Australia establishing travel bubble for routes from New Zealand

Qantas is looking to take advantage of the relaxation while Virgin Australia and Air New Zealand react more cautiously.

Two Australian states will soon allow New Zealanders to enter without the need for quarantine, which represents a major step in creating a travel bubble between the two countries.

The Australian government has announced that travel to New South Wales and the Northern Territory will be allowed from New Zealand beginning Oct. 16. Other Australian states are expected to follow. Qantas quickly added flights between the two countries in response to the announcement.

The Qantas Group announced additional flights to New Zealand. These will initially comprise six weekly flights on the Sydney (SYD)-Auckland (AKL) route by Qantas, and three per week on that route by Jetstar. Qantas will also offer four weekly flights between SYD and Christchurch (CHC).  

Australia is establishing a “safe travel zone” with New Zealand, according to a statement from the Australian Prime Minister’s office, which added that the Department of Health “has undertaken a public health risk assessment of COVID-19 in New Zealand, which indicated that New Zealand posed a low risk of COVID-19 transmission to Australia.”

Any Australian state or territory can participate in the New Zealand safe travel zone, as long as it complies with Australian government rules for restricting travel to coronavirus hotspots. Travelers from New Zealand are not allowed to enter if they have been in such a hotspot in the past 14 days, the Australian government said. There are currently no designated hotspots in New Zealand.

An important caveat for this program is that it only applies to inbound travelers from New Zealand. The New Zealand government has not yet reciprocated by allowing quarantine-free travel from Australia. The New Zealand government has been in discussions about this with Australia and has indicated it is considering a reciprocal step.

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said the announcement of the first phase of the travel bubble was “the best news the industry has had in months ... It means we’ll be able to get more planes back in the sky and more of our people back to work.” He noted New Zealand was Australia’s second-largest source of inbound travelers before the pandemic, and “it’s obviously about to go straight to number one.”

Qantas said it is likely to introduce new direct routes from New Zealand that it has not previously offered as more cities in Australia open up to travel between the countries. This will help the airline “make the most of the easing restrictions.”

Virgin Australia is taking a more cautious position. The airline said the Australian move is “a welcomed first step ... we are however commercially reliant on two-way passenger traffic, therefore our approach to reintroducing services between Australia and New Zealand will ultimately be driven by customer demand.”

Air New Zealand CEO Greg Foran described the Australian government announcement as “a positive step towards opening up a Tasman bubble,” although he also noted that it is “only a one-way arrangement” at the moment. “We look forward to hearing more about a complete Tasman safe zone soon,” Foran said.

Photo credit: Joe Pries