Tried & Tested

Air New Zealand B777-300ER Business Premier

6 Jul 2015 by Tom Otley

CHECK-IN

I arrived at London Heathrow Terminal 2 at 1340 for the 1645 departure on NZ001 to Los Angeles, a flight of 11 hours and 20 minutes.

There was no queue at check-in. After checking-in one bag, I walked to fast-track security. The airport was very quiet and there was no-one at security in front of me, so I was quickly through.

From there, I went and had a meal at The Perfectionist's Café which is airside in Terminal 2. To read a review, click here.

I then walked to the lounges which are in the satellite area of Heathrow Terminal 2, a good 15 minutes' away via lifts or an escalator under the taxiway. This is such a long walk that it was an obvious shock to some passengers.

Assuming your flight departs from here, you really would want to finish any shopping or dining before setting off on this trek, although there are a few shops, including a WH Smiths and a Café Nero, once you get there.

A buggy at the lower level waits to take passengers who would struggle with the walk and departs every few minutes or when it is full, as far as I could see.

Once the walk, part of which is by travellators, has been completed, escalators or lifts take you back up to the concourse level. The lounges are then accessed via a lift.

THE LOUNGE

At check-in, I had been told that there is a choice of lounges once airside – United, Singapore Airlines and Air Canada, lounges B1, B2 and B3 respectively.

Since I had plenty of time, I was informed that I could try each lounge, as they are next to one another. In fact, the Air Canada and Singapore Airlines lounges are adjacent, but the United lounge is a walk away.

I chose to visit just the one lounge, Singapore Airlines' Silverkris facility. Designed by Ong&Ong, the lounge is part of the airline's new "home away from home" concept, although if your home has batik design screens, roving hosts offering drinks, and authentic local culinary delights cooked freshly by on-site chefs, then you're a lot luckier than I am. To view some photos, click here.

Open between 0715 and 2200, the business class lounge (SIA's first class lounge is separate) contains 158 seats.

At the time of my visit, 1500 on a Tuesday, it was almost empty. There was a good food and drink offering, but having already eaten I settled for a Diet Coke and worked.

BOARDING

There are no boarding announcements in the lounge, so when I saw the gate was showing as B36 and was boarding I headed straight back down to the concourse level.

Gate 36 was less than a minute away and priority boarding had already started, so I could walk straight onto the aircraft. Economy passengers used a different airbridge so there was privacy in the Business Premier cabin.

Air New Zealand Business Premier

Once on board, I was offered a choice of orange juice, water or Champagne.

The flight attendants were very friendly, and each introduced themselves by name and inquired if I had flown with the airline before and whether I knew how to work the various aspects of the seat.

To be fair, the seat is different from most business class seats, although it will be familiar to anyone who flies Virgin Upper Class (see below).

Waiting at the seat on the ottoman stool was a large amenity bag containing flight socks that had a kind of diamond Pringle pattern of turquoise, white and purple; an eye mask; ear plugs; lip balm and hydrating cream (from Antipodes); toothbrush and toothpaste.

Air New Zealand has seven B777-300ER aircraft, each seating 322 passengers in three classes - economy, premium economy and business (which it calls Business Premier).

The fully-flat seating on this B777-300ER is the Virgin Atlantic seat, licensed from that airline by Air New Zealand, although with a different, predominantly white, colour scheme. This, along with the mounds of white linen and pillows, gives it a fresh look.

The cabin was quite cold when we got on, and remained that way until well after take-off at 1635. In fact, it only really started to warm up once we reached cruising height and I took off my jacket, finally, at 1700.

Air New Zealand Business Premier

There was plenty of room for stowing bags on-board. I think this was because so many passegners had checked-in their baggage, perhaps because a fair proportion were flying on from Los Angeles to New Zealand.

THE SEAT

Business class occupies rows 1 to 7 and is configured A-B-J-K).

The centre seats (B and J) aren't the best if travelling in a couple since they face away from one another. Really, you would want a pair of a window and a centre seat (e.g. 5A and 5B), although you would then be talking across the aisle, which is what the couple in front of me were doing in 4A and 4B. To view a seat map, click here.

As with the Virgin design, the table is released from the side wall of the seat and is large and robust. Unfortunately, my table was slanted sideways and vibrated as I worked on my laptop, and wasn't firm, even when eating.

The inflight entertainment (IFE) had a large collection of content, including new films, but the flight map was not working, something that has been an ongoing problem on this aircraft for several months, apparently since a software upgrade.

It was, however, working on the return flight from Los Angeles to Heathrow a few days later.

WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE?

I'd avoid the front of the cabin, where the toilets are, and the back of the cabin, which is where the main galley is.

On this flight, seats 1A and 1B were occupied by a couple with two very young children, one of whom had a high-pitched scream which easily penetrated the noise cancelling headphones. Luckily, it slept after the first 90 minutes.

THE FLIGHT

Once airborne, I was offered a choice of drinks, and then the meal service began.

The menu had some details about New Zealand chef Peter Gordon, who had helped with writing the menu. Some of the selections had his initials next to them, such as the cod and the beef short rib.

The menu was as follows:

Dinner

  • Sumac dusted salmon with cucumber tabbouleh, roasted grapes and lime dressing
  • Roasted beetroot salad with goats curd and wild rocket, almonds, fresh pomegranate, balsamic dressing (I had this, very tasty).

From the bakery

  • San Francisco sourdough, garlic bread, potato and rosemary bread.

Mains

  • Cod in tamarind scented coconut curry with aubergine, tofu and green beans with steamed brown rice and crispy shallots
  • Roast chicken breast with tarragon, garlic ricotta stuffing, roasted fennel, and crushed new potatoes with salsa rossa
  • Beef short rib with roasted chillied pumpkin, zucchini, potato and parmesan gnocchi with horseradish cream
  • Vegetarian Balti with roti bread and minted cucumber yoghurt (My choice – a good size portion but pleasant flavour and not too "heavy").

Desert

  • Honeycomb ice cream with caramel sauce
  • Warm chocolate fondant pudding with vanilla ice cream
  • English cheese selection of Cornish English brie, Cropwell Bishop, Stilton blue and Butlers Secret Cheddar with fig relish and crackers.

The menu had no details of the wines available, apart from the Charles Heidsieck Champagne. The crew was happy to explain what wines were on board, but this seemed a bit of a missed opportunity since on a previous flight there was a booklet detailing the wines which doubled as a promotion for New Zealand.

Air New Zealand Business Premier

Although this was a day flight, I wanted to sleep, and so asked the flight attendant to make the seat into a bed, which was done while I watched.

For those who have not seen this happen, it involves the back of the seat flipping forward to create a full-length bed. The idea is that the cushion on the other side of the seat is more appropriate for being a bed, and certainly it was very comfortable.

There was then a mattress topper, a duvet and a good size pillow.

I slept for at least four hours, and woke about two hours before landing.

At this time, a further meal service was served as follows:

Starter

  • Fresh fruit salad
Mains
  • Rich beef and ale pie served with spiced tomato relish, or
  • Gruyere cheese and free range egg tart served with spiced tomato relish
Desert
  • Crosstown doughnuts - salted caramel and banana cream
  • Milk Chocolate covered passionfruit curd.

I thought the above made a bizarre combination - I went for the beef and ale pie followed by doughnuts -  but the strong flavours seemed to work after I had woken (and been in flight for nearly eight hours).

Coffee/tea was then served.

ARRIVAL

We landed on time at LAX's Tom Bradley International Terminal, which continues to improve its design each time I travel through it.

Now, as you disembark you walk along a high walkway above the departures level and shopping, with a glass roof above you — still light in the late afternoon summer — before descending a long escalator in front of the "Welcome Wall", a giant LED screen.

We were also lucky to have arrived at a time when there were no other flights in front of us. Immigration was the fastest I have ever encountered at LAX and we were through in less than a couple of minutes.

My bag came through on the carousel a few minutes later, and there was no queue at customs.

VERDICT

This is an excellent seat – fans of the Virgin Upper Class will recognise it and be interested in the small variations.

The flight staff were friendly and social, the IFE worked well — apart from the map, which had been fixed on my return flight in premium economy — and I had no problem working and sleeping. Food and drink were delicious.


FACT FILE

  • PLANE TYPE B777-300ER 
  • SEAT CONFIGURATION 1-2-1 (A, B-J, K)
  • SEAT WIDTH 22in/56cm
  • SEAT LENGTH 81in/206cm
  • SEAT RECLINE 180 degrees
  • CONTACT airnewzealand.com

Tom Otley

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