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Travellers warned domestic flights will be tight

People wanting to fly in New Zealand are being warned that they are likely to find flights hard to get – and more expensive.

Co-chair of the New Zealand Aviation Coalition Justin Tighe-Umber says anyone who has already booked an airfare in anticipation of being able to move more freely under Alert Level Two may find they can no longer get that flight as airlines adjust to reduced passenger loads.

“Every time we go into Alert Level Two or higher, two-thirds of the domestic network gets taken out,” eh says.

“That’s the knock-on effect of having to keep from 30-50 per cent of seats empty depending on the aircraft type. The problem lies with the Ministry of Health’s requirement for physical distancing on aircraft under Level Two.

“That requirement reduces the number of flights as airlines respond. In simple terms it means not as many ticket paying passengers are covering the cost of each flight. Airlines cannot be expected to fly where they can’t cover their costs.”

One domestic carrier has already suspended all flights until further notice while there is a requirement to keep the middle seat free.

Justin says the risk of catching COVID-19 while travelling by air should not be compared with travelling on a public bus.

Measures like hygiene protocols, aircrew wearing personal protective equipment, restrictive food and beverage services, limiting the use of toilets to certain areas of the aircraft, and the mandatory use of face masks by passengers, all help prevent transmission on flights, Justin says.

“Modern aircraft are also one of the most controlled environments that people could experience. Air is exchanged with fresh air from outside every two or three minutes on most aircraft. That’s 20 to 30 times more frequently than most office buildings. And HEPA filters take out viruses on jet aircraft—including the coronavirus—with each filtration.

“On top of that there are several design features that limit the spread of virus-carrying droplets on board. Movement of air forward and aft in the cabin is limited by seat backs and a ceiling to floor air flow. And with everybody oriented forward, there is limited face-to-face contact.”

Justin says while the Government obviously recognises people want to travel regionally and there are economic benefits from that, it also needs to recognise physical distancing on aircraft imposes heavy costs.

NZAC says with kiwis queuing to fly to see family and friends or do business, and businesses throughout the country wanting Aucklanders to visit and spend money, it wants the Ministry of Health to immediately review the need for physical distancing on aircraft.

“Auckland Airport is biggest domestic hub in the country. To get Aucklanders and the rest of the country moving under Alert Level 2 the physical distancing requirement need to go.”

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