Air New Zealand will begin flying non-stop between Auckland and New York on 29 October 2020, using a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner optimised to carry more business class and premium economy passengers in a pared-back 275 seat configuration.
The Kiwi carrier's move comes as Qantas draws closer to making a decision on its own Project Sunrise direct flights from Sydney and Melbourne to New York, although those are not expected to take wing until 2023.
AirNZ's 'Auckland to the Big Apple' route will initially run three times a week – on Monday, Thursday and Saturday – to the NY-adjacent Newark Liberty International Airport, which also serves as a hub for Star Alliance partner United Airlines.
The 14,178km trek will take 15hr40m from Auckland to New York and 17hr40m on the NZ-bound return leg, making it the world's fifth longest flight by distance.
However, at the same time Air New Zealand will axe its Los Angeles-London flights, which act as a second leg of the daily service from Auckland to LAX.
“Today Kiwis have more than twice the number of ways to fly to London than a decade ago and preferences have changed," says acting AirNZ CEO Jeff McDowall. "Less than seven percent of all airline travellers between Auckland and London chose to fly via Los Angeles last year."
"At the same time, the Atlantic has become one of the most hotly contested routes in the world and Air New Zealand lacks the home market advantages and scale of the North American and European airlines we’re up against."
"New York has been an aspiration for Air New Zealand for some time and withdrawal from the Atlantic will free up aircraft capacity to make this milestone a reality,” McDowall adds.
Air New Zealand's Auckland to New York flight NZ2 will depart at 7.55pm, reaching New York/Newark at 5.35pm the same day.
The NZ1 return leg will be wheels up from New York at 7.05pm for a 6.45am arrival into Auckland two days later.
New business class
Air New Zealand is also said to be close to revealing the next-generation business class seats which will adorn its forthcoming Boeing 787-10 jets.
The seat has been tested by groups of AirNZ passengers, including many who regular fly the airline’s longest routes, in a secure workshop dubbed ‘Hangar 22’ located near the airline’s Auckland headquarters.
Although all participants were required to sign non-disclosure agreements, one traveller – who holds Elite status in airline’s Airpoints loyalty scheme and flies to the US on a monthly basis – has praised the seat.
“This is the seat I’ve been waiting for,” he told Executive Traveller, speaking under the condition of anonymity due to his ‘high-value passenger’ status with the airliner.
“It’s a catch-up to the top rung of international airlines. There’s more space and more privacy, and are few small but clever touches done in an NZ way.”
“Not everybody’s going to love everything about it, but I think most business travellers will see this as NZ stepping from the 2000s into the 2020s.”
Speaking with Executive Traveller on the sidelines of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Annual General Meeting in Seoul, outgoing Air New Zealand CEO Christopher Luxon said those carefully-selected passengers "do simulated flights over the course of a weekend."
Particular focus was paid to "how they want to move through the different transitions of work, rest, sleep, and how we can make that as seamless as possible.”