Air New Zealand has temporarily banned bringing in pets and live animals from the United States as the coronavirus pandemic in its North American hub deteriorates.
The hold on the service to fly animals is two-way, meaning it has also stopped transporting animals based in New Zealand destined for the US.
An Air New Zealand spokesperson this morning confirmed the change to the Herald, citing re-routing its flights and animal welfare concerns as the reason it had made the decision.
It could not confirm how long the service would be suspended for.
"During the time Air New Zealand's North American flights will be re-routed through Honolulu, the airline will not be carrying any live shipments for animal welfare reasons," the spokeswoman told the Herald.
"The airline is conscious of the time in which the animals will be in the air for, and on the ground during the layover in Honolulu, so has made the call put a hold on these shipments into and out of the US."
In an email to a pet transporter, the national carrier said: "As we enter the 11th month of a changed business environment due to the impacts of Covid-19, we continue to adapt our operating model to emerging risks to ensure that safety is strictly adhered to.
"With the recent upward curve of Covid-19 cases in the USA (notably California), this has brought increased focus on our flights to both Los Angeles and San Francisco and the well-being of the staff that makes these a reality."
After a thorough review from its cargo team, the airline said it had decided to temporarily "embargo all AVI (live animal) shipments to New Zealand and Australia".
This included shipments of live mice, the email said.
The decision to suspend the service was made with "animal welfare top of mind", and would be reviewed once the airline was comfortable it could provide a safe passage for animals, the spokeswoman told the Herald.
Earlier this week, the national carrier made the call to re-route all of its North American flights to reduce the Covid-19 risk to its aircrew.
From January 11, aircrew on all cargo flights between New Zealand and the United States will have an overnight stay in Honolulu, instead of Los Angeles or San Francisco, as the pandemic worsens in California.
From February 2, its North America passenger services will also be routed via Honolulu.
Air New Zealand said re-routing its North American flights through Honolulu meant aircrew could stay overnight in a lower-risk destination while still maintaining vital connections into North America.
One pet parent the Herald spoke to, who wished to remain anonymous, said the decision to stop the service would no doubt cause a headache for returning Kiwis like himself who were relocating back to New Zealand with their pets.
The man had his pet dog and cat booked to fly out of America and into New Zealand via Los Angeles with Air New Zealand on January 13, but his booking was cancelled following an alert from his pet transporter.
Luckily, the man was able to secure an alternative cargo flight for his pets to fly to New Zealand with Emirates via Dubai, but he said other pet parents had not been so lucky and faced the prospect of stranded pets after the changes.
"It's people's family members effectively," he said.
"The problem with pet transport is there's certain blood work and tests and parasite checks that have to be done within a certain number of days of the travel date."