New Zealand travel bubble flights: On board the first flight from Sydney to Auckland

As the wheels of the Airbus A320 left the ground on take-off of the first flight of the quarantine-free trans-Tasman bubble, the cabin burst into applause. And forgive me, but I couldn't help leading the clapping and cheering.

As it happened ours wasn't the first plane that soared yesterday, along with two nations' hopes of an (albeit bumpy) route back to a scintilla of normality.

Of course, nothing in a pandemic goes to plan. My auspicious flight was originally scheduled to depart at 6.15am from Sydney to Auckland but didn't take off until 7.30am. In possibly the first hitch of the trans-Tasman bubble, the delay was attributed to the fact that many passengers had arrived to check-in unaware that they needed to complete a mandatory New Zealand government online travel declaration.

(In the days before departure it actually took me three attempts to receive a confirmation number via email with the final "success" notification going straight to junk).

It's been more than a year since the word "bubble" entered the travel lexicon and, until now, it's been a deflating waiting game marred by setback after setback.

But the mere fact that the plane arrived and disgorged its passengers to all corners of New Zealand is sufficient to make this the world's first successfully-mounted travel bridge during the pandemic.

However, there's no escaping the fact that travel has become a medical as well as logistical exercise.

In the fine-print online was the discovery that the New Zealand Ministry of Health required anyone suffering from hay fever to be prepared to provide proof of the condition. One unexplained "gesundheit" and off you go to isolation.

Duly warned, I tucked a certificate from my GP in my daypack and I was sure to stock up on full supplies of various medications in the event of being quarantined or locked down.


There was another reminder that this was not an ordinary trip. When passing through the passport scanner at Customs in Sydney  for the first time in about 14 months since my last overseas trip, a slightly chilling "yes or no" message flashed up on the screen.

It asked whether I was willing to accept the risks and expense of any possible big bubble trouble in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak.

Fair enough. The New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, did coin and issue one of travel's all-time intimidating and blunt tourism slogans in announcing the bubble: "Flyer beware".

The mood on the aircraft was curiously restrained, perhaps due to the early start followed by an extended delay. But after landing at Auckland, passengers passed into the arrival hall and the emotions were released with a posse of television and newspapers swarming each and every belated reunion.

As the tears flowed through the arrivals hall, it became all too clear that overseas travel, for so long denied to us, is often much more than just a mere holiday. Long may the bubble remain unburst.

National Travel Editor Anthony Dennis travelled courtesy of Jetstar.

See also: Emotions run high as first NZ travel bubble flight departs

See also: Bubble loophole means Australians can travel to other countries via NZ