Layovers are rarely fun. So when Air New Zealand launched a nonstop flight from New York to Auckland, I was all in.
The flight, which clocks in at about 17 and a half hours, is long by just about any standards, but after settling in and spending nearly a day flying, I was grateful to go to sleep in one city and wake up in the next.
The historic inaugural flight — which took off Saturday evening from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport and landed in Auckland on Monday morning local time — became the first direct flight to connect the East Coast of the United States with New Zealand. The route, which was first announced in March, is now also one of the longest flights in the world.
Air New Zealand will operate the new flight three times each week between New York and Auckland on the company’s Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft. The new flight also comes on the heels of New Zealand eliminating most COVID-19-related travel restrictions, making it easier than ever to visit.
“I think it will be really popular,” Captain David Wilson told Travel + Leisure toward the end of the flight. “And we’re hoping to see an increase in all our other routes as well. We’ve still got a couple more routes that we’re bringing back… it’s pretty exciting.”
Courtesy of Air New Zealand
The flight was undeniably long, but made significantly better by Air New Zealand’s lie-flat business seats and thick mattresses, and the simple fact that I didn’t have to connect anywhere to get to my final destination. After boarding, I spent a few hours watching movies and enjoying dinner (the spiced pumpkin, tomato, and lentil soup with a dollop of cream from the company’s revamped business class menu was a highlight) before asking a friendly flight attendant to make up my bed. I then spent the next several hours drifting in and out of sleep before waking up to an offer of Vegemite toast and a strong flat white coffee that would cure nearly any jet lag.
Being comfortable on any flight is key, and that’s especially true for ultra-long haul flights. And there are a few things travelers can do to make it even easier, according to Mike Webster, the deputy service manager on board Air New Zealand’s inaugural East Coast flight.
“Plenty of water. Hydrating all the time,” Webster advised.
Another essential thing is to keep moving. In fact, Webster said passengers have even practiced yoga, adding the practice was welcome “within reason — legs up on the ceiling we don’t like.”
“Get up out of your seat and move around the cabin as much as you possibly can. That makes a difference,” he said.
And for economy passengers looking to spread out a bit, Webster recommends booking a skycouch, the airline’s option to merge a row of economy seats into a bed.
As we got closer and closer to Auckland, the excitement grew and the cabin crew prepared us for descent with some signature kiwi charm in the form of a sucking candy to help with popping ears.
After landing, a traditional Māori performance welcomed me to the country before I headed through customs and onto the city. Once there, I wandered around in an attempt to stave off jet lag, taking in breathtaking views from the top of the Sky Tower and window shopping in the Ponsonby neighborhood.
That night, I sat underneath an elaborate chandelier made with more than 1,000 pieces of recycled glass and treated myself to a rich bitter chocolate mousse with chantilly cream at Kingi, a warmly-lit restaurant in The Hotel Britomart, which opened in October 2020 at the height of the pandemic. It was the start of my New Zealand adventure, and it was made as easy and convenient as possible by a nonstop way to get there.
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