How I Spent 17 Hours Onboard Air New Zealand's First Flight From JFK to Auckland

The historic flight marked the first direct route between NYC and New Zealand

Air New Zealand

Hannah Peters / Getty Images

How would you spend 17 hours in the sky? As an avid traveler, reading books, listening to podcasts, and catching up on movies while flying isn't new to me. But this past weekend, I had the opportunity to test my limits when I settled in for the longest flight I've ever taken: Air New Zealand's first non-stop flight from New York City to Auckland.

Clocking in at 17 hours and 35 minutes, the new route has become one of the longest in the world, joining ultra long-hauls like Singapore Airlines' route from Singapore to New York's JFK Airport (18 hours and 50 minutes) and Singapore Airlines' route from Singapore to New Jersey's Newark Airport (18 hours and 45 minutes). Saturday's inaugural flight was also historic—it marked the first direct route connecting the U.S.'s east coast with New Zealand.

It's been a long journey to this moment for both the airline and the country. Both are hanging their hopes on the new route to increase New Zealand's appeal to Americans as the country drops the last of its pandemic-related mandates and fully reopens to tourists. The U.S. has long been one of New Zealand's most important tourism markets; before the pandemic, Americans comprised 10 percent of international tourism to New Zealand, just behind Australia and China.

As an American who both loves to fly and who has had New Zealand high on her bucket list, the timing of this flight felt like fate. I jumped at the chance to fly on Saturday's inaugural flight and experience the ultra-long-haul journey. Here's what it was like.

Boarding and Take Off

I made my way to JFK prepared for almost a full day of sitting on a plane. After waiting on a longer than usual line to check my bag—the airline was training new check-in staff for the inaugural flight—I finally breezed through security and got to my gate for boarding. The amount of time I was about to spend in the sky was hard to comprehend. Still, my experience was immediately made more comfortable once I settled into my business class seat, which was outfitted with goodies made for the inaugural flight, including a special edition leather bag from New Zealand designer Deadly Ponies filled with the airline's usual amenities of lip balm, moisturizer, dental kit, and more, and a reusable sleep mask from American sneaker-maker Allbirds, best known for its shoes made from New Zealand-sourced wool.

After all passengers were onboard and the pre-flight announcements had been made, we prepared for take-off—but found ourselves delayed. We were told that we were awaiting a tug assignment that would allow us to push back from the gate. While we were scheduled to depart at 9:55 p.m., the long wait pushed back our departure time to 11:20 p.m., delaying us almost an hour and a half. I had to laugh: it seemed practically cosmic that the longest flight of my life had found a way to become even longer.

With anticipation building, we finally got the clear, and before I knew it, we were in the air.

Flight Time

The few times I've flown business class to Europe, I've lamented the short time I had on those overnight transatlantic flights to get a whole night's sleep and enjoy the in-flight service. But perhaps one of the best things about flying in business on a long-haul route is that there is more than enough time to savor both.

After taking drink orders on the ground, our first in-flight drinks arrived around 40 minutes after take-off, followed by an amuse-bouche, bread and a first course, a main, and a dessert. While on a transatlantic flight, I would be trying to strategize how fast I could eat so that I could get some rest before we landed; I luxuriated in the fact that on this flight, I was in no rush at all. The full dinner service took about two and a half hours. When the dessert course was taken away, I put away my tray table and changed into a soft pair of business class pajamas designed by New Zealand athleisure company Marlow that were given to the media contingent on the flight (the airline plans to roll them out in business class on all of their flights shortly). I looked at the seatback screen to see how I was doing on time: 14 hours to go.

While there were plenty of surprisingly great movie choices available on the flight—including some pretty recent theatrical releases, like "Top Gun: Maverick"—I instead chose to catch up on some of the many television shows I downloaded onto my iPad before boarding, including "Severance" and "Yellowjackets." I planned to stay up as long as possible, then get as close as I could to eight hours of sleep before I landed at 8 a.m. Auckland time, fooling my body into believing I was already on New Zealand time.

I managed around two hours of television before I gave up and decided that, with 12 hours to go, I would get an extra, extra long night's sleep that evening. I tracked down a flight attendant and asked him to make up my bed—unlike newer business class products, passengers can't make their own beds with these seats. My soft mattress, my lie-flat business class seat, and the fact that it was about 4 a.m. lulled me straight to sleep, but after about three hours of shut-eye, I was jolted awake by turbulence. The flight path had crossed Tropical Storm Madeline off the western coast of Mexico, and the next hour was so bumpy that I decided to sit up and distract myself with more television.

Now with eight hours left to go, I took a stroll down my aisle to stretch my legs and asked a flight attendant for a water bottle, as I was thirsty. Many people in my row were awake, and several decided to order food from the mid-flight snacks menu, but I was still feeling full from the main course of lamb, potatoes, and root vegetables I had ordered earlier. While the Wi-Fi was working well at the beginning of the flight, we were now flying over the Pacific, and the internet connection was spotty. I decided to do some stretching, then plopped back into my bed and dozed off for another three hours.

With five hours left, I decided I wouldn't be able to sleep any longer than I already had and called the flight attendant over to convert my bed back into a seat. I was told breakfast wouldn't be served for another two hours, and it was then that I realized just how long this flight was. The Wi-Fi was back, so I did some work until breakfast orders were taken. The breakfast service took about one hour to complete. With one hour left to go, I put on a podcast and filled out my New Zealand Passenger Arrival card to submit to customs when we arrived.

Landing and Arrival

We finally landed in New Zealand at around 8 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 19. With the country recently dropping all pandemic-related restrictions, I was able to breeze through security in less than 10 minutes. While there were reports of several bags getting left behind at JFK due to the need to offload weight from the aircraft for extra fuel, I was lucky that my bag was one of the first off the carousel. I breathed a sigh of relief, expecting the worst after a summer of bag drama.

After hopping in a cab to my hotel, The Hotel Britomart, I plopped my belongings down and took a stroll over to the Sky Tower, where I took in majestic views of Auckland, shaking my head in disbelief that less than 24 hours ago, I was on the other side of the planet.

Final Thoughts

As mentioned, I love to fly. Kicking back in the sky with the knowledge that I'm being transported to a different part of the world is one of my favorite parts of traveling, and I always look forward to going to the airport.

Overall, despite the extra long travel time, my experience on Air New Zealand's inaugural flight from New York to New Zealand was positive. There were times when it felt long, and not having Wi-Fi connectivity for a portion of the flight was a letdown, but when it comes to traveling distances this large, some things are just unavoidable.

I flew from New York to Sydney via Los Angeles on Qantas on my last trip to Oceania. I still shudder remembering the chaos of that layover, from the inevitable flight delay that led to me racing across LAX, desperate to make my connection, only to face another delay on the Los Angeles to Sydney route. If I could redo that trip with a non-stop route from New York to Sydney instead, I would—and I soon may be able to, as Qantas is planning to launch its much anticipated Project Sunrise non-stop route between New York and Sydney in 2025.

If given a choice between a layover and flying non-stop, I would choose non-stop every time, even if the route took 17 hours—and I feel I'm not alone. Judging by the sold-out inaugural flight to Auckland, I predict this new route will entice many more Americans to cross New Zealand off their bucket lists in the near future.

Article Sources
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  1. Tourism New Zealand. "Annual Report 2020/2021." Accessed Sept. 20, 2022.

  2. The Guardian. "Qantas Announces Plans for Non-stop Flights From Sydney to New York and London." May 2, 2022.