Virgin Australia will delay the restart of flights to New Zealand until at least June, due to ongoing uncertainty over the prospects of a trans-Tasman travel bubble. The airline's services to Bali and other Pacific Islands are also being pushed back.
Hopes for quarantine-free travel between Australia and New Zealand have been continually dashed by sporadic COVID-19 outbreaks across Australia.
While New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern recently said she would "continue to pursue" a travel bubble with Australia, "it does look increasingly difficult at a country-by-country level," she said, adding “we haven’t ruled out the possibility of state-by-state."
Virgin says all short-haul international services will be closed at least 19 June 2021, and it will contact would-be travellers booked on those flights.
"Because of ongoing international border closures and Government restrictions, it is likely to be an extended period of time before we’re able to appropriately resume short-haul international flying," a Virgin Australia spokesman said.
"We are hopeful that countries will develop safe-travel zones but need to be realistic considering operational limitations and the uncertainty around frameworks that support the sensible opening and closing of borders."
The year-long lockout
Virgin had previously scheduled flights to New Zealand from March 28 – almost a year since they were scrubbed in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, and a month before the airline itself collapsed into administration.
Now rebooted under the ownership of US-based Bain Capital but without its long-range Airbus A330 and Boeing 777 jets, Virgin shrunk its international footprint to a handful of nearby destinations within reach of its Boeing 737s.
Virgin Australia will now continue with its domestic-only focus while local air travel slowly rebuilds, although remaining flexible on a restart schedule for New Zealand.
The coming months will see Virgin fully reactivate its lounge network with the re-opening of lounges at Canberra and Adelaide.
The Federal Government has been critical of Qantas' move, with Deputy Prime Minister and Transport Minister Michael McCormack saying "decisions about when international travel resumes will be made by the Australian Government."
"International borders will be opened when international arrivals do not pose a risk to Australians."