Air New Zealand says it will make it easier for customers to request refunds on compassionate grounds as the airline gears up for the much-anticipated quarantine-free transtasman bubble.
The airline will also increase frequencies from Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, and Queenstown to all nine Australian ports from as early as April 19 to October 30, initially operating at 65 per cent of pre-Covid-19 capacity.
The company has set up a dedicated team to review Covid-19 compassionate refunds – for customers who can no longer travel due to ill health or financial hardship – after a year of border closures.
There are hundreds of millions of dollars in fares still held in credit. Unlike many other airlines Air New Zealand has not made refunds available for all tickets on cancelled flights as of right.
Air New Zealand chief sales and customer officer Leanne Geraghty said today it had been a tough time for many Kiwis and the airline wanted to remind customers about the compassionate policy.
"We're now a year on from the start of Covid-19 and know that for many, circumstances have changed. None of us knew how long this was going to last, and how deep the impacts would be. By now, we thought more borders would be open.
"Kiwis in huge numbers have been using the online credit tool to book domestically and we expect another big boost when quarantine-free travel across the Tasman and to the Cook Islands is open."
The Cabinet is meeting today to sign off a starting date, which Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will reveal in a press conference this afternoon.
Airlines and airports say they are ready to go when they get the green light with Air New Zealand having already planned on operating additional quarantine-free flights from Auckland to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
Air New Zealand has for some time been preparing for the start of two-way travel between this country and the Cook Islands and across the Tasman.
This included rehiring and retraining more than 300 cabin crew, bringing back a number of airport staff, getting ground handlers back on board to ensure a smooth process for aircraft and customers on arrival and re-opening international lounges.
Cook Islands and Australia flights in particular will be a key part of Air New Zealand's financial recovery although it still faces a heavy full year loss.
In February it carried just 12,000 passengers on Tasman and/Pacific routes, 95.7 per cent of the 283,000 it carried in the same month last year, just as the pandemic hit.
Its long-haul network - about 40 per cent of its business - has largely been wiped out by the pandemic and will struggle to restart this year.
In 2019 Air New Zealand had a 37 per cent of share of capacity on the Tasman, Qantas had 26 per cent, Virgin Australia 18 per cent, Jetstar 10 per cent and the remaining 9 per cent was shared between other carriers.
Virgin Australia pulled out off the Tasman 12 months ago but is returning and is selling seats from June.
Meanwhile, for the local tourism industry the quarantine-free bubble can't come soon enough with the size of the prize - estimated at $1 billion before the end of the year - a potential lifeline for many operators.