Passengers on Jetstar flights to Wellington in recent days have expressed concern after seeing large numbers of maskless passengers, as an anti-vaccine mandate protest continues in the capital.
The airline says the behavior of “a number of passengers in New Zealand” in recent days is under investigation.
Face masks are mandatory on domestic flights at all settings of the Covid-19 Protection Framework, except for those with an exemption. However, there is no legal requirement for people to carry or show an exemption card, which means it is sufficient for passengers to state they have an exemption.
One passenger, who asked not to be named, was on a Jetstar flight from Auckland to Wellington at 10.30am on Monday and said there were at least 10 people on the flight not wearing masks.
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The passenger said she heard airline staff asking the maskless passengers in the boarding lounge if they had exemptions. When they replied yes, staff moved on.
During the flight, she also witnessed a flight attendant asking a passenger to put his mask on. She said she saw him remove it as soon as the flight attendant turned away.
“It made me feel really unsafe and a bit powerless – there wasn’t anything I could do, it’s not my job to turn to these people and be like, ‘excuse me, can you put your mask on’.”
The passenger said she was also concerned as the airline hadn’t checked her own vaccine pass.
Jetstar requires all passengers aged 12 years, three months and above to have either a vaccine pass or negative test taken no more than 72 hours before departure.
Customers are required to complete a pre-flight health and vaccination declaration at check-in. The airline is enforcing the requirement by undertaking “spot checks” across all airports in New Zealand.
“I was like, these people on the flight saying they’re exempt from wearing masks probably also weren’t asked for proof of a negative swab or vaccination status,” she said.
She had complained to the airline about the situation over the live chat function of its website, she said.
Meanwhile, another passenger on a flight from Christchurch to Wellington at 6.50am on Sunday – which had to be diverted back to Christchurch due to the weather – said he saw at least 20 passengers without masks.
Xavier, who requested his last name not be used, said he heard airline staff asking them about their mask exemptions throughout the boarding process.
While none had behaved aggressively, the experience had left him feeling uncomfortable. Based on the gear some of them had been carrying, he had wondered if they were attending the protest at Parliament.
“It was just very odd you had a number of people with mask exemptions all on one flight,” he said.
A Jetstar spokesperson would not comment on the specific flights, but confirmed concerns around mask compliance.
“There have been reports submitted by our crew to Qantas Group Security in recent days regarding the behavior of a number of passengers in New Zealand, including the removal of masks mid-flight, which is being investigated,” the spokesperson said.
“Refusing to follow crew direction onboard is an offence, including any directions relating to the wearing of masks.”