'No empty seats': Photo of packed Air NZ flight causes outrage, raises questions about social distancing

A photo posted on Twitter is raising concern about how well social distancing rules are being adhered to onboard aircraft flying into and out of New Zealand.

Lamia Imam took the photo on Air New Zealand flight NZ2 from Auckland to Los Angeles on Thursday night, as she and her husband began their long journey home to Texas.

Imam told Newshub the flight was "extremely anxiety-inducing" and was 90-95 percent full.

"There were no empty seats anywhere near us. I did see the last row in front of the bathroom empty," Imam said.

"I felt very bad for the crew because I didn’t think there was much they could have done and I would have made their already difficult job more difficult." 

The flight departed Auckland just hours after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern outlined what the rules will be when Aotearoa moves into COVID-19 alert level 2. 

Given the very specific messaging from about maintaining space between yourself and others, Imam wasn't expecting such a cramped flight.

Newshub has approached Air NZ for comment.

"I didn't think they would be putting strangers together. I expected one empty seat in between at least," Imam said.

"My husband and I got stuck in New Zealand unexpectedly and we have been following the lockdown rules, which seemed very appropriate to us given what is happening around the world. It seemed like all the work we did to stay safe and help keep people around us safe was a waste."

Imam, who is a Kiwi, is based in Texas. Both her and her American husband became stranded in New Zealand when the lockdown came into force.

She said they didn't eat any of the meals on the flight as they weren't sure who the flight attendants had interacted with before serving them.

Passengers weren't required to wear masks and weren't provided them, she said.

The tweet sparked outrage and dozens of comments from people who couldn't understand how the flight was allowed to be so full.

"Oh my goodness... My worst fears realised! What a farce," Virginia Cattell replied.

Others defended the airline, which has faced a severe impact during the pandemic.

"With the limited flight schedules now it's next to impossible. Air NZ could be relying on connections with airlines going to Europe to fill seats so increasing frequency not a viable option either. People following isolation upon arrival guidelines is the answer imo," Bernard Vella said.

Imam said it was "extremely anxiety-inducing" to be around so many people when "we have spent the last seven weeks being told to avoid exactly this situation."