Qantas (QF, Sydney Kingsford Smith), Jetstar Airways, and Air New Zealand are gearing up to resume flights between Australia and New Zealand when a two-way Trans-Tasman bubble opens for quarantine-free travel on April 19, but Virgin Australia says it won’t fly most of its New Zealand routes until October 31.

In a surprise move, Virgin Australia said it was taking “a more pragmatic approach”. While it remained committed to Trans-Tasman flying once the market fully recovered, it was “mindful of evolving border requirements which add complexity to our business as we push ahead with plans to grow our core domestic Australia operations”. For this reason, it had suspended the sale of most of its New Zealand services until October 31. A limited schedule for flights to and from Queenstown (New Zealand) would remain available for booking for services from September 18.

Due to the impact of COVID-19, Virgin Australia suspended scheduled New Zealand services in March 2020. “Since that time, and considering changing border restrictions, the airline has taken a more pragmatic approach to ramp up its operations both here in Australia and as part of the Federal Government’s support for international readiness,” it said, adding that it was working with Air New Zealand to provide impacted customers with alternative options or obtain a refund.

Meanwhile, Qantas and Jetstar will from April 19 resume up to 122 return flights per week across the Tasman on 15 routes, offering more than 52,000 seats each week, Qantas Group announced in a statement. Qantas will also launch two new routes directly from Auckland Int'l to Cairns and Coolangatta/Gold Coast, the latter marking its first international flight from Gold Coast Airport, it said.

This would represent a capacity increase of 83%, a level that reflects high expected demand for what would be Australia’s only international destination for at least the next six months, moderated by the fact that international tourists (beyond Australia and New Zealand) typically accounted for about 20% of passengers flying between the two countries. Qantas Group said it had been operating less than 3% of its pre-COVID capacity on the Trans-Tasman during the existing one-way bubble.

Air New Zealand will also be ramping up flights between Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, and Queenstown and eight of its Australian destinations. The airline said in a statement that it had been preparing for a trans-Tasman bubble for a few months now, bringing furloughed crew back on board and ensuring they were up to speed with training.

On April 19, Air New Zealand would resume flights from Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch to Brisbane Int'l, Melbourne Tullamarine, and Sydney Kingsford Smith, as well as from Queenstown to Melbourne and Sydney. From Auckland, it would also fly to Perth Int'l (subject to approval), and Gold Coast on April 19. From Auckland, Adelaide would be added on May 5, Sunshine Coast on June 28, Cairns on June 29, and Hobart Int'l (to be advised). From Christchurch, Gold Coast would be added on April 24, with Brisbane added from Queenstown on May 5.

Meanwhile, Qantas Domestic and International Chief Executive Officer Andrew David expected strong demand both ways: “We know Australians are keen to head overseas again, so we expect strong demand for flights to New Zealand, and there are many Kiwis who can’t wait for a winter escape to warmer weather in Australia.”

Jetstar would initially operate to Auckland from Melbourne, Gold Coast, and Sydney, using its A320-200s, with schedules of both airlines connecting on to Jetstar’s New Zealand domestic network of more than 120 return flights per week to five destinations. Jetstar would resume flights on the remainder of its pre-COVID routes from the middle of the year.

Qantas’ schedule included year-round direct flights to Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, and Queenstown, including direct flights from Brisbane and Melbourne to Queenstown, routes which Qantas traditionally only operated seasonally for the ski season peak. Qantas would initially operate a mix of B737-800 and A330-200s/A330-300s. The new Cairns-Auckland route would launch in June, initially operating three days per week for nine weeks until late July. The Australian carrier would add more flights beyond this period pending demand.

Qantas Frequent Flyer would also offer uncapped frequent flyers reward seats for the first three days of the travel bubble while adding 50% more frequent flyer reward seats for the remainder of 2021 on Trans-Tasman routes. Both airlines would grow capacity and the number of routes as the market recovered.