told the BBC at Sydney airport.

Airlines Qantas, Jetstar and Air New Zealand will all fly routes between the two countries.

Australia and New Zealand shut their borders in March last year and brought in compulsory quarantine for returning nationals.

Since October, New Zealand travellers have been allowed to enter most Australian states without quarantine, though this had not been reciprocated amid concerns about sporadic Covid outbreaks.

Analysis box by Shaimaa Khalil, Australia correspondent

Analysis box by Shaimaa Khalil, Australia correspondent

‘Couldn’t sleep with excitement’

The international departure terminal at Sydney airport was very busy, very early in the day. The queue in front of the check-in desk was long and spiralling. Many parents tried to entertain exhausted toddlers who had to wake up exceptionally early to catch the first flight from Sydney to Auckland on Day 1 of the trans-Tasman bubble.

Some passengers told me they camped outside from 02:00 local time (Sunday 17:00 GMT) before the airport had even opened. Others said they were so excited they couldn’t sleep. The first Jetstar flight was absolutely full.

It’s a big day for airlines after a catastrophic year because of Covid, and a big sigh of relief for both the travel and tourism industries. But really, this moment is about friends and family reuniting with their loved ones for the first time in more than a year.

Dawn Tratt’s voice broke a little as she spoke to me ahead of take-off in Sydney. Her cousin is unwell and while this is a hard time for her family, she’s glad she’ll be able to be there for her.

“We’re so privileged here in Australia and in New Zealand to be able to travel like that. It’s weird being on a plane again,” she smiled through her tears.

Family wearing masks at Sydney airport

A family queues at Sydney airport ahead of a flight to New Zealand

Economic boost

The bubble is expected to deliver a lift to both economies, Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison and New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in a joint statement.

“It is truly exciting to start quarantine-free travel with Australia. Be it returning family, friends or holiday-makers, New Zealand says welcome and enjoy yourself,” Ms Ardern said.

The country relies on Australia for 40% of its international tourism, injecting about NZ$2.7bn (£1.4bn, $1.9bn) into the economy.

In the other direction, New Zealanders accounted for 1.3 million arrivals to Australia in 2019, contributing A$2.6bn (£1.46bn; $2bn) to the Australian economy.

Still, the leaders warned the trans-Tasman travel bubble will be under “constant review” given the risks of quarantine-free travel.

Passengers at Sydney airport

Passengers prepare to board a flight to New Zealand at Sydney airport

The two countries have also previously raised the idea of separate travel bubbles with low-risk places like Singapore, Taiwan and several Pacific island nations.

Both nations have won praise for their handling of the Covid pandemic. Strict border controls and snap lockdowns are among the measures that have keep infection rates low. Australia has recorded 910 deaths, and New Zealand 26 deaths.

Despite its success in containing outbreaks, the Australian government is facing growing criticism over delays in its Covid vaccination rollout. The country has fallen far behind other nations and failed to meet its immunisation targets. The delays are likely to slow any further easing of border restrictions.