Fresh from expanding the number of quarantine-free routes flying to Australia, Air New Zealand is set to restart Cook Islands services.
The carrier plans to offer flights from Rarotonga (RAR) to Auckland (AKL) following the announcement of a new one-way travel bubble. It is hoped the service is the first step of a phased approach to two-way quarantine-free travel between the two nations.
Air New Zealand will operate RAR-AKL 2X-weekly from Jan. 21, flying on Wednesdays and Saturdays using Airbus A320 aircraft. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Star Alliance member served the route up to 7X-weekly. Jetstar Airways and Virgin Australia also operated the route.
“We know many Cook Islanders will be eager to connect with friends and family in New Zealand, and we look forward to seeing what a two-way quarantine-free travel arrangement will look like,” Air New Zealand CEO Greg Foran said.
New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Jan. 15 that travelers from the Cook Islands can arrive in New Zealand from Jan. 21 and do not have to quarantine, but the criteria for New Zealanders entering into the Cook Islands does not change.
“We said we would take a phased approach to resuming two-way travel and will do so only once all safety protocols can be met,” Ardern said. She added that both governments were committed to ensuring the resumption of two-way quarantine free travel between the countries within the first quarter of 2021.
On Jan. 7, Air New Zealand began quarantine-free flights from AKL to Brisbane (BNE), the third Australian city to receive such services. AKL-BNE is currently operating 3X-weekly for passengers eligible to waive quarantine and 2X-weekly for those that do not qualify and must still quarantine on arrival.
To avoid quarantine, passengers must have been in New Zealand for the preceding 14 days.
The airline is also serving AKL-Melbourne (MEL) with the same frequencies as AKL-BNE, while there are five or six quarantine-free flights and two quarantine flights each week from AKL to Sydney (SYD).
Air New Zealand carried 8.4 million passengers in 2020, down from 17.6 million during the previous 12 months. The number of international flights dropped from in excess of 30,000 in 2019 to fewer than 10,000 last year.
“Returning to usual levels of air travel will be complex, but we are working closely with government agencies on preparations for safe travel,” Foran said.