Kiwi woman 'completely thrown' after direct flight from New York to Auckland changed to one with overnight stopover

A Kiwi woman is furious after Air New Zealand changed her direct flight from New York to Auckland to an indirect flight via Honolulu, forcing her to lose a day of her holiday. 

The woman, who wanted to remain anonymous, was due to return to Auckland on Air New Zealand's renewed direct flight from New York at 8:55pm (US time) on October 3. 

Instead Air New Zealand informed her she would need to catch a morning flight scheduled for 8:45am on Monday, meaning she misses a day of her holiday. 

The new flight is also not direct - instead she will be forced to stop over in Hawaii before getting on another flight to Auckland. 

The woman told Newshub she is devastated to lose precious time from her holiday and disappointed by how the airline handled the situation. 

"This has taken an entire day off my holiday and meaning I'll also arrive a whole day later. I'm so upset after waiting nearly three years through the pandemic to visit one of my best friends in NYC," she said.

She's also upset she paid for a direct flight but instead has to spend the night in Hawaii - something she also cannot do because it will mean she misses her first day back at work.

"This is not in line with what I paid for. They've completely thrown us with this and offered no solution. 

"I wanted to support Air NZ on this service and expected a fantastic journey. I am utterly disappointed in this service and expected better."

In an email to her from Air New Zealand, seen by Newshub, the airline said due to a schedule change they were no longer able to accommodate her. 

Instead, she had been booked into a new flight. The email said if the change is an issue for her she needs to reply to the email with a contact number and time to call. It also informed her a new e-ticket would be sent to her. 

In a follow-up email, the airline said it would provide her with accommodation for her overnight stay in Hawaii.

Air New Zealand chief customer and sales officer Leanne Geraghty told Newshub she is also being compensated US$1500 along with her accommodation. 

Geraghty also said the airline left a message on the woman's phone before the email was sent, although this is disputed by her. 

Geraghty said operating ultra-long-haul flights is difficult and unusual weather has created extra challenges. 

"The plans we had in place were based on a level of operational surety - but in the last week we have come up against some challenges with forecast weather outside our usual forecasting.

"Because extra fuel is needed when the weather don't play in our favour, we've had to make a number of changes, including reducing payload, to operate the flight safely, and these changes will flow through for the next few months. 

"A number of airlines have been disrupted by this same weather pattern and it is common practice to reduce customer numbers on flights when weather calls for it."

She said the airline is "incredibly sorry" to any customers who have been disrupted.

"As it's important we run this as a non-stop service as promised, we're making some adjustments to give customers more surety of that and we're confident this route is going to be a success. 

"It's already proving to be incredibly popular and we've had some terrific feedback from some of the 2500 customers who have already flown it. This is going to be an important route for Air New Zealand and New Zealand tourism."

Air New Zealand has 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 earlier in the month. But it wasn't smooth sailing 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". 

The flight ran into trouble again on Sunday (US time) when at one stage it was thought it might need a stop in Fiji to refuel due to weather issues. However, this was avoided after changes to the route while airborne. 

Airline staff have also previously 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.

Earlier in the week, the airline apologised for the turbulent start to its much-hyped direct flight, saying it will cap the number of passengers onboard to avoid further disruptions. 

Air New Zealand's chief flight operations and safety officer Captain David Morgan told AM on Tuesday the flight had been experiencing "unusually strong" headwinds on the route.

"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," Morgan told AM. 

"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 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 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."