Anybody out there who loves planes knows that the 747 has truly earned the title of Queen of the skies. The plane that revolutionised long haul travel has been a mainstay of global airline fleets for over three decades, but with increasing fuel costs it’s becoming increasingly less common at airports around the world as it’s being replaced by newer, more fuel efficient aircraft.
Over the past few years Air New Zealand have retired most of their 747-400 fleet, and has a single 747-400 still flying. This aircraft is scheduled to fly it’s last flight as NZ7 from San Francisco to Auckland on September 10th. With this in mind I purposely booked my flight home from San Francisco so I could have possibly my last flight in what I still regard as the coolest plane in the skies.
I arrived at the airport a little earlier than usual, and was greeted by ZK-NBV as I departed the BART station at the airport. Check-in at San Francisco (SFO) was a very smooth process with only a single person in front of my in the premium queue. TSA queues at US airports are often a nightmare, but I was through this in around 10 minutes and a few minutes later arrived at the Singapore Airlines lounge which is used by Air New Zealand in the absence of their own Koru lounge.
Food and beverage selections were typical for an airline lounge at a US airport – which is quite different to what people would normally expect from a regular Koru lounge. A selection of salads, cheese, vege platter, potato crisps, a pretzel mix and cookies made up the selection, with some filled rolls on the side. The liquor selection was also fairly average, but at least featured Tiger beer which is a little more exciting than drinking Bud Lite. Bathrooms are at each end of the lounge and two of these feature showers, with the only downside being that these are both shared with bathrooms so take these out of action while in use. The lounge became quite busy, but still had seating available. The lounge itself closes at 2045, 30 minutes before the scheduled departure time of NZ7 of 2115. It’s only a short walk from the lounge to the gate normally used by Air New Zealand.
Boarding commenced a few minutes late, but as I had left the lounge earlier I was near the front of the queue to board.
As this would possibly be my last 747 flight I decided I had to make a final flight on the upper deck, so flew Premium Economy in seat 22A (which coincidently is the same same seat I flew on last year in my NZ8 review). Row 22 is an exit row featuring unlimited legroom, but does torment anybody sitting here with a great view of the lie flat Business Premier seats!
There are many similarities between Premium Economy and Business Premier on Air New Zealand. Both receive noise cancelling headphones (which are significantly better than regular headphones, but pale in comparison to my Bose QC15s), an amenity kit, and similar food and wine menus. The most significant difference being that Premium Economy meals are served in regular airline food trays, whereas Business Premier meals are fully plated up.
After we’d reached cruise altitude menus and hot towels were distributed around the cabin.
To begin – a salad of crab and smoked salmon, washed down with a glass of Mumm Champagne.
Followed by seared miso glazed cod (and another glass of Mumm!). Desert was a strawberry and ginger mousse. All three courses were delicious. Flying in premium cabins means premium alcohol offerings, and the crew seemed very happy keeping peoples glasses full.
After dinner I decided to check out the in flight entertainment system, and that’s when things started to go astray. Due to the age of this aircraft it still has a rather ancient non touch screen Rockwell Collins system which only features a 4:3 aspect ratio rather than 16:9 widescreen. On this particular plane it was certainly showing it’s age. I’d heard from other friends who had flown on this aircraft in recent weeks that the system was experiencing problems, and it’s safe to say that was an understatement. A full system reboot didn’t fix the problems which include skipping and loss of video and audio sync, and the system was pretty much unusable as a result. Lucky I had content on my laptop to watch instead.
The IFE if it had been working – a good selection of movies, music, radio channels and games. The same Rockwell Collins system is present on Air New Zealand’s fleet of 777-200 aircraft, but these are currently in the process of being refitted with new seats and a new Panasonic eXlite IFE system.
After a good sleep I woke up not long before the breakfast service commenced. Being a little peckish I checked out the snack bar which is available throughout the flight for Premium Economy and Business Premier customers. This featured grapes, apples, vege crisps, Whittakers chocolate bars, muesli bars, Cookie Time chocolate chip cookies and bottled water.
Breakfast was a bit of a mixed bag. The fruit was nice, but the croissant was a little squashed and not flaky. The quesadilla tasted great, but to be honest was a little too greasy for a meal at 0400 in the morning.
Our arrival into Auckland was smooth and there were no delays with priority bags which were starting to appear just as I arrived at the baggage carousel. Within a few minutes I’d checked my bags at the domestic transfer desk and was on my way to the domestic terminal to wait for my flight to Wellington.
Overall the flight was a good one, however it’s very clear that this is one plane that’s well and truly served it’s time and is due for replacement. The same crews that crew the 747 also crew the other long haul 777-300 and 777-200 aircraft so the level of service is the same, however the fit out of a newer 777-300 aircraft is superior in every way, and the Panasonic IFE system on the newer 777-300 aircraft is so superior it’s like comparing night and day.
October 1998 – September 2014
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