When I first heard about Air New Zealand offering a Matchmaking Flight, I was amused. It sounded like a cute promotion from the quirky national airline of a pretty quirky country. And when the invitation came to check out their matchmaking site and cover the flight from on board the plane, I was more cautiously optimistic than downright excited. I mean, planes are meant for transport not entertainment. I sleep on flights. I hate talking to my neighbors. I had fears of being awake for the full 13 hours while desperate singles chatted idly about their hobbies and desire to have children before turning 40. The thought of observing dozens of blind dates crash and burn while trying not to think of crashing and burning had me fearing the worst.
But, I put those fears aside and soothed myself with thoughts of the lush countryside that I would enjoy once we got to Auckland and ventured further into New Zealand. So, on October 13, I flew to LAX and checked in for ANZ Flight 5: The Matchmaking Flight. Was it a worthy promotion? I was going to find out for myself.
Before even boarding the flight, passengers were invited to attend a party at the gate. Well, not all passengers. Only the 100 who were part of the promotion. The remaining passengers of ANZ Flight 5 waited at the main gate like regular travels. Representatives from the airline assured me that all of the passengers on the flight were called in advance and notified of the events that would be taking place on the flight to avoid any confusion and anger. Meanwhile, Matchmaking Flight attendees sipped specialty cocktails made from New Zealand vodka, enjoyed some speed dating (as much as speed dating can be enjoyed) and mingled. Many had “met” online using the airline’s Matchmaking Flight website, so putting faces with names filled the room with enthusiasm.
Perhaps the highlight of the pre-flight festivities was the performance by the ANZ flight crew. Ever seen your flight attendants and pilots dance to Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” 20 minutes before boarding your flight? I have. It’s simultaneously hysterical and terrifying. I’m all for airlines having personality, but I was pleased to see the pilot flubbing his dance steps as if he’d skipped some rehearsals. I’d prefer his time be spent checking weather patterns and keeping himself well-rested.
When it came time to board, there was a palpable sense of nervous energy. People seemed genuinely excited, but also wary of what a 13 hour flight with slightly intoxicated travelers with an invitation to be social would entail.
The flight, however, was much better than I anticipated. Rather than hit passengers over the head with the promotion, the level of participation and engagement was left up to each individual. Gift bags were waiting on every seat and included useful products like lip balm and lotions, as well as cheeky matchmaking treats and conversation starters, such as body oil and woman’s panties. It was a safe environment for the airline to push the envelope a bit, as every participating passenger had agreed to the joke before stepping foot on the plane.
The flight’s concierge, Jaheb Barnett, used a portable PA system to address the Matchmaking Flight attendees rather than the plane’s built-in system. This saved the regular passengers from having their flight interrupted constantly. The airline did a mostly admirable job of separating the Matchmaking Flight population from the other passengers. A few travelers who were not looking for love were seated nearby and they grumbled a bit, but no one appeared too annoyed by the promotion.
Several of the passengers told me that they had booked the flight simply for the discounted airfare to New Zealand. Tiffani Hoffman from Minnesota said, “It was a cheap flight and I have a friend in New Zealand that I wanted to visit.” But it was also the second time Tiffani had ever flown in a plane (the first time was when she flew from Minneapolis to Los Angeles earlier that day), so the deal must have really motivated her.
LeeAnn and Ben Ziegler were heading to New Zealand on their honeymoon. Why take a matchmaking flight after getting married? “We saved tons of money on our honeymoon, so the fare definitely was the decision-maker.” Seeing as they were surrounded by singles, I asked the newlyweds what advice they would give to all those looking for love at 35,000 feet. LeAnn said, “Be authentic and be yourself.” And lest you think they were judgmental of 100 people seeking to meet their soulmates on an airplane, LeeAnn and Ben met online.
Corinne Theile and Steve Borgford were two of the travelers who were hoping to find their matches. Steve admitted, “The odds are against me,” but added, “My friends have been supportive and if all I get is some practice talking to women and a good vacation, then the trip was a success.” Corinne, from Los Angeles, had tried internet and speed dating, and thought that the Matchmaking Flight was “a cool idea.” Her friends thought she was crazy, but she said, “you have to be adventurous and get out there.”
After landing in Auckland early on October 15, passengers had time to get their bearings, explore the city and get over any jetlag before attending the Matchmaking Ball the next day. The event was attended by the 100 Matchmaking Flight passengers, as well as 150 Kiwis eager to mix and mingle with some single Yanks. After spending 13 hours cooped up in a plane, I was eager to shower and not see the same faces for the next 36 hours. Besides, with free wine and champagne at the party, I was sure to get my fill of singles being single when the time came.
The party was held at The Wharf, a posh Auckland event space located on Waitemata Harbour. I appreciated seeing everyone cleaned up and smelling more like deodorant and less like recycled air and quiet desperation. The festivities included an impromptu round of The Dating Game, plenty of dance music and the aforementioned alcohol. Things started off slowly as people chatted and loosened up. Airline promotion or not, going to a singles mixer can be a tad awkward and that was certainly visible as I creepily watched from the sidelines.
Slowly but surely, though, people got comfortable (read: drunk) and the dance floor became a hotbed of flirting, twirling and, eventually, making out. By the end of the night, adults from opposite sides of the world resembled teenagers at a make-out party. Whether it was love or simply lust, matches were being made all around me.
So, was it a successful promotion? Before the flight, Air New Zealand’s Marketing Director for the Americas, Kathryn Gregory, had told me that her airline strives “to make our guests’ holidays start as soon as they step on the plane.” By that standard, the Matchmaking Flight exceeded Air New Zealand’s expectations. And what about those people looking for love? I met two Kiwis who were rumored to be a couple by the end of my week there. And Corinne, our adventurous dater from LA, had gone on more than a few dates with one of the flight’s pilots. As for me, I was able to sleep on the plane and never really felt all that uncomfortable around the singles. But I didn’t enjoy myself as much this gentleman.