Air New Zealand is about to launch nonstop flights between New York and Auckland — here’s why that matters

Ultra-long-haul is back.

Before the pandemic shuttered the world, extra-long flying was one of the hottest trends in aviation. Singapore Airlines managed to snag the crown for the world’s longest flight in 2018 with a nonstop between Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) and Singapore Changi Airport (SIN). Then, Australian flag carrier Qantas toppled it with nonstop routes from Sydney to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) and London’s Heathrow Airport (LHR).

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Then the pandemic happened, and long-haul seemed to disappear.

However, as the world continues to reopen, airlines have shown an inclination to pick up where they left off.

In the case of Air New Zealand, that means finally realizing its pre-pandemic ambition of flying nonstop to New York City.

On Saturday, the majority state-owned Kiwi airline’s first nonstop flight from New York will depart JFK, and it’s scheduled to arrive in Auckland more than 17 hours later.

The first northeast-bound trip — departing Auckland for New York — leaves a day earlier, arriving in New York on Saturday afternoon.

It’s an exciting moment for the airline as global travel continues to restart. Australia and New Zealand were among the most closed-off countries during the peak of the pandemic, even after vaccines became available.

The southbound flight is blocked at a whopping 17 hours and 35 minutes. At 8,828 miles long, according to Great Circle Mapper, the flight will be one of the world’s longest, though it won’t quite take the top prize. It falls 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). It also comes below Qantas’ operation from Perth, Australia, to London (9,010 miles; up to 17 hours and 15 minutes).

The new route also comes as a preemptive move against Qantas’ upcoming “Project Sunrise,” which would introduce longer nonstop journeys from Sydney to New York and London. Although Qantas ran proof-of-concept flights in 2019, ongoing regulatory and logistical delays — coupled with pandemic-related issues — have set the launch back a few times. Qantas recently took delivery of the first Airbus A350-1000ULR that it plans to use for the flights, and it’s targeting a launch sometime in 2025.

Still, Qantas isn’t keen to wait. 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 route will exist as fierce competition for Air New Zealand, which has the advantage of being the first to market. However, Qantas has an advantage: Its partner American Airlines’ network offers onward service from JFK. Air New Zealand, a Star Alliance member, misses out on potential connections to a U.S. domestic network since it’s flying to JFK rather than Newark (where fellow Star Alliance member United Airlines operates a major hub).

Still, the flights can primarily target customers in the broader New York metropolitan area, rather than connections from elsewhere in the country. Plus, of course, travelers can self-connect if they choose.

Air New Zealand will operate the flight 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 will 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, creates 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.

TPG will be on board the inaugural flight from New York and reporting from the ground at Air New Zealand, so be sure to tune in here as well as on Twitter and on Instagram.

Featured photo by AFP/Getty Images.