(Bloomberg) -- One of the world’s longest flights is being disrupted by strong winds, forcing operator Air New Zealand to reduce passengers and luggage so it can take on more fuel.
Two years of planning went into the new non-stop service from New York to Auckland which, at 17 hours and 35 minutes, is the world’s fourth-longest. But within a week of opening the route this month, the airline found its modeling hadn’t accounted for unusually strong headwinds, Chief Operating Integrity and Safety Officer David Morgan said Tuesday in Wellington.
“We’ve actually found seasonal winds particularly in North America have been significantly higher,” Morgan told Radio New Zealand. “As a consequence the flight is taking longer, and in order to be able to provide the fuel load we’ve had to reduce the payload.”
To reduce weight, the airline was forced to offload the bags of as many as 65 passengers at John F. Kennedy airport before the inaugural flight on Sept. 17, and last weekend requested that 15 booked travelers agree to alternative arrangements. A third flight was expected to have to stop for fuel in Fiji but was able to reach Auckland safely.
New Zealand’s government, which owns 51% of the airline, has billed the direct service as a boost for the tourism industry, which has been decimated by the absence of foreign visitors during the pandemic. The US was once the third largest source of foreign arrivals, with 370,000 Americans spending more than NZ$1.5 billion ($850 million) while on vacation in the South Pacific nation in 2019.
Air New Zealand can carry a maximum of 260 passengers northward to New York, and has done so without problems, Morgan said. It had planned to cap capacity on the return leg at 215 people because of the prevailing winds, but has now lowered that to 180 passengers, he said.
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