First impressions I arrived at 0600 for my 0815 departure from Hong Kong. There was no queue at check-in, and in fact I was so early that the closest immigration gates were not yet open and I had to walk away from Zone G to the other side of the terminal to pass though to airside. Air New Zealand (ANZ) uses the lounge of fellow Star Alliance carrier United, although early travellers should note that this lounge does not open until 0630, so if you are this early, head for the Thai Airways lounge which opens at 0600. The United lounge is large, with many seats, including work and relaxation areas, drinks dispensers and a good selection of magazines.
ANZ now flies daily from London Heathrow to both Los Angeles and Hong Kong, allowing round-the-world routing. The aircraft used for the Hong Kong routing is a Boeing 747-400 in a three-class configuration of business, premium economy and economy.
One point to note is that ANZ has contracted chauffeur-driven transfers for business class passengers at both London and Auckland, but not, at present, in Hong Kong (though this may change, so it is worth enquiring at the time of booking).
Boarding I left the lounge before the flight was called, partly because I wasn't sure if it would be announced. It was not a busy flight, being the first week of ANZ's operation on this routing, and we were quickly on board. The premium cabins (business and premium economy) were well occupied, but economy was almost empty, and passengers were reissued with new boarding cards to enable the correct weight distribution for take-off (though they were allowed to sit anywhere once in-flight).
The seat There is no doubt that ANZ has secured a coup in licensing Virgin Atlantic's flat bed product, which it is using on two of the same routes as Virgin (Heathrow-Los Angeles and Heathrow-Hong Kong). The bed is excellent, and will be immediately familiar to Virgin passengers (though it is in grey with leather as opposed to material). The seat is 56cm wide with a separate ottoman footrest that can double as a visitor's seat, and reclines back into a 202cm flat bed. Provided behind the seat are a large cotton pillow, duvet and sleep sheet. For take-off, it is possible to sit in a reclined position. There is also direct aisle access, a large adjustable table, multiple stowage options (including a large literature pocket and stowage wells underneath the ottoman and within the armrest), three individual reading lights, a retractable cocktail tray, and a convenient water-bottle holder. The seat has full laptop power, but you need to have the correct adaptor (details available on the ANZ website). I did not have this, but an extremely helpful member of staff located one for me to use.
Having flown over a few days earlier from London, I requested a seat in the front of the plane (Zone A) rather than my normal preference on the upper deck. The reason for this is that ANZ's 747-400 has a slightly unusual layout, with Business Premier occupying the two front sections of the plane (Zones A and B, rows 1-7 and rows 10-15), as well as the front of the upstairs section of the plane, rows 16-20.
Although upstairs is quieter, I was happy to fly downstairs on the return, having flown on the upper deck on my outward leg. On a full flight, the upstairs section seats a total of 33 passengers (10 business class, and 23 premium economy). Air New Zealand is following Virgin by having a mixture of premium economy and business class passengers on the upper deck, but even if service can be maintained with this mix and density, privacy is compromised to some extent by having 23 premium economy passengers sitting in the same cabin. There is no curtain between the two, only an emergency exit, and so when premium economy passengers want to stretch their legs, they are just as likely to do so in this central area rather than at the back of the plane where there is little room. As a result, the design of the flat bed means you have people standing almost at your shoulder while you try and relax, or somewhere just out of sight while you try and sleep. In addition, the two toilets upstairs are used not just by the 10 business class passengers and 23 premium economy passengers, but also, if required, by the eight premium economy passengers from downstairs in Zone C (these extra seats have been added because of the popularity of the premium economy cabin and are now on one side of the stairs).
The flight There were no delays for take-off, and breakfast was served shortly afterwards, with both continental and hot options available. The latter included roasted vegetable tartlette with beef fillet steak and mushroom ragout, or stir-fried pork on egg noodles with Chinese cabbage, black mushrooms, carrots and chilli. After the meal, the cabin lights were dimmed to
allow people to sleep.
The food throughout the flight was excellent, with a selection of snacks available at any time, including a delicious noodle soup. Lunch was served two hours before we landed. It was 42 Below (vodka) manuka honey cured salmon and karengo potato salad, and a choice of mains which included pan-seared lamb loin with paprika and horopito butter, sweet pea risotto, bell pepper and crispy fried shallots. The menu was designed in consultation with Rex Morgan from Citron in Wellington and Inspire in Queenstown. The wine choice was extensive, and a booklet about New Zealand wine is provided, plus a full list of ANZ's wines. This does an admirable job of promoting New Zealand wine, but travellers should note that only a selection of the wines mentioned are available on each flight.
Arrival We arrived on time into London Heathrow Terminal 3, and there were no delays at the luggage carousel. The chauffeur-driven service was on time, and extremely efficient in the face of heavy traffic around the whole of London on a Friday afternoon.
Verdict This is a superb service, a hybrid business/first product on board, and is capable of being a strong rival to other carriers on this route in business class and at a competitive price, especially with fare promotions.
Price £2,899 for Premier Business Class (quoted by online travel agent Travelocity for midweek travel).
contact airnewzealand.co.uk, +44 (0)800 028 4149.