Air New Zealand Cops Out

Air New Zealand has announced that it will stop flying between Papeete, French Polynesia, and Rarotonga, Cook Islands, at the end of March, 2007. This is bad news for travelers as it means that the "Coral Route" which Air New Zealand pioneered using Solent flying boats in the 1950s is effectively dead. The South Pacific is to become a one-destination travel region. Those flying from Los Angeles to Papeete will have no choice but to carry on to Auckland as there are currently no flights west from Tahiti to Samoa or Fiji. Air New Zealand hasn't said whether they intend to cancel their current Rarotonga-Nadi service, but that will probably come next.

The Air New Zealand cuts vindicate the decision of the government of French Polynesia to establish Air Tahiti Nui in 1996. Small island nations dependent on foreign airlines are effectively at their mercy, and when companies like Air New Zealand decide it's in their bottom line interest to drop a route, they do so without any regard for the impact their decision may have on travelers or on local tourism operators who are dependent on regular air services to deliver customers. What's good for the Cook Islands is of scant concern to the hardheaded Air New Zealand bosses in Auckland.

This issue effects me personally as I'm in the process of writing the 7th edition of Moon Handbooks Tahiti which also includes the Cook Islands. If there's no air service between Tahiti and Rarotonga, there's no point in continuing to include the Cook Islands in my guide, and the next edition of Moon Handbooks Tahiti may cover French Polynesia only.

If you're a traveler planning a wideranging South Pacific trip, you had better go soon as it will be a lot more difficult and expensive to do so after April 1, 2007. Air New Zealand may enjoy forcing their island hopping clients to transit Auckland, but it will cost you the traveler a lot of extra time and money. Hopefully, Air Tahiti Nui and Air Pacific will snap up the routes Air New Zealand is abandoning and become the new Coral Route carriers of the South Pacific.

UPDATE: Air Rarotonga and Air Tahiti will launch a joint code-share service between Papeete and Rarotonga beginning on April 3, 2007. Initially, a 66-passenger Air Tahiti ATR-72 aircraft will operate on the route twice a week. Online bookings can be made through the Air Rarotonga website.

<< Home