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Flight Review: Air New Zealand New Business Premier LAX-AKL

by on November 26, 2011 · 26 comments

in Air New Zealand, Trip Reports

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My home for the flight, seat 5B. My neighbor’s already watching a movie!

(Written by TPG Managing Editor Eric Rosen)
Last weekend, I flew from LAX to Auckland to attend the Air New Zealand Wine Awards in Auckland. It might seem odd that an airline’s wine awards are such a big deal, but not in the case of Air New Zealand. The airline is extraordinarily committed to its wine program—both onboard and in lounges—and these awards are pretty much the biggest event in the country’s wine industry each year. If you’re interested in learning more about them and what I did while I attended the events, leave a comment below and I can write another post describing the experience.

In the meantime, I thought I’d fill you in on my experience flying in the airline’s new Business Premier class aboard one of the new 777-300’s in its fleet. I was a guest of the airline for this trip, but if you wanted to use points you can redeem any Star Alliance miles (for example transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to United/Continental and redeem 67,500 miles one way for business class). Award availability on Air New Zealand is scarce, so I recommend using ExpertFlyer to set seat alerts for when those coveted award seats become available.

Deja Vu

This was actually my second time flying Air New Zealand’s new Business Premier product. The first time was right around Christmas last year when the airline took delivery of the  first of the new planes from Boeing. I was invited because I had been covering the new planes and classes of service—including the Premium Economy “spaceseats” and the buzzworthy SkyCouches in economy—for Jaunted for months prior to the delivery.

This time, however, was different since the airline now has four of the new planes in service on the Auckland-LAX-London route, and this was an actual commercial flight. It left LAX at 9:15pm, and arrived in Auckland at 7:15 am  (we actually left about 30 minutes late due to a Qantas issue on the runway at LAX, but arrived at around 7:35 am, so some of the connecting passengers had to make a dash for it).

A shot down the main section of the Koru Lounge at LAX.

Pre-Boarding

I got to the airport quite a bit early (thanks, SuperShuttle, sheesh!), so I spent my extra time waiting in the Air New Zealand Koru Lounge. This is actually my favorite lounge at LAX since it’s pretty spacious, they’ve got great New Zealand wines and beers available (plus sodas and juices), as well as some snacks like cheese and fruit plates. It’s also equipped with a fairly large work area in the back with PCs set up, a children’s play area and six shower suites for the folks making the long-haul from London to Auckland, usually stocked with great organic Pacifica products. Plus, Thierry, the lounge manager, is the consummate host, greeting each guest by name with a hearty handshake, and guiding them toward a table or sitting area. I even heard other passengers talking about how much they loved visiting the lounge just to see him.

All Aboard

When it was finally time to board, all was just as I’d remembered. The Business Premier cabins are at the front of the plane and comprise rows 1-12 with a total of 44 seats. It is split into two cabins—7 rows in the front, and 4 rows in the next one, and the seats are configured in a 1-2-1 herringbone pattern.

What’s truly different here is the design. These seats are beautifully stitched white leather seats that sort of remind me of a sports car interior, with “ink” (I’d call it sort of charcoal) foot pads that double as a small seat if your companion wants to sit and chat or share a meal with you.

When upright, the chair is a fair-sized 22 inches wide, and when reclined—it doesn’t just recline flat like a lazy boy, you actually have to stand up and stow your TV screen and table because the back of it flips over and forward—it stretches to a completely flat 6’7”, so even Brian would fit (barely). Plus, passengers now get a thick mattress pad to put on top of the seat to make it even more cushy, and a medium-sized pillow and lightweight purple duvet.

There’s a little cubby under the footrest for storage (I used it for shoes), but most bags have to go in the spacious overhead bins (I had a huge one all to myself), and there are several little cubbies—one underneath the TV monitor, another in one of the armrests, and some empty space beside the seat, to keep your small personal belongings (for me that means a camera and hand sanitizer).

The personal television monitor in my seat. 12.1 inches…and tons of movies, tv shows and New Zealand tourism videos.

Distractions

I love a lot of things about the Air New Zealand flight experience—not least of all the friendly crew who are allowed to be themselves, and empowered to engage passengers in a personal and personable way. The airline even has a flight concierge as part of each international crew who can give passengers tips on what to do in each destination.

In the Business Premier seats themselves, there’s never a dull moment. Each has a universal adapter for plugging in your electronics, as well as a 12.1” television monitor and noise-canceling headphones to watch the dozens of movies, television series, and even tourism videos (including several informative 15-minute segments about the country’s various wine regions). The monitor is stowed in the right-hand side wall of the seat, but pops out and is adjustable both horizontally (left-right, front-back) and angle, so if you’re lying down, you can angle it a bit to see the picture properly.

The interesting thing here is that the entertainment system is operation while you’re still on the ground, so no waiting an hour until you can watch a movie. You can also use the screen to order food or drinks when you want, track the timeline of the flight and see when meals will be served, how long you have before landing, when the cabin will be dark, etc., so it gives you at least a little more sense of control over your environment.

The small amenities box I was given came packed with the usual toiletries like toothbrush, tooth paste, warm socks, eyeshades, earplugs, and a pen (to fill out customs paperwork), as well as ultra-premium La Prairie eye cream, moisturizer and lip balm.

The five-spice chicken appetizer along with Glenmark Riesling, Zephyr Sauvignon Blanc and Bouldevines Chardonnay.

Meal Service

I also really like Air New Zealand’s food and wine program. The food program is overseen by three Kiwi chefs—Geoff Scott, Peter Gordon and Rex Morgan—and the menu tells you which one of them was responsible for which dish. The wine program is selected by three consultants, John Belsham and Kate Radburnd—both highly respected winemakers—and Jim Harré, who actually used to be an Air New Zealand flight attendant for over 30 years and is now one of the country’s most respected wine judges.

For my dinner, I started with an appetizer of five-spiced chicken with cucumber spaghetti, daikon, papaya salsa and sesame ginger dressing, then had the seared eye fillet of beef with shiitake and lentils, beef jus, smoked beets, spinach and garlic crème sauce—both created by Geoff Scott—and a cheese plate for dessert.

Since I was flying down here for the Air New Zealand Wine Awards, of course I had to try the ones they were pouring on board. All of them. So with my appetizer, I had a flight of whites including a 2004 Glenmark Riesling from Waipara, Zephyr 2009 Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough (where I’ll be touring and tasting today!), and Bouldevines 2009 Chardonnay also from Marlborough. Along with my meat, I sipped Wild Earth Pinot Noir from Central Otago, and a lovely Syrah from Villa Maria (one of New Zealand’s most awarded wineries) from the Hawke’s Bay region, and just a dram of Taylor’s First Reserve Port with my cheese.

Meal service was done within 2.5 hours of departure, leaving a good 9 hours or so left in the flight to rest before breakfast service, for which I chose the waffles with fresh strawberries. I tend to avoid eggs on planes for obvious reasons (runny and yet somehow rubbery—it’s a mystery!), which were delicious, but as soon as I saw the poached eggs with hollandaise, bacon and asparagus, I realized my mistake. I’d forgotten that these planes have new induction ovens that mean everything is cooked to order right then and there (rather than just reheated), and they can do a lot more with food like meats and eggs.

Ah well, I still have my return flight!

Help Me Out!

Meanwhile, I’ll be winetasting in Marlborough, seeing how the city center of Christchurch is recovering from last year’s earthquake, taking a cooking class at Otahuna Lodge and tasting the wines of the Waipara, swimming with mini dolphins in Akarao, then heading inland to glacier kayak at Mount Cook (and taste the amazing salmon there!), flying over the Southern Alps, bungee jumping in Queenstown, biking the Otago Central Rail Trail, and making a few winery, foodie and adventure stops in between, so if you have any suggestions, let me know!

Full disclosure: Eric Rosen flew Air New Zealand Business Premier as a guest of the airline, but all opinions expressed are entirely his own.


Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Jake

    Lame post… Time to find an editor who knows how to write

  • Anonymous

    I think Eric’s a great writer.. what else specifically would you like out of a flight review?

  • Jake

    Maybe I was harsh earlier. Sorry

  • Michael

    I’d love your wine diary with particular focus on the Pinot you try – I type this as I drive up to Santa Ynez for a tasting run and I fly to wine destinations for fun: last year was St. Emillion and this year hopefully will be Mendoza

  • Frugaltravellawyer

    Great flight review! Thank you.

  • Andy

    The writing was decent, I have no problem there. But personally, I’d like one that doesn’t sound like it was written by an airline PR hack… I mean, I’ve heard that Air NZ is pretty nice, but this was a little over the top.

  • Anonymous

    Fair enough.. Eric has a background in travel writing for major publications so his style is more detailed and thorough than my reports. But I think in the end he had a great in-flight experience with the seat and food and that came through in the review (and this is good info for anyone who might want to go to NZ on points)

  • Jeff R

    Totally spot on. I thought the writing was fine, but there wasn’t one critical element here. I have no problem with someone accepting a free trip (it’s often the only way to write about something), but you really need to be a bit more critical in your thinking. Was everything really so wonderful on the aircraft? There wasn’t one thing that disappointed or could have been improved? I think Brian did a nice job when he flew those Japan legs that Delta comped. It read like a frank account and if he hadn’t put in a disclaimer that the trip was comped I would never have guessed. Sorry, Eric, but this reads like someone writing with the hope of scoring another trip. I have to take the whole thing with a grain of salt, and that’s not really what you want your readers to do.

  • Jettyboy

    I dont see why this is a problem. If someone really had a great experience, should they include “critical” elements to make the report sound balanced? That is bull. It looks like the writer had a great experience and shared it, and for that I am thankful.

  • Antonio

    Just by looking at the seat you can see it was a top experience. I really enjoy the reading and I could understand since most of the Asian Airlines are considered the best and ANZ has to step up to reach them.

  • Alex K

    Maybe even a reminder from Eric of some of the “known” downsides with a particular seat configuration would be good to balance it out – for example the semi-claustrophobic feeling of the herringbone layout for some. Or a mention that traveling with a companion is less than ideal in these seats. But really – when I flew NZ earlier this year I couldn’t agree more – didn’t have a thing to complain about outside of that. Contrast to the AC flight in similar config on the way back – and it was night and day with similar hard product. Just wasn’t up to NZ service levels.

  • Athan

    In complete defense of Eric, I just took this reverse flight from AKL to LAX. Absolutely tremendous product! I think his review was right on.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the review.

    I was actually in that Air New Zealand lounge at LAX this past Friday. I was on my way to Toronto on Air Canada, and since the lounges are side-by-side, I stopped in. It was pretty nice. The hot food is a plus. I think the lounge itself isn’t as nice as some (AC YOW is probably my favorite) but the food options were better for sure. And it definitely is in a different league than the US domestic carrier lounges.

    As for the review itself, I can really see where some of the commenters are coming from. I didn’t read a single negative thing about the whole experience. The positives were well written, thorough and complete. However, I don’t really come here and read reviews for the positives.

    I read them for the negatives. A good PR person can spin anything as decent. What I like about your reviews, Brian, is that even if you do get your travels comped sometimes (the DL flight for instance) you speak your mind and present the negatives of the experience also. I want to know everything that didn’t go right on your flight so I can weigh the experience accurately against competitors. I need the negatives from you and people like you because that’s what the airlines WON’T tell me. What I read here is everything the airline WILL tell me.

    I could just go to Air New Zealand’s website for this kind of stuff…

  • http://twitter.com/stiffem Bob

    I think the credibility of this blog is compromised by the freebie trips…Delta (Tokyo), ANZ…I am not sure if there are any others. I just think you guys have to be a little more reserved after being wined and dined and flown halfway around the world. I find the blog useful but it is not a top choice for reading due to these freebies. I like and respect that the Frugal Travel guy takes no freebie trips.

  • Andrew

    A few people have complained about this review not containing any negatives about the experience, and have questioned the impartiality. As a New Zealander who lives in the US, I’ve flown Air NZ from AKL to LAX (and AKL to SFO, LAX and LHR, AKL to Singapore, Hong Kong etc) more times than I care to remember. In all those flights, I’ve had zero problems. And I’ve flown in coach just as often as in business. I’m not just being parochial – I’ve flown the world around with most airlines, and I’ve never had service as helpful and friendly as with Air NZ. One flight I had from LAX to AKL was late, meaning my connection to Wellington was extremely tight. I had to sprint to make it – and as I looked out the window of the airbridge to the 737 as I ran down, the last passenger to board, I saw the flight attendant from my flight from LAX personally walking my suitcase across the tarmac to the 737 to make sure it made it on board. Every frequent flyer has a similar story.

  • Eric

    Hey everyone,

    I appreciate your feedback, and like you, I am very wary of reviews based on comp trips. My integrity is my greatest asset as a writer, and I would never sacrifice it for free trips. The bottom line is, I had a really great experience on Air New Zealand, independent of it being comped, and I provided a description filled with factual, thorough details to support that. Air New Zealand invited me down there to attend their annual wine awards, and no coverage of my flight experience was discussed with them. No one aboard the flight knew who I was so the service I got was the same as the average traveler. I’d also point out that other commenters who have experienced the airline for themselves seem to agree with write-up. I have made a career of travel writing by carefully adhering to ethics and guarding my integrity. I stand by this review, and I look forward to sharing more of my travels with you.

    Eric

  • http://twitter.com/JoshuaRodd Joshua Rodd

    I flew in NZ new BP the day before Thanksgiving and old BP (777-200) last Sunday.

    I have chiefly one complaint, at least with the window seats on the new 777-300: it’s awkward where your head goes when fully flat. I had to stuff a spare jacket I had along with two pillows to get my neck elevated high enough.

    I noticed that the non-window seats on the old 777-200 were a bit less awkward as far as where the head goes; the lie-flat extended all the way to end instead of dropping off 1 cm or so.

  • http://twitter.com/JoshuaRodd Joshua Rodd

    If I had a companion (or rather, a companion I wanted to cuddle with), I’d probably opt for NZ Premium Economy over Business Premier in the interior (aisle) PE seats. Basically, one person can lay across the seats while the other sprawls out. They even include a card (similar to a safety card) with some “suggested” sprawling-out-sleeping-and-cuddling positions.

  • Colin

    New to the site…….. however…
    This review was right on!!!!!

    My wife and I traveled AUS/SFO(747)/AKL(767/SYD(777-200er/AKL(777-300er/LAX/AUS using ANZ for the SFO-LAX segments last November/December.

    Our experience, using point and Business Class, was similar to Eric. The SFO lounge was fair, the AKL lounge (with showers) was great and the inflight service also great. With the herringbone layout you really fly somewhat along, the best way is to have seats across the isle from one another.

    Transiting AKL is disappointing in that one has to go thru re-inspection…. unnecessary and burdomsome, the only downside to the ANZ experience.

    Would I do it again…….. in a heartbeat!!!!!!!!

  • saraanthony73

    Well, that good point of discussion. reading these reviews, I would also be positive for the flight to New

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  • X-Pat Kiwi

    PS – the lounges and showers at LAX and Auckland are great!

  • X-Pat Kiwi

    I have flown Air NZ Business (and First when they had that service) over 30 times between the USA and AK – and have the following comments: (1) The older staff need to retire, they start of reasonably nice, but soon get tired, grumpy and in appropriate (2) the wine on the menu has often NOT been available and substituted (3) The Concierge is a waste of money – put that money into an extra toilet on board – Air NZ is notorious for its bathrooms lines, having taken one toilet out for more seats.

  • NguyenVanFalk

    I have flown ANZ several times (both domestic and trans-pacific) and enjoyed 100% of the experience every time, even in economy. They are a truly wonderful airline. So I tend not to see a PR-style bias in this article. I believe all of it.

  • shay peleg

    You would be a fool not to take free trips

  • delionita

    True, but as Bob says, it makes a difference. I don’t get freebies so i have to work hard trying to figure out which is the best program and airline to travel with frequent flyer miles.

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