Virgin says it won’t fly Australia-New Zealand until October despite bubble announcement

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced quarantine-free travel between her country and Australia later this month, but one major airline won’t take part.

Australians will have access to quarantine-free travel to New Zealand from 9.59pm AEST on Sunday, April 18, Ms Ardern said on Tuesday.

But the airline Virgin Australia said in a statement immediately after Ms Ardern’s press conference that it wouldn’t sell tickets between the two countries until October 31.

“While the airline remains committed to trans-Tasman flying when the market fully recovers, we are mindful of evolving border requirements which add complexity to our business as we push ahead with plans to grow our core domestic Australia operations,” a company spokesman said.

“For this reason, we have suspended the sale of most New Zealand services until 31 October 2021. A limited schedule for flights to and from Queenstown will remain available for booking from 18 September 2021.”

The company suspended Australia-New Zealand flights shortly after the coronavirus pandemic found its way Down Under in March 2020.

It’s understood the October date was set in the past few weeks, before New Zealand’s announcement. The date was picked partly because the Australian government said it wanted all willing Australians to be vaccinated against coronavirus by October.

It’s also around the time Virgin Australia expects other airlines to begin running international traffic again.

Virgin called the New Zealand government’s decision to open up travel “a step in the right direction” and said it would boost travellers’ confidence.

Qantas and Jetstar will restart flying to all of its New Zealand destinations when bubble opens on April 18.

The two airlines will operate up to 122 return flights per week across the Tasman.

Air New Zealand said it would ramp up flights between Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown and eight of its Australian ports when the bubble begins.

Chief executive officer Greg Foran said the airline had been preparing for a trans-Tasman bubble for months, bringing stood-down crew back on board and ensuring airports and lounges were ready.

Meanwhile, online travel agency Webjet said Ms Ardern’s announcement was “wonderful news” for separated loved ones, travellers and tourism operators.

“New Zealand and Australia have a longstanding love affair and we are thrilled that that relationship can once again resume,” chief executive officer David Galt said.

“At Webjet, we anticipate that the bubble announcement will kickstart a surge of bookings for travel in both directions, seeing friends and family finally reunite after a challenging 12 months.

“It also comes at the opportune time for Aussies longing for ski trips in Queenstown and around Christchurch, and for Kiwis seeking a balmy winter escape to the Gold Coast and Tropical North Queensland.”

Under the new travel arrangements, passengers travelling from Australia to New Zealand will be able to book onto a “green zone flight”, which means:

• There will be no passengers on these flights who have come from anywhere but Australia in the past 14 days

• Crew will not have flown to any high-risk routes for a set period of time

• Passengers will need to provide comprehensive information on how they can be contacted while in New Zealand

• They won’t be able to travel if they have cold or flu symptoms

• When they fly, they will be required to wear a mask on a flight

• Passengers will also be asked to download and use the NZ COVID Tracer app while in New Zealand

• On arrival, passengers will be taken through “green zone” lanes, which mean they will have no contact with other international passengers going into isolation or quarantine facilities

• Random temperature checks will also be conducted on arriving passengers.

New Zealand will also assess if it should continue, pause or suspend the green travel zone when Australia has positive cases in the community.

If a case is linked to a border worker in a quarantine facility and is well contained, travel is expected to continue.

If a case is not clearly linked and a state responded with a short lockdown, flights would likely be paused from that state.

If there were multiple cases of unknown origin, flights would likely be suspended for a set period of time.

“While quarantine-free travel to Australia and vice-versa will start in a fortnight, it will not be what it was pre-COVID,” Ms Ardern said.

“People will need to plan for the possibility of travel being disrupted if there is an outbreak.”

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