COVID-19 delays launch of world’s fifth-longest flight: Newark to Auckland, New Zealand

Apr 27, 2020

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Air New Zealand has postponed the launch of its flight from Newark to Auckland, which would have been the fifth-longest in the world. The 8,810-mile nonstop was scheduled to begin on 29 October of this year, but the New Zealand Herald reported, citing airline officials, that it won’t happen until late 2021 because of the drop in demand from the coronavirus pandemic.

In terms of distance flown, the flight would have ranked just behind Auckland to Dubai in the list of the world’s longest flights. It would also have been the first nonstop between New York and New Zealand. The plane selected to operate the flight, lasting up to almost 18 hours, was the Boeing 787-9. In Air New Zealand’s layout, the 787 features the Skycouch in economy class, which lets passengers combine three adjacent economy-class seats into something resembling a business-class bed.

It’s indicative of the length of the slump in demand expected by the airline that the launch has been postponed to the end of next year “at the earliest,” according to the newspaper.

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According to Airlineroute, the Newark flight would have taken over the prestigious NZ1 and NZ2 flight numbers from the Auckland – Los Angeles service. The airline’s schedule showed that NZ2 would leave Auckland at 7:55 p.m. on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays and land in New Jersey at 5:35 p.m. the same day. (Arriving before the departure time is an effect of crossing time zones and the International Date Line.) NZ1 would depart Newark at 7:05 p.m., after a very quick turnaround time of about one hour, and arrive in Auckland at 6:45 a.m. two days later.

The Skycouch (Photo by Emily McNutt/The Points Guy)
The Skycouch (Photo by Emily McNutt/The Points Guy)

The Los Angeles flight used to continue to London, but Air New Zealand suspended the London leg in March due to the near-obliteration of passenger demand, and will not resume it. The London service would have ended in October anyway as the Newark flight started; the pandemic has forced an earlier termination. The airline’s strategy chief Nick Judd said demand is “unlikely to recover” before October.

Air New Zealand is a member of Star Alliance like United, which maintains a large hub at Newark and would have picked up most of the Air NZ passengers headed to London. Air NZ’s then-CEO Jeff McDowall said in 2019 that his airline lacked the scale to compete across the Atlantic, and that only seven percent of passengers between Auckland and London flew via Los Angeles in 2018 anyway. The three Middle Eastern giants — Emirates, Etihad and Qatar — have also siphoned off a large part of travel between New Zealand and Europe via their connecting services; Emirates alone flies more than a million people a year from New Zealand to its hub in Dubai.

Air New Zealand is also terminating service from Auckland to Buenos Aires, Argentina, which was one of the few flights crossing oceans in the southern hemisphere.

The airline says the Auckland to Los Angeles flight is currently being operated three times a week and is the only Air New Zealand service to the U.S. Those flights are operated only for cargo and a limited number of passengers, since foreigners are not allowed to enter New Zealand at the moment. The airline’s other U.S. routes — Honolulu, San Francisco, Houston and Chicago — are all suspended.

On its page related to COVID-19, Air New Zealand said passengers affected by these changes will be contacted with options in coming days. “Those who have booked flights via travel agents or third-party booking websites should contact them directly,” the airline added. As we have noted before, booking flights from online travel agencies such as Expedia or Orbitz means that travellers have to contend with two sets of conditions for refund or change — the airline’s own, and the online travel agency’s.    

Featured image by Brendon O’Hagan/Bloomberg via Getty Images

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