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Travellers warned NZ flights will be tight

People wanting to fly in New Zealand are being warned that they are likely to find flights hard to get - and more expensive.

Justin Tighe-Umbers, co-chair of the New Zealand Aviation Coalition (NZAC), says anyone who has already booked an airfare in anticipation of being able to move more freely under Alert Level Two may find they can no longer get that flight.

“Every time we go into Alert Level Two or higher, two-thirds of the domestic network gets taken out,” Mr Tighe-Umbers says. “The problem lies with the Ministry of Health’s requirement for physical distancing on aircraft under Level Two.

“That requirement reduces the number of flights as airlines respond. In simple terms it means not as many ticket paying passengers are covering the cost of each flight. Airlines cannot be expected to fly where they can’t cover their costs.”

Jetstar suspended all domestic flights from August 19 until at least August 26 because of travel restrictions varying across the country.

Airlines are not expected to be able to add any more domestic capacity while physical distancing on aircraft remains.

Mr Tighe-Umbers says the risk of catching COVID-19 while travelling by air should not be compared with travelling on a public bus. 

Measures like hygiene protocols, aircrew wearing personal protective equipment, restrictive food and beverage services, limiting the use of toilets to certain areas of the aircraft, and the mandatory use of face masks by passengers, all help prevent transmission on flights Mr Tighe-Umbers says.

“Modern aircraft are also one of the most controlled environments that people could experience. Air is exchanged with fresh air from outside every two or three minutes on most aircraft. That’s 20 to 30 times more frequently than most office buildings. And HEPA filters take out viruses on jet aircraft—including the coronavirus—with each filtration.

“On top of that there are several design features that limit the spread of virus-carrying droplets on board. Movement of air forward and aft in the cabin is limited by seat backs and a ceiling to floor air flow. And with everybody oriented forward, there is limited face-to-face contact.”

Mr Tighe-Umbers says while the Government obviously recognises people want to travel regionally and there are economic benefits from that, it also needs to recognise physical distancing on aircraft imposes heavy costs.

NZAC says with kiwis queuing to fly to see family and friends or do business, and businesses throughout the country wanting Aucklanders to visit and spend money, it wants the Ministry of Health to immediately review the need for physical distancing on aircraft.  

For more information contact:

Justin Tighe-Umbers                                                                      
New Zealand Aviation Coalition co-chair
Tel:  027 268 4053

Kevin Ward
New Zealand Aviation Coalition co-chair
Tel: 021 384 524   

Media requests:
Felicity Anderson
Tel: 021 22 40 520