How flights have changed: Flying between Auckland and London in 1987

Flying has changed a lot since 1987.
Flying has changed a lot since 1987. Photo credit: Dan Lake/Newshub

In the year leading up to COVID-19 when the air travel industry was all about making travel easier and faster for its customers, airlines such as Qantas and Air New Zealand were on the verge of launching historic ultra long haul non-stop flights which would change travel forever.  

Air New Zealand's uniform in the 1980s.
Air New Zealand's uniform in the 1980s. Photo credit: Air New Zealand

Qantas had already started a non-stop service from Perth to London and had a goal of achieving Sydney - London non-stop within a couple of years. Air NZ was just months away from launching its non-stop Auckland - New York service.  

Other operators were in on the long-haul game too. United Airlines was operating an 18-hour flight from Houston, Texas to Sydney. Singapore Airlines was flying non-stop between Singapore and Los Angeles, and Emirates was flying the 17-hour trip between Dubai and Auckland.

The most common way Kiwis were getting to Europe and the UK from New Zealand pre-COVID-19 was by flying through Asia, stopping over in places such as Singapore, Hong Kong or Dubai. 

The flight time from Auckland to Singapore is around 10.5 hours. After a few hours on the ground, the second half of the flight to London is around 13.5 hours. 

So, while it wasn't quite non-stop, flight times between New Zealand and London had shortened dramatically in just a couple of decades.

Auckland to London

My first ever flight was to London from Auckland in 1987. 

Back then, getting to London took a lot longer. The route was operated by Air NZ and British Airways, both operating Boeing 747-200 aircraft, and there were plenty of fuel stops.

Great Circle Mapper: Auckland - London.
Photo credit: Great Circle Mapper

The flight from Auckland to London stopped in Perth, Mumbai (at the time called Bombay), Frankfurt and then arrived at Heathrow.

And, unbelievably, you could smoke onboard. 

I was four years old, my sister was six, and together we travelled with our mother who was just 25 to the other side of the world. By all accounts, we managed to make the experience as messy and dramatic for mum as possible.

British Airways Boeing 747-200.
British Airways Boeing 747-200. Photo credit: Aero Icarus/Flickr

Within about 20 minutes of flying, four-year-old me was throwing up, about five minutes later my sister was too. Poor old mum, traveling alone, asked the British Airways cabin crew for more sick bags as we had gone through ours within less than an hour.

"You've used your allocation, you'll have to use some clothes from now on," mum was told. 

British Airways uniform 1980s.
British Airways uniform 1980s. Photo credit: British Airways

For the next few hours mum proceeded to go through what clothing she had brought in our carry-on luggage to try and keep us clean and vomit free. London must have felt like a long, long way away.

I'd like to think British Airways customer service has improved since 1987.

Newshuib Travel Editor Dan Lake and his sister in 1987.
My sister and I a few days after arriving in the UK. Photo credit: Dan Lake

If only the internet existed back then. I'd love to look back at how the flight panned out. I remember we had issues with landing gear and were kept onboard on a couple of occasions during stopovers for a number of hours.

The inflight entertainment consisted of a projector screen lowering itself from above the bulkhead at the front of each section of the cabin. A projector would play a mixture of film and television shows, which you could listen to through your tinny plastic headphones. There was no seatback entertainment, but there were a handful of radio stations you could listen to by changing the audio channel on the panel on your armrest.

I also remember there were no childrens meals and I was served duck. Something that doesn't bother me now, but as a vomiting anxious child, it wasn't for me. So by the time we arrived at Heathrow, both my sister and I were in wheelchairs.

London to Auckland

Flying back to Aotearoa, this time on Air NZ and leaving from Gatwick, across town from Heathrow. It was Flight TE001 - yes, the TEAL flight numbers were still being used at this stage.

The flight would leave London on Sunday afternoons. From Gatwick, the Air NZ 747-200 flew back towards its home. There was a noticeable difference with the crew onboard, compared to British Airways also.  

Air New Zealand Boeing 747-200.
Air New Zealand Boeing 747-200. Photo credit: Creative Commons

Mum still speaks of crew members taking me and my sister for adventures around the plane so she could have some time alone to sleep. They took us along with them as they served snacks and drinks, introducing us to each and every passenger by name. I think at one point we may have even been wearing the captain's hat as we walked up and down the plane.

"Tea? Coffee? Tea? Coffee?"

The flight first stopped in Dallas Fort-Worth Texas. One of the busiest hubs in the world, it then flew on to Papeete, on Tahiti, before finally arriving in Auckland.

As we were never allowed to disembark the plane, we didn't get to see much. But I do remember a crew member, who, whether it was legal or not, decided to let us see Tahiti with our own eyes, and opened a door. 

I remember a wave of heat hitting me as the door swung open. It was probably the first time I'd experienced that sort of humidity, or seen a landscape different to that of New Zealand or England.  

Great Circle Mapper: London - Auckland.
Photo credit: Great Circle Mapper

I know that flight home played a part in my initial fascination with aviation, perhaps the cabin crew member who opened the door and gave me a peak at the view of Tahiti played a part in my passion for travel, too.

What was your first flight? Let us know on the Newshub Travel Facebook Group, or email us