Flight Review Air New Zealand Business Premier NZ6 and NZ2 Auckland (AKL) to London (LHR) via Los Angeles (LAX)
I’ve just recently got back from a three week holiday in Europe for my birthday. Having not flown Business class all the way from New Zealand to London before I decided it was a must do to treat myself.
Air New Zealand fly their 777-300 (77W) aircraft from Auckland through to London Heathrow (LHR) via Los Angeles (LAX). Their flagship NZ2 (from Auckland to London) and NZ1 (from London to Auckland) operate via LAX with a stopover of approximately 2 hours at LAX. Rather than fly direct on NZ2 from Auckland I opted to fly on NZ6 to LAX, leaving Auckland a few hours before NZ2, and then connect with NZ2 to LHR. This gave me around 4 1/2 hours stopover – just the right amount of time to leave the airport to stretch my legs and partake in some plane spotting near the airport.
After flying from Wellington to Auckland I walked the quick 10 minute walk across to the international terminal (free buses are also available) before heading through security. If you’re a status customer with Air New Zealand (Koru, Gold, Elite or EP1) or flying in Premium Economy or Business Premier you’re entitled to use express lane from the Premium check-in area. A lift in in this area takes you up to a dedicated customs area and a fast-track line to the front of security screening. Whether or not this saves time really depends on the time of day that you are flying.
After enjoying a quick snack in the Koru lounge I headed down to the gate and settled myself into seat 2A to for my flight. I was welcomed with a welcome drink offering of water, orange juice or sparkling wine. Due to tax/duty reasons Air New Zealand typically don’t serve proper champagne until after takeoff. Orders were also taken for a drinks service immediately after takeoff.
Air New Zealand Business Premier is a 1-2-1 true lie flat seat , with the 1-2-1 configuration meaning every passenger has direct aisle access. While others may finally be catching up with this, it’s still pretty common to find other airlines with seats that are not truly lie flat, or seats in a 2-2-2 configuration meaning you have to climb over the passenger next to you if you have a window seat. The 77W Business cabin is split into two with a galley in the middle which is also a very convenient location for a basic self service in-flight bar featuring in-flight snacks and drinks mid flight.
Unfortunately in some of the photos Air New Zealand’s LED mood lighting has given most of my photos a nice pink tinge!
In my seat was a menu, bottle of water, amenity kit and noise cancelling headphones. The headphones are better than your average airline headphones but are pretty much rubbish compared to my Bose QC15’s. In case you’re wondering I’m not really a Sir, but Air New Zealand allow you to customise the welcome name on the screen and I like the ring. :)
Included in the amenity kit is a pair or socks, eye mask, ear plugs, pen, toothbrush, lip balm and moisturiser. The new amenity kit (launched in January 2015) bag doubles as a convenient case for a tablet, but I’m not sure how smart it was to have an internal pocket with zip as I can imagine this would very quickly scratch a tablet.
Not long after takeoff a hot towel service occurred, followed by delivery of my glass of Champagne and cashew nuts. At the time of writing this Air New Zealand are serving Charles Heidseck Reserve. This was followed not long after by a visit from the In-flight Service Manager introducing himself to all passengers and handing me arrival documentation for the USA.
Crews soon set up tables and tablecloths before delivering the starter to my seat. This was an incredibly nice tasting starter of seared venison with kumara crisps, picked red onion, smoked chilli and micro herbs. This was followed by a selection of breads including garlic bread which always goes down well.
This was followed by the main course – seared hapuka in miso coconut broth with steamed shitake rice, gai lan and fresh coriander salsa.
Unlike many other airlines who continue with carts in the cabin for meal service Air New Zealand offers all meals plated up onboard, and personally delivered to the seat by the crew.
Dinner was followed by white chocolate and rosewater panna cotta with pistachio cream for desert, and as I was feeling a little greedy I also opted for the cheese platter just to finish things off.
The cheese platter was washed down nicely by a couple of glasses of Glenmorange 10yr whisky.
After dinner I settled down to watch some content on the In-Flight Entertainment System. On Air New Zealand’s 77W fleet they use a Panasonic eX2 system with a 12.1” touch screen. Around April this year the system underwent a major software upgrade to offer new features and functionality and align the system with the new Panasonic eX3 system on the 787-900 and 777-200 fleet. This resulted in the maps being broken for weeks, and despite these now being fixed the system was basically a disaster. It’s incredibly sluggish and after navigating around the menus and listening to some music I found lag in the system getting up to 1-2 mins (yes minutes) before key presses were registered. A full reboot of my seat resolved the issue and sped it back again, temporarily, but the lag eventually returned. Even without the lag returned the system is by no means snappy. There was also functionality such as the Tripadvisor application that simply didn’t work at all on any seats on the plane. The movie, music and radio content is fantastic, but when the user experience is so poor, it pretty much negates the whole experience.
After listening to some music and podcasts on my phone for a few hours I decided it was time to get my bed made and try and catch some sleep. The crew are super efficient at doing this so don’t even bother trying to do this yourself - the seat folds back to form a 2 metre bed complete with memory foam mattress, duvet and 2 pillows. It really is super comfy.
If you’re somebody who sleeps on their side (like I do) you may have a preference for a seat in A/J or B/K seats due to the way the herringbone layout works and whether you want to face the side wall of your seat or the open space of your screen while you sleep.
After a great 5hr sleep I woke up and started to think about breakfast. It wasn’t too long before my hunger pains were satisfied.
Breakfast was the standard Air New Zealand Business offering of a mix of cereals with fresh fruit, yoghurt, a selection of bakery items featuring croissants, toast or fruit toast, followed by a hot option. I opted for the waffles with mixed spice sugar, black doris plum compote and greek yoghust. While very tasty the waffle didn’t taste that fresh which was a bit of a disappointment.
As the cabin was prepared for out arrival into LAX the in-flight service manager visited each customer for a quick chat. It’s a great personal touch and something I love about Air New Zealand. Not long after this we were on the ground at LAX.
Arrival into LAX airport was a pretty painless process. I’ve flown through this airport many times in the past, and every time it’s been terrible. As of December 2014 Air New Zealand have moved to the recently upgraded Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT) which is an amazing terminal and a complete contrast to previous experiences inside Terminal 2.
If you’ve entered the USA since 2008 on your current passport and ESTA you’re eligible to use a kiosk to speed up the CBP process. After inserting your passport and answering a few brief questions the kiosk takes your photo and fingerprints, a process that is normally done manually by CBP staff. After you’ve completed this it issues a printout which you then hand to CBP staff along with your passport to complete the process. Within about 35 minutes of arriving I had cleared CBP, picked up my bags, cleared customs, dropped my bag off at the transit counter, and was standing outside the terminal enjoying the sunshine.
If you’re flying straight through to London on NZ2 you will not have to collect your bags – these remain on the aircraft. You will however need to clear CBP, and once this is done can then proceed through security screening and have full access to the terminal and (if eligible) the Star Alliance lounge. This is a vast improvement on the process in the old terminal where passengers in transit only had access to a transit lounge.
As it was such a beautiful day I walked to the world famous In-N-Out burger which is around 25 mins walk away and right under the runway threshold for runway 24R. Not only do In-N-Out have the worlds best burgers (Anthony Bourdain even agrees with me!), the park opposite is an amazing place for plane spotters.
After 45 minutes or so of awesomeness I walked back to the terminal. Screening was amazingly efficient for a US airport, and I was back inside the terminal within about 10 minutes. Having flown through many US airports in recent years all this efficiency seemed too good to be true!
I now headed off to check out the new Star Alliance lounge inside TBIT that is actually managed by Air New Zealand for all Star Alliance airlines. Unfortunately it was around this time that my phone troubles started with my phone refusing to recognise the camera. My only snap was a picture of the very cool outside bar and dining area. It was empty mid afternoon, but I’m told it’s very popular on warm evenings.
There are plenty of reviews of the lounge online if you want to see it in more detail, but overall it was a very impressive lounge. I took a shower and had a bite to eat and drink before walking to the gate for my next flight.
Onboard NZ2 I had another champagne. I feel it’s rude to say no when it is offered to you..
This was followed by a starter of grilled prawns with chorizo and sun blushed tomatoes, micro basil and paprika aioli along with a selection of bread.
This was followed by a main of roast chicken on kumara miso mash with edamame beans and wilted spinach with chilli picked shitake mushrooms and red dates.
And followed by brownies ala mode and pecan ice cream with salted caramel sauce.
And washed down with another Glenmorangie..just because it was on offer!
As it began to get dark I figured I’d try and get some sleep so had my bed made up for me.
After a few hours sleep it was time for breakfast. I started with a raspberry and pomegranate smoothie.
This was followed by granola, fresh fruit and yoghurt, fruit toast, and herb scrambled eggs with chicken and apple sausage, sautéed potatoes and tomato relish.
Not long after clearing this away and preparing the cabin we started our descent into LHR, and as is pretty typical entered a holding pattern for a brief period before landing. Business Class customers are given priority passes for clearing UK customs, and while the queues were not too bad around lunchtime when NZ2 lands this probably saved around 10-15 mins in a queue.
Overall both flights were awesome. NZ2 was crewed by a UK based crew rather than the NZ based crew on NZ6. This means the crew are typically European rather than NZers and does mean the service levels are actually quite different. Unlike NZ6 the In-Flight Service manager didn’t personally introduce himself to all passengers or say goodbye to them before we landed. Crew on NZ2 also seemed to be lacking in generosity when it came to alcohol as well. While these matters are small, they are very obvious and shows a lack of consistency, particularly when you’re flying two flights in a row on the same airline. I’ve had some very differing experiences on Air New Zealand international services over the last few years which does show up a lack of consistency of the product offering.
I just wanted to add a little bit more here about Air New Zealand’s IFE system because in my view right now this system is a total disaster. As I sit writing this review I’m on a Lufthansa flight on my way from Munich to Japan, and while the content isn’t as good as Air New Zealand, every aspect of the system from touch screen performance to speed is vastly superior.
The Air New Zealand IFE has a pretty extensive selection of content from movies to documentaries, TV shows and music. It also has a rather cool chat function if you want to chat to others on the plane. It doesn’t look like you can select the pilots though! :)
Playing music, along with recommended suggestions.
Browsing some of the web style content on the plane – it’s clear this hasn’t been updated for a long time as Clarins products are no longer in the amenity kit, and the 777-200 fleet upgrade is not going to be complete until the end of 2015.
I required full seat reboots on both my flights due to the massive lag and pretty much gave up using the IFE system. It’s definitely an area Air New Zealand need to put some serious work into – and questions obviously need to be raised about their software testing processes before updates are deployed to aircraft, and onboard once updates have been deployed. I’m aware of numerous problems with the new Panasonic systems on the 787 and 777 refit as well, which really should be ringing alarm bells inside the company as to why these problems are occurring, and how they can be resolved.
In summary apart from IFE issues both flights were fantastic, and something I look forward to doing again at some point in the future!
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