Air New Zealand is adding more capacity to its domestic schedule for Christmas, using bigger aircraft for three weeks on 350 flights as the demand for travel exceeds expectations.
The airline is upgauging existing A320 services to A321 aircraft from Monday, December 7, until the end of December, adding 16,000 seats.
This means about 80 per cent of Auckland-Wellington services and about 25 per cent of Auckland-Christchurch services will be operated by the new and larger A321 aircraft with 214 seats compared to the A320's 171.
Air New Zealand, which this week came under fire for some high fares on commuter flights, said 550,000 seats will be available for under $100 for travel between December and February.
Air New Zealand's chief customer and sales officer Leanne Geraghty said the upgauge was due to better-than-expected pre-Christmas and business travel demand.
The airline has been running at about 75 per cent of its pre-Covid domestic schedule and this will further boost that. Around the world, few domestic markets are running at such high capacity with the exception of China, which this month had slightly more domestic capacity than at the same time last year, according to OAG.
Auckland Airport expects domestic flights to run at about two-thirds of what they were at last summer.
"We want to make sure Kiwis can get to where they need to be in this busy Christmas period, so we'll be progressively adding around 16,000 new seats for travel in December,'' said Geraghty.
"As always, we recommend getting in early to take advantage of our lowest fares. Naturally, demand is higher for travel at certain times of the day - for example, first thing in the morning. By flying at different times of the day, customers will find more fare options available.
She said demand post-Covid was far more variable than before the pandemic, with bookings often being made very late and flights selling out.
"We've been adding capacity wherever possible which makes more seats available at lower fares. In November we added more than 26,000 seats to the network for travel in the same month, either by adding new flights or deploying larger aircraft on existing routes."
Auckland Airport says the busiest days for domestic travel at Auckland Airport have moved from early December to closer to Christmas, with travellers more likely to fly for leisure than business.
Anna Cassels-Brown, general manager operations, suspects the change reflects a shift in the habits of business travellers.
"In previous years, business travellers would be wrapping up their work year with trips right through the first week of December. This year's biggest days are Fridays and they seem more likely to be leisure-focused as Aucklanders are doing their flying closer to Christmas and into the New Year."
More than 22,000 travellers are expected to pass through Auckland Airport today, which will be one of the busiest days of the summer break.
While Auckland Airport's busiest days last Christmas saw more than 40,000 customers pass through the international terminal, this year's busiest days for international are expected to peak at just over 3000.
With roadwork projects still underway around the precinct – including on George Bolt Memorial Drive and State Highway 20B, the main roads leading into the airport from north and south – Cassels-Brown said travellers should remember to allow plenty of time for their journey to the airport.
"While Covid-19 has affected traveller numbers and the amount of traffic on the road, Christmas is always the busiest time of year at Auckland Airport. Travellers should make sure they start their journey well. Head to the airport with plenty of time and play your part to keep all of us healthy."
Wellington is the most popular destination for people travelling from Auckland Airport this summer, followed by Christchurch, Queenstown, Dunedin and Nelson.
Top 10 domestic travel days for summer school holidays:
• Friday, December 4, 2020
• Friday, December 11,2020
• Friday, December 18, 2020
• Friday, January 29, 2021
• Thursday, December 24, 2020
• Sunday, December 27, 2020
• Sunday, December 6, 2020
• Sunday, December 13, 2020
• Friday, January 22, 2021
• Sunday, December 20, 2020