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What It Was Like Travelling On One Of The First New Zealand Travel Bubble Flights

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When I got invited to jump on one of the first flights from Australia to New Zealand thanks to the Trans-Tasman bubble (and more directly in my case, Air New Zealand), I honestly teared up. Not sad tears, not even happy ones, but more like the way you tear up watching an inspirational ad.

Maybe, just maybe, this meant the world was one step closer to normality.

The day before my trip, I was frantically checking Wellington weather and realising I completely forgot how to pack. Before Covid, I had this down to a fine art. Right now I can’t even remember the basics. Sure I’ve been flying domestically, but it’s not the same as trying to predict how the weather and vibe will feel in a country you haven’t been to since you were 14.

At any rate, I manage to pack it and even successfully wake up at an ungodly hour to get to the International airport for the first time in just over a year.

Image: provided by the author.

Sitting at the gate, (two hours before boarding because that’s the kind of neurotic flyer I am) I figure I may as well get some work done in the extremely empty gate area, when a super loud gentleman rolls up, chatting on the phone like it’s a loudspeaker.

At first, I’m annoyed because he’s having the same conversation, loudly, with three different people that he calls one after the other. And a lot of it is complaining about the fact that he turned up at the airport the night before and got set away, despite clearly being able to google airport opening hours.

Already I know this is a bit of judgemental douchery on my behalf, but I’m a terrible person when I’m sleepy and I woke up today at 3.30 am.

Despite needing a nap, I started to really listen to what he’s saying — which doesn’t count as eavesdropping when he’s basically shouting a mere metre away from me — and I realise that he’s been separated from his wife for 13 months thanks to Covid, and he’s just really bloody excited to be able to go home and be with her again.

“Once I’m on the plane, they have no way of getting me out. I don’t care if they have an electrified fence around the whole country, I’m getting in,” he repeats several times to several different people. And I’m tearing up again. This might be an exciting vacay for me, but for so many people it’s a reunion.

It’s this feeling of excitement to the point of almost being giddy, and many more stories from and excited conversations between people desperate to reconnect with loved ones across the pond after a year or more of separation that really sets the tone for this flight — a tone of joy, anticipation and a lot of relief that I have NEVER experienced the likes of before, definitely not in the collective way it was happening today.

Normally, it’s not until the flight takes off that I get a rush of that sweet, sweet excitement of setting off on an adventure to somewhere new and unknown to you. Today, it’s from about 6.00 am when all the less neurotic travellers have arrived.

It started in the Air NZ airport lounge, which they’re letting everyone with a boarding pass into at the moment, with a complimentary buffet brekkie and mimosas available.

It continued with a walk back to my boarding gate where a two-piece band was now performing songs by mostly Kiwi artists — ‘Better Be Home Soon’ by Crowded House got an actual round of applause from the crowd — with champagne being handed out to anyone who wanted a glass.

Not even the cursed middle seat and being a six-foot-tall person trying to squeeze into it could dampen my spirits. Especially when that first glimpse of the iconic Kiwi mountains on a gloriously sunny day came outside the window.

When we hit the tarmac, a cheer went up. Not one of those cheesy cheers people sometimes start at the end of movies. Something that was far more heartfelt, and ran much deeper.

If any single photo from today could sum up the feeling, this is it. (Image: provided by Air New Zealand)

People coming home, people knowing their nearest and dearest are finally just on the other side of security, and people like me — just feeling so damn lucky, deep in our souls, to be a part of the world opening up again.


AWOL flew as guests of Air New Zealand

(Lead image: Instagram: @wellingtonnz / provided by Air New Zealand)