Pilots still flying internationally risk psychological damage from days of isolation overseas and here where they face a community backlash, a union leader says.
Andrew Ridling, the president of the Air Line Pilots Association, says flying overseas has become surreal due to the strict protocols which means pilots spend days on end in isolation and undergo rounds of Covid-19 testing.
He's an Air New Zealand Boeing 787-9 captain and is also battling what he calls misinformation about the lack of testing of air crew.
''Pilots are among the most frequently tested New Zealanders for Covid-19 in the country. They take this position very seriously.''
Some felt vilified when they returned to New Zealand.
''We've had pilots whose kids have been rejected from daycare centres. I've felt it myself - people are always asking where I've been,'' Ridling said.
''There have been reports saying we aren't testing. In reality we're probably the most tested.''
He returned to New Zealand from an Auckland to Hong Kong service on Saturday morning which involved undergoing two Covid-19 tests. One was done within 48 hours prior to departure to Hong Kong and the other after arrival where crew were taken to a re-purposed convention centre where they were tested and then isolated in a hotel.
''They were such nice people - it makes it so much easier when people are nice. You're interrogated and you go and watch a video and for us as crew we're allowed to go to our hotel because we're isolated,'' said Ridling.
''We are then quarantined in the hotel room for the entire time we are there. We are provided with a 'single-use only' key to the room.''
There was mandatory two-day isolation then a Covid test after United States trips. Crew had been confined to hotels in Los Angeles for at least 48 hours.
''You end up spending a week in isolation - that's the psychological and emotional areas we need to look at,'' said Ridling.
Air New Zealand is also flying freight between Shanghai and Auckland and conditions in the Chinese city were extremely strict.
''There's a hotel between two terminals the Chinese Government has taken over. There's a single bed in the corner and you get your food delivered to the door by people in hazmat suits," he said.
''It's quite draconian. You have to basically sign your life away when you enter it - there's pretty heavy security all around it.''
Breaking the rules would result in being sent to a Chinese detention facility.
Overseas layovers were usually in 20sq m rooms which was tough on morale.
Air New Zealand had laid off hundreds of pilots and Ridling said the lack of flying for those remaining meant they were still on a paycut of about 40 per cent of normal. There was no extra money for flying during the pandemic.
''It's not an issue - we consider ourselves lucky to have a job to be honest,'' he said.
As part of a New Zealand government cargo subsidy scheme which was extended on Friday for another three months, Air NZ was running mainly freight flights on long-haul routes with just a few passengers who had booked before new inbound restrictions. This meant cabins were often full of empty seats.
''It's quite surreal to walk around an empty aeroplane.''
Airports were also deserted.
''There is nothing going on. The world is dead,'' said Ridling.
On flights to Australia where there were more passengers pilots were very restricted in their movements from the flight deck and then currently travel directly back to New Zealand without disembarking onto Australian soil.
The turnaround time in Australia is generally less than an hour although with Air NZ about to start some flights to Norfolk Island through Australian cities there may be some overnight layovers required.
From the time they enter Auckland Airport to their return pilots are wearing masks and gloves while in public places.
''We're very concerned about bringing something back. It might have been someone bringing something off a lift button or going through a terminal.''
The Ministry of Health says its risk assessment is currently undertaken case by case, taking into consideration the length of time of layover, community transmission in the destination country and availability of suitable transport and accommodation.
High-risk layovers were where air crew are staying landside for three nights or more, or two nights or less where the transport and or accommodation are less tightly controlled. Los Angeles is an example of this and why air crew are required to have a Covid test after two days of self-isolation after their return.
In May, Ridling's association urged the widespread use of masks on planes and said the adoption in aviation and elsewhere here was surprisingly slow. At Asian destinations masks were everywhere.
''We've been pushing for that for a long time and they (now) seem to have got on top of it. Why we've been so slow I don't know.''