On the face of it, cousins Air New Zealand and the Qantas group are happy playing nice.
There was a jokey pavlova exchange between their bosses, and a deal where Qantas group passengers can use Air New Zealand lounges in this country, with the possibility of a reciprocal deal in Australia.
That followed a 2018 agreement to codeshare on each other's domestic routes, and co-operate in other ways including research into biofuels - but with a pledge to compete fiercely on the Tasman. And they're living up to that promise.
On the Tasman — traditionally one of the world's most competitive airline routes — both Air New Zealand and Qantas group have roared back into life with the resumption of quarantine-free travel.
And off the aircraft they're trying to lure each other's high value customers with sweet deals to join their respective loyalty schemes.
Air New Zealand's published schedule has allowed for about 150 flights a week across the Tasman in the early days of the bubble, with more to come, and Qantas has about 100.
Jetstar, which has been in Air New Zealand's domestic home patch for 12 years, is operating at a little over 40 per cent of pre-Covid capacity across the Tasman but will add more seats when demand picks up.
The airline is wholly owned by Qantas and has built back to 80 per cent of pre-pandemic flying in New Zealand out of Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Queenstown and Dunedin.
Jetstar chief executive Gareth Evans says the New Zealand domestic market is still softer than at the same time in 2019, but with its Tasman flights acting to feed more passengers onto planes in this country, the outlook is improving.
Back to work
The airline employs about 280 staff in New Zealand and all pilots and 75 per cent of cabin crew are back at work, he says.
"We want to get our people back to work — our people have been phenomenal. It's been an incredibly difficult time for all our people in all of the countries ... and nowhere more so than in New Zealand," says Evans.
Before Covid-19 the airline flew to 85 destinations in Australia, New Zealand and Asia, with a fleet of close to 140 aircraft, mainly Airbus A320 and A321s.
But because aviation markets such as Singapore and Japan had been hit harder by the pandemic, Jetstar has been able to redeploy aircraft to its home base.
"It's a real advantage to be able to shift, not only with aircraft types in Australia, but across countries where it could be some time before they return to full flying."
And while the fleet is mainly narrow-body planes, Jetstar also has 11 Boeing 787 Dreamliners, five of which are being brought out of hibernation to use on Australian domestic routes.
Evans says it is possible the planes could be put on the Tasman if demand is sufficient.
''We will see how things develop — if the demand is there, we will look to put in supply. If we think we've got demand across the Tasman to fill a 335-seat aircraft, we might well do that."
Just before the pandemic hit, Air New Zealand had a 37 per cent 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 has delayed re-entering the Tasman until September, with some flights to Queenstown, and the end of October for a more extensive network.
This has provided an opportunity for Air NZ, Qantas and Jetstar. Evans says he is surprised Virgin has stalled its re-entry.
"For us, we focus on what we're doing. It's up to them to decide what they do with their business [but] it is a bit of a surprise. I would have thought that any airline would look to take opportunities in any market that opens."
Taking on the national carrier
Qantas and Jetstar took a different approach to refunds last year than Air New Zealand, which gave credits on non-refundable tickets, giving money back in limited cases.
Evans says if a Jetstar flight was cancelled and passengers could not be re-accommodated within a reasonable time, they were eligible a credit or a refund.
Will this different stance help his airline in this country?
"Kiwis have a strong affiliation with Air New Zealand — we just hope that NZers continue to trust Jetstar, the low fares, and give Jetstar a try."
Jetstar flies about 100 flights a week between Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Queenstown and Dunedin, and after a rough start has greatly improved its punctuality. Evans says passenger surveys show 80 per cent of travellers are extremely satisfied with the service and 90 per cent satisfied with the timeliness.
"As we come back we want to bust myths and get New Zealanders to give us a go."
New Zealand was the first domestic market that Jetstar was able to rebuild strongly but after a stuttering re-start the Australian domestic market was cranking. Jetstar has recovered to 100 per cent of its pre-pandemic capacity and plans to be at 110 per cent next month, with demand helped by an Australian government tourism package which includes 800,000 subsidised airfares.
Back to basics
Jetstar has worked on its technology during the past year to try to make the passenger journey more seamless, but will not be changing other key pillars - paying for extras if passengers want them, and low fares.
During the past year the Qantas group raised more than A$2 billion ($2.15b) in new capital and its share price has recovered from A$2.36 to a 12-month high of A$5.52.
Evans was formerly the head of Qantas' international airline and is seen as a contender to replace Qantas CEO Alan Joyce when he retires.
Evans says the group will be a strong competitor in any market where it operates.
Qantas hopes to start some long haul flying in October.
"The Qantas group is in a unique position, we've weathered this well and while we've had to take on more debt, we've also taken on external equity - we're already starting to effect balance sheet repair with our strong domestic network and now we're focused on taking advantage of when the international markets open."
He says it is difficult to predict how the airline industry will bounce back.
"All airlines have been deeply impacted by what has happened from an operational perspective and a financial perspective. As markets come back, they're going to come back in a 'bubbly' way — region by region, market by market and route by route. Airlines are going to be focused on driving for cash and as airlines have taken on more debt, that is going to drive discipline into competitive behaviour."
In 2019, 6.4 million passengers flew between Australia and New Zealand, according to OAG Traffic Analyser.
Of these, 3 million had a point of sale in Australia, or 47 per cent.
In 2020 this number fell to 1.5 million, just 24 per cent of the year before. Airlines had only a quarter of the year in which to operate normally.
The OAG figures show that from April 19, the number of scheduled flights across the Tasman increased to 307 from 97 a week earlier, and the number of routes operated will rise from 11 to 16.
According to one provider of global travel search data, 3Victors, the number of searches for Australia-New Zealand travel rose by more than 900 per cent between the week of April 5 and the week of April 12.
However, demand may not be as high as airlines were hoping for.
Just a week before the launch of the quarantine-free bubble, scheduled airline capacity was showing in the OAG database as 455 flights for the week of April 19.
Taking out 148 flights within a week of operation demonstrated the uncertainty in the market and the lack of consumer confidence, OAG said.