Five mercy flights to bring home stranded Kiwis from Sydney sold out in a matter of minutes of being made available this morning, Air New Zealand says.
Customer general manager Leeanne Langridge said the airline appreciated this meant some customers would have missed out.
"We would love to be able to bring more Kiwis home to their families, but we're limited by the availability of MIQ spots."
Langridge said Air NZ would continue to work closely with the Government to ensure it could bring as many Kiwis home from Australia as possible.
"Our teams have worked tirelessly to get these managed return flights up and running so we can reconnect Kiwis with their loved ones. We recognise this is a very stressful and emotional time for those customers wishing to return from NSW, and we're doing everything we can to get them home safely as quickly as possible.
Air New Zealand has added two more flights from Melbourne to Auckland on Monday and Tuesday next week to help stranded Kiwis get home.
The airline says it will continue to add flights to its schedule as demand becomes clearer.
Air New Zealand says it is seeing a large volume of customers cancelling travel to Australia. Due to this reduced demand the airline will be rerouting customers booked to travel across the Tasman from Queenstown, Christchurch or Wellington via Auckland from 30 July for the duration of the suspension.
A Kiwi couple stranded in New South Wales say they are extremely lucky to get a booking for one of the five Air New Zealand flights.
The Queenstown man, who did not want to be named, said within seconds of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announcing flights from Australia to bring people home, his tech-savvy daughter began trying to book a flight.
He said the message came back "sorry taken" for two of the flights, but his daughter was lucky to secure two tickets on the last flight on August 7. Five minutes later she went back online and found all the flights were sold out.
Air New Zealand today announced five flights from Sydney to Auckland between July 28 and August 7 after Ardern revealed a pause on the entire transtasman bubble for eight weeks.
In NSW, New Zealanders can only fly from Sydney and will have to be in MIQ for 14 days.
The man, aged 70 and retired, said he had been hundreds of miles from the red zone in Sydney for 31 days and could not see the need to go into managed isolation for 14 days.
"It would be like having an outbreak of Covid 19 in Kaitaia and closing down Winton in Southland," he said.
In Victoria, travellers must have a negative pre-departure test and must isolated until a negative day 3 test.
Ardern said if demand had not been met, more flights would be revealed.
Quarantine-free travel has been suspended from 11.59pm tonight and the bubble will be closed for at least the next eight weeks.
Meanwhile, 74-year-old Julie Bird – who has been stuck in Sydney with her 80-year-old husband Jeffery since June 21 – has been left with questions after Ardern's recent announcement appeared to conflict with advice on the Covid-19 website.
Ardern confirmed Kiwis would need proof of a negative pre-departure test, which cost about $160, to travel on managed return flights from Australia.
However, on the Unite Against Covid-19 website, it said such tests were not required.
"As a returnee on a managed return flight from NSW, you do not need to provide a negative pre-departure test result," the website read.
A regular visitor to the website, Bird said the conflicting information was very confusing.
"We're finding it very frustrating because we're spending so much time either on the phone or on the website to make sure we've got the right information.
"I would expect that it would appear on the website updated immediately because there's an awful lot of people relying on the advice and when you check it and it's not updated, its very confusing for travellers."
The Birds had had three flights cancelled during their time across the ditch, until they finally confirmed their seats aboard a flight on Wednesday.
However, Bird wasn't counting her chickens just yet – given the number of cancellations that had scuppered plans to return home to Nelson.
Advice for Kiwis in Australia
Travellers from Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Western Australia, ACT and Norfolk Island:
Can come home on a green flight subject to the below public health criteria:
- A negative pre-departure test, taken within 72-hours of their intended travel to New Zealand.
- Have not been in a location of interest in the past 14 days.
- Are not symptomatic at the time of travel.
- Are not a contact of a Covid-19 case.
Eligible people from Victoria or travellers from other states/territories who have been in Victoria can return provided they also:
- Adhere to lockdown measures in Victoria.
- Self-isolate upon return to New Zealand and get a test at day 3.
- Travel to the airport wearing facemasks and by safe travel, ie, not public transport.
Eligible people from New South Wales will continue to return on existing managed return flights. Returnees on these flights will be required to enter a managed isolation facility for at least 14 days on arrival in New Zealand.
Travel on all such flights will be limited to:
- New Zealand citizens and holders of residence class visas.
- Holders of temporary visas and Australian citizens, who last departed New Zealand after April 5, 2021.
- Holders of current permanent residence visas (including a resident return visa) issued by the Government of Australia who last departed New Zealand after April 5, 2021; and relevant family members of people listed in the above categories. (Relevant family member means: a spouse, civil union partner, or de facto partner, a dependent child; or a parent of a dependent child. Parent, in relation to a dependent child, means a person on whom the child is dependent).