Air New Zealand apologises for shambolic start to much-hyped Auckland-New York flight

Air New Zealand has apologised for the turbulent start to its much-hyped direct flight to New York saying they'll cap the number of passengers onboard to avoid further disruptions. 

Air New Zealand had been planning the high-profile 17-hour non-stop New York-Auckland flight for two years. It was announced in March, but the service has been plagued with criticism.

The inaugural New York to Auckland flight touched down at Auckland Airport last Monday at around 8:30am, with around 40-50 passengers getting a rude surprise when they landed to find their bags weren't on the flight. 

Several passengers on the inaugural flight shared their experience with Newshub, with one saying it was an "absolute shambles".

Another passenger was left without their luggage for around 30 hours. 

"We have nothing to wear, nobody is helping us, [we are] just doing administration on documents and we are a bit lost," said passenger Lucía Teva, who is missing four bags. 

Another family told Newshub the check-in process at John F Kennedy International Airport in New York was like "they just plucked people off the street to check people in". 

On Sunday (US time), the flight to Auckland was at one stage thought to need a stop in Fiji to refuel due to weather issues. However, this was avoided after changes to the route while airborne, a spokeswoman said.

Airline staff have also asked passengers booked on the non-stop flight to volunteer to jump off to lighten the load in the face of "unusually strong" headwinds forecast on the route.

Air New Zealand's chief flight operations and safety officer Captian David Morgan told AM on Tuesday they had encountered "surprising" weather conditions. 

"What we've found is much to our surprise, we planned on a level of operational security and in the last week or so, we've actually found ourselves facing some challenges we actually hadn't anticipated, quite a lot of headwind, more headwinds than we had originally considered," he told AM co-host Laura Tupou. 

"The airline industry works on the concept of the 80th percentile and in the last week, we've actually seen winds of the 98th percentile. What that means is the flights obviously need more fuel to be able to operate directly through to Auckland and as a consequence, we had to take measures to obviously enable those flights to operate as is as they were planned."

Morgan said bad luck has played a part in the issues facing the New York to Auckland flight.

"The first flight was affected by two things, one, the inability to use our normal alternate here in New Zealand, the Air Force Base, and also the need to fly around a tropical cyclone or a hurricane that was occurring in the Gulf of Mexico," he told AM.

"Then the issue on the third flight was actually associated with strong headwinds that we had as well. So fundamentally, we've had four flights this week, two of which have been affected, one, we had to remove some baggage off the flight and the second one meant we had to obviously enable more payload to be carried on the flight."

Morgan said they're "very sorry" they had to offload luggage on the inaugural flight to Auckland last week and added, "most of those bags" have been returned to the passengers.

One passenger is still waiting on their luggage, which Morgan put down to that bag not leaving Buffalo in the US, so it never made it to New York but will be reunited with the customer on Tuesday. 

David Morgan said they're "very sorry" they had to offload luggage on the inaugural flight to Auckland last week.
David Morgan said they're "very sorry" they had to offload luggage on the inaugural flight to Auckland last week. Photo credit: AM

Morgan said they're working very hard to make sure there are no more disruptions to flights. 

"We're working very hard to make sure that that doesn't happen again by optimising the flights going forward. The way we'll do that is actually cap the number of passengers we will carry," he told AM. 

"I suppose the initial work we did do, worked on this concept of the 80th percentile."

Morgan said they were "very comfortable" with their plan before launching the service after running flight planes for the last year.

"We've seen things conspire to obviously make the flight a little bit more difficult than we had anticipated. Safety, of course, is our priority, it's not able to be compromised in any way," he said.  

"So in order to ensure both operational integrity, safety and surety of the schedule, we will cap the numbers going forward and what that means is that the aircraft will be able to operate directly without any constraints." 

Watch the full interview with David Morgan above.