It's Kiwi to me: A review of Air New Zealand's 777-300ER in business class
[tpg_rating tpg-rating-score="72" ground-experience="16" cabin-seat="18" amens-ife="8" food-bev="16" service="14" pros="A great lounge experience at LHR, extremely friendly service and uniquely Kiwi themes." cons="No Wi-Fi, poor boarding experience and less-than-ideal seating configuration." /]
To the average traveler thinking of nonstop routes between the U.K. and the U.S., Air New Zealand isn't the first carrier that comes to mind. But the flag carrier of New Zealand operates a fifth-freedom route from London Heathrow to Auckland, New Zealand, via Los Angeles (LAX).
In my previous journey flying with Air New Zealand, I had a fantastic experience with its hybrid economy product, the Skycouch. So I was curious to see how the business-class experience compared to that. And would the fifth-freedom route be any different than an ex-New Zealand route?
Unfortunately, the carrier announced in October that as of October 2020 it's planning to axe the London-Los Angeles fifth freedom in favor of a nonstop flight between Auckland (AKL) and Newark (EWR). While we're sad to see this fun fifth-freedom route go, there's still plenty of time to hop on board one of the more unique flights around.
When it comes to strange fifth-freedom routes around the world, Air New Zealand's nonstop from London (LHR) to Los Angeles (LAX) has to top the list. And, for those who aren't in the know, seeing an Air New Zealand aircraft on the ground at Heathrow has to raise eyebrows.
The airline operates Air New Zealand Flight 1 on a Boeing 777-300ER, which originates in London, flies to L.A. and then continues on to Auckland (AKL) — all with the same flight number. The aircraft stops in L.A. for two hours to refuel, as well as letting passengers off and taking on new passengers.
Round-trip flights in business class — or Business Premier, as the airline calls it — usually hover around the $5,400 mark for a full NZ1 itinerary. However, for just the LHR-LAX leg I elected to fly, round-trip prices hover around the $3,500 mark. I needed this flight to position for another flight, so I only needed a one-way ticket, which is where my miles came in handy.
Because Air New Zealand is a member of Star Alliance, there are great opportunities for redeeming your points and miles for a Business Premier experience. Though United is a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards and an obvious option for U.S.-based flyers, the airline was charging 70,000 miles for the one-way ticket from LHR to LAX when I looked.
Meanwhile, Avianca's LifeMiles program was offering a better option. The program, which is known for its award sweet spots, was charging 63,000 LifeMiles plus $327 in taxes and fees for the one-way ticket. Based on TPG's most recent valuations, the 63,000 miles spent were worth $1,071, which made this redemption a great value compared to the cash prices.
Avianca LifeMiles is a transfer partner of Citi ThankYou and American Express Membership Rewards, as well as Marriott Bonvoy. The program also often runs buy-miles promotions where you can rack up miles on the cheap.
[flight_stats ticket-class="first" review-stat-section="Ground Experience" tpg-rating="16" tpg-rating-max="20" tail="ZK-OKR" age="5.5" departure="16" departure-2="24" duration="10" duration-2="45" live-tv="0" tailcam="0" headphones="0" comp-alcohol="0" extra-pillows="0" turndown-service="0" /]
NZ1 departs London at 4:15 p.m., arrives at LAX at 7:40 p.m. local time, then departs again at 9:40 p.m., arriving in Auckland at 5:30 a.m. As a member of Star Alliance, Air New Zealand utilizes Terminal 2 at Heathrow.
I arrived at LHR early —maybe even a little too early — at 12:45 p.m. I was the only person using the business-class check-in line, with the exception of one couple. There were just a few passengers in the regular check-in line. The agent who tagged my bag was, well, unenthusiastic, and I was quickly on my way through security.
In Terminal 2, premium passengers are entitled to an expedited security lane. Again, I was one of only a couple of people in line, so I was through within two minutes and on my way to the lounge.
As a business-class passenger with the Star Alliance carrier, I was entitled to choose from the Lufthansa Business Lounge, United Club, Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge and the Singapore Airlines SilverKris Lounge.
After having reviewed every single lounge at Heathrow, I took the advice of TPG U.K. Content Producer Dan Ross and headed to the Singapore Airlines SilverKris Lounge in T2. I had high expectations for the lounge. Dan told me it was the best option — especially if I liked beer (I do), because of the self-service beer tap. Winning.
The lounge was opposite Gate B44 and labeled as lounges B2 and B3 alongside the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge.
Do be warned, however, that if you're planning to get to the Singapore Lounge (or the Air Canada Lounge, for that matter), it is a walk. I mean, a real trek through multiple series of tunnels and walking platforms. I walked at a brisk pace and it took me about 15 minutes from security.
Just like the check-in and security processes, the lounge was also extremely quiet when I entered. The lounge looked relatively modern and updated, with wood finishings and a fresh, clean feeling to it. There was also loads of natural light in the lounging area.
I mostly enjoyed the wide array of seating options in the lounge. There were the dedicated eating areas, and then there were the lounging areas and, my favorite, the pod-style seats, which were the perfect private spot to get work done. Notably, most seats had full power ports close by.
Unlike the part of the lounge with mass amounts of seating, the dining area didn't get much natural light. That said, the buffet space was sprawling. As I was there around lunch time, there were several sections of the buffet that were well stocked, with both hot and cold food options.
Hot foods were mostly Asian- and Indian-inspired dishes, ranging from chicken noodles to eggplant masala and basmati rice.
In the cold section, there was a variety of finger sandwiches and a huge range of salads.
The space itself was very well kept, with staff replenishing — or at least attempting to replenish — the food, though there were very few passengers in the lounge.
There were also a number of cold soft drink and tea stations, as well as a self-serve ice cream station. For a sucker with a sweet tooth like myself, that was a huge positive. Plus, did I mention the popcorn? Loads of flavored popcorn.
The bar lived up to my expectations as well. And while the highlight was likely the self-serve tap, the selection of other drinks was also top notch. The bartender was extremely friendly as well.
But, my favorite part of the whole lounge was the comment book that was kept right at the bar. I took some time to flip through the pages and read the other passengers who had come through and their common, enthusiastic messages of "Great lounge!" The comment book was a small touch, but one that shows that Singapore Lounge cares about and is interested in its guests and their experience.
I took some time to explore the lounge, which did end up getting more full with passengers the closer I got to departing. The bathrooms were immaculately kept — a common theme.
I left the lounge at about 2:45 p.m., as boarding was set to begin at 3 p.m.
I arrived at the gate to an awaiting bird, the 777-300ER, painted in Air New Zealand's iconic white and black livery — one of my favorites. The aircraft, which is registered as ZK-OKR, was a newer plane at just more than five years old. It was delivered to Air New Zealand in June 2014, where it's remained in service since, according to PlaneSpotters.net.
When I got to the gate, it was around 3 p.m. and boarding was already supposed to have started, but there was no movement at all. No movement from ground crew. No movement from passengers. The flight crew hadn't even boarded the plane yet, and there was no message being communicated to passengers. It wasn't until 3:25pm that boarding had started, and there was little communication during the delayed process — not a good way to start a long flight.
That said, it was a small price to pay. The other part of my ground experience was great, with the lounge being the highlight.
[flight_stats ticket-class="first" review-stat-section="Cabin and Seat" tpg-rating="18" tpg-rating-max="30" configuration="1" configuration-2="2" configuration-3="1" width="22" bed="79.5" lavs="3" live-tv="0" tailcam="0" headphones="0" comp-alcohol="0" extra-pillows="0" turndown-service="0" /]
One of my favorite parts of the cabin is most notable when you first walk on board — the fun purple/pink mood lighting that takes over the cabin. And the lighting is just the start of the design features on board Air New Zealand's 777 that give it that distinctly Kiwi vibe, which I find to be absolutely charming.
As for the rest of the cabin and its design, well, it's in need of a refresh.
While the cabin is arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration, the herringbone design is a more outdated version of the commonplace reverse herringbone.
As a whole in the business-class cabin, there are 44 seats, which are divided between two smaller mini cabins. The forward cabin has 28 seats, while the rear cabin has 16 seats. In between the two mini-cabins are two lavatories and a galley with a self-service bar. There's also a third lavatory at the very front of the aircraft, next to the cockpit door.
Each of the seats has 22 inches of width, which on paper is plenty wide, but in reality the seats felt narrow. If you're wide-shouldered, be aware that the seat design could feel quite coffin-like and claustrophobic.
The seats can be most compared to those in Virgin Atlantic's old Upper Class cabin, which the carrier is actively phasing out with the introduction of a new Upper Class Suite on its Airbus A350 aircraft.
For AvGeeks, the configuration of the cabin is especially painful because facing inwards forces you to look into the cabin, having to stretch your neck if you want to get a look out the window. The other major drawback of the seat is that you're forced to stand up in order to get the seat into its lie-flat position.
While the configuration of the seat is less than ideal no matter where you sit, I was a fan of the white upholstery. Although the aircraft was beginning to show some age in some regards, the seats themselves didn't appear to have too much wear and tear.
I was also a fan of the foot rest, which is just in front of the seat and is available to use throughout the duration of the flight. Each of the foot rests also has its own seatbelt, meaning that if you're traveling with a companion, they can sit with you once the fasten seatbelt sign is turned off.
Underneath that footrest is a small, open storage area — really, the only storage area in the seat. While it's wide at the onset, it does narrow at the back, which made it hard to store any larger bag there.
The seats themselves don't offer too much privacy for each passenger. Specifically, others in the cabin are well within view — both when looking across from you as well as next to you. Thankfully, my flight was relatively empty, with no one seated directly across from me.
When in its lie-flat position, the bed measures 79.5 inches in length — or about 6'7.5". However, actually getting the bed to that lie-flat position is the tricky part. Where most modern business-class seats allow the passenger to easily press a button to go from upright to lounge and then lie-flat, with this seat, the passenger is forced to stand up. Members of the crew help in transforming the contraption, which can be tricky if you're not used to it, to the lie-flat position. The same can be said for reverting it from bed position back to seated position.
As far as seat positioning when you're not ready to lie-flat, your options are fairly limited. There are just a few options for reclining your seat, and even when in its most-reclined position, it's still not enough.
In terms of in-seat power, there's a full power outlet, located just under the armrest in the literature compartment.
I found one of the most fun and enjoyable areas in the cabin to be the same where each passenger spends the least amount of time — the lavatory. The lavatories have two passenger-friendly elements: a window (loo with a view!) and a faux window with a friendly chap looking longingly inside.
The lavatory itself was quite standard in size and amenities. However, I particularly enjoyed that there was music playing inside the lav.
[flight_stats ticket-class="first" review-stat-section="Amenities and IFE" tpg-rating="8" tpg-rating-max="15" screen="12.1" live-tv="No" tailcam="No" headphones="0" comp-alcohol="0" extra-pillows="0" turndown-service="0" /]
Upon boarding, each footrest in the business-class cabin had an amenity kit on it.
The hot pink of the kits matched the mood lighting overhead. Inside the kit were the pretty standard offerings of dental kit, socks, eyeshade, lip balm, hand cream and mouthwash.
In addition, the bedding supplied by Air New Zealand is incredibly comfortable. I found the mattress pad itself to be a great addition to help me sleep more comfortably.
The inflight entertainment screens are built into the pod wall next to you, which means that they have to be stored for takeoff and landing. I was a fan of the 'kia ora' greeting upon boarding, which is uniquely New Zealand — a theme I saw across the flight experience.
They're not the largest screens at only 12.1 inches, but I found the responsiveness of the touchscreen to be fantastic — exactly as you would expect from a young aircraft.
The IFE system can also be controlled by a built-in remote control.
However, I found the organization of the IFE offering to be somewhat disorganized. Offerings were split up by genre, rather than an "all" option, which made clicking through to each very cumbersome and basically impossible to discern how much was really there.
The headphones given to each of the passengers weren't the best quality. Not noise cancelling, I also found them to sound quite muffled. An obvious area for improvement could be the headphones to be brought up to par with some competitors that offer devices by the likes of Bose.
Overall, I found the amenities and inflight options to be pretty on par with what you could expect in a business-class product. Unfortunately, however, there is no Wi-Fi on these aircraft, which is a huge downfall — especially considering the long-haul routes it flies to New Zealand. There are some easy options for improvement, such as reorganizing the IFE options and investing in new headphones, however, the general offering made for a comfortable journey.
[flight_stats ticket-class="first" review-stat-section="Food and Beverage" tpg-rating="16" tpg-rating-max="20" live-tv="0" tailcam="0" headphones="0" meals="2" champagne="Laurent-Perrier Brut NV" dine-on-demand="No" comp-alcohol="0" extra-pillows="0" turndown-service="0" /]
Just after boarding the aircraft, crew came around offering a selection of pre-departure beverages. I opted for a glass of Champagne, which was served in a tall glass — a nice, unique touch. It was a Laurent-Perrier Brut NV, which was lovely.
About 15 minutes before departing, crew came around again to ask what drink we'd like once airborne. Though I hadn't looked at a wine menu or known what kind of choices were available, I went with a sauvignon blanc, thinking you can't go wrong with a sauvignon blanc from New Zealand. (Spoiler: I was right, it was fantastic.)
About 10 minutes before departure, cabin crew came around yet again asking passengers if they wanted another PDB. I declined, though I appreciated the service touch.
We took off from LHR at around 4:20 p.m., and the attentive crew came around to take orders for the main course only shortly thereafter — around 4:45 p.m. About five minutes later, cabin crew distributed the already-ordered beverages, along with cold nuts. As I mentioned, the white wine was a great choice, and I ended up sticking with it for the remainder of the meal service.
At about 5:25 p.m., the appetizer course was served. Instead of ordering the appetizer along with the main course, passengers were invited to choose from one of two options from the cart that crew rolled down the aisle. I opted for the baby leek tart with goat cheese, pea tendrils and dried fig compote, which I found to be lovely. While the tart itself was a bit on the tough side, the goat cheese filling was very tasty, especially when paired with the dried fig compote. Meanwhile, the garlic bread was on the cold side, which was a bummer.
The other option for the appetizer course was a smoked halibut with egg and apple salad, dill miso and mustard dressing.
For the main course, I chose the dijon mustard baked chicken breast, which was served with pumpkin, lentils, Swiss chard and lemon tarragon jus. The dish was served by the purser shortly after the appetizer plate was collected. I found the dish to be very tasty — the chicken was juicy and not rubbery, and the lentils and pumpkin chunks were the perfect accompaniment.
Other choices for the main course included beef cheek with cauliflower puree, roasted Chantenay carrots and turnips, black olive and chilli crumbs; roast cod with rose harissa saffron sauce, baby potatoes and seared zucchini with capers and arugula salad; or ricotta semolina gnudi with creamy field mushrooms, toasted hazelnuts and parmesan.
Finally, meal service wrapped up with a dessert. As a ginger fanatic, I went with the warmed ginger bread and butter pudding with mixed berry ice cream. I was on the fence about the ginger and butter pudding, as it lacked much taste, but the berry ice cream was delightful.
About two hours and 15 minutes before landing in Los Angeles, crew came around the cabin with hot towels. Shortly thereafter, crew came around with breakfast options. First up was a selection of fresh fruit, which was indeed fresh.
Following that, the main course was served. There was only one choice, which was a three-cheese chive, tomato and arugula brioche with a smoky tomato relish. The dish was very much on the greasy side, and I found it to be pretty inedible. It tasted like it had been sitting around for a long time, and the severe grease on every bit was a bit off-putting.
The real highlight of meal service came after that. Air New Zealand teams up with London-based donughtery Crosstown Doughnuts to offer sweet treats on flights from London to LA in both business class and premium economy. I ended with a lime and coconut doughnut, which was a delicious way to wrap up the flight.
Overall, the meal service was about average, with some highlights. The pre-arrival meal was nearly inedible, but the doughnut, fresh fruit and chicken main were great.
[flight_stats ticket-class="first" review-stat-section="Service" tpg-rating="14" tpg-rating-max="15" live-tv="0" tailcam="0" headphones="0" comp-alcohol="0" extra-pillows="No" turndown-service="Yes" /]
I found service on board this flight to be one of the overall highlights. In all of the Air New Zealand flights that I've taken — including my journey in the carrier's Skycouch product — service has been at the forefront. It's not a very formal service. Instead, I'd say it's conversational and casual, which I prefer.
When I boarded the flight, a member of the cabin crew immediately greeted me by name. When I asked a member of the crew to change my seat to lie-flat bed mode, I went to the lavatory and by the time I got back to my seat, the mattress pad was already secured and blanket was in its place. I was vastly impressed with the lightning quick and attentive service.
Throughout the flight, each member of the crew that I interacted with was friendly, smiley and willing to hold a conversation and laugh a bit. I greatly appreciate service with a human touch, and I think Air New Zealand does that very well.
Overall, I found the Air New Zealand business-class experience on this route to be perfectly comfortable, though definitely not at the top of the pack. I loved the bedding and the fact that I had a lie-flat seat, but the configuration is less than ideal, the seats themselves feel cramped and face away from the windows. Food and amenities were generally on par with a standard business-class offering while not offering any single thing that helped set the carrier apart from its competition.
Where Air New Zealand's business-class offering really excels, though, is with its service. And because of that alone, I would consider flying with the carrier again on this fifth-freedom route -- I just hope I can catch it before it departs for good.