The head of Auckland Airport expects tens of thousands of passengers to be travelling to and from Australia on the first day of the trans-Tasman bubble.
New Zealand airports are preparing to throw open the gates on Monday to quarantine-free arrivals from Australia for the first time in more than a year.
The travel bubble officially begins at 11.59pm on Sunday, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announcing the date last week, expressing confidence in the ability of Australia and New Zealand to manage the travel arrangement.
Passengers arriving from Australia will have been on flights that do not come into contact with people from other parts of the world. ‘Green zone’ flights have no passengers who have come from anywhere but Australia in the previous 14 days and are flown by crew who have not been on any high-risk routes for a set period of time.
Auckland Airport chief executive Adrian Littlewood said over the first few weeks of the travel bubble flights between Auckland and Australia will increase tenfold in a “huge change” from the past year.
“I think there will be tens of thousands of passengers on day one, because we’re looking across the first few weeks and seeing flight numbers grow by ten times to about 400 flights between Auckland and Australia. ”
Celebrations are planned for the first flights in, Littlewood said.
“A lot of people on those first flights will probably be Kiwis coming home to see family and I think a lot of those people had been desperate to come back, so we’ll have a few little Kiwi touches to acknowledge that.
“It’ll be an emotional time but one that we’ve been looking forward to for a year, and I know these people will have been too.
Travellers to or from New Zealand will have to complete a pre-departure health declaration and must not have had a positive Covid-19 test result in the previous 14-day period, or be waiting on a Covid-19 test.
Passengers will need to wear masks, be prepared for random temperature checks, and will not be able to travel if they have cold or flu symptoms.
“There will be extra parts of the process that people may not be familiar with so we’re encouraging people to do a bit of research before you go, check with your airline, check online with the information that’s available so you are ready to travel and that will minimise any delay on the day,” Littlewood said.
Stores in the airport, which had employed 2500 people, have been mostly closed, but duty free will be open and Littlewood expects other retail outlets to gradually reopen.
Air New Zealand chief executive Greg Foran said this week he was not concerned about any threat to trans-Tasman travel three recent Covid-19 cases in Auckland.
‘Reduced transit options’
With flights from Australia mostly being ‘green zone’ services when the bubble starts, New Zealanders returning from other countries will effectively be blocked from transiting through the country.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said if they wanted to return via Australia they would now have to get permission to enter the country and complete 14 days of managed isolation there.
“We are aware that most airlines are planning to operate only green flights from Australia to New Zealand once quarantine-free travel commences,” a spokesperson said.
“To take one of these green flights, travellers would need to have permission to enter Australia and complete 14 days of MIQ there before boarding.”
The ministry said without that permission, they would not be able to board flights to Australia.
“We know that reduced transit options are likely to cause challenges for Kiwis in some destinations, where routes back to New Zealand depend on transits through Australia and New Zealand,” said the spokesperson.
“Officials are in discussions with Australia to find a possible solution. However, it is a commercial decision for each airline as to which types of flights they operate.”
Littlewood said this did close down one option for travellers but they are still able to transit through the Asian hubs or Dubai.
“What’s really important is we’re giving people confidence that the flights to and from New Zealand and Australia are safe.
“Those will be green designated flights where people can be confident that the people on those flights have been in those countries for at least 14 days, and that gives people confidence to keep travelling.”