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Air New Zealand completes first 17-hour nonstop flight from New York to Auckland: Here's a sneak peek

Sept. 18, 2022
6 min read
Air New Zealand completes first 17-hour nonstop flight from New York to Auckland: Here's a sneak peek
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Editor's Note

We have a full inside look at the first flight from New York to Auckland coming soon — be sure to check TPG Monday morning for more.

Editor’s note: TPG purchased a round-trip fare in economy for $2,597 USD and accepted a complimentary upgrade to business class for access to the cabin. At the time of booking, business class on this route was blocked for purchase by the airline and was reserved for dignitaries and media. Several remaining business-class seats were released for sale by the airline shortly before the flight.


It's official: There's a new contender on the list of the world's longest flights and TPG was on board.

Air New Zealand completed its first round-trip flight between New Zealand's Auckland Airport (AKL) and New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) this weekend, with the segment from JFK to AKL departing Saturday evening in New York and arriving in Auckland 16 hours and 36 minutes later on Monday morning (or Sunday afternoon, New York time). The first flight from Auckland to New York arrived earlier on Saturday.

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With the inaugural flight out of the way, Air New Zealand's new thrice-weekly service gives the airline the prize for the world's fourth longest flight (8,828 miles, according to Great Circle Mapper, blocked at 17 hours and 35 minutes), just behind Singapore Airlines' nonstop flights from Singapore to JFK (9,537 miles, 18 hours and 40 minutes) and Newark (9,534 miles, 18 hours and 30 minutes) and the Perth, Australia-London operation flown by Qantas (9,010 miles, blocked at 17 hours and 15 minutes).

Although the Singapore flights operate on A350-900ULR aircraft with only business class and premium economy, Air New Zealand includes a coach cabin on its Auckland-New York service.

The flight marks the return of ultra-long-haul route expansion, a trend among the world's airlines in the late-2010s that was shelved as the pandemic brought global travel to a halt.

DAVID SLOTNICK/THE POINTS GUY

It also represents a major new flagship route for majority state-owned Air New Zealand as the country seeks to aggressively expand its tourism base. Notably, the airline chose to give the primary flight number to the segment bringing passengers to Auckland, rather than the departing flight: New York to Auckland bears the flight number NZ1, while the flight from Auckland to New York is NZ2.

The U.S. market is important to New Zealand, and a nonstop from New York is expected to increase the country's appeal with it now reopened to tourists. Prior to the pandemic, the U.S. was the third-biggest tourism market for New Zealand (behind Australia and China), comprising 10% of all visitors and 13% of all visitor spending, according to Tourism New Zealand.

The new flight route is expected to bring $65 million annually into New Zealand's economy, airline CEO Greg Foran told the New Zealand Herald.

While airline executives and New Zealand's prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, were meant to fly on the initial segment to New York, Ardern canceled in order to attend the funeral of Great Britain's Queen Elizabeth II.

DAVID SLOTNICK/THE POINTS GUY

Ahead of the flight, a sense of importance was palpable. Advertisements for the flight have been all over Auckland for weeks and the New Zealand press has been covering the flight extensively.

While the southbound flight was still an exciting one for Air New Zealand, the airline kept it low-key for the JFK departure after celebrating earlier in Auckland when its first flight left for New York.

As the New York-to-Auckland flight boarded and departed, it was impossible to avoid thinking of Project Sunrise, the effort by Australian flag carrier Qantas to launch nonstop flights from Sydney to London and New York, which would represent the first- and second-longest commercial flights, respectively. The airline currently operates those routes with a stop.

Qantas performed a proof-of-concept Project Sunrise test flight in 2019, flying a newly delivered Boeing 787-9 from JFK to Sydney, repeating the test with a separate flight from London. The test flights, blocked at about 19 hours, received significant attention — despite criticism that without a concrete start date, the flights were merely publicity stunts. Qantas has since purchased A350-1000ULR aircraft from Airbus for the flights, which it says it plans to launch in 2025. Several current TPG staffers, this reporter included, were aboard the 2019 test flight.

With the launch of Auckland-New York, Air New Zealand has managed to beat Qantas to offering regularly scheduled nonstop service between the East Coast and the Oceania region that includes Australia and New Zealand.

Qantas, however, is racing to compete for the U.S. East Coast. The airline announced it will also launch a flight from Auckland to New York as a fifth-freedom route, with a connection from Sydney, starting next June.

The cabin crew operating aboard Air New Zealand's first flight from New York to Auckland. DAVID SLOTNICK/THE POINTS GUY

For the next nine months, Air New Zealand has the nonstop route to itself, offering it time to settle into the new market.

Air New Zealand operates the AKL-JFK flights with a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner specially configured with a more premium-focused cabin than the rest of its 787-9 fleet. The Dreamliners on the New York route feature 27 lie-flat business-class seats, 33 premium-economy recliners, 215 regular economy seats and 13 Economy Skycouches. The Skycouches allow passengers to book an entire row of three economy seats, which, when coupled with raiseable footrests, create a couch-like setup.

The rest of Air New Zealand's Dreamliners feature 18 business-class seats, 21 premium-economy seats, 263 economy seats and 16 Skycouch rows. The airline also recently announced a new business-class product and the Skynest economy sleeper pod, although those have not entered service yet.

As is the case with any ultra-long-haul flight, the trek between Auckland and New York felt like a slog, even in the premium cabins. Nevertheless, with the route well-timed for sleep, it was possible to get a decent night's rest while still getting some work done or watching some movies — for instance, the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, which was famously filmed in New Zealand.

Editor's note: We have a full inside look at the first flight from New York to Auckland coming soon — be sure to check TPG Monday morning for more.

Featured image by DAVID SLOTNICK/THE POINTS GUY
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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