Bali is back and on Monday morning Jetstar's first flight in almost two years took off to the popular island destination.
The flight - which departed at 11.18am, an hour and 23 minutes behind schedule - carried more than 300 passengers from Melbourne to Bali's capital of Denpasar aboard a Boeing 787 Dreamliner, arriving at 12.45pm at Ngurah Rai International Airport, a flight time of around 5 hours and 40 minutes.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Melbourne-Denpasar route was the airline's most popular. Flights from Sydney and Perth will recommence in early April, with Brisbane, Adelaide, Cairns and Darwin set to follow in May.
The flights from Melbourne will initially depart only three times a week, with plans to increase that number as demand grows.
Garuda Indonesia became the first airline to relaunch non-stop flights from Australia to Bali on March 4, with the resumption of its Sydney-Denpasar route.
Before COVID-19, Bali was Jetstar's most popular destination, with 85 return flights from Australia per week that carried two million passengers a year, injecting $2 billion into the Balinese economy.
"We are very excited to return to Bali today after two long years, and we are confident that Bali will quickly regain its position as our most popular international tourist destination now that borders are open," Jetstar chief executive Gareth Evans said.
"It's also an important day for our international crew who have been very hard hit by COVID."
Mr Evans said he hoped domestic flights would be back at full capacity for Easter, but admitted it was "still early days for international flights".
He said Japan would again be a big destination for the airline, with hope to restart flights in April, depending on the country's border restrictions. Mr Evans said Jetstar is also looking to add South Korea and Vietnam flights in the next couple of months.
For passengers, things are not quite back-to-normal as far as COVID restrictions are concerned, particularly for entering Bali. Travellers will need to provide evidence they're double-vaccinated with an international vaccine certificate. They'll also need to fill out a customs declaration beforehand online, prove they've got three nights' accommodation booked and had a negative PCR or certified RAT test before the flight.
Passengers can pre-register online for a test at Melbourne Airport's Histopath Diagnostic Specialists, which you'll find before security in Terminal 1 - with results in around two hours. On Monday morning, with next to no international flights departing, the average wait time for test results was 30 minutes.
They will also have to download a special Balinese app which needs detailed information - such as the dates and location of your COVID vaccinations. And you'll need printed proof of travel insurance, which must include $US25,000 of COVID-specific medical expenses coverage.
COVID red tape has not dampened interest in the route, with ticket sales skyrocketing since Indonesia announced easing of restrictions. Propelled by cheap seats, travellers snapped up 40,000 tickets - the largest number of ticket sales in a single day in five years, and the biggest surge in seat sales Jetstar have had since 2016.
Speaking this on Monday morning, Melbourne Airport chief executive Lyell Strambi said "For many Australians, Bali is our first port of call so it's a wonderful opportunity for those of us wanting to get back into travel."
While he was quick to point out that Melbourne Airport was an early adopter of a mask mandate, he said it was time to reassess this restriction "to make life a little easier, " pointing out that any passenger can leave the airport and head to an event or restaurant without having to wear one.
"I'm struggling to see the use of masks in airports these days," he said.
While patience was required at check-in largely due to the amount of paperwork that needed to be checked by Jetstar staff, spirits were high as staff handed out free 'I love Bali' T-shirts and bright orange sunglasses, and passengers posed with Balinese dancers.
While a handful of people were heading to Bali on holidays, there were many who were planning longer-term stays to work or volunteer.
No doubt the Balinese will be welcoming the first Jetstar flight with open arms as their biggest tourist market returns and to coincide with the return, the airline has partnered with Bali businesses that have been affected by COVID to launch a campaign called 'To Bali With Love.'
Essentially injecting $100,000 worth of advertising into small businesses, it allows passengers to send messages of support to their favourite Bali businesses which will be displayed on anything from signs, billboards, vehicles and beach umbrellas to help drive income to small businesses in Bali.
Speaking from his empty sandwich store in the usually busy town of Legian, small business owner Akung said on a video provided to the media: "COVID affected my business in every way. I lost my customers, but luckily we have got a lot of supporting friends,"
"Before the pandemic happened most of our customers were Australian. Hopefully our business in Legian will open again when more Australians come to the island. Guys, we miss you so much. Please come back soon."
Kylie McLaughlin flew to Bali as a guest of Jetstar.