The major airline said frequently changing border restrictions meant it was currently unfeasible to offer more frequent, and earlier flights across the Tasman.
“The New Zealand Government’s decision to establish quarantine-free travel between Australia and New Zealand is a step in the right direction and provides a boost of confidence for travellers looking to reunite with family and friends and do business across the Tasman,” a Virgin Australia spokesperson said.
“While the airline remains committed to Trans-Tasman flying when the market fully recovers, we are mindful of evolving border requirements which add complexity to our business as we push ahead with plans to grow our core domestic Australia operations.
“For this reason, we have suspended the sale of most New Zealand services until 31 October 2021.”
The airline will offer a limited number of flights to and from Queenstown from 18 September.
It said it is working with Air New Zealand to provide customers with other options, and will be directly contacting affected customers.
“In all cases, options to select new travel dates or obtain a refund to the original form of payment are being made available.”
The airline said the decision reflects its more “pragmatic approach” to the border, and it looks forward to re-entering the market later in 2021.
Full steam ahead for Qantas
Qantas is now updating its timetable to ramp up travel between Sydney and Auckland and will offer Frequent Flyers uncapped Classic Flight Reward seats for the first three days of travel when the borders open.
The carrier will operate up to 122 return flights per week to New Zealand and will fly all 13 routes it previously operated before COVID-19, together with its budget carrier Jetstar.
“Our members have been stockpiling points during COVID for exactly these opportunities and we want to help make it easier to get on one of the first international flights,” Qantas Loyalty CEO Olivia Wirth announced late last month.
“That’s why every seat on every Qantas and Jetstar flight for the first three days of the travel bubble opening will be Classic Flight Rewards.”
Qantas will also offer unlimited fee free date changes for travel before 28 February 2022.
The Australian Airports Association also welcomed the bubble, describing it as a much-needed boost to the tourism and aviation industries.
“Our consumer research suggests Australians are eager to get on an aircraft and start travelling again with almost 80 per cent of Australians supportive of creating travel bubbles with countries where levels of COVID-19 are low," chief executive James Goodwin said.
“Australia’s airports have been calling for a cautious and planned approach to broadening the scope for international travel and this is a good start."
He said Australia should now look to establish more travel bubbles with other countries where COVID-19 cases are low.
“International travel is the key to COVID recovery with international visitors spending on average three times more than domestic tourists.”