Virgin Australia's joint venture partnership agreement with Air New Zealand will take full flight from November, with the first changes being seen by passengers in just over a month -- and some aren't improvements from the traveller's perspective.
The changes are, in brief:
- a new frequent flyer program for Virgin Australia, which will provide reciprocal points earning on Air New Zealand flights
- reciprocal lounge access for Virgin Australia and Air New Zealand customers (even though Virgin Australia is not a member of Star Alliance)
- coordinated offering of in-flight products and services across both airlines (though it remains to be seen how they will sort out fundamental differences like one airline offering full business class on some routes, and the other without a business cabin)
- every Australia/New Zealand route divvied up between the two airlines, with only Auckland flights retaining service from both airlines
The alliance means Virgin Australia passengers can fly to Air New Zealand's 31 domestic destinations on Virgin Australia flight numbers, and in reverse, Air New Zealand passengers can access all of Virgin Blue's 26 Australian airports under Air New Zealand flight numbers.
The arrangements are still six months away from coming into effect -- they will start in November -- but tickets will be on sale from July.
Existing Pacific Blue planes will be used for the Virgin Australia services across the Tasman, but they will be rebranded as Virgin Australia by the end of the year.
Flight times coordinated and NZ destinations split between the two airlines
The airlines say Air New Zealand and Pacific Blue flight times will be organised to ensure more convenient schedules for passengers.
For example, currently, Brisbane to Wellington flights depart at similar times four days a week with both Air New Zealand and Pacific Blue, with no afternoon services available on some days.
Under the changes, Pacific Blue will run a morning and afternoon flight to New Zealand and Air New Zealand will drop out of this route entirely.
Full route changes
- Brisbane-Wellington – previously both Air New Zealand and Pacific Blue had flights at similar times four days per week and no afternoon flights on some days. The new schedule will see Pacific Blue operating a double-daily service of morning and afternoon/evening flights, and no Air NZ flights on the route.
- Brisbane-Christchurch – previously both airlines had flights at similar times four days per week. The new schedule will see the two airlines operate a combined double-daily service of morning and afternoon/evening flights.
- Queenstown-Sydney – previously both airlines had flights at similar times on Tuesdays and Saturdays only, the new schedule will offer a flight five days a week in peak demand months.
- Wellington-Sydney – previously both airlines had flights at similar times two days a week and no afternoon flights on some days. The new schedule will see Air New Zealand operating double-daily services of morning and afternoon/evening flights -- and no more Pacific Blue flights.
- Pacific Blue will replace Air New Zealand services between Sydney/Melbourne and Dunedin, operating during the December and January peak.
- Travellers to regional South Island destinations will see improved connectivity via Christchurch to new double daily Christchurch-Brisbane, Christchurch-Sydney and Christchurch-Melbourne services.
In a strange decision, passengers with existing bookings on Air New Zealand routes that will now be operated by Pacific Blue flights aren't being transferred to those nonstop flights.
Instead, they're being rerouted on domestic Air New Zealand flights, making their previous nonstop flights an inconvenient connection in Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch.
Flights on some routes will be increased or decreased to match demand:
- Seats on Air New Zealand Auckland-Adelaide services will increase by 16%, with a daily service in the peak summer months
- Auckland-Perth services will increase to eight times per week (up 4%) over the summer peak.
- Air New Zealand will take over the Auckland-Cairns route, with flight times and schedules not yet decided
- Total capacity into and out of Wellington will be up 3.5%, with Melbourne-Wellington getting the largest increase of 10.5% and Brisbane-Wellington up 5%
- Capacity on Christchurch markets will be reduced by around 14% to match the reduction in demand as a result of the earthquake
- Flights to and from Auckland will remain unchanged
Air New Zealand's Bruce Parton also said that the alliance was considering some completely new trans-Tasman direct routes, which it would make decisions on by the end of the year.