After a bumper week of trans-Tasman travel, Air New Zealand chief executive Greg Foran is hopeful flights over the ditch can help restore the national carrier after its most turbulent year.
Friday is Air New Zealand’s busiest day since the onset of the pandemic, with 42,000 people taking flights with the national carrier.
Mr Foran will be one of them.
The New Zealand-born former Walmart senior executive is taking his first overseas flight since taking the job, heading to Sydney to meet new members of his family.
“I have three children who live in Australia and there are three grandchildren there I haven’t met yet,” he told AAP.
That makes the 59-year-old the archetypal trans-Tasman traveller this week.
Analysts predicted a first-week surge for travellers visiting family and relatives, known in industry lingo as VFRs.
Mr Foran said the rush of VFRs made this week’s flights profitable.
Beyond that, he was uncertain about profitability, though optimistic.
“One of the reasons for that is there’s less carriers,” he said.
“Virgin is not flying. You don’t have Singapore Airlines. You don’t have Emirates. So basically it’s Qantas, Jetstar and Air New Zealand.
“Even though we’re not seeing everyone wanting to travel right at the this period, the loads are still pretty good.”
Mr Foran said services would hit around 80 per cent of pre-COVID levels next month, but after that, he couldn’t say.
“We’re playing it by ear and seeing what the bookings are like,” he said.
A key factor is anxiety among travellers.
The trans-Tasman bubble has made travel across the ditch possible, but not yet desirable for large cohorts.
Mr Foran said the level of commitment shown by governments on both sides of the Tasman towards the travel link would be
“Now this bubble has opened, it would take a very significant thing to start closing that down for any period of time,” he said.
“What you’re going to see is as each week goes by, more and more people will become more comfortable with the situation.
“And I’m optimistic.
“I think after (VFRs) you’re going to get increasing number of people in business, and then increasing numbers of people in government.
“I see between Australia and New Zealand, it’s going to be quite healthy for a period of time.”
Air New Zealand also launched a new destination this week, returning to Hobart after a 23-year hiatus.
The route had an underwhelming start, with planes roughly a third full heading each way on inaugural flights on Thursday.
“There will be some hesitancy for some people to jump on a plane and fly to Rome, or fly to London or fly to New York for a period of time. And that could be years,” Mr Foran said.
“So my guess is that Auckland-Hobart is likely to gain momentum as people become more comfortable.”