**Update: 08/20/21 @ 03:36 UTC – The New Zealand Government has extended the nationwide lockdown until Tuesday, August 24.**
Demand for flights within New Zealand soared following the New Zealand Government giving people 48 hours to get home following the entire country going into lockdown. Passenger demand was so strong Air New Zealand asked the Government for more time to get people home.
A big two days for Air New Zealand
As reported by Simple Flying, New Zealand went into lockdown late on Tuesday evening after the first community cases of COVID-19 in six months were detected. The New Zealand Government gave people a 48-hour window to get home.
Air New Zealand anticipated moving 50,000 people, mostly to Auckland, in that window before schedules got slashed. But by Thursday, as the 48-hour window began closing, Air New Zealand was feeling the pressure. The airline was slated to fly 15,000 passengers on Thursday, most moving from the South Island to the North Island.
“Queenstown is the key pinch point,” CEO Greg Foran told Radio New Zealand. Mr Foran advised they’d approached the New Zealand Government for more time to get passengers out of the tourist hotspot. Up to 5000 people had been scheduled to fly out of Queenstown before the end of the week. Suddenly most of those people were trying to leave within 48-hours.
“We’ve up gauged all the planes we can and also put on more flights. I think we could probably clear most of that (the Queenstown pinch point) tomorrow (Friday).”
Later on Thursday, the New Zealand Government agreed to extend the travel window by 24 hours for people trying to fly out of Queenstown. In response, Air New Zealand added two Queenstown – Wellington flights and five Queenstown – Auckland flights to its Friday schedule.
“We estimate there are somewhere around 600 people requiring flights, so we are confident that the additional 700 seats tomorrow (Friday) will ensure that there are options for those that need it,” said Mr Foran after the Government allowed the extension.
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Uncertain days ahead for Air New Zealand as new COVID cases emerge
Air New Zealand confirmed to local media that it had managed to clear passengers from all other airports. That’s just as well because on Friday, Air New Zealand is going into hibernation mode. In an advisory issued on Thursday, aside from the extra Queenstown flights, nearly all Air New Zealand Friday’s domestic flights are canceled.
On Friday, across the remaining Air New Zealand domestic network, two return flights are operating between Auckland and Christchurch and Wellington and Christchurch. Single return flights are operating between Auckland and Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin, and Wellington and Nelson.
At the time of writing, outside of Auckland, Air New Zealand’s domestic network hopes to be getting back to business by the weekend. But fresh COVID-19 cases in Wellington raise doubts this will happen. An announcement regarding lockdown extensions is expected at 15:00 (New Zealand time) on Friday.
With a week-long lockdown already set in stone for Auckland, Air New Zealand’s schedule is slender over the weekend and into next week from its biggest hub. On Saturday and Sunday, just a single return service between Auckland and Wellington and Auckland and Christchurch will operate each day.
There will be an additional daily return service between Auckland and Christchurch on Monday and Tuesday, taking Air New Zealand’s total daily return flights out of Auckland to three.
Meanwhile, Air New Zealand’s international network also took a hit this week. While New Zealand had stopped quarantine-free travel from Australia in July, Australia still allowed quarantine-free travel from New Zealand. That ended quietly this week.
As a consequence, Air New Zealand has canceled all quarantine-free flights between New Zealand and Australia.