After the first community transmission case of COVID-19 in six months, the New Zealand Government has issued lockdown orders. New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland, is settling into a seven-day lockdown. The remainder of the country is locked down for three days. The lockdowns are having some immediate impacts on the national carrier, Air New Zealand.
Mad scramble as New Zealanders have 48 hours to get home
With the regime coming into effect at 23:59 (local time) on Tuesday, August 17, Air New Zealand says it will continue to operate domestic flights as per normal for the next 48 hours to get people home. A further four COVID-19 cases were confirmed later on Tuesday.
When announcing the lockdowns, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinta Ardern gave everyone 48 hours to get home before the travel rules tighten. According to The New Zealand Herald, Air New Zealand will lay on 800 flights over the next 48 hours to get 50,000 people home. On Tuesday evening, there were crowds at airports around New Zealand as the first of those 50,000 people headed home.
Speaking on New Zealand breakfast radio on Wednesday, Air New Zealand CEO Greg Foran said it was too early to say what the financial fallout would be for Air New Zealand.
“We obviously have some sense of what’s going to happen, but it’s going to play out pretty quickly over the next 48 hours,” he said. “It’s going to be busy as we do our best to get people where they need to get to.
“We prepared for this. We had a pretty good sense that Delta may enter into the country. The team is rehearsed, and we are just getting on with it.”
Air New Zealand CEO says his airline will buckle down and deal with the lockdowns
Greg Foran admitted the lockdowns take a big logistical toll on the airline. “It does require a lot of reshuffling,” he said. “As you can imagine, it’s a little more complex than running bus routes. You’ve got to make sure you’ve got planes and crews and captains and everyone else in the right spot.”
In the short term, Greg Foran said jobs were not at risk at Air New Zealand, and the airline had appropriate liquidity to tide them over.
Already, Air New Zealand is trimming some of its ancillary services. Lounges are now closed, and valet parking is available in Christchurch and Auckland for pickup only over the next 48 hours.
“Our food and beverage service is paused, with water available on request only,” Air New Zealand’s latest online travel update warns. “All passengers are required to wear a face-covering before reaching their boarding gate and on our flights. You are welcome to wear your own face-covering. We will also have masks available.”
Auckland’s week-long lockdown may blow out
Air New Zealand also advises online that if a passenger wishes to cancel any domestic flight up to September 30, the airline will credit the full value of the flight.
Beyond the first 48 hours, Greg Foran isn’t sure what will happen. But like most people, he knows the toughest part of any week-long lockdown is the first month. After the first COVID-19 case on Monday, the New Zealand Government later confirmed four further cases.
“You’d have to assume that with extra cases (of COVID), this could go on for longer. It’s appropriate that we keep our options open and stay flexible as we deal with this.
“It is what it is. We’ve just got to get on, show some grit, and get through it.”