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Emotional reunion for Auckland-bound passengers

Emotional reunion for Auckland-bound passengers

  • 24 Jan 2021
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Emotions were running high for those arriving at Auckland International Airport on the first quarantine-free flight from Rarotonga, and for those they were reuniting with.

Air New Zealand Flight NZ941 departed at 7.43am local time from the Cook Islands last Thursday and landed in Auckland at 11.06am.

It is the first flight out of Rarotonga in New Zealand’s first travel bubble since the lockdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The bubble is one-way for now and New Zealanders visiting the Cook Islands are still expected to undergo managed isolation there.

A dozen people, families of friends of the 100 plus passengers onboard, waited eagerly for the visitors to come out of arrivals.

Air New Zealand Chief Executive Greg Foran says bookings have been strong since the bubble was announced, especially for January and February.

Chief Operating Officer Carrie Hurihanganui says they will be looking at increasing flights out of Rarotonga based on demand.

In-flight meals will not be served until a two-way bubble is open with New Zealand, she said.

New Zealand Prime Minister Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern and Cook Islands counterpart Rt Hon Mark Brown announced the bubble on January 15, with quarantine-free travel from the Pacific island resuming on January 21.

Prime Minister Ardern says a phased approach to resuming two-way travel would be taken, and it would happen once all safety protocols could be met.

Two-way quarantine-free travel between the two countries was on track to resume within the first three months of the year, she says.

Ahead of the flight, Prime Minister Brown had told media the first flights from the Cook Islands to New Zealand would be packed with students, their family members, and people in need of long-delayed health checks.

He says while the quarantine-free agreement has been “a long time” coming, “we’re pleased that it is now commencing this week.

“There will be a lot of very grateful people that will be coming through to Auckland very soon.”

Cook Islanders will be able to travel to New Zealand without having to quarantine upon arrival, but New Zealanders will have to wait for a two-way agreement.

Conditions to travel bubble:

To be eligible to enter New Zealand, people in the Cook Islands must not have been overseas in the past 14 days, must not have had contact with a confirmed Covid-19 case within the past 14 days, and must have maintained physical distancing at the airport from any person who did not arrive from the Cook Islands.

Public health officials would be undertaking random temperature checks of passengers on all flights arriving from the Cook Islands into New Zealand, while Auckland Airport would use a “safe travel path” to separate passengers from the Cook Islands from other arrivals.

Before returning to the Cook Islands, passengers would need to take a Covid-19 test within 96 hours of their flight departing.

Air New Zealand said it would operate two flights per week, departing Rarotonga on Wednesdays and Saturdays using the airline’s A320 fleet.