Air New Zealand is known for its creativity. Whether it be the news-making safety videos featuring Lord of the Rings characters to being the first airline in the world to launch a fully flat product in economy class, known as the Sky Couch. The South Pacific nation’s home airline operates with quite a bit of charm, which sets it apart from its competitors.
The carrier has a standard economy class product, a Premium Economy offering that offers a seat that reclines into a shell, and a fully flat business class seat that has its own cocoon for maximum privacy.
On a recent flight from Los Angeles to Auckland, I was lucky enough to have business class suite all to myself for the long-haul flight that was almost entirely over the Pacific Ocean. It was operated by one of the airline’s Boeing 777-300ER aircraft, which is now the backbone of its long-haul fleet. Air New Zealand has also taken delivery of the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft, which comes on the heels of the retirement of its last Boeing 747-400 plane.
At the Airport
My flight began following a transfer from Star Alliance partner United Airlines. The carriers use separate terminals meaning I had to walk across the parking lot and re-clear security in terminal two (soon, the airline will move to the brand new Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX). Luckily, Air New Zealand has separate check-in areas for premium cabin and elite member flyers, and the staff is super-friendly and swift. I was through security and in the remodeled Air New Zealand lounge in less than ten minutes.
The lounge was crowded given Star Alliance Gold members gain access in addition to business class. Plus, with numerous flights per day (two to Auckland, one to London Heathrow, and a few days a week a third flight to Auckland via Rarotonga), the space can feel full. Still, I had no problem finding a quiet seat in one of the work cubicles although the lounge attendant suggested that if there were no seats that I could hop across the hallway to the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge if I preferred.
When the airline moves to the new international terminal, travelers can avail themselves of the new Star Alliance lounge. It comes with numerous added benefits including various buffets for hot and cold dishes and even a Vietnamese pho station. Numerous wine and cocktails bars are set up throughout the lounge as is a terrace overlooking the terminal. The outdoor patio peers out over the aircraft parked at the gate below and provides the warmth of a small fireplace and trickling water fountains to soothe the experience.
Boarding calls are made in the lounge with a first and second call. I waited for the second option so I could spend more time working before the long flight down under. When I descended the stairs to the boarding area, the crowds were in full force still, but business class had a special lane to board quickly.
Boarding and First Impressions
Once on board, I was excited that I had scored one of the last remaining window seats. The cabin is arranged in a 1-2-1 layout, and there really are no ideal seats for couples. Traveling alone, I did not mind, but when traveling with a companion, there are two options: window seats one in front of the other or seats across the aisle. Both require some neck craning to chat with each other.
I settled in quickly to my cozy seat (almost a suite, in my opinion, albeit an exposed one). Waiting at my seat were a lovely amenity kit, large and small pillow, duvet blanket, and menu plus thick wine list.
Soon, a cabin crew member came by and introduced herself while offering champagne or water. I indulged in a glass of bubbly and perused the thick menu and wine list, an example of Air New Zealand’s commitment to highlighting the country’s popular wine regions.
The plane was completely full including the premium economy cabin, which was one row behind me. These 777 aircraft also feature the airline’s well-known SkyCouch concept, which converts three economy class seats into a bed for a couple or parent with one or two children. The airline patented the seat configuration and holds the rights for another year when it will then make it available to other airlines to purchase and rebrand.
Since the flight was so full, I did not have a chance to head back into either the premium economy or economy cabins to take photos. The safety video on this flight was quite clever and featured New Zealand adventurer Bear Grylls in unique scenarios demonstrating aircraft safety equipment in the New Zealand wild.
The seats angle inward, and they offer a patented design where the seat takes two positions: reclined comfortably (no need to place the seat in the upright position for takeoff, oddly) and flat bed, when the seat actually folds forward so that the crew can unfurl the mattress and create a fully flat surface.
It is a brilliant idea and makes it easy to have the most comfortable seat and bed position while maximizing space. The downside, though, is that flyers cannot easily alternate between seat and bed position without assistance from the crew and a small housekeeping process to make or undo the bed position with mattress. Luckily, the lengthy flights that Air New Zealand flies mean that most passengers make one transition to the bed mode and another to seat mode per flight with lots of sleep time in between.
Window seat fans will find it tough to look outside without twisting their neck completely, and for some, there is a lack of privacy since all seats angle toward the aisle exposing guests as they nap. With that said, they are fully flat, and they come with bonuses like large and small pillows, mattresses, and thick comforters.
The large inflight entertainment screen extended from the side wall and rotated easily so that I could eat while watching a movie at the same time. There were full seasons of numerous shows, hundreds of movies and documentaries, and more music selections than one could reasonably listen to even if they took this flight every day for a month.
I planned to work during the flight, but the seat configuration was too comfortable. I also found it unique that there is a visual menu that showcases when certain services are available inflight like midflight snacks upon request and when the inflight entertainment will be switched off for landing.
The selection of entertainment is designed to meet the needs of “ultra” long-haul flights, and it almost makes you want to stow away on board to catch up on all your favorite shows.
Meals and Service
Like many other airlines, Air New Zealand has a penchant for the economy class-style cart in business class. While there are no attractive cart covers, the service is quick and friendly. It is almost easy to avoid view of the carts since the crew, decked out in modern and colorful uniforms, is eager to engage passengers about things to do once in New Zealand. They were like my own personal tour guides.
Service began with an appetizer, cocktail, and offer of fresh bread including a crunchy sourdough roll (of which I had several helpings with tasty Marmite as the spread of choice, although the salted New Zealand butter is exceptional!).
The thick wine booklet provided to each passenger includes details on all of the wines on board, most of which are from New Zealand. Flight attendants are eager to set up wine tastings for passengers to experience the varietals from their home country.
My cod with basmati rice was super tasty, and the wine refills were prompt (not only appearing when the cart was in the aisle, which is a plus). Following multiple meal courses that seemed to be executed with speed to maximize rest time, I finished my final glass of wine and a plate of cheese before having my seat transformed into bed.
While waiting for the seat change, I visited the lavatory where lotions, a face wash, and eccentric window painting exhibiting this clever character awaited. Unique to any airline I have ever flown, Air New Zealand has managed to pipe in trendy pop music to its lavatories, so it is like stepping into a disco when visiting the loo.
I really liked the fact that the maximum amount of sleeping time was given to everyone before breakfast was offered. The service began about two hours before arrival, but since people woke up gradually, I did not request service until less than an hour before landing…it was provided with a smile. Many airlines would reject any type of service in business class citing “a need to close the galley.” Air New Zealand knows its premium cabin customers and their needs and handles them accordingly.
Power outlets are a great convenience for such a long flight. I worked for a short while, but then was able to recharge all of my devices as I slept so they would be ready to use upon landing. Idecided to rest for nearly seven hours in my flat bed, but it was really hard to pull myself away from the lengthy entertainment options on the excessively large video screen. There were full seasons of shows that I wanted to watch, but I had to balance my full day of work upon arrival in Auckland with much-needed rest on board.
Given the late hour departure from Los Angeles, my body clock swiftly lulled me to sleep (or was it the wine?). Recently, I have decided to don eye shades on flights, which allows me to enjoy a deeper sleep. Since you are shielded by the two side walls of your seat, you feel less movement around you.
I must say, I found Air New Zealand’s premium cabin service to be incredibly in tune with its business traveler focus. This is not true with other airlines like ANA and Turkish that begin their pre-arrival meals more than two hours before landing (hardly appealing for those that want to maximize sleep).
Air New Zealand is an expert at the long-haul experience, and it is evident in their inflight service.