Some lucky Kiwis will soon be able to board a plane for the first time in a while — to get their COVID-19 shot.
Air New Zealand is transforming a Boeing 787 into a special vaccination clinic for Aucklanders on Saturday. It will be one of many clinics operating nationwide as part of "Super Saturday," which New Zealand's government is billing as a day of action aimed at boosting the country's vaccination rate.
Those with appointments can arrive at the Auckland Airport "bound for destination vaccination," as the airline puts it. And they're not just getting protection against COVID-19 — they'll also be offered a glimpse of the hangar, free "inflight" snacks and a special commemorative boarding pass.
"People will board through the front door into Business Premier, where they will receive one dose of the Pfizer vaccine in their arm of choice," reads the Facebook event page. "They will then move through the cabin into Economy where a snack service will commence while they wait to disembark after the observation period."
Face masks and physical distancing are required for the safety of customers and crew members, it adds.
There are a limited number of seats, which people can book through the Ministry of Health's website. David Morgan, the airline's chief safety officer, called the event a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
"We know Aucklanders have been doing it tough recently and we hope the idea of boarding an international aircraft for the first time in a long while will lift some spirits – while also encouraging people to protect themselves," Morgan said, according to the New Zealand Herald.
Auckland has been in lockdown since mid-August, when a single case was discovered there. The delta variant has since sent cases surging, with The Associated Press reporting that more than 1,600 confirmed cases had been associated with the outbreak as of Monday. That same day, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Auckland would stay in lockdown for at least another week.
New Zealand acknowledged this month that its strategy of strict lockdowns and aggressive contact tracing would no longer enable it to eliminate the virus completely, as it had been able to do in the past.
The government is now focusing on increasing vaccinations, including by rolling out new mandates for teachers and health care workers. Just over 50% of New Zealand's population has been vaccinated so far, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Vaccinations will also be the ticket to international travel for cooped-up Kiwis: Air New Zealand announced a "no jab, no fly" policy this month. All inbound and outbound passengers over the age of 18 will be required to show proof of full vaccination, effective Feb. 1.