Air New Zealand has cancelled 1,000 flights to and from Australia until December 31 due to ‘continued border uncertainty’ between the two countries.
At least 20,000 travellers have booked tickets on the flights, all of them expecting the countries would reopen to each other before Christmas.
Jacinda Ardern’s government has made recent statements that they would be unlikely to lift harsh travel restrictions before the new year, throwing travel plans for families and holidaymakers alike into chaos.
Air New Zealand chief customer and sales officer Leanne Geraghty said the airline was left with little choice but to cancel the flights – dashing long-awaited reunion plans for thousands.
‘This will be particularly tough news for families and friends who were hoping to catch up over Christmas,’ Ms Geraghty said.
‘I appreciate how difficult this news will be, but our hands are tied until border restrictions ease, and we receive further clarity from the New Zealand Government.’
Customers who are affected should be able to get a refund or hold the fare cost in credit for when flights resume, which the airline is banking on being in January.
The airline’s current flight schedule beyond December 31 remains in place and the airline will continue to offer a very limited number of flights to and from Sydney and Melbourne for those with travel exemptions or hotel quarantine places.
New Zealand will adopt a new system of living with the coronavirus in the community from December 3.
Tough restrictions within the country are expected to be loosened and will allow businesses to operate in its biggest city, Auckland, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday.
New Zealand remained largely free of Covid cases until August but has been unable to beat an outbreak of the Delta variant.
Ms Ardern then abandoned an elimination strategy.
Auckland has been in lockdown for over 90 days, although some measures have already been eased in recent weeks.
‘Delta is here and not going away, but New Zealand is well set to tackle it because of our high vaccination rates and our latest safety measures including the traffic light system and Vaccine Pass,’ Ms Ardern said in a statement.
The new system will rate regions as red, orange or green depending on their level of exposure to Covid and vaccination rates.
Auckland, the epicentre of the Delta outbreak, will start at red, making face masks mandatory and putting limits on gatherings at public places.
Ms Ardern said about 83% of eligible New Zealanders are fully vaccinated, while 88% have had their first shot.
The government previously said the country would drop lockdown measures and move to the traffic-light system to manage outbreaks after 90% of the eligible population was fully vaccinated.