Flight cost causes outrage

TRACY NEAL
Last updated 12:00 23/08/2014

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A Nelson woman wants to see greater competition on air services between here and Dunedin, after forking out $1352 for return airfares for herself and her husband to fly to a funeral.

Helen Blaikie expressed her dismay over regional airfares to Air New Zealand, after the last-minute booking to travel to a funeral last month cost them the small fortune.

"We live in Nelson and feel that regional airfares are a ridiculous price, especially when made at a late stage, such as for a funeral.

"Unfortunately we can never plan these events and book airfares ahead," she said.

The cost for the return fares with just carry-on bags was $1352 plus $40 [optional] insurance for the pair, which Blaikie considered "outrageous".

The pair moved to Nelson from Dunedin nine years ago and were aware of the challenges of getting to and from the southern city. Her husband also travelled the route fairly regularly on business.

Blaikie said that efforts to grow tourism in each area were stifled by the high cost of air travel.

"It's just a mission to get there [from Nelson]. There's one good flight that leaves Nelson at 10am and there's only a 20-minute stopover in Christchurch."

There are about 19 options for flights from Nelson to Dunedin each week, ranging from $295 one way for a seat-only fare [plus carry-on bag] to $446 one way for a flexifare.

There is no direct service from Nelson to Dunedin, and flights connect through Christchurch or Wellington. The longest trip, including the stopover, is 6 hours and 30 minutes and the shortest is 2 hours and 25 minutes.

The transit through Wellington or Christchurch was also at the mercy of weather, said Blaikie, who wondered why there could not be at least one direct service a week.

Air New Zealand expressed its sympathies to Blaikie for the circumstances around the need to travel to Dunedin for a funeral, and explained it offered compassionate fares to immediate family members.

Unfortunately, those fares were not available to extended family or close friends, which was a decision made around what the airline could afford to subsidise, and the documentation that could be provided to prove the relationship.

Air New Zealand also said it was the only airline willing to offer the Nelson-Dunedin service, and needed to charge prices accordingly to "make sure it could maintain Nelson as one of its destinations".

Blaikie said she understood the commercial realities facing airlines, but disagreed with Air New Zealand's response it was the only airline willing to offer the air service, considering its past tactics when other airlines have started competing with it.

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"Other airlines over the years have attempted to work from here and have eventually been squeezed out when you conveniently reduced your fares or changed destinations to suit," Blaikie wrote in an email to Air New Zealand.

Air New Zealand said it tried to keep fares "as low as it could".

Factors such as the size of the aircraft and the costs around operating a few flights a day influenced prices.

Flying between two larger airports was going to be more cost-effective for it, and therefore it could keep fares lower.

Air New Zealand said it released fares about 350 days before departure, and offered a range of discounted airfares.

As the plane started to fill up, the fare increased.

Air New Zealand declined to comment on whether the Nelson-Dunedin service was profitable, or worthwhile, or what the average weekly passenger loadings were.

Communications spokeswoman Emma Field said that information was commercially sensitive.

* Comments on this story are now closed.

- The Nelson Mail

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