Government urged to announce border opening date as more than 1000 Christmas flights cancelled

David Coombes, the Managing Director for Flight Centre NZ, is calling for some clarity around when Aotearoa's borders will reopen and international travel can resume.

Speaking to The AM Show, Coombes said it's been 600 days since borders closed and around 100 days since the Government released its 'Reconnecting the World' plan; but there are still no specific plans for what will happen and when.

"The momentum is with us now, we've dealt with the domestic situation. We know what that is materially," Coombes said.

"What's the difference between vaccinated people coming in across an international border versus across the domestic border? We're ready to go. We're geared up waiting for the demand and just waiting to hear it.

"It's been 600 days in the equivalent of level four for some industries like travel and tourism or international students, or if you're in a business that depends on them. We've done our time, we're biding our time, we're protecting our customers' credits and there are plenty of Kiwis who've had their money tied up for 600 days with suppliers as well. 

"They can't wait to get out and travel and we can't wait to open up the world for them."

It was the "continued border uncertainty" which led to Air New Zealand's decision on Monday to cancel more than 1000 flights between New Zealand and Australia through to December 31.

The airline's Chief Customer and Sales Officer Leanne Geraghty said the cancellations happened due to the Government saying quarantine-free travel between Australia and New Zealand was unlikely to re-commence this year.

"This will be particularly tough news for families and friends who were hoping to catch up over Christmas," said Geraghty.

"I appreciate how difficult this news will be, but our hands are tied until border restrictions ease, and we receive further clarity from the New Zealand Government."

Around 20,000 customers are expected to be impacted by the cancellations.

The Government is being cautious about reopening the international border due to the risk that poses to the community.

"Even if the positivity ratio stays about the same - so even if we're getting 10 cases per 1000 - if we're having 5000 people per day coming into the country, that's another 50 or 60 cases potentially coming into the country, and so we have to make sure we're ready for that," COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said last week.

"Contacts coming across the international border aren't in our contact tracing system whereas the local community cases already are, so we have to deal with cumulative risk. We can't just simply throw the floodgates open. We want to do this in a managed way that means we continue to control COVID in the community."

Coombes said he is in regular contact with international markets where more airlines are operating, more customers are traveling and there's a limited number of aircraft available compared to pre-pandemic.

He also reiterated a warning issued last month that if we don't announce any dates for when our borders open, we run the risk of being left off airlines' network plans for some time.

"We need to get a move on, for our people, for our customers, for our families and for our business, for New Zealand," he said.

A spokesperson for Air NZ said customers have already begun moving their bookings into credit so they can make alternative plans.

"We appreciate this latest news means some customers will have to wait longer before reuniting with loved ones. We're continuing to do everything we can to get them home safely as quickly as possible," Geraghty said.

Air NZ's schedule beyond December 31 remains in place until it receives an update from the Government. 

The airline continues to operate a reduced schedule of flights into Sydney and Melbourne and 'red flights' from Australia into New Zealand for those with MIQ spots.