Across the pond
The flights to New York could also spur fresh demand for onward connections to Europe across the Atlantic.
“It’s a big draw card with hundreds of European destinations, including London and Paris, just a short flight onwards from NYC through our partner airlines,” Air New Zealand Chief Customer and Sales Officer Leanne Geraghty said.
Geraghty said bookings have been “very strong” on the Auckland-New York route since the September launch. Outbound demand from the US picked up 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 seat space in their cabins in order to give passengers more legroom or somewhere to stretch and sleep.
“A lot of people who are traveling those kind of distances are looking for that little bit of extra comfort,” said Christchurch-based Brent Thomas, chief operating officer of travel agency House of Travel. “The pricing right now reflects how much demand there is.”
Return Auckland-New York direct flights in economy in August with the airlines cost between NZ$2,300 ($1,480) and NZ$3,200, according to kayak.com. By comparison, Air New Zealand flights that stop en route at Houston or Los Angeles are going for under NZ$2,000.
Airfares everywhere are rising almost unchecked as travel demand outstrips seat availability in the wake of the pandemic. The keen appetite to fly is also allowing airlines to pass on elevated fuel costs to passengers.
United Airlines Holdings Inc., for example, this week said first-quarter profit will be more than double analyst estimates. Qantas, which was 11 weeks from collapse at the worst of the pandemic, will generate record profits this financial year and next, according to analyst forecasts.
The Americas and Europe have for years been Air New Zealand’s biggest long-haul market, above traditional Asian holiday destinations, according to airline data. The New York route is a key part of the company’s efforts to optimize its international network, Geraghty said.
Given the challenges of flying such a long distance, Air New Zealand has reduced passenger loads on its Boeing 787s to make sure they get to Auckland from New York in one hop against the wind. The airline had to offload the bags of as many as 65 passengers at John F. Kennedy Airport before the inaugural flight in September. Another almost had to stop for fuel in Fiji on its way south.
Qantas declined to comment on the new Auckland-New York service, but Chief Executive Officer Alan Joyce said last year that flying to New Zealand first would allow more regional Australians to connect to the US.
“There’s a whole lot of reasons why this will be successful,” said Thomas at House of Travel in New Zealand.
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