American Airlines is returning to New Zealand on Saturday after a gap of 24 years with daily services between Auckland and Los Angeles. The airline, the biggest in the world, has been growing strongly in the past three years after emerging from bankruptcy protection. Air New Zealand hasn't had a direct competitor across the Pacific since 2012 and American will be joined in just over a week by United Airlines which will fly from San Francisco three times a week with frequency growing to daily later this year.
Here's what the new services mean for travelers:
More competitive fares
The airline launched bookings earlier this year and slashed prices on the Auckland-Los Angeles to $799 return fares for later this year.
When American Airlines announced last November it was flying the route, Air New Zealand cut some Grabaseat airfares to Los Angeles from about $785 to $499.
Fares have ranged around $1500 to $1600 in the past depending on time of travel. Earlier this
House of Travel has also had one-way airfares to the US for as low as $399. American's managing director Asia Pacific, Erwan Perhirin said today far levels would remain "dynamic."
American (and United) will fly Boeing 787 Dreamliners. These aircraft are being rolled out quickly across the world and have impressed passengers and crew with a more pleasant cabin environment, they're quieter and windows are much bigger than the aircraft they replace. They are also around 20 per cent more efficient than equivalent size older planes allowing airlines to fly them to new destinations even if fuel prices increase. Air New Zealand flies near new 777-300s and refurbished 777-200s on its US mainland routes.
For years United States carriers have lagged with cabin product. American Airlines is offering fully lie-flat seats with direct aisle access, is the only one of the three trans-Pacific coming here to offer a walk-up bar in business class and has Wi-Fi and live TV throughout all cabins (at US$19 for a long haul flight).
New in-cabin service
United States carriers have also come in for some criticism for poor service, especially compared to airlines such as Air New Zealand. However, both United and American say this is history. Perhirin says his airline has been rolling out two new planes a week over the past three years as it reinvests profits. This has boosted staff morale.
"The fact that we're flying new aircraft is tremendously energising for staff. There's a renewed sense of pride and that shows through in customer engagement, there are new uniforms a whole refresh in the on-board experience."
Hundreds of new cabin crew had been hired and training had been stepped up, he said.
New links to other destinations
American Airlines and United (which is in a partnership with Air New Zealand) have huge domestic networks and regional links throughout the Americas. Being able to travel within the same airline or within deep alliances makes ticketing, check-in and travel more convenient.
More American tourists
More capacity and those links deeper within the United States puts New Zealand on the radar for more Americans, a recovering and important tourism market for this country. American Airlines has more than 100 million frequent fliers who will now be more aware of New Zealand now the airline is flying here.