Air New Zealand Starts Dating Its Former Best Friend’s Worst Enemy

There have certainly been some dramatic airline spats over the years, but down in Australia and New Zealand, quite the doozy is developing. Here’s a short synopsis for you to consider.

V and Q had a falling out years ago, and they don’t get along. N shows up on the scene, and V ends up befriending N. They start hanging out and bonding over a mutual dislike of Q. V and N hatch a plan to try and bring down Q once and for all. While this is happening, N and Q actually become friends, and N hurts V’s feelings along the way causing a rift that seems like it can’t be repaired.

If that sounds like the first half of the movie Mean Girls, it’s because it pretty much IS the first half of Mean Girls. (And, if you have a problem with Mean Girls, shame on you. Tina Fey is a national treasure.) But it could also very well double as a mostly-accurate representation of what’s been going down with Qantas, Air New Zealand, and Virgin Australia.

I wrote about the unwinding of the relationship between Virgin Australia and Air New Zealand just about a month ago. The two airlines came together to allow them both to better compete against Qantas in the Australia/New Zealand market. Though Qantas and Virgin Australia were always competitors in some fashion, things intensified when John Borghetti arrived as CEO of Virgin Australia. John used to be at Qantas and was spurned for the top job years ago. There was bad blood there, and Borghetti decided to build his vision at Virgin Australia instead.

Combining forces made sense previously, but Virgin Australia strayed. It took on a bunch of new investors to keep pumping money into the company when it couldn’t generate the cash itself, and Air New Zealand didn’t like the direction that the airline was taking. So the relationship frayed and Air New Zealand went its own way. It was all understandable. But now and that is quite the surprise.

This new relationship doesn’t go as deep as what Air New Zealand had with Virgin Australia. That included a joint venture across the Tasman Sea. This one will, at least for now, simply be a codeshare with a few extra perks.

The idea is simple. Air Zealand will put its code on up to 85 routes Qantas flies within Australia. That means Air New Zealand can sell tickets to passengers on Air New Zealand aircraft to Australia and then beyond the gateway to a variety of Australian cities the airline either doesn’t serve today or will stop serving when the Virgin Australia deal ends in October. Qantas will put in turn put its code on up to 30 routes Air New Zealand flies within New Zealand, so it can fly people to the main New Zealand airports and then connect them on to smaller cities. This should all be new connectivity for Qantas since it doesn’t have a partner in New Zealand today except for its own handful of Jetstar routes that are flown between big cities. (That, for the record, isn’t changing.)

Beyond the codeshare, the two airlines will “coordinate check-in and handling” on the ground, and there will be reciprocal lounge access. Further, they’ll look at trying to cooperate on “biofuels, freight and ground-handling opportunities” in the future. In short, each airline had a need to better penetrate the other airline’s home market, so they found a way to put something together that benefits everyone. If there’s some gravy on top of this with things like biofuels, then that’ll be welcomed as well. But outside of this, they’ll remain competitors as always.

Virgin Australia must be livid. Not only has it lost its into New Zealand and Air New Zealand’s on its own domestic flights, now it has to watch those travelers be provided with a new option that makes for an easy replacement. And since that new option is with John Borghetti’s former employer and nemesis, it must sting.

Of course, there could be more to this story. Maybe it’s all a ruse. Imagine that V and N have planned to have N become best friends with Q, so it could infiltrate the inner circle and do some intelligence gathering. Then things will spiral out of control, and the regulators will gather everyone in the hangar and make them all talk through their issues. Sure, Q may get hit by a bus, but she’ll recover and everyone else will live happily ever after. But wait, that’s just a movie. It couldn’t happen in real life….

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