Air New Zealand has been developing a reputation as a quality airline and has been collecting plenty of awards. I was excited to give them a try.
I arrived early at SFO Airport for my flight to Auckland and the check-in counter hadn’t yet opened. However, there are a number of self-service kiosks that scan your passport and seconds later, I had my boarding pass.
Security at the Star Alliance side of the International Terminal had long lines (incl. the Premium line).
I walked down to the United security (the two terminals are connected behind security) and was done in a few minutes.
A Star Alliance long-haul flight gets you an invitation to the new United Polaris Lounge. I wasn’t too happy with my experience there – I was hoping for a refined dining experience but instead, it is more a spacious co-working hub with rather terrible food.
I moved over to the American Express Centurion Lounge and got my fill of healthy food and excellent drinks for the night.
Boarding was announced for 8.50 PM and when I arrived at the gate, pre-boarding had indeed just started.
Premium passengers boarded next and the cabin would fill up quite quickly. Just a few seats stayed open for the flight.
Air New Zealand uses a herringbone design that looks suspiciously similar to Virgin Atlantic. I wasn’t happy with Virgin Atlantic’s business class seat – it was too narrow and felt cramped. I admit I was a bit worried.
After a series of photos, I was settling in with a glass of champagne (which wasn’t too good) and the pilot announced that we would be on our way soon but would have to plan extra time for taxiing.
Indeed we pushed back from the gate right on time but would spend 40 minutes taxiing around the airport and waiting for takeoff. Meanwhile, I went through the amenity kit and found some quality items.
Once airborne, we immediately turned southwest for our route toward New Zealand. I familiarized myself with the seat, which was much wider than Virgin Atlantic’s version and I started to like what I saw. The entertainment system worked just as what you would expect, with plenty of newish movies and TV shows.
You can use the entertainment system from gate to gate but have to stare to the right or left of you as the screen is stowed during taxiing, takeoff, and landing.
There was plenty of shoulder space and I reclined into a lounge position. My flight attendant was just straight out of a Batman movie, an older gentleman with impeccable service standards. He looked and spoke just like Alfred.
Dinner service started rather quickly, first with drinks (again, I chose the champagne which I did not like so much) and then the appetizers rolled around. I was NOT a fan of the appetizers – they were salty and had no taste.
For my main course, I chose the cod and OMG that was a delicious meal. I’m not a fan of seafood in general but I could not stop eating it (despite having feasted in the American Express lounge just a bit earlier). I thought it was marvelous.
I also liked the dessert served and at about 11.15 PM I was ready to sleep it off. Most passengers had requested to have their bed made right away and were snoring away already. ‘Alfred’ flipped over my mattress and a wonderful flat bed appeared.
I liked the mattress sheet that was used but found the blanket to be way too short and it felt cheap. There were two excellent pillows though, which helped a lot to find a comfortable position. I had the impression that there was more engine and AC noise than usual so I had trouble falling asleep for a few minutes.
Once asleep I was out and just woken up by one major turbulence a few hours later. When I finally woke up, everyone in the cabin had their breakfast meal in front of them already.
I had casually mentioned earlier that I’d like the pancakes from the menu and I was up for a few minutes before Alfred came by, prepared my table with a fresh smoothie, yogurt and granola and asked for permission to serve the pancakes (yes, he did remember the conversation).
It was still about 90 minutes to landing so I had enough time to enjoy another fantastic dish. I can’t remember many times when I had such a delicious breakfast service (always the most tricky one) on a plane.
After breakfast, I played around with the in-flight WiFi (which had just been installed a week earlier).
NZD 40 is steep for flight WiFi and Air New Zealand has mostly red eyes to the US, so you can’t work the whole flight anyways. Plus there is no shorter/cheaper option.
In sum, I think Air New Zealand has nailed it; service was at first class level and the meals were fantastic. I liked the seat, entertainment, and the bed quite a bit, though I thought the blanket was unnecessarily cheap and could be improved on.
New planes like the 787 or the A350 are much quieter and would help the cabin feel so but that’s a huge investment (for a small noise gain). I feel the WiFi should have options for shorter durations of use.
But really, this is an airline that seems run by people who know what they are doing and deliver a high-quality product that is rightly ranked as one of the world’s best business class offerings.