Air New Zealand Adds Honolulu Stop On US Flights For Crew Safety

Filed Under: Air New Zealand

Air New Zealand’s flight from Auckland to the US will make stops in Honolulu. Not to let off passengers, or to refuel, or to pick up or drop off cargo, but rather to change crews.

Air New Zealand’s limited US flights

New Zealand has been among the strictest countries when it comes to border restrictions, as the country has been aiming to be free of coronavirus.

While a majority of Air New Zealand’s long haul fleet is grounded, the airline is operating a skeleton fleet of Boeing 787-9s. As it stands, the carrier’s US services are as follows:

  • Air New Zealand operates two weekly passenger flights between Auckland and Los Angeles
  • Air New Zealand operates several weekly cargo flights between Auckland and both Los Angeles and San Francisco

While passenger demand is understandably way down, we’ve seen all kinds of airlines operate flights largely to transport cargo, which has become big business. Then there are the limited number of passengers who are eligible to fly to & from New Zealand. This typically includes Kiwis, either leaving the country or returning home (upon return to New Zealand they have to quarantine in a government facility for 14 days).

Air New Zealand’s US flights will stop in Hawaii

Starting in the coming weeks, Air New Zealand’s flights from Auckland to both Los Angeles and San Francisco will stop in Honolulu in both directions. As it’s described, this decision is intended to reduce the risk of crew members contracting COVID-19.

Let’s use the two weekly passenger flights between Auckland and Los Angeles as an example. The way this is going to work, Air New Zealand crews will have their layovers in Honolulu rather than Los Angeles. That means this trip will be rostered as follows:

  • A crew will operate the flight from Auckland to Honolulu
  • Then after a layover of around three days, the crew will operate the flights from Honolulu to Los Angeles to Honolulu in a single day
  • Then after a layover of around three days, the crew will operate the final sector from Honolulu to Auckland

In other words, with the twice weekly service, the trip would have previously taken about half a week for a crew, while it will now take an entire week. With case numbers being as high as they are in Los Angeles, the airline thinks it’s safer for crews to instead overnight in Honolulu.

Despite laying over in a “safer” place, crews still have to quarantine in their hotel rooms during their layovers, and aren’t allowed to leave. While crews aren’t subjected to the full 14-day quarantine upon their return home, they do have to quarantine for two days and then get tested, before being allowed to go out.

For context on what this means for the Auckland to Los Angeles routing:

  • The nonstop flight would cover a distance of 6,504 miles, while the flight with a stop will cover a distance of 6,945 miles, so this adds about ~7% to the distance flown
  • The Auckland to Honolulu flight covers a distance of ~4,400 miles, and the Honolulu to Los Angeles flight covers a distance of ~2,500 miles

Bottom line

Air New Zealand’s US services will route via Honolulu until further notice, so that crews can have layovers there rather than on the mainland. This is intended to keep crews safe, and the decision was made in spite of the fact that crews can’t even leave their hotel rooms during layovers.

(Tip of the hat to Joseph)

  1. I’m sure crews won’t protest having to spend time in Honolulu. For whatever it’s worth, Hawaii is a big vacation destination for New Zealand and Australia. I’ve never quite understood why given those countries are just as nice or the fact that there are other tropical islands closer to Australia and New Zealand than Hawaii. But I digress.

    It’s also worth pointing out that American Samoa, a U.S. territory, has relied heavily on Air New Zealand flights that connect with a smaller airline to/from Apia in neighboring independent Samoa. It’s been the only way for Americans in American Samoa to get to and from the mainland United States since Hawaiian’s service between Honolulu and Pago Pago has been suspended for months.

  2. Franz – they will be staying in their hotel rooms isolating.

    They are not on vacation and going on trips to the beach or shopping like they might if this was their normal working pattern.

  3. They’ve abandoned England just as Brexit means a new focus on the old commonwealth connections was desired by the U.K.

    Have their new fleet got a more up-to-date business product, the current one feels very 2005 yet commands very high prices.

  4. I’m not surprised at all, it makes no sense to risk having the crews stay around LAX when it is one of the worst hit places for COVID in the world right now. I was surprised they continued the pax flights from LAX and canceled SFO given the Bay Area hasn’t been as badly hit. From a purely avgeek perspective, I was kind of hoping to see Air NZ base an A321neo at HNL to do the LAX-HNL legs but clearly they need the cargo capacity. It would be funny seeing a NZ narrow body in LAX tho, like the AC A319 that used to fly to LHR 🙂

  5. 3 day (2x) quarantined layovers sounds rough. I wonder if that’s a factor of regs, work rules, epidemiological guidance, or some combination?

  6. How did you determine that they’d quarantine in Hawaii? Flight crews are exempt from a mandatory quarantine.

  7. @ Shawn Crowley — The quarantine requirement isn’t on Hawaii’s part, but rather on New Zealand’s part. Understandably the country wants New Zealanders to minimize their risk while abroad, so that they also don’t have to quarantine for 14 days.

  8. Franz Christian – that’s because Honolulu took all the nice sand from Australia. It also lacks the crazy poisonous critters in the water. ;P

  9. I guess my confusion lies in the fact the crews have to quarantine in their hotel rooms the entire layover. What difference then, does the city make. Seems to be incurring more expense for the airline, more mikes flown thus more fuel, more crew time on the clock. I’ve been to both cities. Hotels are cheaper in LA, and is gasoline …I would imagine even meals in Honolulu would cost more. Then there are landing fees. Oh well, it is what it is.

  10. @Jihny – Honolulu has much lower prevalence of COVID per capita than Los Angeles. Even staying in the room there’s always a small chance of indirect transmission (which BTW has been proven in NZ hotel quarantine between guests and staff, even with everyone masked up). This isn’t just protecting the crews but the entire country. I was in NZ this Oct/Nov and it’s a completely different world with almost no restrictions or masking except on flights. In fact upon leaving the isolation hotel, the army makes you dispose of your mask (or at least they did for me). They are so fortunate.

  11. A few dozen vaccinations could make this problem go away in a matter of only a few weeks. I would think given New Zealand’s situation that people like the flight crews would be at the very top of the list for vaccination if the goal is to prevent introduction of the virus to the country.

  12. Too bad passengers can’t depart/board in HNL. This would add another airline (with potential deals) to the HNL portfolio.

  13. @Jihny
    Calculations of fuel burn are not as simple as miles flown.
    Think of the weight saved by carrying approximately half the amount of fuel. This really comes into play for freight flights if they are close to max weight.

  14. Assuming there are no delays that’s still a long duty round trip with an LA transit ( -maybe 13 hours ) I guess vertical crew rest helps.

  15. So, what about passengers? Right now I am in Honolulu. In February I have to fly to LA to board a flight to Auckland.
    It now looks like that flight will stop in HNL!
    Maybe I can board in Honolulu?

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