Air New Zealand has extended a freeze on booking inbound international flights from 2 November until 14 December due to the country’s hotel quarantine centres nearing capacity.
The decision follows the government introducing a new system forcing returnees to acquire a ‘voucher’ for a quarantine room, or else be turned away from flights at check-in.
The airline responded to the new rules regarding the so-called Managed Isolation Allocation System (MIAS) by offering passengers the chance to rebook a flight for free if they were caught out by the changes.
New Zealand’s issues with returnees mirror the situation in Australia, where critics have argued ‘arrival caps’ have hindered Australians’ ability to return home by reducing availability and increasing prices.
Restrictions were first introduced in July to regulate the flow of people arriving into government quarantine facilities and have been extended multiple times.
On Monday, Australian Aviation also reported that Hobart would provide an extra 450 spaces in hotel quarantine. Previously, the state wasn’t accepting international arrivals.
“We’re working every option to help as many Australians return home as quickly as possible,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.
The country is currently taking around 6,300 arrivals per week after lifting the cap from an initial 4,000.
Last month, the Board of Airline Representatives of Australia (BARA) also urged NSW to allocate domestic quarantine hotel rooms to overseas arrivals when the NSW-Victoria border reopens to allow more stranded Australians to return home.
“BARA understands that at present, each week some 1,600 people undergo 14 days of mandatory quarantine when they enter New South Wales from Victoria,” said BARA in a statement. “If, when the requirements on arrivals from Victoria are eased, this domestic quarantine capacity were allocated to international flights, it would make a big difference.
“Expanding the New Zealand Safe Travel Zone into all Australian states and territories and a regulatory framework that permits the commercial provision of quarantine services would also benefit Australians stranded overseas.
“Some 20 flights from NZ have been arriving in Brisbane each month carrying about 500 passengers who go into quarantine. That number could now go to Australians stranded in other overseas countries if the New Zealand Safe Travel Zone was expanded to Queensland.”
The announcement of the inbound booking ban comes after the airline first temporarily instigated the measure in July.
The move led to angry complaints on social media from citizens trying to return home, as the airline promised to align arrival numbers with capacity at isolation.