across the pond
The flights to New York could also boost demand for onward connections to Europe across the Atlantic.
“It’s a major draw with hundreds of European destinations including London and Paris just a short flight from New York through our partner airlines,” said Leanne Geraghty, Air New Zealand’s chief customer and sales officer.
Geraghty said bookings on the Auckland-New York route had been “very strong” since September’s launch. Foreign demand from the US rebounded after the start of the southern hemisphere summer, she said.
The strategic importance of the direct route is partly why Qantas and Air New Zealand are willing to remove profitable seating in their cabins to give passengers more legroom or a place to stretch out and sleep.
“Many people traveling such distances are looking for that extra bit of comfort,” said Christchurch-based Brent Thomas, chief operating officer of travel agency House of Travel. “Prices currently reflect demand.”
Return flights from Auckland to New York in economy class cost between NZ$2,300 ($1,480) and NZ$3,200 with the airlines, according to Kayak.com. In comparison, Air New Zealand flights that call in Houston or Los Angeles cost less than NZ$2,000.
Airfares are rising almost unchecked everywhere as travel demand outstrips seat availability amid the pandemic. The great desire to fly also enables airlines to pass on increased fuel costs to passengers.
United Airlines Holdings Inc., for example, announced this week that its first-quarter earnings will more than double analyst estimates. Qantas, which was 11 weeks before collapsing in the worst of the pandemic, is set to post record profits this fiscal year and next, analysts are forecasting.
According to airline data, the Americas and Europe have been Air New Zealand’s largest long-haul market for years, ahead of traditional Asian holiday destinations. The route to New York is an important part of the company’s effort to optimize its international network, Geraghty said.
Faced with the challenges of flying such a long route, Air New Zealand has reduced passenger loads on its Boeing 787s to ensure they make it from New York to Auckland in one jump, upwind. The airline had to unload the bags of up to 65 passengers at John F. Kennedy Airport before its first flight in September. Another almost had to stop in Fiji for gas on the way south.
Qantas declined to comment on the new Auckland-New York service, but Chief Executive Officer Alan Joyce said last year that a first flight to New Zealand would allow more regional Australians to connect with the US.
“There are many reasons why this will be successful,” said Thomas of House of Travel in New Zealand.