Hundreds of passengers have landed in Auckland on an international flight after the travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand opened.
- The first flight headed for Auckland from Sydney airport took off about 7:00am, after an initial delay
- The travel bubble means Australians are now free to visit an international destination without applying for permission
- Anyone flying into NZ will go through a “green zone” in airports
For the first time since the start of the pandemic, Australians can enjoy relatively unrestricted international travel and avoid hotel quarantine when they return home.
And for New Zealanders stuck on this side of the Tasman, today marks the start of a return to normal when going home is only a short flight away.
The rules changed at midnight and the first flight headed for Auckland from Sydney airport took off about 7:00am, after an initial delay.
Upon arrival, passengers are set to walk off the plane and out into the community, becoming the first arrivals to bypass New Zealand’s hotel quarantine system since the start of the pandemic.
There were people heading to a funeral, some moving countries, and plenty of New Zealanders nervous to see family on the other side at the check-in gate.
Heather Lyberopoulos, 56, an anxious aunty ready to reunite with her sister, said she “had to be” on the first flight out.
“It’s some sort of normality for me to be able to go home. I’m grateful,” she said.
She’s booked a one-way flight, ever aware the situation could quickly change.
Isabella Buckney, 26, and Troy Godfrey, 25, were moving to New Zealand today.
Chasing winter, the couple will spend some time with family in Auckland before a move to Queenstown in time for snow season.
“We had our flights booked for May last year … so we’ve been waiting since then,” Ms Buckney said.
Mr Godfrey said today marked a significant day in the pandemic.
“It’s a massive point in the whole pandemic in terms of getting to that new stage of adapting to life,” he said.
“It marks a new stage and I’m glad it’s finally happening.”
Ms Buckney said the special position Australia and New Zealand were in made travelling during the pandemic “feel natural”.
“If I was flying anywhere else, maybe I wouldn’t feel so calm,” she said.
Travel bubble opens up opportunities
While some international travel has been possible for some Australians, it’s been heavily restricted and not without hefty costs.
The travel bubble means Australians are now free to visit an international destination without applying for permission from the federal government or the burden of hotel quarantine at their destination or when they return home.
The bubble opens up the opportunity for tourism as well as easier, and cheaper, family reunions.
After a Queensland border closure forced her into quarantine in Australia, Ms Lyberpoulos said avoiding that system in New Zealand was essential.
“It was a really terrible experience. Never again, I hope,” she said.
For Wilana Rawiri, 29, hotel quarantine was a “deal-breaker”.
“We weren’t going to go back, but we have a funeral so we’re just blessed that it’s opened up in time for us to go and pay our respects,” she said.
“We’re grateful. It’s just in time.”
From ghost town to a little buzz
After a year of empty departure halls, Australian airports added dozens of flights to departure boards this morning.
Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane will see more than 30 flights depart.
Perth and Gold Coast airports will also send flights to New Zealand down the runway.
Adelaide can expect to see flights across the Tasman commence in early May, and the airlines have promised flights to New Zealand will also come to Cairns and Hobart in the near future.
Qantas, Jetstar and Air New Zealand have all announced new routes between the two countries, taking advantage of the rare opportunity to move passengers across international borders without the lengthy, and costly, hotel quarantine layover.
The new routes for Qantas include Gold Coast to Auckland, the airline’s first-ever international flight from Gold Coast Airport.
Qantas and Jetstar said they will initially operate 122 flights per week across the Tasman.
Air New Zealand will build to 300 flights per week, with plans to be at peak capacity in time for the ski season and July school holidays.
Few conditions, but ‘flyer beware’
Since October, New Zealanders have been allowed to travel to Australia on “green zone” flights and avoid hotel quarantine on this end.
From today, Australians can do the same thing in the other direction.
Like New Zealanders coming to Australia, anyone flying into NZ will go through a “green zone” in airports and will be kept separate from other people flying in from around the world.
To fly in the bubble, passengers must have spent the previous 14 days in either Australia or New Zealand and not have returned a positive COVID-19 test within the same period.
Passengers must not have any coronavirus symptoms and they cannot travel while waiting on the results of a COVID-19 test.
The travel bubble was announced by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern two weeks ago, but the message at the time was very much “flyer beware”.
While both New Zealand and Australia have contained the community transmission of COVID-19, those travelling in the bubble have been warned the conditions could change at very short notice.
“Those undertaking travel on either side of the ditch will do so under the guidance of flyer beware,” Ms Ardern said when announcing the travel bubble.