I was lucky enough to be invited onboard Air New Zealand’s inaugural JFK-AKL flight in September, the 4th longest flight in the world. I’ve done similar trips such as Emirates A380 LAX-DXB flights, but there’s something more unfoundedly daunting about crossing swathes of Ocean. No human likes to be stuck in a confined space for long periods of time. And the idea of embarking on such a journey with certain carriers wouldn’t be my idea of a good time. Luckily the carrier piqued an interest in me, and I jumped at the opportunity to join the festivities.

I can see why Air New Zealand will manage to make such a route a huge success after a couple of small teething troubles, which will all be ironed out in the not too distant future – if not already. Being just a handful on minutes shorter than the longest flight from Singapore – also to JFK, these flights push aviation to the limits, so no wonder safety comes first. Onboard, both Singapore Airlines and Air New Zealand have both adapted their existing service to make the journey that little bit 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 and I personally can’t wait for the upgrades that will see an entirely new departures hall. In the meantime Business Premier passengers are able to utilise the fast-track security lanes which is something of a godsend these days as the economy queue snaked around the check in desks, with hundreds of passengers waiting. Once through security, you are able to enjoy the Lufthansa Business Class Lounge – which is one lounge that’s hit or miss for priority pass members when it comes to access – especially in the afternoons and evenings.

Being on the inaugural flight as part of a media group, we were provided a small reception in a private area in the lounge, including a spread of food and drinks that were laid on for us, it was also a chance to catch up with familiar faces in the industry. But this aside, regular passengers will find that the lounge is still well catered, albeit a little soulless, but that’s something that’s true of every Lufthansa lounge I’ve visited. The good news is that Gold Star Alliance guests are able to enjoy the senator lounge upstairs with showers and à la carte dining which elevates the experience to a more international standard.

When it’s time to board, regular fliers will find a lot of similarities in Air New Zealand’s Business Class proposition to Virgin Atlantic’s. After all, they both utilise the same herringbone fully flat seat – albeit there’s no bar on Air New Zealand’s. The seat is not as competitive as it used to be with the recent decade of advancements in seat design, but it still is one of the most comfortable sleeps you will find in the skies short of a hotel bed. The 787-9 also makes use of mood lighting, bathing the otherwise whiter-than-white cabin with a calming purple hue.

But the real highlight of the cabin are the staff with beaming smiles and friendly demeanour – nothing could be further from the robotic abrupt service sometimes found on US homegrown carriers. This stayed true for the entire 17-hours, where nothing was too much trouble, and 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 this special inaugural trip both at check-in and onboard. 

Admittedly we pushed back some hour and a half late 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 hoped. So, when we finally took off, it was a little after midnight. But passengers all too soon realised they were in the twilight zone, where we were all going to enjoy a 17-hour overnight sleep. This meant those that could stay awake enjoyed a fine dinner service, especially adapted for this ultra-long-haul route.

Staring with an amuse bouche of gravlax, 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.

To start, a mixed appetiser including seared tuna, prosciutto, and fig, followed by a unique main course option where you can customise your 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 flavours 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. It’s nice to see that the airline has put huge emphasis on wellbeing and comfort, for example there’s a Bliss Sleep ritual which 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’s even new TV shows on the inflight entertainment to help calm the mind with scenes from Aotearoa (New Zealand in Māori)

The seats themselves are almost 20-years old, and perhaps this is the only let down of the flight, but there’s something somewhat convivial about the arrangement, which works perfectly with the friendly, down to earth service concept, and before take-off, most passengers were making new friends, something we’ve regularly seen in previous reports. It’s reflective of the golden era of travel, the Jetset era, where inflight entertainment was conversing with your fellow passengers.

But for those looking for more privacy and space, Air New Zealand certainly haven’t rested on their laurels and 2024 will see a brand-new Business Class – including a “Business Premier Luxe” product in the very first row – take to the route, offering unparalleled comfort and all-aisle-access as a standard with swathes of space. Even in the back passengers can 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 which will offer stiff competition, but there’s one thing for sure about Air New Zealand; and that is the airline’s service, innovative approach to travel and no-fuss authentic service design is a clear home run. Considering they also fly to Houston, Chicago, San Francisco, Vancouver, Honolulu and Los Angeles already, this Star Alliance carrier already is – and will continue to be – a perfect long-haul choice for those wanting to head to Australasia and beyond.

After all, when 17 hours passes in the blink of the eye, there’s definitely magic in the air.


Posted by:Jonny Clark

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