Travellers unhappy as airfares continue to skyrocket after COVID-19 pandemic

International travel is back on the agenda but Air New Zealand is warning people to book early as high demand and rising fuel costs mean it has had to increase its prices.
International travel is back on the agenda but Air New Zealand is warning people to book early as high demand and rising fuel costs mean it has had to increase its prices. Photo credit: Getty Images

By Leonard Powell for RNZ

Air New Zealand is warning travellers to book holidays early, as a combination of rising fuel prices, inflation and high demand have forced it to review and hike its airfares.

International and domestic passengers are crying foul, complaining of airfares costing two or three times what they did pre-pandemic.

But Air New Zealand said airlines priced the last seats on planes higher to ensure those needing to travel urgently could fly.

RNZ headed out to Auckland Airport to find out how much people were paying.

One traveller said airfares had become unaffordable.

"The flights have almost doubled or tripled. I just came back from India last night. The normal price for a flight would have been less than $2000 and I've paid over $4000.

"Even domestic flights from Wellington to Auckland now is about over $300 return all the time and generally it used to be less than $150.

"You're almost paying 200 percent more than what you generally would pay. I understand that the cost of things have gone up, but not by 200 percent."

The disgruntled flyer had a theory on where the cost was coming from.

"I think airlines are now trying to make more money as they lost in COVID-19, so they're trying to over-charge [because] they know people have to travel. There's not so much competition in New Zealand so they can over-charge."

Another man had recently travelled to New Zealand from the UK, which he said wouldn't have been possible if his family hadn't paid for the flight.

"It was £3000 (NZ$5987) to get here from the UK and the flight that I did want was £7000 (NZ$13,971)."

He said the flight usually cost him about £1500 (NZ$2993).

"If it wasn't for my dad paying for my ticket, I certainly wouldn't be travelling."

In a statement, Air New Zealand chief customer and sales officer Leanne Geraghty said since the pandemic, it had seen an unprecedented demand for travel.

That, combined with a shortage of some aircraft, rising fuel prices, and inflation had forced the airline to review and increase its prices.

Geraghty said while the company worked hard to offer affordable and competitive airfares, comparing one seat on one day was not reflective of its pricing structure.

She cited examples of early lead-in fares for domestic flights priced between $59 and $99 - and a one-way flight from Auckland to Honolulu for $378.

First Up could not find any $378 airfares between Auckland and Honolulu until next October. The cheapest we could find was $484, with one-way flights costing up to $1482 during the school holidays.

'People are prepared to pay '

It was not just international passengers being left out of pocket.

"There there's no competition [so] we've got no choice but to pay whatever they ask for, one domestic passenger told RNZ.

Another reminisced about the good old days of getting a deal.

"You can't get those cheap fares anymore, you have to book like at least three months, two months ahead.

"Back in the day like two weeks, three weeks before you could get a cheap fare but that doesn't seem to be the same anymore."

Aviation commentator Irene King, a former chief executive of Aviation New Zealand, said after two years of restricted travel, demand was high.

"People are prepared to pay the rates, that's a big thing. If people were not prepared to pay the rates then clearly the airfares would come down.

"But people are prepared to pay the rates - the demand is pent up and they want to travel."

King said hiked airfares were also partly due to aircraft being decommissioned during the pandemic.

"You need the aircraft, they need to go through engineering, they need to come back online. And then you've got to have a crew to fly them, and then the crews have to be current.

"It's one problem, or one blockage, just compounds upon another [but] eventually it will clear."

One would-be traveller was at the terminal to farewell family members, but wasn't joining them.

"My partner went to Tonga, but he already had a ticket from three and a half years ago because of COVID-19. If he had gone on today's prices, he would have paid nearly a thousand bucks, just one way to Tonga."

Others said they had no choice. One had taken a financial blow in order to fly to Japan.

"I'm going to visit my grandma, 'cause I haven't seen her for a long time.

"It was usually about $1500 or $1700. We had to pay over $3000 for return flights. Pretty expensive."

And another shared her frustration.

"I've been travelling to South Africa for about nine years now, back and forth, and this is the most expensive I've ever paid for a ticket, and the service has been absolutely appalling.

"It's really disheartening to see that even though you're paying more for the fares, the service you're getting is absolutely horrendous."

King said the high cost of travel was a global problem, and while travel seemed inaccessible to many with the rising cost of living, she predicted the market would correct itself by 2024.