Flying to New York City? That's huge. Long flight, five-star jet lag. When it's summer in New York, there's a 14-hour time difference with east coast Australia. But since there are no non-stop flights yet between east coast Australia and NYC, why not plan a strategic route to take advantage of the stopover opportunities along the way? A few days of sun and sea in the Hawaiian Islands, or maybe riding the streetcars and soaking up the ambience of San Francisco, with extra time to let your body catch up before hitting the bright lights of New York City.
The City of Angels' strong suit is family entertainment. You've got Disneyland close at hand, Universal Studios, Knott's Berry Farm, tours of the movie stars homes, Legoland California and Six Flags Magic Mountain. Throw in the free entertainment at Venice Beach and the cool vibe at Santa Monica and even teenage kids will be impressed. LA is a major hub with trans-Pacific flights aboard Qantas, United, Delta, American Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, Virgin and Air New Zealand, and a wide choice of onward flights to New York City with Southwest, Delta, Spirit, United, American Airlines, Alaska Airlines and JetBlue.
A tropical hothouse with freeways, manicured golf courses and strip malls, the Hawaiian Islands can be an oddly jarring experience. But every so often mother nature will send down rivers of lava that torches homes, or galloping flash floods, bringing mayhem to everything in their path and reminding you who is boss. Leave Honolulu and head for Hanalei on Kauai, the biking, hiking, snorkelling and diving capital of the islands, the Big Island for its volcanic wonders or Maui for its freewheeling adventures, waterfalls and sensational beaches. Hawaiian Airlines, Jetstar, Air New Zealand, Virgin Australia and Qantas fly in from Australia, with onward flights to NYC with Delta, Hawaiian Airlines, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines and JetBlue. The flight time from Honolulu to New York is about nine hours.
Take a ride on the Powell-Hyde Cable Car, check out City Lights Books, sample the city's red-hot dining scene and stroll along Haight Street, crucible of the hippie movement and still with a taste for the outrageous. Take a ferry ride across San Francisco Bay to Sausalito, a funky, artsy community of well-heeled ex-hippies and yachties. On the southern side of the bay Mountain View and Santa Clara Valley, also known as Silicon Valley, are home to some of the most famous names in the digital world, with the wineries of the Napa Valley an equal distance to the north. Even a quick trip to Yosemite National Park, about a three-hour drive away, is not out of the question. Air New Zealand, Delta, Air Canada, Hawaiian Airlines and Qantas fly in from east coast Australia. Onward flights to NYC aboard American Airlines, Delta, Alaska Airlines, Frontier and Southwest
Qantas will get you there on a non-stop flight from Sydney, and you might well need some sorting-out time after the 15 hour 20 minute flight. Aficionados of cowboy culture have plenty on their plate, including the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame & Museum and Billy Bob's Texas, complete with country music singers, a rodeo arena, mechanical bulls and Western-theme bars where you wouldn't look out of place in a 10-gallon hat. In neighbouring Dallas, the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, formerly known as the Texas School Book Depository, commemorates a notorious chapter in the city's history, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, on the spot where Lee Harvey Oswald was said to have fired the fatal shot. Travel onward to NYC aboard Southwest, Delta, Spirit, American Airlines and JetBlue.
It's a splendid maritime city with a lively dining scene, a passion for the great outdoors and, right on its doorstep, the wineries, beaches and lifestyle enhancements of Waiheke Island. On the downside, for Australians heading for the US there is still a long way to go and you might want to get a few more miles under your belt before looking for a stopover. On the return journey, unless you have a good reason to linger in NZ, you'd be tempted to get the journey over and done with. Air New Zealand flies in from east coast Australia, with onward flights to Los Angeles and San Francisco, also to LA aboard American Airlines.
The new Air New Zealand non-stop flight from Auckland brings the Windy City to the table as a potential stopover, and there's lots to like. Long past the time when its blue-collar origins gave way to designer jeans, Chicago is an architectural dynamo with a taste for outstanding public art and a rocking festival calendar. Don't miss the chance to take in a game, whether it's the Bulls or the Bears, this is a city that wears its heart of its sleeve when its sporting teams take to the field. On the minus side, for those whose final destination is New York City, it's probably a little too close to tempt many to disembark. Onward to NYC aboard Delta, American Airlines, United, JetBlue and Spirit.
Set against a backdrop of soaring mountains with an island-studded seascape at its feet, Canada's west coast gateway is also one of the world's most likeable, liveable cities. The city hums with youthful vigour, there's a lively cafe culture and a food scene animated by its thriving Asian community. Spend a couple of days here wandering through Stanley Park, eating salmon sashimi, admiring Emily Carr's nouveau naive art in the Vancouver Art Gallery and poking about in Chinatown. Just across the strait, Vancouver Island is a bold and beckoning presence with a thriving population of bears, wolves, orcas, salmon and adventures galore. Don't miss the city of Victoria, at the island's pointy southern end – polite, refined and gloriously greened with formal gardens.
You'll probably be flying with Air Canada, and both prices and travel times are surprising. From Sydney to Vancouver is 14¼ hours on the airline's non-stop flight. Brisbane to Vancouver is quicker still – 13 hours 25 minutes. From Melbourne it's 14 hours, 55 minutes. Air New Zealand also flies in from Auckland in 13 hours. Vancouver to New York is five hours on a non-stop flight.
The long way
If you're not daunted by longer travel times, you can get creative with one-stop flights via Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Seoul, Shanghai or one of the Middle Eastern ports. Singapore Airlines is finding the going tough filling premium economy seats on its non-stop Singapore-New York flights, the world's longest non-stop route. You can fly premium economy with one of the world's best airlines from east coast Australia to New York via Singapore starting from under $3000. Business class on the same routes starts at around $4700.
Which airline offers the best seats?
Best Economy Class - Virgin Australia
The Boeing 777-300ER aircraft VA uses for its flights from east coast Australia to the US offer a relatively roomy seat pitch of 81 centimetres in economy, seat width of 47cm and a 3-3-3 configuration, and that's a winning combination. Air New Zealand's economy passengers aboard the same aircraft type flying between Auckland and LA get the same seat pitch but width is tighter and configuration is 3-4-3. However Air NZ does offer the Skycouch option, a row of three economy class seats that can be made into a 1.55-metre bed. The cost varies, depending on season and demand.
Best Economy Plus/Economy X Class – Virgin Australia
Virgin Australia Economy X.
Virgin Australia's Boeing 777-300ER that the airline uses to operate its flights between Australia and LA offers 38 Economy X seats with 97 centimetres of seat pitch, seat width of 47 centimetres – at a not-too-bad price. That's more pitch and width than United's Economy Plus seats. The fact that United flies its Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners – the aircraft used on its trans-Pacific flights to Australia – with 88 Economy Plus seats, as against 116 standard Economy seats – proves that passengers are happy to stump up a little extra cash for a far more comfortable in-flight experience.
Best Premium Economy Class – Air New Zealand, Qantas A380 dead heat
Seat pitch aboard Air NZ is in the range 104-107 centimetres, width is 51 centimetres but configuration is 2-4-2 so you might want to avoid those seats between the aisles. Qantas uses an A380-800 for flights from Sydney and most of its flights from Melbourne to LA, and also between Sydney and Dallas Fort Worth. Seat pitch and width is just a little tighter than aboard Air NZ according to Seat Guru, although Qantas' PE flyers get to sit on the upper deck in a small cabin with just five rows of seats in a 2-3-2 setup.
From Melbourne, as well as a daily A380 service to LA, Qantas also operates QF95, a twice-weekly service aboard a 787 Dreamliner. Seat pitch is 97 centimetres, less than the premium economy seat on the Air NZ flight, but the small PE cabin on the upper deck would sway me towards the Qantas A380 over the 787 Dreamliner.
Best Business Class – Qantas A380
The upgrades are designed for frequent flyers who do not have enough points to book a 'classic award'. Photo: Supplied
Our national carrier wins the day with a 198 centimetres seat pitch and 55 centimetres seat width in business class aboard its A380-800 aircraft. Configuration is 2-2-2, and although Air NZ does it better with 1-2-1 across in business class, the airline's seats themselves fail to impress. Competing against US and New Zealand carriers rather than the Asian and Middle Eastern airlines allows Qantas' business class to shine a little brighter.
See also: The best places to stay in New York