The plane was almost five hours into its journey when it turned around.
Flight instructor Warren Sattler told the New Zealand Herald that the airline may have registered a certain type of plane to land - but was denied permission because it took another type.
"I would be stunned if Air NZ had allowed a plane full of passengers to take off without being quite sure they would be able to land it in Shanghai", the assistant professor at New York University Shanghai added.
The airline apologised for disrupting the travel plans of customers and said it knew they would be "deeply disappointed and frustrated by the situation".
Air New Zealand said that because of a technicality it did not have Chinese regulatory authority to land in China.
Disgruntled passengers voiced their disapproval on social media.
An Air New Zealand flight to Shanghai had to turn back to Auckland today after learning it had no authority to land in China.
Mr Bridges followed up the incident on Twitter yesterday, saying he wondered if the flight having to return was perhaps due to the ongoing breakdown in relations between the New Zealand and Chinese Government. A permitting issue, supposedly, ' the passenger commented.
The National Party leader told TVNZ1's Breakfast this morning that the relationship between the two countries is deteriorating and suggested the flight return might be related to this.