Australia-New Zealand travel bubble likely by March 2021

NZ PM Ardern expects the trans-Tasman bubble will open in the first quarter of next year.

By David Flynn, December 14 2020
Australia-New Zealand travel bubble likely by March 2021

Two-way quarantine-free travel between Australia and New Zealand could resume by March 2021, with NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern saying her Government has agreed in principle to open a trans-Tasman travel bubble with Australia early next year.

Speaking at her final post-Cabinet press conference of the year, Ardern said there was agreement that the bubble would open in the first quarter of 2021.

A start date for the new travel arrangements would be announced "in the new year once (the) remaining details are locked down" between both countries, she said, on the proviso that they remain effectively COVID-free.

Ardern told TVNZ's Breakfast there were still a "number of issues" to work through, such as what would happen in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak once the bubble was up and running.

"We would need to know how we're dealing with the internal borders with Australia and also we would have to have the airlines ready," Ardern said.

"We are quite keen to see segregated airline staff for quarantine-free travel." However, she added these issues were "not insurmountable".

The Trans-Tasman Safe Border Group – comprised of government agencies, health experts, airports, Qantas and Air New Zealand – has already drawn up a detailed blueprint for how travel would reopen.

Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt said Australia would now move quickly to open the travel bubble.

"We consciously opened up Australia to people coming from New Zealand because their case numbers were negligible, and we knew there would come a time when our case numbers gave them confidence," Hunt said.

"We've already committed to the principle of a two-way bubble, we've established it as a one-way bubble... now this gives the chance for New Zealanders or Australians to visit New Zealand – whether it's for friends, family, weddings, funerals, births, holidays, business – without having to quarantine."

Ramping up flights

Air New Zealand, Qantas and Virgin Australia will all be eager to boost their flights across the pond and tap into pent-up demand for travel.

Australia and New Zealand have long been each other’s number one travel destination: 2019 saw some 2.6 million residents of each country jetting back and forth across the Tasman, according to Stats NZ.

A spokesman for Qantas said the airline was "looking forward to adding significant amounts of capacity across the Tasman once details about the bubble and when it will begin is confirmed."

In a statement issued this afternoon, Virgin Australia said it weclomed the New Zealand government’s "in-principle decision to establish quarantine-free travel with Australia."

The airline currently lists more than 70 services to New Zealand per week on sale from March 28 2021 and says "the decision gives us time to prepare aircraft and crew for re-entry into New Zealand skies."

"We’ll continue to review and adjust our schedule in line with demand and the start dates for quarantine-free travel being worked through by the respective governments."

A bubble of hope

The concept of an Australia-New Zealand bubble was raised in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Ardern beginning discussions in May about reopening their borders.

"If there is any country in the world with whom we can reconnect with first, undoubtedly that's New Zealand,” Morrison said at the time.

Those hopes were dashed due to subsequent outbreaks in Melbourne, Sydney and Auckland.

Earlier this month Australia's nation-wide ban on international travel was extended to March 2021, although exceptions could be brought into place for 'safe' destinations such as New Zealand.

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce has also forecast that with apart from the prospects of flights to New Zealand and other 'bubble' countries, international travel would remain "at a virtual standstill" until at least the middle of 2021.


David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

KW72 Banned
KW72 Banned

17 Jun 2020

Total posts 239

About time!

with closures for Xmas, what does this mean ? Feb ?

05 Mar 2015

Total posts 418

The article says early next year, by March 2021, in the first quarter of the year, so yeah, I think that means February or March because it's hard to imagine they could get this up and running for January, unless they absolutely hit the ground running and rush through the arrangements to capitalise on the last few weeks of school hols.  But I think those hols are already planned so they will just work through it and plan a start in February or March.


13 Aug 2016

Total posts 66

It’s Jacinta’s way of keeping everyone in New Zealand as long as she could. If it wasn’t for media pressure over the weekend, she wouldn’t of even announced this.

05 Mar 2015

Total posts 418

It's "Jacinda", not Jacinta. It's "wouldn't have even", not "wouldn’t of even". And she's been talking this bubble up for a long time, it has to get underway at some point and she obviously wants to give Kiwis something extra to look forward to at the end of a very tough and trying year.

Etihad - Etihad Guest

21 Jul 2019

Total posts 165

To correct a child's grammar is commendable. To correct another adult seems rather peevish, and does not impress other adults. Especially when it's obvious that your underlying disagreement is really about policy, not grammatical correctness.

13 Feb 2015

Total posts 69

Asking adults to get the name of the New Zealand PM correct is highly commendable actually. Should be more of it.

& yet USA/Netherlands have quarantine free travel from tomorrow USA time & USA to Italy from 19 Dec (As read on flyertalk website)

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

04 Mar 2014

Total posts 204

Couldnt pay me to visit with their Covid levels...

27 Aug 2013

Total posts 31

So what? You don’t need quarantine when COVID is running rampant at both ends of a route. Netherlands with 10,000+ daily new cases, Italy with 15,000+ and the USA with 180,000+, the horse has bolted. Quarantine free travel is just another white flag being waved by these countries now 

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2559

A number of comments on the coronavirus (which threaten to veer off-topic into the same tired he-said she-said commentary that's been given ample air here over recent months) have been removed. This article is about the AU-NZ travel bubble, and comments should be likewise (and add value to the discussion).

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 1205

No idea why this couldn't happen in a fortnight.  Both countries have similar levels of suppression with only meaningful risk being hotel quarantine.  I seems like a bizarre abundance of caution where the economic and personal costs far outweigh any perceived risk.

I agree, as the article says, a working group has been in place for ages and submitted their plan back when the bubble was supposed to happen months ago. I understand that airlines also need time to get their planes back in the air, bring back all the pilots and crew and ground staff who've been stood down, and at least as far as Qantas and Air New Zealand they also have to get their international lounges ready. But you'd think this plus the formal Government agreements could be put into play now, allow two weeks to pull it all together,  and have the bubble open up by the second week of January.


19 Apr 2012

Total posts 1423

Lost I think they are deliberately avoiding the January holidays so they can introduce it outside a busy time. As they said they need systems in place to ensure travellers are kept separate etc until cleared. In Hobart the other day there was a three step process of (a brief) interview, temperature check, and Q code check. In NZ they may have this plus a little more, before people are cleared.


19 Apr 2012

Total posts 1423

Reeve given what happened in both Australia and NZ recently with one person leading to an infection cluster that went on for weeks and in the case of SW Sydney months, it is hard to say an abundance of caution is bizarre. It is hard for anything to outweigh the risk given what has happened locally and globally. When airlines such as Delta are not testing their crew then having an abundance of caution is all we can do.

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 1205

....but Patrick on that basis the answer is stay closed.  There will always be risks but, with NZ and AU in their current states, the risks are super-low.  At the same time families are unnecessarily being kept apart and the economies of tourist dependent towns risk being hollowed out. 

07 May 2020

Total posts 151

It will probably POP before it even floats. Watch out. Nothing like spinning a good yarn to give people a nice feeling....but only something to dream about in the future.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Jan 2014

Total posts 321

I reckon Alan Joyce’s no vaccine no international flight on QF will be eroded away before he knows it, many of these destinations will open up well before a vaccine is available.


19 Apr 2012

Total posts 1423

GBRGB the Australian government will insist and Qantas will then be well within their rights to see the vaccine certificate before boarding. There is no way Australia will be open before a vaccine is widely available and people have had tge jab.

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 1205

The no vaccine, no travel will apply once general travel reopens so realistically 2022.  QF has no intention of applying it during bubbles and will instead rely on temperature checks and masks.  By 2022, most countries will be demanding proof of vaccine before they allow visitors to enter; airlines will be responsible for checking vaccine status before allowing boarding just as they do with visas.

Thai Airways International - Royal Orchid Plus

15 Jan 2013

Total posts 469

i hope air new zealand gets their adelaide-auckland reinstated with this change.that's my preferred choice return these days.did it years ago ansett adelaide to melbourne and connected to air nz evening flight to auckland arriving in the small hours just after midnight of new years day 1999.

07 May 2020

Total posts 151

patrickk.....there is also no way that international travel with Australia will open up even when there is a vaccine. Don't forget, the current emergency use vaccines are not recommended for those under 16, pregnant women or those considering conception, and those with allergies. These vaccines do not prevent infection and transmission so if there is the occurrence of a virus in a country, the Australian government will not allow travellers in without quarantine. Vaccination certificate or not. None of this is conducive to international travel opening up under current strategies.

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