Onboard Air New Zealand’s Inaugural 17-Hour Flight from New York to Auckland

When faced with a 17-hour flight from New York’s JFK to the other side of the world, there’s a certain anticipation that’s mirrored in equal measure with trepidation. No human likes to be stuck in a confined space for long periods of time.

However, as I stepped foot on Air New Zealand’s Dreamliner, I quickly understood why they will manage to make such a route a huge success. NZ001 is the fourth longest flight in the world, just a handful of minutes shorter than the longest flight from Singapore, also to JFK. They share the same pedigree, as both airlines have adapted their existing service to make the journey that much more pleasant, something Qantas — soon-to-be-competitor on the route — is also all too aware of.

Air New Zealand operates from Terminal 1 at JFK, which is not the best-appointed terminal. But Business Premier passengers are able to utilize the fast-track security lanes (something of a godsend these days) and the Lufthansa Business Class Lounge — a hit or miss for priority pass members when it comes to access.

I was on the inaugural flight as part of a media group, and because of that we enjoyed a private area in the lounge, including a great spread of food and drinks. But regular passengers will find that the lounge is still well catered, although Gold Star Alliance guests are able to enjoy the senator lounge upstairs with showers and a la carte dining elevating the experience to an international standard.

When it’s time to board, regular fliers will find many similarities to Virgin Atlantic. After all, they both utilize the same herringbone fully flat seat. It’s not as competitive as it used to be with the recent decade of advancements in seat design, but it is still one of the most comfortable sleeps you will find in the skies. The 787-9 also makes use of mood lighting, bathing the otherwise whiter-than-white cabin with a calming purple hue.

Air New Zealand flight staff greet passengers / Photo: Courtesy Air New Zealand

But the real highlight of the cabin are the staff with beaming smiles and friendly demeanor — nothing could be further from the robotic abrupt service sometimes found on homegrown carriers. This stayed true for the entire 17-hour flight. They really got to know their passengers, building a friendly rapport over what felt like an entire day. Air New Zealand also fully embrace their local traditions with a Māori Karakai proverb to bless the inaugural trip both at check-in and onboard.

Admittedly, there was a 90-minute delay because of a weather system off the coast of Mexico, which meant we had to take on maximum fuel to help with an even longer flight than we had anticipated. When we finally took off, it was a little after midnight. Those who could stay awake enjoyed a fine dinner service, especially adapted for this ultra-long-haul route.

Starting with an amuse bouche of gravadlax, enjoyed with a glass of Laurent Perrier Brut, we were greeted by course after course of fresh tasting, light fare, perfectly balanced for a late-night departure.

Then came a mixed appetizer including seared tuna, prosciutto, and fig, followed by a unique main course option for which passengers were able to customize their accompaniments. It would have been sacrilege not to enjoy the New Zealand Lamb, which I opted to enjoy with Yukon Gold potatoes and a cos and heirloom salad. The flavors were punchy and matched with excellent New Zealand red and white wines. Chocolate brownie ice cream hit the sweet spot, before a turndown service created a haven for a restful slumber.

The airline has put huge emphasis on wellbeing and comfort. The Bliss Sleep ritual, for example, includes a calming tea before bed, accompanied by a balm to help aid sleep. The pillows have been engineered by NASA to help keep passengers cool, and there are new TV shows on the inflight entertainment to help calm the mind with scenes from Aotearoa (New Zealand in Māori).

Air New Zealand’s herringbone fully flat seat / Photo: Courtesy Air New Zealand

The seats themselves are almost 20-years old, and perhaps this is the only letdown of the flight, but there’s something somewhat convivial about the arrangement, which works perfectly with the friendly, down-to-earth service concept. Before take-off, most passengers were making new friends. The scene recalled the golden era of travel, when inflight entertainment was conversing with your fellow passengers.

For those looking for more privacy and space, 2024 will see a brand-new Business Class — including a “Business Premier Luxe” product in the very first row — for the route, offering unparalleled comfort and all-aisle-access as a standard with swathes of space. Even in the back passengers are able to enjoy new customer experience options including the Skynest, a world first ‘by-the-hour’ bunk bed pod for economy class passengers to grab some shuteye.

Qantas is taking to the route soon, offering stiff competition. But Air New Zealand’s service, innovative approach to travel and no-fuss authentic service design is a clear home run. Considering they fly to Houston, Chicago, San Francisco, Vancouver, Honolulu and Los Angeles, this Star Alliance carrier is already a perfect long-haul choice for those wanting to head to Australasia and beyond.

Business Premier Stats

  • 27 seats on the 787-9
  • 22” seat width that converts into a 6’7.5” seat bed
  • Hundreds of hours of entertainment options
  • USB and universal power charging
  • Fresh seasonal ingredients with a flavor of New Zealand
  • Fine wines from New Zealand and Laurent Perrier Brut champagne
  •  Star Alliance

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