A regional airport is benefiting from Auckland's unfortunate lockdown by suddenly attracting a whole new clientele - one that would usually snub it for its larger rival.
Staff at Hamilton Airport have been keeping busy since the Waikato moved down into alert level 2 - largely because it is now the only choice for those wanting to fly in and out of the Waikato with Auckland Airport largely out of action during the city's lockdown.
Air New Zealand is still running its services at a reduced capacity across the country. In Hamilton, the schedule is running at about 65 per cent this week and is expected to increase as demand continues.
The airport's only other airline, Originair, which flies direct from Hamilton to Palmerston North, is also expected to resume flights later this week.
Hamilton Airport chief executive Mark Morgan said the "airport has been a net beneficiary of the unfortunate situation Auckland has found itself in" and the number of flights currently operating was encouraging.
After Auckland returned to level 3 last year and earlier this year, Hamilton's passenger numbers started to rise and the same is expected again.
Morgan put the airport's strong recovery down to the reliability of travel out of Hamilton vs Auckland and, in particular, north Waikato residents who may have historically travelled to Auckland airport.
As people became less certain about travel plans, it was less complicated for them to fly out of Hamilton, he said.
While he didn't have the figures on who was currently flying in and out of the airport, anecdotally it appeared to be people flying to see friends and family and/or for holiday.
The business market had previously been slower to resume flying and this could be due to some companies still having travel policies that precluded travel under alert level 2.
After the major lockdown in 2020, Hamilton Airport was one of the first regional airports to meet and exceed its passenger number targets compared to 2019.
While this was particularly true for the three direct routes flying to Christchurch, Wellington and Palmerston North, the airport was also now attracting people using the connecting services to get to Queenstown and Dunedin.
"I think people understand the airfares may be more expensive for those connecting routes but to take away that uncertainty of that risk factor of travel in and out of Auckland."
While Morgan didn't want to sound like the smug Hamilton Airport boss, he had to admit it was benefiting from Auckland's unfortunate circumstances.
"Overall I have to say it's been good for the airport and again we would expect our passenger numbers to bounce back relatively quickly - much quicker than 2020, which was a longer recovery."
An Air New Zealand spokesperson confirmed it was operating 110 flights this week to and from Hamilton - about 35 per cent less than what was planned before lockdown.
Demand was naturally lower as a result of the restrictions in place, but the airline would adjust capacity based on demand. But Hamilton Airport was definitely busy, they said.
Hamilton deputy mayor Geoff Taylor said it had been frustrating seeing people drive to Auckland Airport instead of using local so it was great to see Hamilton Airport finally coming out of the shadows.
"This may be a chance for Hamilton Airport to stake its claim as a really important regional airport because it's well situated and it's not far from Auckland ... We don't know how long this Covid situation is going to drag on, it could be months, it could be years."
Hamilton Airport gained attention at the weekend after an Auckland couple used their essential workers accreditation to leave Auckland before flying from Hamilton to Queenstown to stay in their Wanaka holiday home.
Air New Zealand said it was Aviation Security's responsibility to ensure customers were travelling for the right reasons during the various alert levels.
Tauranga Airport chief executive Ray Dumble said Tauranga Airport had not been seeing the same gains probably due to it being a three-hour drive from Auckland compared to Hamilton's commutable one hour.
While up north, Air New Zealand has reinstated direct flights between Kerikeri and Wellington to keep Northland connected while Auckland remains in lockdown.
In August, Wellington Airport reported there had been a particularly strong increase in regional demand, with Hamilton leading the way with a 24 per cent rise in seats before Covid struck in 2020.