Flight reviews – Air New Zealand NZ87 Auckland (AKL) to Hong Kong (HKG) in Premium Economy and Air New Zealand NZ 80 Hong Kong (HKG) to Auckland (AKL) in Business Premier on the 777-200ER
It’s been quite a few months since I’ve flown internationally so a quick trip to China was a good opportunity to compare two different premium classes of service flying Air New Zealand to Hong Kong.
Air New Zealand flights to Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai all leave Auckland late at night for an early morning arrival. NZ87 has a scheduled departure time of 11:55pm and scheduled arrival into Hong Kong of 7:30am. The return NZ80 flight from Hong Kong has a scheduled departure time of 7:10pm and scheduled arrival into Auckland of 10am.
Air New Zealand operate their 777-200ER aircraft on this route. Their fleet of these aircraft were all fully refitted during 2014 and 2015 giving them new seats in all cabins and a new Panasonic eX3 in-flight entertainment (IFE) system. The aircraft features 26 fully lie flat seats in a 1-2-1 layout in Business Premier, 40 seats in a 2-4-2 layout in Premium Economy, and 246 seats in a 3-4-3 layout in Economy. Economy class also features the innovative Skycouch.
I’m a huge fan of the Air New Zealand Premium Economy Spaceseat offered on the 777-300ER fleet. In my view (and of those who have given Air NZ awards for it) this seat and offering is the best Premium Economy offering in the world. As part of Air New Zealand’s current “profit at all costs” cost cutting mentality the future of this seat is uncertain, with expectations that I’ll be removed from the 777-300ER fleet in 2017 during a refit. The 777-200ER is fitted with a more conventional Zodiac medium haul business class recliner seat as the Premium Economy offering. This seat is also fitted in Premium Economy in the 787-9 Dreamliner, and will also be used to replace the Spaceseat on the 777-300ER assuming that it is to be replaced. The fully lie flat Business Premier seat is the same as that used on the 777-300ER and 787-9 Dreamliner.
The onboard IFE system uses current generation Panasonic eX3 and features a multi touch HD touch screen. Reliability of Air New Zealand’s IFE systems is an issue with issues on the vast majority of flights I’ve been on over the past year including an entire flight with no IFE across a number of seats returning from Vancouver last year. Performance of the eX3 system is superior to the eX2 system fitted to the 777-300ER fleet. The screens feature a single 3.5mm headphone connector and USB port, along with a dual 3.5mm headphone connector on the seat. If you are using the single 3.5mm connector in the IFE screen you will be required to unplug headphones for takeoff and landing for safety reasons.
The screen also features a USB port for playing content or charging devices. Like the majority of USB charging ports in public places it is a “dumb” charger and will not be able to charge most modern devices at anywhere near full speed. The USB would only charge my Sony Xperia Z5 at 330mA, meaning it would take roughly 9 hours to fully charge my phone. Compare this to my Anker portable battery pack that is a fully featured smart charger and will charge my phone at 1500 mA, fully charging it in well under 2 hours which is nearly 5x faster.
As I had never actually flown in the new Premium Economy seat I opted to try it on the way to Hong Kong, and fly Business Premier back from Hong Kong. I was seated in 24B on the way over, and 4K on the way back.
One minor disadvantage of the 777-200 cabin layout is that bathrooms are shared between Premium Economy and Business Premier. Curtains partition off the Economy cabin but no such segregation exists between Premium Economy and Business Premier meaning passengers often mingle around the galley and bathrooms. Access to the front bathroom is restricted to Business Premier passengers, however at certain times of the flight only 3 bathrooms shared between 66 passengers means queues for the bathroom are a reality. If you’re peckish during the flight snacks and drinks are on offer in self service baskets in this area for customers of both cabins.
Auckland to Hong Kong NZ87
As I flew on a connecting flight from Wellington I took the last flight of the day at 8:45pm giving me a couple of hours in Auckland before the flight. After a quick 10 minute walk between the domestic and international terminals in Auckland I enjoyed a few quiet drinks in the new(ish) International Koru lounge that opened in 2015. Auckland airport is relatively quiet at this time of night so there were no delays clearing immigration or security.
With boarding scheduled for 11:10 I started heading down to the gate around this time and was met with a completely full gate lounge and lots of people standing around. It wasn’t until around 11:40 that any form of PA announcement occurred telling is what we all gathered – the flight was going to be late. Better communication would have been nice. Boarding started a few minutes later and we pushed back from the gate around 30 mins late. Air New Zealand typically only use a single air bridge for boarding at Auckland so boarding is in stages with Business, followed by Premium Economy, and then Economy.
My first impressions of the Premium Economy seat were good. Taking a photo is a little hard on a dark aircraft due to Air NZ’s pinkish LED lighting, so I’ll just use a stock photo.
The Premium Economy offering includes an amenity kit containing an eye mask, socks, toothbrush, pen and NZ brand Antipodes moisturiser and lip balm. Also present are noise cancelling headphones (which are a significant improvement over the regular headphones but very average compared to my Bose QC15’s), a 3/4 sized pillow, blanket and water bottle. Legroom is great, with relatively easy access past any seat neighbours without them having to get up.
I was seated in 24B which has the downside of being a row behind the bassinette seats in 23AB and 23JK. Noise from twins in the in front was an issue, so if screaming babies aren’t your thing sitting further back may be a better option. Noise from the galley wasn’t an issue.
After takeoff hot towels and drinks were on offer with a choice of juice or sparkling wine. Air New Zealand no longer serve champagne in Premium Economy but based on my past experiences if you ask specifically for this during meal service you may get lucky. One minor peculiarity is that this initial drink service is in plastic cups, while all other drinks are served in the same funky self-righting glasses used in the Business Premier cabin. I can only assume this is to save another 40 or so dirty glasses, but in my view it is a slight cheapening of the product offering.
Not long after this meal service began, with meal trays being delivered to the seat containing the starter and desert, followed not long afterwards with the bakery offerings of various breads.
The crew seemed extremely flustered and rushed during service and it was around 30 minutes before the main course was delivered. Looking around the cabin most people had got sick of waiting and had started eating their panna cotta desert – and the fact many only had a spoonful or two removed when trays were collected shows black sesame wasn’t a popular flavour. I’ve had some fantastic panna cotta deserts on Air NZ, but this flavour was not one of them.
The starter and main course were both delicious. Menus between Premium Economy and Business Premier are very similar, with many of the same options but simply fewer options overall. In Business Premier the meals are fully plated up (as you’ll see below) rather than simply reheated in the meal tray. Air New Zealand’s Premium Economy is much more ‘Premium’ than ‘Economy’ and very different to other airlines such as Lufthansa who offer near identical catering and beverage offerings in their Premium Economy and Economy and simply differentiate with a slightly better seat with more space.
The crew still seemed quite rushed while clearing up and it was quite some time before the curtains were shut and cabin lighting dimmed. Service in Business Premier had been a lot quicker and the cabin was darkened significantly earlier.
As it was now around 3am New Zealand time I headed off to sleep, and got a solid 4 1/2 hours sleep only disturbed by the babies in front crying. Bose really need to make baby cancelling headphones! :) I found the seat comfortable to sleep in however the leg rest didn’t quite adjust to where I wanted it.
After watching a couple of TV shows it was time for breakfast. Breakfast’s on Air New Zealand are a big meal which is great if you’re hungry. First up was fresh fruit and cereal with an option of muesli/granola or bran flakes. This is served with yoghurt and milk. This is followed by a choice of toast and croissants, followed by the hot meal option.
After the trays were collected it wasn’t long before the crew began preparing the cabin for landing. Overall the flight was an enjoyable one, apart from the crew seemingly being very rushed during the initial meal service. As an Air NZ Elite customer there was no Elite recognition by the Inflight Service Manager (or any other crew) of myself or the other Elite passengers in the Premium Economy cabin.
As a Spaceseat fan I was keen to try the new Premium Economy seats to compare the two. Overall the seat offered a similar level of comfort and I found sleeping in the seat fine. It does lack the privacy the Spaceseat offers, and IFE screens are some distance away due to them not popping out on an arm like the Spaceseat. The Spaceseat is a very polarising product with some very tall or short people finding these uncomfortable, but I still rate the Spaceseat as a superior offering and it will be very sad to see these disappear purely on the basis of financial gain rather than customer satisfaction. Air New Zealand may be able to fit more of these seats on the same cabin area on the 777-300ER, but I think you can guarantee prices won’t drop as a result!
Hong Kong to Auckland NZ80
I had around 90 minutes free on my way back through Hong Kong from Beijing so had time for a quick snack and shower in a lounge. If you’re flying Air New Zealand in Business Class or are Star Alliance Gold you have a number of different lounge options available. *G access is available to the United Club, Thai Airways Royal Orchid or the Singapore Airlines SilverKris lounge. The SilverKris lounge is around 20 minutes walk away from the gates Air New Zealand use, whereas the others are very close. If you’re an Air NZ Elite customer you can also access the brand new Cathay Pacific Pier Business Lounge – this is accessible as part of the NZ/CX partnership on the Hong Kong/Auckland route.
I visited all three *G lounges earlier in the week and will write a quick review when I get time. My recommendation would be Thai Royal Orchid, followed by the United Club, and lastly the SilverKris lounge. Both the Thai and United Club are above the gates offering great views of the airport and apron. The SilverKris lounge is great, but windowless.
If you are Air NZ Elite visiting the new Cathay Pacific Pier Business Lounge is a no brainer. This lounge is quite simply stunning and is vastly superior to any of the *G lounges on offer.
It was only a few minutes walk to the gate and I got there just as boarding commenced. Dual air bridges were in place so boarding for all passengers was occurring at the same time. Business was boarding via door 1L, and Premium Economy and Economy via 2L.
I’ve flown Business Premier plenty of times with Air New Zealand and really love their seat so chose a window seat. The seat is licensed from Virgin Atlantic and the original dates from the early 2000’s so is starting to look a little dated compared to many new seats currently being deployed such as the new B/E Super Diamond. It doesn’t offer the same level of privacy as many new seats now being deployed, and there is no way for couples flying together to easily chat. I recommend any couples sit opposite one another in the aisle, rather than the middle seats or behind each other.
I have a preference for B/K seats rather than A/J as I prefer to sleep on my right hand side. This means my face has the open space of the IFE screen side of the seat rather than the back wall of the seat.
After sitting down I was greeted and offered a refresher towel and pre flight drink of orange juice or sparkling wine. Air New Zealand do not serve champagne while on the ground – they only open this when airborne. Orders were taken for a drink after takeoff, and as I was celebrating my birthday champagne was the only logical choice! Air New Zealand serve Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve.
The amenity kit contains the same products as Premium Economy, but is in a tablet sized felt bag. Noise cancelling headphones and a bottle of water are also present.
Not long after this the Inflight Service Manager walked around the cabin introducing herself to passengers and handing out arrival documentation for New Zealand.
Orders were taken for dinner, and not long after the meal service soon commenced. Elite customers were given first option from the menu. I opted for the Salmon and a few items from the bakery selection. This was followed by the stir fried chicken, and cheesecake for desert. All were incredibly delicious.
Converting the seat to a lie flat bed involves flipping the seat over. There is no point trying this yourself as the crew are experts. The bed is complete with a memory foam mattress, two pillows, and a duvet. After a Glenmorangie 10yr as a nightcap I headed off to sleep for a good 5 hours sleep.
The cabin can tend to get a little noisy once people start waking up and the crew start packing up the bedding so if you are a light sleeper you’ll probably find it difficult to sleep through this if you’re not wearing earplugs and eye mask.
First up was a berry smoothie, followed by fresh fruit, yoghurt and cereal. Up next was a selection of bakery items, and finally the hot meal option. I absolutely love the bacon and egg Ciabatta with BBQ sauce, and as it was my birthday I saw no reason to settle for anything else!
Once the cabin had been cleared we were well on our way into Auckland, helped along with a very strong tail wind across the Tasman Sea. Overall the flight was a great one with a friendly crew and great service.
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