The new three-weekly non-stop service between Auckland and San Francisco has proved hugely popular with strong bookings for the first few months of service.

Amongst the inaugural passengers will be Air New Zealand Chief Executive Ralph Norris, the US Ambassador to New Zealand Mr Charles Swindells, Auckland Mayor John Banks and Tourism New Zealand CEO George Hickton. A number of the airline's travel trade partners representing top wholesalers, retailers and decision makers from around the world will also join in the festivities as the first flight touches down at San Francisco International Airport.

On arrival the flight will be officially greeted with a traditional water cannon salute and a Maori welcome ceremony performed by twelve of the airline's own staff.

The group, called Te Oho Rere (The Awakening of Journey), consists entirely of
Air New Zealand international cabin crew, who have practiced for weeks in preparation for the performance at the airport, and also later that evening at a cocktail reception in City Hall.

The City Hall function, to be hosted by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, will be attended by around 300 of the who's who of the San Francisco community.

Air New Zealand Managing Director and CEO Ralph Norris said the airline was very confident the new service would be a major success for the airline and provide an important second gateway into the US for New Zealanders.

"We've had an impressive reaction to the new service with strong bookings and encouraging support from the travel industry," said Mr Norris.

"There is also keen interest from our customers in not only San Francisco as a popular leisure and business destination, but also as an alternative gateway to Los Angeles into the greater US and Canada. Codeshare partnerships with United Airlines, Lufthansa and Air Canada make travel beyond San Francisco an easy option."

The commencement of services to San Francisco is another milestone in what has already been a busy year for the airline.

Over the last two months Air New Zealand has announced the purchase of new Boeing 777 and 7E7 long-haul aircraft, the introduction of direct services between Christchurch and Los Angeles and a NZ$160 million refit of its long-haul aircraft interiors, including truly 'lie flat' premium seats, a super economy product and all-new economy seating and in flight entertainment systems.

"We've clearly demonstrated our commitment to our long-haul network over the past couple of months which follows the successful re-modelling of our domestic and short-haul services," said Mr Norris.

"Over the next 12 months as our new long-haul aircraft and inflight product rolls-out we believe our offering will attract new customers and stimulate greater demand in travel on our long-haul routes.

"San Francisco will play an important part in reaffirming our status as a major international airline player in the Asia-Pacific."

Air New Zealand's new San Francisco services will operate on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays and utilise a 392 seat Boeing 747-400.

NOTE: The content of all Air New Zealand media releases are accurate at the time of issue, as stated at the top of each release. For updates on any changes, please contact Air New Zealand.

Air New Zealand is proud to be a member of Star Alliance. The Star Alliance network was established in 1997 as the first truly global airline alliance to offer worldwide reach, recognition and seamless service to the international traveller. Its acceptance by the market has been recognised by numerous awards, including the Air Transport World Market Leadership Award, Best Airline Alliance by both Business Traveller Magazine and Skytrax. The member airlines are: Adria Airways, Air Canada, Air China, Air New Zealand, ANA, Asiana Airlines, Austrian, Blue1, bmi, Continental Airlines, Croatia Airlines, EGYPTAIR, LOT Polish Airlines, Lufthansa, Scandinavian Airlines, Shanghai Airlines, Singapore Airlines, South African Airways, Spanair, SWISS, TAP Portugal, Turkish Airlines, THAI, United and US Airways. Aegean Airlines, Air India, Brussels Airlines and TAM have been announced as future members. Overall, the Star Alliance network offers 19,500 daily flights to 1,071 airports in 171 countries.

For more information about Air New Zealand visit www.airnewzealand.com and for more information about Star Alliance visit www.staralliance.com.