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Travel industry poised for vital trans-Tasman announcement

April 6, 2021 Headline News No Comments Email Email

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will today reveal the start-date for quarantine-free travel between New Zealand and Australia, with airlines ready to launch trans-Tasman services and speculation that the borders could even be open as early as this weekend.

Australia’s eastern states have already waived quarantine for arrivals from New Zealand. It just remains for New Zealand to do the same.

Air New Zealand has reportedly rehired and retrained more than 300 cabin crew and associated staff as it waits for the big announcement. The airline was reported yesterday to be preparing for a travel surge, with extra quarantine-free flights planned from Auckland to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane from the end of this week, Friday 12 April to Thursday 18 April. The airline will then increase frequencies from Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, and Queenstown to all nine of its Australian ports from 19 April to 30 October, initially operating at 65% of pre Covid-19 capacity.

Over 400,000 New Zealanders hold expired passports, and NZ’s Department of Internal Affairs has encouraged Kiwi travellers to renew their passports now to avoid the rush.

Qantas and Jetstar will offer their frequent flyers uncapped Classic Flight Reward seats for three days after quarantine-free trans-Tasman travel begins. Thousands of seats across all cabins will be made available for booking as Classic Flight Rewards over the 72-hour travel period. (Customers can also pay for these seats.) See: Qantas to greet trans-Tasman revival with ‘points planes’

Mass vaccination is creaking along slowly in Australia and has hardly started in New Zealand – but vaccination won’t be required for trans-Tasman travel. Ardern has said there will be no vaccine requirement for travel under the trans-Tasman bubble, echoing an earlier assurance by Qantas: “There is no suggestion that a vaccine would be required for domestic travel and probably not for countries with which Australia might form a ‘travel bubble’ (e.g. New Zealand).”

An end to trans-Tasman quarantine is only possible because New Zealand and Australia have almost no local transmission of the coronavirus. Both countries will continue to require mandatory hotel quarantine for travellers from farther afield. When other international borders open – perhaps later this year – airlines and governments will most likely insist that passengers and crew be vaccinated.

New Zealand tour operators are desperate for Australian business and the same is true in the other direction – but other factors are also in play, such as caution among travellers about being caught in sudden lockdowns.

New Zealand travel journalist Lorna Thornber wrote last week that “with the trans-Tasman bubble panning out the way it is, there’s no way I’m heading to Australia”.

Thornber went on to explain that “if lockdowns or border closures forced an expensive extended stay”, being trapped in Australia could turn into a costly nightmare. Travellers venturing across the Ditch are unlikely to be covered by travel insurance if a Covid outbreak in either country triggers a lockdown and leaves them stranded. Careful reading of the small print is essential.

In both countries, cases of Covid-19 sometimes occur when the virus escapes from a hospital or quarantine facility – so outbreaks are still possible.

Many travellers will be prepared to take the risk. NZ Airports told the New Zealand Herald yesterday its members “couldn’t be keener” to get quarantine-free travel to Australia up and running. The division of Auckland Airport into separate red and green traveller zones is already prepared, along with signage to go with it. Other airports are ready to go too.

A breakdown of trans-Tasman traffic in 2019, the most recent year before the pandemic distorted travel, showed Qantas with 26% of the total, Jetstar with 10%, Air New Zealand 37%, Virgin Australia 18% and other carriers 9%.

Below: Waiting for Aussie visitors! A few of the 400 vintage vehicles on display at The Southward Car Museum, Paraparaumu, north of Wellington. Photo: Peter Needham

Written by Peter Needham

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