Brook Sabin is a travel reporter for Stuff
OPINION: Fancy a road trip between our two biggest cities next weekend? It will cost $748 with Air New Zealand for a trip departing on December 9th and returning two days later. That is, if you can afford to bring a checked bag.
And here’s the kicker. It won’t be a quiet, sleepy weekend. For that price, your flight from Auckland to Christchurch will depart at 6am on Friday. And your return flight is at 5:45 am on Sunday morning. This is profane.
Crazy, isn’t it? 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. 6:00 or 6:45. The rest are sold out.
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And most return flights cost upwards of $400 on a Sunday afternoon.
This is not new. I live in Christchurch and now regularly pay $300-$400 for a one-way flight to Auckland. What is also concerning is the increasing number of people I have seen taking off their flights because the aircraft is oversold.
Since the pandemic restrictions ended, demand has skyrocketed. And flying around New Zealand has become extremely expensive. This is because all the cheap fares have already been sold out and therefore we are seeing more expensive tickets left.
What’s going on here? Demand has increased and Air New Zealand is a business. It’s supply and demand, and that concept underpins any successful business. The national carrier cannot be held responsible for this. It is trying to solve the problem by adding more capacity and new domestic jets. He also has over 100,000 airline tickets under $100 between February 21st and May 21st of the next year.
There is, however, a missing element that could really help consumers. It’s called competition. Jetstar is still running a reduced schedule in New Zealand and offers no serious domestic competition to Air New Zealand. For example, it currently flies two to three return services between Auckland and Christchurch per day. Before Covid-19, there were about seven.
And on regional routes, Air New Zealand has a complete monopoly. Jetstar dropped its New Zealand regional operation in 2019, leaving just the national carrier.
This is not a spanking on Air New Zealand. It’s a business that answers to shareholders. Acts in the best interest of the business.
But what is unquestionably in the interest of consumers is competition. Take Norway, a country with a similar population and long, narrow mountainous geography as New Zealand. It has four major airlines that fly domestically. Here in New Zealand we have Air New Zealand and Jetstar plus a few smaller airlines (like Sounds Air and Air Chathams which are not a threat to the major airlines).
Is it time for a serious government to look at airline competition in the domestic market? Before Covid-19, New Zealand was already ranked the worst of the 20 Asia-Pacific countries for the number of seats offered by low-cost airlines.
The problem is that there is no easy solution.
You need huge capital to create a domestic airline that can take on Air New Zealand. Qantas is arguably best positioned to do this and has tried with Jetstar’s regional operations. Is it time the government tried to lure Qantas or Jetstar back to Tasman to fly regionally?
This time things are different. Covid-19 has driven more people than ever to explore closer to home, and the trend appears to continue. There is room for another big national player.
Australia has a vibrant aviation sector, with Qantas, Jetstar, Virgin, Rex and soon Bonza taking over the main routes.
Here, we’re left with the national carrier or Jetstar, which isn’t struggling much at the moment. The traveling public deserves better.
What do you think? Does Air New Zealand need more competition domestically? You’ve found it expensive to travel since restrictions ended. Let us know in the comments below.