Air New Zealand CEO Greg Foran has predicted Aotearoa's borders will begin to reopen in the first half of 2022, but says all travel - including to Australia - will be nothing like what it was before the arrival of the COVID-19 Delta variant.
In an interview with The Australian, the airline boss said the convenience of the quarantine-free trans-Tasman travel bubble of 2021 won't return any time soon.
"The reason I make that distinction is that a bubble makes it quite a seamless experience for a customer. You're not having to do a pre-departure test. You're not having to prove you've been vaccinated," Foran told aviation reporter Robyn Ironside.
"[When the bubble reopens] I can imagine you're probably going to have to be vaccinated. You're probably going to have to do a pre-departure test. You're probably going to have to do a test on the way home and you're probably going to have to do a test when you arrive back in the country."
If that sounds like bad news, here's the good: Foran disagrees with the prediction from the International Air Transport Association that air travel will be much more expensive when it returns.
"I think operators will be keen to get flying so there will be supply. At the same time, because the industry has taken quite a hit, I don't think anyone's going to go and blow a whole bunch of money because I don't think that's available to do so," he said.
"There'll be a degree of common sense and fares will be reasonably similar to what they were pre-COVID."
He also said travellers may be less keen on the idea of transiting between flights, so direct flights will likely become more popular. Indeed, Air NZ's new non-stop Auckland - New York flights to will still go ahead, he also confirmed.
Foran said Air NZ will be able to ramp up flights to places such as North America and China relatively quickly as it has maintained frequent freight flights throughout the pandemic.
Once again, he insisted he has no regrets about taking the job at Air NZ, despite landing in the job not long before the COVID-19 pandemic effectively ground global travel to a halt.
"So it's been busy but I'm unbelievably impressed with the resilience of this team who are now 570-plus days into this and they still smile, provide fantastic service, pivot on a dime, and I think we're delivering pretty good results."
Last week, Air NZ announced a loss before other significant items and taxation of $440 million for the 2021 financial year - its first full 12-month period of operation with COVID-19 related travel restrictions.