Governments everywhere are rolling out repatriation and rescue flights at a steady clip. These flights are providing some useful business for airlines, and we see some exciting new routes flown. One example is Air New Zealand’s repatriation flight due to operate on Friday from New Delhi to Auckland. There’s just one kink with this service: the high cost. In fact, passengers are being charged NZD$5500 (USD$3273) for the one way flight.
As one person told Radio New Zealand, that’s over USD$13,000 to get a family of four home.
These flights are operating on a cost-recovery basis
The New Zealand Government sets the fare on a cost-recovery basis. When calling for expressions of interest from New Zealander’s stranded in India, a statement from the New Zealand Government said;
“The New Zealand Government has established a global framework for pricing repatriation flights. Flights are undertaken on a cost-recovery basis. This means that the costs recovered do not generally cover the full cost of the flight (this has been our experience to date for all repatriation flights).
“These flights are complex and costly to arrange. The price is based on length of the flight and is consistent regardless of the location that the flight is departing from. Ground transportation is included in the cost.”
Kiwis grateful for the flight but query the fare
While stranded New Zealanders are generally grateful the flight is being organized, the cost is being scrutinized. In a poll run on the Facebook site, Kiwis Stuck In India, 143 people said they would board the flight at this price, 88 people would board if the price was less, 52 people said they would pay the asking price, and 26 people were unsure.
The New Zealand Government has nearly 2000 citizens registered in India, and over half of those have expressed an interest in going home.
Filling a charter flight from New Delhi shouldn’t be an issue. Air New Zealand’s long haul Boeing 777s comfortably seat over 300 passengers, while their Dreamliners seat just under 300 passengers. However, social distancing and health protocols may reduce available seat numbers.
Folks are pointing to far cheaper charters recently organized out of India that flew to Adelaide in Australia. It is about 9,500 kilometers from New Delhi to Adelaide. Auckland is about 3,000 kilometers further away. But the asking price on those privately organized charters to Adelaide was around USD$1360, far less than what the New Zealand Government is asking.
The New Zealand Government is behind the charter and sets the fare
The fact that government-provided services usually cost more than privately-provided services is hardly exclusive to New Zealand.
The government is paying a premium to use their national carrier. They attribute this to wanting a “safe airline,” but no doubt they also want to help boost Air New Zealand. That’s understandable. In contrast, the Adelaide flights made use of Southeast Asian carrier Lion Air.
Friday’s flight organizer, New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, issued a statement concerning the cost of their Indian repatriation flights. It gives you an idea of why these fights are so expensive.
“There are a number of operational complexities that must worked through to charter flights. These include negotiating contracts with airlines, standing up a booking platform, and managing requests for financial assistance from New Zealanders.
“There are also government complexities, such as seeking flight and ground transportation approvals from the Indian government. We must also ensure that the public health of New Zealanders is maintained both on the flight and when a charter flight arrives back in New Zealand, this includes our capacity to ensure that all arrivals are able to complete two weeks’ quarantine.”
One man organized the slimmed-down Adelaide flight. These Indian repatriation flights organized by the New Zealand Government sound like a public servant’s feast.
But then again, everything is organized for the passenger. You just have to pay the asking price. With the vast majority of flights suspended and border issues abounding, most people will pay a premium for this kind of convenience.