Air New Zealand’s Auckland to London route: World’s longest direct flight scrapped after 37 years

Air New Zealand is to scrap its long-standing link with the UK, halting its London to Los Angeles service from next October and launching in its stead a new flight from Auckland to New York. 

NZ1, the flight from London Heathrow to Los Angeles International and onto Auckland, is the world’s longest direct flight – in that it retains its flight code after a stopover – and has served British holidaymakers on their way to New Zealand for 37 years.

In 1995, the Queen broke with tradition to fly the service to New Zealand, the first time a British monarch had taken a regular commercial flight, and it is the only connection the airline has to Europe.

Air China’s CA907, from Beijing to Sao Paulo, via Madrid, will become the world’s longest direct flight, while Air New Zealand’s connection between New York and Auckland will launch as the fifth longest non-stop service, at 14,176km.

Air New Zealand said it was hard to bid farewell to “such an iconic route”, but that commercial pressures forced a reevaluation of its route network.

“The number of ways to fly between London and Auckland has more than doubled in the past decade, changing customer preferences,” said Jeff McDowall, Air New Zealand CEO. “Less than seven per cent of all airline travellers between London and Auckland chose to fly via Los Angeles last year.”

Those flying to New Zealand from London via the US first face an 11-hour flight before having to pass through US Customs and then a 12-and-a-half hour service to Auckland. Alternative routes head east and stop in the Middle East, with Emirates connecting via Dubai and Qatar Airways via Doha. 

Paul Carberry, founder of tour operator New Zealand In Depth, said the stopover in the US was the main deterrent to flying to Auckland via Los Angeles.

“It has been a pain for a number of years now,” he said. “You have to have an Esta (US visa), and you still need to go through the immigraiton procedure. Our clients say, ‘we’ve heard horror stories so don’t want to travel that way’, so really it’s the US border regulations that have caused this. 

“It feels sad that we’ve lost that direct travel connection but I don’t feel that this is any indication from Air New Zealand of a lack of interest in the UK.”

McDowall echoed his sentiments, adding that routes over the Atlantic are some of the most hotly contested in the world, competing with the likes of British Airways and Norwegian, and that the airline now intends to focus on its presence in North America. 

“Visitor growth to New Zealand is strongest from North America and performance of our new service between Chicago and Auckland is exceeding expectations,” he said. 

“New York has been an aspiration for Air New Zealand for some time and withdrawal from the Atlantic will free up aircraft capacity to help make this milestone a reality.”

He added that no tickets between London and LA have been sold beyond October next year, and that the airline would now be disbanding its London base, leading to the loss of up to 155 jobs.

Travellers from the UK will be able to fly to New York with United, Air New Zealand’s Atlantic partner. The airline said Britons now have 12 different routes to New Zealand. 

In terms of aviation records, Air New Zealand’s news has a number of implications.

NZ1 and its inbound sibling, NZ2, held the record for the world’s longest direct flight with a stop, covering 18,354km. That title now goes to CA907’s service between Beijing and Sao Paulo, via Madrid, at 17,577km. In third place there is a tie between Qantas QF1 and British Airways BA16, which both link London and Sydney via Singapore, at 17,016km.

Meanwhile, Air New Zealand’s new service between New York and Auckland disrupts the ranking of the world’s longest non-stop flights. Operated on the airline’s 787 Dreamliner, the flight will cover 14,176km, nudging Singapore Airline’s 8,769-mile service between LA and Singapore into sixth place. 

The flight will take 15 hours and 40 minutes heading north and 17 hours and 40 minutes going south, due to prevailing winds. Air New Zealand said the 787 will carry 275 passengers with a higher than usual proportion of business and premium economy seating. 

Last weekend Qantas made history after completing the world’s longest commercial flight from New York to Sydney, covering 16,415km and staying in the air 19 hours and 16 minutes. Qantas plans to launch regular direct, non-stop services to both New York and London.

The world’s longest direct flights with a stop

1. NZ1, Air New Zealand, London-Auckland, via Los Angeles, 18,354km

2. CA907, Air China, Beijing-Sao paulo, via Madrid, 17,577km

3. QF1 and BA16, Qantas and British Airways, London-Sydney, via Singapore, 17,015km

4. QF9, Qantas, Melbourne-London, via Perth, 16,904km 

5. SQ52, Singapore Airlines, Singapore-Houston, via Manchester, 15,728km

See also: Qantas unveils new ‘100th birthday’ Dreamliner for non-stop London-Sydney test flight

See also: Airline review: 17 hours in Qantas economy class non-stop to London