Air New Zealand A320
Air New Zealand will not operate any quarantine-free flights from the South Island to Australia. Photo: Matt Graham.

This week, Australian states including NSW, Victoria and Queensland removed quarantine requirements for vaccinated Australians returning from the South Island of New Zealand. But Australians in New Zealand remain stranded, with no airlines actually putting on quarantine-free flights to bring Aussies home.

The Australian government suspended quarantine-free travel from New Zealand to Australia back when New Zealand entered a sudden lockdown on 17 August 2021. The Australian government gave no window of opportunity for Australians in New Zealand to return home and the lockdown in New Zealand was announced just hours after New Zealand’s first community COVID-19 case in 102 days was discovered in Auckland. As a result, most Australians who happened to be in New Zealand on 17 August are still stuck there.

The lockdown on the South Island of New Zealand (and most other parts of New Zealand except Auckland) ended three weeks later. But until this week, travel from all parts of New Zealand to Australia remained banned. This is despite the South Island seeing no new COVID-19 cases in the community since 15 May 2020. (That’s right – over a year ago.)

In fact, Australia reclassified New Zealand as an international destination (for the purpose of quarantine-free travel to Australia) overnight, effectively locking out thousands of Australians who happened to be in New Zealand when the lockdown was called. They have since had to compete with the tens of thousands of other Australians trying to return home from all over the world, despite having travelled to New Zealand under a quarantine-free bubble arrangement.

Since 17 August, only a small handful of Air New Zealand flights have operated from New Zealand to Australia with passengers, each carrying only a tiny number of passengers (who had to undergo 14 days of hotel quarantine on arrival). Seats on those flights sold out in one minute, so some Australians have even had to resort to charting private jets (at huge expense) to get home.

Air New Zealand won’t fly Aussies home from the South Island

Under the new quarantine-free travel rules from New Zealand’s South Island to Australia, fully vaccinated Australian citizens would be allowed to return to certain Australian states since last Tuesday with a negative COVID-19 test. They would not have to quarantine on arrival, but would need to have been only within the South Island of New Zealand in the 14 days prior to travelling.

This announcement prompted headlines such as “BUBBLE BACK ON! Quarantine-free travel between Australia and part of New Zealand restarted”. Not only is this headline misleading, since the New Zealand government isn’t currently letting in anyone from Australia, but Australians on the South Island are still no closer to getting home.

That’s because Air New Zealand will not operate any flights from the South Island to Australia over the coming period.

“While we would love to be able to operate quarantine-free flights out of Christchurch, there are a number of operational issues for our airline,” Air New Zealand said on its website.

“The Australian Government has stated that our crew need to have been in the South Island for the preceding 14 days before quarantine-free flying. As our main crew group is based out of Auckland, this is unfortunately not viable.

“For those who have been stuck in Aotearoa for the past few months, we are operating two flights per week from Auckland to Sydney from 5 November. From 1 December, these services will increase to six flights per week. Customers in the South Island are able to transit Auckland to connect with these services.”

Air New Zealand will resume Auckland-Sydney flights on Fridays and Sundays from 5 November, although all seats are currently sold out until 21 November.

The Auckland-Sydney flights will be useful for Australians returning to NSW, ACT or Victoria, who will no longer have to quarantine on arrival from next month.

But they are not useful at all for Australians in the South Island who wish to travel to Queensland. Although Australians are now theoretically allowed to travel from the South Island to Queensland, the only way to do so would be via Auckland and Sydney. Travel from those places into Queensland is currently banned.

No Qantas or Jetstar flights to/from New Zealand until December

Qantas and Jetstar are also not putting on any quarantine-free flights to get Australians home from the South Island of New Zealand.

Even a single Christchurch-Brisbane or Queenstown-Brisbane flight would be welcomed by the many Aussies stuck in New Zealand. Sadly, this isn’t going to happen.

The next Qantas flights between Australia and New Zealand are currently scheduled for 18 December 2021.

Join the discussion on the Australian Frequent Flyer forum: New Zealand Travel Bubble Announcement

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Matt Graham
The editor of Australian Frequent Flyer, Matt's passion for travel has taken him to over 60 countries… with the help of frequent flyer points, of course!
Matt's favourite destinations (so far) are Germany, Brazil, New Zealand & Kazakhstan. His interests include economics, aviation & foreign languages, and he has a soft spot for good food and red wine.

You can contact Matt at [email protected]