Qantas makes splashy return with to New York City with 15.5-hour flight.

Editors’ note: Qantas provided TPG with a free round-trip, business-class ticket for the inaugural U.S. route. All opinions expressed here are the author’s alone and were not subject to review by Qantas.

Qantas is back in the Big Apple.

Australia’s flag carrier made a splashy return to New York on Wednesday when Qantas Flight 3 touched down at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) after an 8,829-mile, 15-hour, 36-minute flight from Auckland, New Zealand.

The flight — operated by a Boeing 787-9 — ranks as the world’s fifth-longest flight (alongside the same route its rival Air New Zealand launched last fall).

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As for Qantas, its new “fifth freedom” service — between Sydney and New York with a stop in Auckland — brings Qantas back to America’s biggest city for the first time since the pandemic. This significance was hard to miss ahead of the airline’s inaugural flight.

A Qantas marketing campaign drew heavy press coverage in Sydney and across Australia ahead of the lunch. However, it was Auckland where the New York launch was all but impossible to ignore.

Special placards lined Qantas check-in queue at Auckland Airport ahead of its inaugural flight to New York on June 14, 2023. BEN MUTZABAUGH/THE POINTS GUY

Special placards marking the occasion were strung across Qantas’ entire check-in queue. Even the digital counter screens flashed inaugural branding. Harder to miss was the live saxophone player performing “New York, New York” in front of a pop-up soft-pretzel stand that offered passengers a free New York City-themed snack.

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Qantas CEO Alan Joyce (center) poses at a pop-up pretzel stand at check-in ahead of the carrier’s inaugural Auckland-to-New York flight on June 14, 2023. BEN MUTZABAUGH/THE POINTS GUY

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce added to the fanfare with a press conference in front of the check-in counters. Joyce answered questions as TV cameras from Australia and New Zealand news and morning shows caught the action.

Even in Qantas’ Auckland frequent-flyer lounge ahead of the flight, Taylor Swift’s “Welcome to New York” set the tone amid a spread of New York specialties including pizza slices, pastrami Reuben sandwiches and hot dogs with sauerkraut.

News media reporters from Australia and New Zealand were buzzing ahead of Qantas’ inaugural flight from Sydney to New York via Auckland. BEN MUTZABAUGH/THE POINTS GUY

When it was time for boarding, the New York-themed party vibe migrated to the gate. Passengers applauded the saxophonist who had reemerged in the boarding area (which was also decked out in inaugural branding). Swag bags awaited all passengers for the flight; contents included a commemorative ball cap, coffee mug and bag tag.

Swag bags with commemorative memorabilia awaited passengers as they boarded Qantas’ inaugural Auckland-New York flight on June 14, 2023. BEN MUTZABAUGH/THE POINTS GUY

Once on the plane, passengers were greeted over the PA system by Joyce — he was a passenger on the inaugural. He called out the significance of the flight and the interest Qantas’ inaugural appeared to be generating.

“I’m told, it is currently the most followed flight on FlightRadar24,” he said, referring to the popular flight-tracking website. “So you’re being watched by the rest of the world.”

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce — clad in special New York City-themed pajamas — addresses passengers onboard the airline’s inaugural flight from Auckland, New Zealand, to New York JFK on June 14, 2023. JAMES D. MORGAN/GETTY IMAGES FOR QANTAS

He then explained how returning to New York had become a priority for Qantas, and now it’s in a full-court push to build out its international route map as the pandemic ebbs.

“We’re building back some of the most important destinations on our network, and New York is one of the most important (ones),” he said while speaking from the front of the plane. “It’s a key city for us. It’s where our main customers want to fly to. It’s a city that we know gets people’s attention, and we’re so pleased to be able to fly back to the Big Apple.”

Qantas continues push for Project Sunrise flights

More broadly, Wednesday’s flight is the latest step in Qantas’ ambitious “Project Sunrise” plan. That effort would see the airline connect Sydney — and eventually other Australian cities — to New York and London with nonstop flights that would be the longest in the world.

But that can’t happen until Qantas takes delivery of new ultra-long-haul Airbus A350-1000 jets capable of making the 9,000-mile-plus flights with standard loads of passengers and baggage. Those aircraft are expected to be delivered to the carrier beginning in 2025; the new ultra-long flights are expected to begin shortly after.

Behind the scenes: What it was like on the first 19-hour Project Sunrise flight from New York

In the meantime, Qantas is inching closer to its ultimate Project Sunrise goals by maximizing the flight range of the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners already in its fleet. The carrier made headlines in 2018 when it launched nonstop flights to London from Perth on Australia’s west coast. The 9,010-mile route went into the history books as the first-ever regularly scheduled nonstop flight between Australia and Europe.

Australia’s eastern cities of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane remain too far from both New York and London for the airline to operate nonstop flights with a normal amount of passengers and cargo.

For now, however, Qantas’ latest effort from Auckland — along with a leg to Sydney — gives Qantas a new link to New York as it prepares for even longer flights ahead.

“I think inaugurals like this … are furthering Qantas’ mission, which is to minimize the tyranny of distance,” Joyce said, repeating one of his common talking points ahead of the inaugural Auckland departure.

Qantas staff take commemorative photos near check-in ahead of Qantas’ inaugural flight from Auckland to New York on June 14, 2023. JAMES D. MORGAN/GETTY IMAGES FOR QANTAS

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