The long-awaited two-way travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand will start at 23:59 Sunday, April 18 (local time). New Zealand’s Cabinet met on Tuesday morning (local time) to seal the deal. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has since fronted the media to confirm the start date.
“This is an important step forward not seen in other parts of the world,” Ms Ardern said today in a media conference.
New Zealand – Australia travel bubble nearly a year in the making
The travel bubble has been nearly a year in the making. Before the travel downturn, both countries were each other’s biggest source of international passenger movements. In 2019, the 7,270,978 passengers who passed through Australian airports heading to and from New Zealand accounted for 17.1% of all international passenger numbers that year. The two-way travel is worth billions of dollars annually to both countries.
In October 2020, Australia began allowing New Zealanders to fly to certain airports. Subject to certain criteria, they could skip the otherwise mandatory two-week quarantine. To date, New Zealand has not returned the favor. Even Kiwis returning home had to do two weeks of self-funded quarantine. The one-way nature of that travel bubble did little to boost trans-Tasman traffic.
But today the New Zealand Prime Minister said the risk of transmission was low and the two-way travel bubble will mark a new chapter in the recovery of international travel.
Airlines keen to get back to business
Before the travel downturn, multiple airlines criss-cross the Tasman Sea. In addition to local carriers Air New Zealand, Qantas, Jetstar, and Virgin Australia, foreign carriers including China Airlines, Singapore Airlines, and Emirates all ran fifth freedom trans-Tasman flights.
A return to these fifth freedom flights is off the short-term agenda for these foreign carriers, but the local airlines are warming their engines in anticipation of a surge in passenger demand.
Jetstar’s CEO, Gareth Evans, has already said New Zealand is the top of his agenda for international flights.
“Let’s hope we can get that together with the Kiwis and get a New Zealand travel bubble open, and then we’ll start flying there.”
Jetstar will be the only low-cost carrier flying across the Tasman. The travel bubble may even open an opportunity for the airline to return one or more of their Boeing 787-8s to service.
Mid-market Virgin Australia is also eyeing a return to New Zealand. They have some flights on sale between Australia and New Zealand later this year. Now, they are likely to capitalize on a surge in demand and bring those flights forward and ramp up the frequencies. New Zealand will be Virgin Australia’s first foray back into international flying since the airline went into voluntary administration last year.
A big win for Air New Zealand & Qantas
Leading the airline pack in this market are Air New Zealand and Qantas. Air New Zealand has significantly stepped up flights into Australia later this month. The airline is now accepting bookings on those flights. The airline is returning to Australian cities they had suspended flights too and is increasing capacity and frequencies to cities they’ve continued to serve on a scaled-back basis. Air New Zealand flights to Hobart, the first scheduled international service to that city in over two decades, will also kick-off.
Since the one-way travel bubble began in October, Qantas has operated a handful of flights each week between Sydney and Auckland. With a swag of 787-9 Dreamliners and Airbus A330s operational, the airline will roar back onto the trans-Tasman market. In an effort to get people to dust off their passports, Qantas is making every seat on every flight for the first three days of the travel bubble available for points redemptions.
The travel bubble is a big win for airlines and the industries that revolve around them in Australia and New Zealand. It has also been a long time coming. This travel bubble will also be a template for future deals between various countries. There will be a lot of people watching to see how this goes.