Heath and quarantine measures have been well covered in the media and will need to be addressed before New Zealanders confidently travel to the UK and Europe again. Based on what we learned as travel agents at the front line of the travel fall-out from the Covid-19 pandemic, we address what else travellers should consider before booking their airfares to the UK and Europe.
A Plan for "Second Waves" and new Border Restrictions
As border restrictions were imposed we scrambled to get clients on replacement flights (sometimes multiple times) to get home. Closed borders and compulsory quarantine were then added to the travel lexicon. It goes without saying that New Zealand border restrictions will need to ease before New Zealanders will comfortably book flights anywhere (let alone to the UK and Europe) as only exceptional circumstances would motivate someone to commit to 14 days in government hosted quarantine.
Assuming a starting point of more relaxed quarantine rules, the important question for a traveller then becomes: "What happens if new border restrictions are imposed once I've paid for my ticket or once I'm overseas?". Take the example of flying with Singapore Airlines from Auckland, via Singapore, to Frankfurt, consider the following scenarios:
1. New Zealand and Germany are Covid Free but Singapore experiences a Second Wave and closes its borders.
2. New Zealand and Singapore remain Covid Free but Germany experiences an outbreak and Singapore and New Zealand reimpose quarantine requirements on passengers from Germany.
Although we may have to tolerate an increased level of uncertainty with international travel, what we should avoid is uncertainty when travel plans are disrupted. So what we want to see for our clients is clear airline policies on:
1. Refunds & Credits - If a flight can't operate, or a passenger cannot travel because of a new border restriction, there should be clarity around whether a refund or a credit towards future travel will be available. Travellers can then weigh the value of different airfares and relative prices when booking, rather than waiting to find out how the airline will respond.
2. Alternative Carrier Arrangements: If an airline operating through a single hub (such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Doha or Dubai) cannot operate because of an outbreak in that hub, clear alternative arrangements that don't leave the passenger out of pocket, need to be in place.
Alternative carrier arrangements generally mean that the disrupted airline pays another airline to fly their passengers to the final destination. Such arrangement are already in place for other types of disruptions (such as weather delays) but we didn't see them put to wide use during the Covid Outbreak.
If an Alternative Carrier Arrangement isn't in place, the next best thing will be booking with an airline with multiple routes out of New Zealand to connect to the UK and Europe. Interestingly, this is where Air New Zealand may come to the fore once its network rebuilds (more on this in an upcoming blog).
Working with your Fine Travel Consultant to find the right balance of flexibility, refundability and price will become an even more important part of deciding on the right airfare for your travel plans to the UK and Europe.
Travel Insurance and Medical Cover
The epidemic and pandemic exclusions on travel insurance policies left many travellers frustrated that they couldn't claim costs due to disrupted plans. Medical cover for Covid-19 continued for most providers, but that is also now being revisited and excluded.
Until a vaccine is widely available, a clear statement on the extent of medical cover and disruption cover under a travel insurance policy will be essential.
Travel via Australia until Direct Flights are Viable Again
Qatar Airways was one of the last international airlines to stop flying directly to New Zealand during the pandemic and it recently announced that it would be pushing back its return to New Zealand from the end of May until 25 October 2020. In the interim they are working on better connections with trans-Tasman services so New Zealanders who need to travel can connect with their Australian services.
With airlines under financial pressure, those that do not pull out of New Zealand all together may consolidate New Zealand and Australian traffic to keep the finance team happy. This will however add more time to your journey.
Given the current circumstances, we are keeping our UK / Europe Business Class specials up to date with route options and the latest airline updates regarding the return to New Zealand. Prices are available, but they are on request given the volatility and uncertainty.
Increased Demand for the Space OF Business Class
Although airlines spent a lot of time during the early days of the pandemic explaining air filters and how air circulation on modern aircraft works, after an extended period of social distancing and a heightened focus on how viruses spread, the idea of sitting shoulder to shoulder with a stranger on a long-haul flight will be impossible for many to handle before a vaccine.
The space and seat separation in Business Class will become as important as the lie-flat seat. Business Class cabins and First Class cabins that offer enclosed suites are likely to be in higher demand.
Confidence in Airline Financial Stability
After enduring September 11 and the GFC, the airline industry was in good financial shape and had even attracted the investment attention of Warren Buffett. His well publicised exit from US airline stocks was a clear signal that the industry has difficult times ahead.
For New Zealanders travelling to the UK and Europe, we generally work with airlines that are either well funded, or they are national carriers and therefore backed by the sovereign balance sheet. By the time borders reopen and quarantine measures are lifted any financial fall out is likely to have already occurred, but financial stability should remain a consideration.
2021 UK / Europe Earlybird Specials
Traditionally we would start to see UK / Europe Earlybird specials start around August once booking availability is released for the Northern Hemisphere Summer.
There is still a lot of water to go under the bridge between now and August, but we expect airlines to be mindful of uncertainty about committing to book ahead, and therefore a need to reward those who commit. Structural changes may still be coming that may cause base prices to rise depending on social distancing requirements.
We'll continue to work closely with the airlines and update our UK / Europe Business Class page as more information comes to hand.