Time Flies: Air New Zealand Celebrates 75 Years

30 April 2015

Few of us remember an age when flying was a glamorous endeavour, reserved exclusively for the well-heeled. Even fewer can recall a time when a little airline called TEAL (Tasman Empire Airways Limited) took to the skies for the first time.

TEAL made its inaugural journey, Auckland–Sydney, on April 30, 1940. To give that some context, in 1940 World War II is very much underway. Brisbane's Story Bridge is unveiled. Robert Menzies is Prime Minster. Artist Ken Done is born.

TEAL's first aircraft were the surprisingly luxurious yet sluggish 'flying boats', making a weekly return trip between Auckland and Sydney. The journey took nine hours. Today, it takes roughly a third of that time.

 Is it a boat? Is it a plane? TEAL's Short S-45 Solent flying boat

In its first year of operation, TEAL carried 1461 passengers on a 130 flights. It flew to just seven destinations including its home base in Auckland.

In 1965, the little airline that could became Air New Zealand. In 1978, they merged with domestic carrier National Airways Corporation (NAC). In 2015, Air New Zealand was named 'Airline of the Year' by AirlineRatings.com.

 From its early days: TEAL and NAC combined to become Air New Zealand

Today marks 75 years since a single flying boat service carrying a handful of passengers launched an aviation empire. The flying kiwi as we know it is world's apart from those humble trans-Tasman beginnings in terms of technology, but not in ethos. Air New Zealand still says they fly people, not planes.

The flying boat has, not surprisingly, been superseded. Air New Zealand hangars now house the world's most advanced aircraft, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, among their fleet of top-of-the-line jets.

Mood lighting, increased humidity, larger windows; we've now reached a stage where these things actually matter. They make a difference to our in-flight experience and we want them. We'll even go so far as to say we need them.

 Ringo and George know flying in style (Image: theflyingsocialnetwork.com)

We want entertaining safety videos featuring Tolkien characters and Sports Illustrated models. We want chef-prepared meals. We want to lie flat and watch new release movies. We still want the trademark Air New Zealand boiled lollies, of course. Air New Zealand tells us we can have it all.

New Zealand's national museum, Te Papa in capital Wellington, is celebrating the carrier's 75 year milestone with a retrospective exhibit, which runs until June this year.

Walk down the corridor of Level 4 and you're greeted by a nostalgic fashion parade. From ANZAC-era uniforms to retro '60s numbers worthy of any go-go girl, the line-up of cabin crew attire is a time capsule in itself. Some will never go out of style; others belong behind glass (seriously, what was going on in the '80s?).

 TEAL stewardesses in their military-like uniforms, 1946 (Image: aviationweek.com)
 Air New Zealand's Dior uniforms in the 1960s (Image: theflyingsocialnetwork.com)

Emblazoned leather totes, long-lost letters, vintage advertising, in-seat ashtrays, delicately embroidered menus, swizzle sticks, cuff links and the inside of a jet engine – Te Papa's curators have assembled it all.

It's a mixed-media, interactive installation, with walls of videos, prints and memorabilia, plus some hands-on opportunities that will really get aviation fanatics' motors running (there's a motor, driveshaft and propeller from Richard Pearse’s original aircraft, plus an exposed Boeing 737 jet engine and the unmissable 737 'nose' at the entry of the museum).

 75 Years Of Flying at Te Papa is running until June 2015 (Image: 3 News NZ)

It's captivating to peer at the relics of yesterday's travel, before soaring into the present and taking a seat in the Virtual Flight Lab or taking a crack at designing your own airplane livery (Ashton Air should be in the skies day now, fingers crossed).

Air New Zealand has always been a forward-thinking airline and much of its success can be attributed to unwavering style and service. From Dior uniforms in 1961 (a world first), to breaking the billion-dollar mark for revenue in the 1985, the airline's growth and innovation is undeniable. The kiwi carrier is not just surviving; it's thriving.

If you find yourself in Wellington in the next month or so, take a step back in time and into the cabin of a flying boat, which paved the way for a world-class airline some 75 years ago. Time flies, right?

Air New Zealand 75 Years: Our nation. The world. Connected is a free exhibit running at Te Papa Museum in Wellington until June 2015.

 The current Dreamliner 787 and Air NZ crew (Image: justluxe.com)

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Visit your local Flight Centre store or call 131 600 for more travel advice and the latest travel deals with Air New Zealand.

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Ashton Rigg

When I'm not at home in Brisbane, you’ll find me wanderlusting around hipster bars, eclectic boutiques and arty nooks. From bagels in Brooklyn to strudel in Salzburg, I believe the best way to experience a destination is by taking a bite! Tweets & 'grams at @AshtonRigg