Virgin Australia has further delayed most of its New Zealand flights, citing subdued demand for the trans-Tasman bubble.
Virgin Australia has further delayed most of its New Zealand flights, citing subdued demand for the trans-Tasman bubble.

Virgin NZ flights on hold amid soft sales

Virgin Australia has further delayed most of its New Zealand flights, citing subdued demand for the trans-Tasman bubble.

In an update to the airline's international flying plans, Virgin Australia said services to Queenstown from Brisbane and Sydney would commence as scheduled in September with flights from Melbourne to follow in December.

But services to other New Zealand destinations, including Auckland and Christchurch, would be deferred from sale indefinitely "because current demand remain subdued".

Prior to the COVID crisis, the trans-Tasman was Australia's busiest international air route with close to 500 flights going across the ditch each week.

When the much-anticipated travel bubble opened on April 19, Qantas, Jetstar and Air New Zealand added significant capacity while Virgin Australia chose to defer flights.

Since then, Air New Zealand has cut about six flights a week, citing a slower than expected rebound in the market as confidence in travel rebuilds.

Qantas and Jetstar have remained tight-lipped about demand, suggesting only that passenger loads were strong heading from Australia to New Zealand, but weak in the other direction.

Virgin Australia also poured cold water on hopes of other short-haul international travel, saying flights to Fiji and Indonesia were out of the picture until at least December, along with other pre-COVID destinations such as Samoa, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands.

The rethink came after federal budget forecasts indicated international borders would remain closed until mid-2022 in response to the slow vaccination rollout.

"While we know some Australians are itching to travel overseas, it is clear that international travel won't return to normal as quickly as first anticipated," said Virgin Australia's chief strategy and transformation officer Alistair Hartley.

"We're being realistic about restarting short-haul international flying, and have today delayed services to the Pacific, and to Bali, Indonesia until at least December."

He said the trans-Tasman bubble had been a "positive development" but Virgin Australia was not seeing strong demand for New Zealand destinations.

"Queenstown is the exception, with customers looking to travel there over the September school holidays and upcoming summer," Mr Hartley said.

"We are continually reviewing our network to respond to the latest advice, and importantly looking at whether we can restart short-haul international flying, including to New Zealand earlier, should travel demand improve and circumstances change."

Qantas announced on Wednesday it would push back its plans for more international flights from October to December, in the hope more travel bubbles would be established by then.

The airline had scheduled long-haul services on most of its pre-COVID routes from October 31, but recognised this was no longer practical given recent comments by the government.

It is the third time Qantas has been forced to postpone the resumption of significant international services since the COVID crisis erupted, and it may not be the last.

While the international travel outlook was uncertain, domestic flying continued to go from strength to strength with airlines already returning to pre-COVID levels in Australia.

Cheap airfares were helping with the latest federal government data showing business class fares in May were the lowest in eight years and discount prices were at five-year lows.

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce announced last month the airline would exceed pre-COVID domestic capacity by mid-year.



Originally published as Virgin NZ flights on hold amid soft sales