Brook Sabin is a travel reporter for Stuff
OPINION: Fancy a trip between our two biggest cities next weekend? It will cost you $748 with Air New Zealand for a trip departing December 9 and returning two days later. Provided you can afford the luxury of taking a checked bag with you.
And here’s the kicker. It won’t be a restful weekend of sleep. For this price your flight from Auckland to Christchurch departs on Friday at 6am. And your return flight leaves at 5:45 am on Sunday morning. This is unholy.
Crazy, right? But it gets worse. If you want to travel at a reasonable time of day, you’re out of luck. There are only two flights from Auckland to Christchurch next Friday. 6 a.m. or 6:45 a.m. The rest are sold out.
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And most return flights cost more than $400 on a Sunday afternoon.
That’s not new. I live in Christchurch and now regularly pay $300-$400 for a one-way flight to Auckland. Also of concern is the increasing number of people I’ve seen who have their flights canceled because the plane is oversold.
Demand has skyrocketed since the end of the pandemic restrictions. And flying in New Zealand has become enormously expensive. This is because all cheap fares have long been sold out and therefore more of the expensive tickets are left over.
What’s happening? Demand has increased and Air New Zealand is a business. It’s supply and demand, and this concept underpins every successful business. The national airline cannot be blamed for that. It’s trying to address the problem by adding more capacity and new domestic jets. It also has more than 100,000 airfares under $100 between February 21st and May 21st next year.
However, there is one element missing that could really help consumers. It’s called competition. Jetstar still has a reduced schedule in New Zealand and is unable to offer serious domestic competition to Air New Zealand. For example, it currently flies two to three return flights between Auckland and Christchurch per day. Before Covid-19 it was about seven.
And on regional routes, Air New Zealand has a complete monopoly. Jetstar ceased its regional operations in New Zealand back in 2019, leaving only the national carrier.
This is not a blow to Air New Zealand. It is a company committed to its shareholders. She acts in the best interests of the company.
But what is undoubtedly in consumers’ best interests is competition. Take Norway, a country with a similar population and elongated mountainous geography to New Zealand. It has four major airlines flying domestically. Here in New Zealand we have Air New Zealand and Jetstar, alongside a few smaller airlines (like Sounds Air and Air Chathams, which pose no threat to the big airlines).
Is it time the government took a serious look at airline competition in the domestic market? Before Covid-19, New Zealand was already ranked as the lowest of 20 Asia-Pacific countries in terms of the number of seats offered by low-cost airlines.
The problem is that there is no easy solution.
They need enormous capital to start a domestic airline that could rival Air New Zealand. Qantas is arguably the best fit and has tried Jetstar’s regional operations. Could it be time for the government to try and lure Qantas or Jetstar back over the Tasman Islands to fly regionally?
Things are different this time. Covid-19 has led more people than ever to travel closer to home and the trend looks set to continue. There is room for another great homegrown player.
Australia has a vibrant aviation sector, with Qantas, Jetstar, Virgin, Rex and soon Bonza taking over the main routes.
Here we stay with the national carrier or Jetstar, which is not fighting very hard at the moment. The traveling public deserves better.
What do you think? Does Air New Zealand need more domestic competition? Have you found travel expensive since restrictions ended? Let us know in the comments below.