CHECK-IN My return Air New Zealand flight (NZ2) was scheduled to leave LA at 1645, so I arrived at Terminal 2 of LAX with plenty of time to spare at 1400. There was a long queue for economy, but only about a dozen people for business and premium economy.
I joined this shorter line and was processed within 15 minutes, having been issued a boarding pass and my case weighed and priority tagged. I then walked across the way to drop it at one of two TSA X-ray machines, where it was then presumably then taken for loading.
Adjacent was another long line of people waiting to go upstairs to security, but luckily business and premium passengers have fast-track so I was able to skip this and go straight on after having my passport and boarding pass quickly checked.
There was a five-minute wait, with shoes off, laptops and liquids out, and then a full body scan, which only took three seconds per person, so I was airside by 1430.
BOARDING The terminal was small so the food and drinks outlets and lounges on the upper mezzanine level were no more than about two minutes from all of the gates. As I have a Priority Pass card, I was able to enter the Air France lounge and avail of a quick drink (there was a choice of soft and alcoholic beverages, as well as snacks) while looking at my Hobbit-liveried B777-300ER parked at a nearby stand.
My flight started boarding from Gate 23A at 1600, with business and premium economy passengers given priority. It was very crowded so I had to push my way through to board – there was a quick document check and then access to the plane via an airbridge.
THE SEAT I was in my seat, 23J, next to the aisle at the front of the premium economy cabin, at 1620. On the outbound flight I had been sitting in one of the middle pairs of seats, but this time I was in one of the side pairs which are angled in the same direction but with the aisle seat set further back for a little extra privacy.
Premium economy occupies its own cabin from row 23 to 31 (though side pairs on the left finish at row 28, and on the right, 29 because of the washrooms behind. They are slightly staggered.
Sitting at the front meant I was directly behind a bulkhead and looking at the curtain separating us from business. My aisle seat felt quite spacious because of the curved angle of the bulkhead but actually restricted legroom slighty. There was, however, a deep space cut into the bulkhead in front of the adjacent window seat for legroom, and a shallower one in front of middle seats 23E and 23D (though I didn't like the look of these so much).
In 23K, the IFE screen is mounted on the wall and there is a fold-out bi-fold tray table, whereas mine popped out of the thick panel to my left, which also housed a good-size tray table. All the other features were the same as the middle pairs of seats, except for the lack of a central set of shared armrests that also lift up to double as a table. There were a few crumbs in the tray compartment but other than that, everything looked pretty clean.
Before take-off, crew came around to welcome passengers individually, to hand out menus and to demonstrate how to use the premium economy Space seat if required. I had flown twice before in the Space seat and was immediately struck again by what a great product it is – as good as some airlines' (non fully-flat) business class. Even though the décor and leather upholstery is light in colour, it has worn well and still looks clean.
The twin-aisle cabin was fresh and spacious with pink mood lighting above the overhead lockers. The seats are upholstered in very pale grey leather, and each premium economy passenger is given a large, squishy, white cotton pillow, noise-cancelling headphones, a bottle of water and an amenity kit containing stripy socks, an eyemask, ear plugs, Clarins mini moisturiser and lip balm, a pen, toothbrush and paste. A plastic-wrapped blanket was also placed on the seat.
Each pair of seats are built into a streamlined fixed shell, and built into each side is a small shelf for storing headphones and water, and an adjacent reading light and IFE remote. Side pair seats also have a left-hand armrest (on both seats) built into the side that can be lifted up or down.
The seat is maneuvered manually with two levers that first slides the seat down and forward, and then tilts, to give you a feeling of recline. (I found this difficult to operate.) There is space built into the shell in front for your legs to go into, and a soft purple bean bag to rest your feet on – I thought this was an excellent idea and added real comfort. The headrest can be moved up and down and is has curved wings to lean on.
ANZ's pamphlet about the Space seat says: "Your premium economy seat has been designed to give you an exclusive-use area that no one reclines into and there's no armrest sharing.” It also says that it offers 50 per cent more fixed personal space than traditional premium economy seats, and I would tend to agree.
"You can lean into either side of your seat shell or turn 90 degrees and lie on the seat sideways using your pillow to get really comfortable."
Obviously, this is only an option if you are travelling with a partner and sitting in the middle pairs of seats.
The seat-back IFE screen pulls out on an extendable arm and there is also a fold-down bi-fold table for placing drinks or meal trays on. Glasses need to be placed on a napkin though as they can slide off of the smooth plastic. (There is no circular indentation for cups.) Below the solid tray table is an international plug socket, USB and round iPod jack (you can buy a cable through the IFE system).
The in-flight entertainment system is state-of-the-art. There are handy features such as creating a playlist for your movies, ordering food and sharing films so you can watch what your companion is viewing. There was a good selection of movies, plus TV shows, games and music videos. It is controlled by a remote or touchscreen.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? The side pairs are both angled towards the window, with one set back slightly for added privacy.
The middle pairs are good for couples as, although they are angled away from each other, designed so that the middle armrests can be sunken to create one expanse of double seating, allowing you to stretch out. Or they can even be raised to create a table in the middle to eat at. Alternatively, one can be raised while the other is flat. There is also storage space beneath.
I would avoid middle seats in rows 30 and 31 because of their proximity to the washrooms. It may be best to go for row 24-27 side pairs or 24-28 middle pairs. If you are sitting at the front you will get served first.
Each seat can be reclined the same amount and has a good amount of legroom so you will not be disadvantaged in these respects anywhere except in aisle seats in row 23. Middle seats are great for couples but not a bad choice for solo passengers either as they are angled away from each other so actually feel quite private, especially if you have the middle armrest/tables up.
A fixed shell around the side pairs creates an added sense of privacy as they are separated nicely, though you will have the issue of either having to climb over the person next to you to get out, or being climbed over. Aisle seats 23J and B have slightly restricted legroom.
THE FLIGHT The flight time was expected to be ten hours 30 minutes. The aircraft pushed back at 1650 and taxied for about 20 minutes before taking off. Hot towels were handed out after take-off, followed by a choice of water, sparkling wine or juice, and food orders taken.
The dinner service began from the front of the cabin at 1740, with a starter of five-spiced smoked salmon topped with spicy radish, cucumber salad and sweet chilli mayonnaise. This was presented on a tray with crackers and cheese, a dessert of coconut macaroon mousse with fresh berries, and a choice of garlic, wholegrain or freshly baked olive bread.
Mains were of braised lamb shoulder with tamarind and date couscous pilaf, broccolini and minted yoghurt dressing; roasted chicken breast with honey-roast parsnips and heritage carrots with smoked paprika and almond pesto; and seared cod with olive tapenade crumb crust, white bean puree, lemony wilted chard, tomato caper sauce and green pesto.
The cod was cooked pretty well but the sauces contributed to an overly salty flavour, which meant I couldn't finish it. The dessert was okay but a little artificial. I fancied a glass of red with the food and there were two choices – a 2011 pinot noir from Montillo, Central Otago, New Zealand, and a 2010 merlot/cabernet sauvignon from Villa Maria, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand.
The IFE system worked well and I watched a couple of films – the selection had been refreshed since my outbound flight a week before so I was pleased to find some movies I hadn't already seen.
A certain TV presenter and his glamorous girlfriend were travelling with their two pet French bulldogs, which were sitting on the floor in front of them. They were not in a cage
Breakfast was served at 0145, beginning with tea, coffee, juice, fresh sliced fruit, yoghurt and a croissant, followed by two cooked options – a three-cheese omelette with creamed spinach, crispy bacon and spiced tomato relish, and waffles with fresh blueberry and orange compote and whipped cream.
I was interested to notice that a certain well-known British TV presenter and his glamorous girlfriend were sitting across from me in 23A/B, and that they were travelling with their two pet Frenchies (French bulldogs), which were sitting on the floor in front of them. They were not in a cage.
I was very surprised as I didn't think this would have been allowed. For a start, I couldn't imagine where they were meant to go to the loo.
Having said that, they were very well behaved and only barked once when landing.
ANZ's pet policy reads: "Animals travelling on Air New Zealand must be shipped as cargo. No animals are permitted to travel within the passenger cabin in shipping kennels or otherwise (excluding seeing eye dogs)." You can read ANZ's pet policy here and about its service dog policy here.
ARRIVAL The plane started its descent into London at 0245 (1045 local time) and landed at 1135. Passengers disembarked ten minutes later via an airbridge into Terminal 1, and walked another ten minutes to immigration. There was no queue at the biometric immigration gates so was straight through and down to baggage reclaim were my priority-tagged case was waiting for me.
VERDICT Probably the best premium economy product in the skies. It is always a pleasure to fly Air New Zealand – the crew are friendly, the IFE system excellent and the food good quality.
SEAT CONFIGURATION 2-2-2
SEAT PITCH 33-42 inches
SEAT WIDTH 20 inches
PRICE Internet rates for a midweek return premium economy flight in August started from £3,138.