Emirates NZ manager Chris Lethbridge on why the return of the A380 to New Zealand is so exciting

Chris Lethbridge, Emirates Regional Manager NZ.
Chris Lethbridge, Emirates Regional Manager NZ. Photo credit: Emirates / Getty Images

In just three weeks, the world's largest passenger airliner is finally returning to New Zealand to restart daily services.

After a nearly 1000 day absence due to the COVID-19 pandemic, an Emirates Airbus A380 will touch down in Auckland on December 2 - perhaps the biggest sign yet that the air travel industry is getting back to normal.

There's a good chance you've already heard about this - Emirates is not being subtle with their marketing of the milestone they're about to achieve.

But what's different to most airline ads is these ones have been specifically making a point of mentioning the aircraft model.

"You hear even from people who say they don't know much about planes, but they know when they're flying on an A380. It's certainly one of those bucket list opportunities in aviation for people to do and then say, 'Yep, I've flown the A380'," said Chris Lethbridge, Emirates Regional Manager NZ.

"What we love is when people fly on it for the first time, they realise just what an awesome aeroplane it is and how great the whole experience is. Then they always want to fly it again."

It's not just the on-board experience Kiwi travellers will be looking forward to. The A380's return also means the restart of Auckland-Dubai nonstop flights, putting an end to the stopover in Kuala Lumpur.

It will also mean a large increase in capacity for international flights out of New Zealand at a time where demand is said to be outstripping supply. 

The direct flight to Dubai once again puts a large amount of destinations within two flights from New Zealand in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

It's also the only flight Kiwis can board in New Zealand into a full-length, double-deck jet airliner.

The Emirates A380 first class shower spa.
The Emirates A380 first class shower spa. Photo credit: Emirates

"The amenities onboard the A380 are just well above so many other aircraft. We have our standout features like the onboard bar in business class, the shower/spa in first class, the 5000 channels of entertainment and the live television. Then there's just the whole feeling of spaciousness and how incredibly quiet the aeroplane is," Lethbridge told Newshub.

"That's one of the main drivers - people love flying on the A380 just to have that wonderful feeling of space it provides."

Emirates started ultra-long-haul flights in the late 2000s and first launched its Auckland-Dubai direct service in 2016. 

Since then, many other airlines have started offering ultra-long-haul flights out of Aotearoa; most recently Air New Zealand launched its Auckland-New York nonstop service, with Qantas getting ready to service the same route from next year.

Emirates A380 business class bar.
Emirates A380 business class bar. Photo credit: Getty Images

"I applaud Air New Zealand for entering the ultra-long-haul market. Emirates has offered ultra-long-haul since I think 2008 and it just creates so much more opportunity for people - it reduces travel time and allows for many more different connections," said Lethbridge.

"What's interesting about ultra-long-haul is that it's an expectation now, and that speaks to the maturity of travellers. I remember when we started flying Auckland-Dubai direct, it was the longest route on our network and for a while the longest route in the world.

"Initially people said: 'I would never fly a 17-hour flight'. That changed very quickly to: 'I'm going to fly nothing but', as people really don't want to stop along the way any more. So the market matured very quickly."

In terms of changes in how people travel due to the pandemic, Lethbridge said we are now tending to book later, which can cause problems. Booking early, he said, means less chance of disappointment and will likely secure a cheaper fare.

Emirates isn't the only airline to have used A380s on its New Zealand services, but it is the only airline set to be operating them here again - at least for now.

In a statement to Newshub, Karl Schubert of Singapore Airlines - which also used to use A380s on Aotearoa routes - said: "At this stage we do not have plans to deploy the A380 to New Zealand. However, we continue to closely monitor travel demand and remain nimble in our ability to deploy the right capacity and aircraft to markets to meet demand as it warrants."

It's worth keeping in mind that our chances of flying in an A380 are not unlimited. The model has been discontinued and as all commercial airliners have a finite lifespan, there is only a certain number of years left in which we can board one.

But it's not going anywhere too soon.

Emirates Airbus A380.
Emirates Airbus A380. Photo credit: Getty Images

"It will remain an iconic aircraft for a long while yet, and it remains the flagship of our fleet," said Lethbridge.

One of those flagship Emirates A380 aircraft will touch down in Auckland at 11:05am on December 2 as flight EK448.

Later in the evening, it will depart Auckland on its way back to Dubai, marking the restart of one of the most important routes in New Zealand's air travel industry.