After 38 years linking London with Auckland via Los Angeles, Air New Zealand is to end its only route to and from Europe – and, at the same time, launch a non-stop from its hub to New York.
The New Zealand flag carrier began flying from Gatwick via Los Angeles and Tahiti to Auckland in 1982. The airline later made the US-New Zealand sector nonstop, and moved its operations to Heathrow in 1994.
In 1995, the Queen flew on the link to Auckland to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting.
Between 2006 and 2013 Air New Zealand also flew from Heathrow via Hong Kong to Auckland, making it the only airline to offer a round-the-world, same-carrier service.
But according to Jeff McDowall, acting chief executive of Air New Zealand, in 2018 only one passenger in 14 flying between London and Auckland flew via Los Angeles. The journey involves an awkward encounter with US Customs & Border Protection in LA, and takes three hours longer than the Heathrow-Singapore-Auckland route.
In a message to UK passengers, he said: “The number of ways to fly between Auckland and London has more than doubled in the past decade and this has changed travel preferences.
“The Atlantic has also become one of the most hotly contested routes in the world and we lack the market advantages and scale of the European and North American airlines.”
It is believed that only a minority of passengers on the daily NZ1/NZ2 London-Auckland services are travelling the full 11,390-miles distance.
Most travellers are flying to or from Los Angeles – with Air New Zealand offering a well-regarded and good-value link between Heathrow and California. But it faces direct competition with American Airlines, British Airways, United and Virgin Atlantic, as well as Norwegian from Gatwick.
The route will cease in October 2020, at the end of the summer season.
Air New Zealand employs around 130 London-based staff, mainly cabin crew. The UK base will be closed, with the airline hoping to find alternative posts for the employees. The airline is expected to sell its daily slot pair at Heathrow for between £10m and £20m.
At the same time, Air New Zealand will begin nonstop flights between Auckland and New York. The 8,810-mile journey to and from Newark airport will be flown with a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, the same aircraft that Qantas uses between London and Perth.
Mr McDowall said: “We expect North America to continue to be New Zealand’s fastest growing visitor market. This network reset puts us in the best position to take advantage of this while opening up the Big Apple for our customers.”
Most of the route is across the Pacific. The direct track from Auckland make landfall in North America at the southern tip of Baja California, crossing northern Mexico, Texas and the southern states of the US. It will be scheduled for 15h 40m eastbound, 17h 40m westbound.
The new service will enable British travellers to combine New York and New Zealand with a ticket on the Star Alliance carriers Air New Zealand and United.