Captain Phillip Kirk 'incredibly excited' to pilot Air New Zealand's first direct flight to New York

Ahead of piloting Air New Zealand's first direct flight from Auckland to New York, Captain Phillip Kirk has emphasised what a big deal the new route is for the airline - and thrown a little shade at a rather notorious airport in the US.

Flight NZ2 launches on Saturday using a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner which will take a little over 16 hours to fly to the Big Apple, a destination the national carrier has long dreamed of flying direct to.

"I'm incredibly excited," Capt Kirk told AM on Wednesday morning.

"It's a huge thing - it's a big, historic moment for Air NZ. A big step."

From New York, passengers have a much wider array of destinations just one further flight away than is available from other US centres like Los Angeles.

Also, John F Kennedy Airport has a much better reputation with travellers than that of LAX.

"Having just recently been through Los Angeles as a passenger, that's a fairly underwhelming experience," Capt Kirk said.

"I love Los Angeles [the city] but the airport experience is a tough one at times. So to be able to fly over Los Angeles and go direct to your destination, that's what Air NZ is all about now."

He also said it will be better for travellers as they arrive in New York at around 8pm, ready to rest through the evening and be ready for the day after. Air NZ flights to Los Angeles generally arrive closer to midday.

From a business perspective, the New York route appears to be a crucial part in Air NZ's growth and continuing recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Air NZ is very keen on the US market, it's a big growth market. New York is a huge, huge destination. It's not only New York - jump on a train and within a couple of hours you're in Boston, or across to Washington," Capt Kirk said.

"So it's a big destination, it's a big part of our future and we are calling it a flagship destination, that's why we've assigned it the NZ1 and NZ2 flight numbers that used to be attached to the London flights. They're not happening any more, so this is our new flagship destination."

Capt Kirk explained there is a rest schedule for the staff on such a long flight with beds they take turns to relax in.

"We like to feel as well-rested as possible when we go to land at a new destination like New York, which is a very busy airport," he said.

As for how well rested passengers seated in the economy cabin will feel after a 16 - 17 hour flight? Well, there's only days left now before many Kiwis will find that out for themselves.

After the special inaugural flight leaves at 4pm on Saturday, Air NZ's regular non-stop Auckland-New York schedule starts on September 19.

From then on NZ1 will depart New York every Monday, Thursday and Saturday evening at 9:55pm, and NZ2 will depart Auckland every Monday, Thursday and Saturday evening at 7:40pm.