Tried & Tested

Flight review: Air New Zealand B747-400 premium economy

1 Mar 2006 by Mark Caswell

First Impressions

I arrived at midday for my 1425 flight from Heathrow Terminal 3, and started queuing in the economy line, but was informed by one of the queue combers that premium economy passengers could use the Business Premier queue. This queue was considerably shorter, and I quickly completed check-in. Air New Zealand’s website states that only one piece of hand luggage may be taken on flights to and from the US, but I was pleasantly surprised that the extra bag I had with me was small enough to take on board. Passport and security was swift and I was through to airside by 1220.

Boarding

The gate opened at 1300 but I didn’t hear an announcement and got there at 1315 to find a surprisingly long queue to enter, irrespective of ticket type. This was partly because the flight was completely full, and partly due to an extra baggage check before boarding. I noted an ever-growing pile of disposable lighters on the floor, the result of a recent addition to airline restrictions. I reached the front of the queue at 1345, just as premium economy passengers were called for boarding, and was directed to the upper deck where the premium economy section is located on the Boeing 747, behind a section of 10 Business Premier seats (with no dividing curtain). We left the gate on time at 1425, but were not airborne until 1505, although no explanation was given for the delay.

The Seat

Air New Zealand revamped their cabins towards the end of last year, replacing first and business classes with a new Business Premier offering, and adding a new premium economy class. My aisle seat 25C was one of 23 in premium economy, in a 3-2 configuration. A generous 47cm wide with 97-103cm pitch, the seat also has a leg rest and foot bar (I found the leg rest very stiff to return to its upright position). There are also power sockets for laptops (an adaptor is needed for British three pin plugs). While waiting for take-off the IFE welcomed passengers to “A new era in long haul travel”, and once airborne I found the 21cm tilting screen had an impressive selection of on-demand movies and TV programmes (divided into genres including a section showing movies from New Zealand), as well as albums, games, and detailed information on all three classes of travel. A little patience is needed when making selections with the remote control, as the software did not always recognise choices immediately. I don’t think I was the only one experiencing these teething problems, because there was an announcement advising us not to press buttons repeatedly, as it could cause the system to reset itself.

The Flight

Drink orders were taken about half an hour after take-off, followed by a hot meal an hour later presented on colourful crockery. I chose a lamb casserole (from New Zealand, naturally), accompanied by a Pinot Noir (there was a choice of two red and white wines). For dessert I had chocolate torte, and a cheese and chutney plate, with a glass of port. Strangely, a stronger plastic knife was provided with the cheese dish, which might have been more useful for the main course.

Snacks and soft drinks are also available during the flight from a refreshment area at the back of the premium economy section. The toilets, which are shared with Business Premier passengers, have been updated to include a range of “Living Nature” products, including hand creams and facial moisturisers.

About an hour and a half before landing we were served a hot snack, and I opted for a vegetarian quiche, followed by a warm scone with jam and clotted cream – it was a strange time of day to know what to eat, being nearly midnight in the UK, but a couple of hours before dinner in Los Angeles. As we began the descent we were informed that the IFE would be stopped to show us an information broadcast about LA, but this proved to be faulty (which I didn’t mind as I could finish watching a film). We landed at 1715, half an hour late, but with extremely efficient passport control and only hand luggage, I was outside the airport 10 minutes after disembarking.

Los Angeles Airport Lounge

Completed mid-2005, the revamped Air New Zealand lounge at LAX is a bright, airy space on the second floor overlooking the runway. Spotlessly clean and ultra-modern, it has been enlarged to provide armchair seating for over 100 passengers, and stools at tables with broadband internet. Despite the Business Premier section of my flight being full, the lounge did not feel crowded, and although Air New Zealand shares the room with Air China and Air France, different schedules mean that the space is rarely in use by more than one airline at a time.

I was greeted by a smiling receptionist who advised me the time when the flight would be called (there is also a plasma screen showing departure times). For those looking to freshen up before the flight, there are six modern shower suites. Business facilities include six computer terminals with high-speed internet, office applications, and an attached printer/fax. Throughout the lounge there is artwork and reference books and a plasma screen showcasing New Zealand’s landscapes and attractions.

There is a self-service selection of meats, cheeses and fruits, as well as crisps and other snacks for refreshments. There are also New Zealand wines, in addition to the usual beers and spirits, and an espresso machine.
If you’re travelling with children, there is an area with toys and another plasma screen showing cartoons. Grown-up kids can borrow Playstation portable consoles from reception. I spent two hours in the lounge and was very impressed.

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