Air New Zealand has released its international schedule through to June with some notable additions to the pandemic-trimmed international network. From 28 March the airline will be operating more Pacific services including a daily return service to Rarotonga.
The airline says the expanded international routes are mostly servicing key cargo routes and keeping links open for essential travel and returning New Zealanders.
The schedule features twice-weekly long-haul services between Auckland and Los Angeles, Hong Kong and Shanghai, weekly to Tokyo and slots once a month between New Zealand and Seoul.
While the airline said these long-haul routes were being kept running to increase seats for returning Kiwis, networks general manager Scott Carr said the new schedule reflected the "use it or lose it" nature of runway slots.
"This means if you don't fly the majority of your schedule you may lose access to airports."
The long-haul schedule was designed to protect access to key airports even while operating in a "low-demand environment", said Carr.
One of the key factors creating low demand for flights was entry requirements and extremely limited spaces in MIQ facilities. RNZ recently revealed that 32 managed isolation facilities were over 90 per cent full this month, with ongoing disruptions to travel creating logistical problems.
The Networks manager was aware of the difficulty, saying "a lot of things needing to line up including flights, testing and managed isolation bookings. We feel a responsibility to ensure Kiwis can come home and are doing our best to make this happen as smoothly as possible."
One of the regions with added flight capacity was the Pacific, with weekly services between Auckland to Fiji, Niue, Samoa, Tonga and the Cook Islands.
Following the announcement of a partial "travel bubble" with the Cooks, the airline also announced it would be operating daily return service to Rarotonga - up from the current two services a week.
The first quarantine free service for passengers arriving from the Cook Islands arrives in Auckland at 10am on Thursday, and the promise of a two-way safe travel corridor will likely increase demand for these seats.
For now travel to the Cook Islands is still limited to Cook Islanders and current holders of Cook Islands work and residence permits who meet health entry requirements.
"We strongly recommend customers check government border restrictions for the relevant countries and/or individual passport requirements before booking a ticket," says Carr.
There will be no alterations to the trans-Tasman services.