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An Air New Zealand 787 landing at Houston IAH (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Mateen Kontoravdis)

Air New Zealand Schedules Quarantine-Free Flights

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, numerous countries have issued lengthy travel restrictions and strict entry requirements for international travelers. As a result, the new air travel atmosphere forced airlines to rely on various methods to adapt to those changes, including schedule changes, aircraft swaps and route suspensions, with the goal of mitigating future losses caused by operating flights with low load factors and weak travel demand.

But a new deal reached by two local governments will allow Air New Zealand to restart a flight without some of those restrictions. The airline will be able to resume its route between Rarotonga, Cook Islands and Auckland after the Cook Islands and New Zealand reached an agreement on more lenient entry requirements.

New Zealand’s flag carrier will launch its first quarantine-free flight to Auckland on Jan. 21. The Star Alliance carrier plans to operate two weekly flights from Rarotonga on Wednesdays and Saturdays, using one of the powerhouses in its short-haul fleet, the Airbus A320. 

“This is fantastic news for both Cook Islanders and New Zealanders. We know many Cook Islanders will be eager to connect with friends and family in New Zealand, and we look forward to seeing what a two-way quarantine-free travel arrangement will look like,” Air New Zealand Chief Executive Officer Greg Foran said.

The two nations recently established a one-way quarantine-free agreement, now commonly referred to as a travel bubble. Thus, travelers from Rarotonga can fly into Auckland without being required to quarantine upon arrival. However, existing criteria for New Zealanders entering the Cook Islands remain active, as part of the phased approach to resume flight routes and open borders. 

“Of course safety is our first priority for our customers and staff. We’ve been working closely with both governments, relevant agencies and airports on what is required to keep our customers and staff safe once travel opens up,” Foran added. 

A Regional Route Network Revival

In mid-December, Air New Zealand began the first steps to welcome the upcoming flights in the new year. The Auckland-based airline started the process to recall its A320 cabin crew from furlough. 

The airline furloughed the 175 cabin crew members in June 2020 as the effects of COVID-19 began to intensify and take their toll on the airline. However, the carrier made the strategic decision to prepare for the quarantine-free flights at the end of the year, a process that included recalling some of its crew

“We know these crews are really keen to get back on board, so it’s been heartwarming to make these phone calls before Christmas,” Leeanne Langridge, the airline’s general manager cabin crew, said in a statement. “Their uniforms are all ready to be collected, and I’m sure many of them can’t wait to wear the koru again. These crews represent Air New Zealand so well and have missed being part of our customers’ journey,” a philosophy represented by the airline’s strategy to resume flight operations and reconnect its route network within the region.

Clearly, ongoing travel restrictions and stringent entry requirements remain an obstacle for Air New Zealand’s international flights. But the airline’s new one-way quarantine-free flights will open up the airline’s opportunities and choices to expand its flight resumptions to its other routes.  If Air New Zealand continues its focus on resuming its flights within Oceania, the airline will be slated to recover from the slump in travel demand due to travel restrictions sooner than may have originally been expected for a carrier with such a heavy focus on international markets.

Benjamin Pham
Benjamin Pham
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