Tried & Tested

Flight check: Air New Zealand B777-200 Business Premier

14 Jun 2016 by Clement Huang
CHECK-IN The ride from downtown Auckland to the airport took 25 minutes with no traffic on the roads. Check-in takes place on the ground floor, after which you go to the upper floor to be processed. Next to zone A is the premium check-in area, which has a number of self-service kiosks as well as two staffed check-in counters. The process was swift and efficient, and I was soon upstairs… struggling with the e-passport channel. I had to back out of my “booth” a couple of times before it “recognised” and approved me. Once through, I had a ten-minute queue at the x-ray machines before arriving airside. LOUNGE The Air New Zealand Lounge is straight ahead once you exit the security check area, up an escalator. It is a cavernous place, split into various sections: first there are low, comfortable sofa chairs upholstered in grey and pink; then to the left a brightly lit dining area with white tables and a long, white bench, at the end of which is a buffet with a fairly meagre hot food offering (the penne and linguine were barely warm rather than hot) but a much better cold plate selection of cheeses, breads and excellent wraps and sandwiches. The self-service drinks section offers a wide range of soft drinks, juices, liquors, coffee and tea, but there is also a staffed bar in the far corner – which was well patronised. A side room with many sofa chairs has a cinematic screen showing sport, and down a corridor are the capacious shower facilities. Other lounge amenities include a family room, a row of chaise longues in the far corner, and an “alfresco” area with cooler air being pumped in, a green wall of plants, and swing hammocks on one side. My only complaint was that the airline information screens were small and awkwardly placed for all but a few seats. That aside, this was an excellent lounge. BOARDING The flight was called 30 minutes before scheduled take-off, and the walk to gate 6 took five minutes from the lounge. There was a short queue in the premium boarding lane, but once on board I was offered champagne, water or orange juice, my jacket was taken to be hung up, and the staff introduced themselves by first name and addressed everyone by their names. Their manner was informal but polite as they explained the seat’s functions and pointed out useful details such as the almost hidden placement of the headphone socket and power outlet in the side pocket. The plane left the gate at exactly midnight and took off at 0020. THE SEAT I was in 2K, a window seat at the front. Configurated in a 1-2-1 herringbone pattern, all seats face towards the aisle and, together with shoulder-height “walls”, this means there is not much sense of privacy. Each passenger gets his/her own large overhead locker for bags, and the memory foam mattress, cotton pillow, duvet and sleep sheet are stored behind the seat back, ready for when the seat is put into fully flat mode. The seat “pods” are constructed from spacecraft-like moulded plastic painted in metallic light grey, while the seats are white leather of a high quality, with an Ottoman footrest that doubles as a visitor seat – it’s a sleek, attractive looking package. My seat motor was quite noisy but worked fast and smoothly. An 11-inch screen pops out at the touch of a button and a hinged arm swings it out to an adjustable distance for comfortable viewing; its touchscreen controls are easier to master than many. The side pocket fits a laptop and notepad, and there is more shelf space for sundries in the corner of the pod at elbow height. The table is a large metal surface that automatically pops out from the pod wall by the Ottoman and slides back and forth on a runner. The amenity kit comes in a neat bag made from recycled material that is the exact size to fit an iPad. Inside are socks, an eye mask, toothbrush, pen and earplugs, as well as two Antipodes skincare products sourced from sustainable, organic ingredients (vanilla pod day cream and paw-paw lip balm). WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE The 26 seats, all with direct aisle access, seem fairly equal in appeal. Window seats angle inwards making gazing out of the window difficult, while there are galleys and toilets at each end, so perhaps a central seat is quietest. THE FLIGHT The great differentiator for this airline is its staff and their friendly but efficient manner. Throughout my flight I was addressed by either my first or surname by all members of the crew, and they did this with all the passengers, which was impressive and created a good atmosphere. Before take-off my pre-dinner drink order was taken (a sauvignon blanc) and once in the air it was delivered to me. Dinner was served quickly: for the starter there was a choice of either tea-smoked salmon or char siu chicken – I chose the former, which had great flavour – and of four main courses I plumped for the gourmet beef burger with caramalised onion, Swiss cheese and bacon. The bun was quite dry, but the meat and sundries were very tasty, including crispy lettuce and sliced tomato on the side. The menu, designed by a consultant chef, uses natural New Zealand produce and the wine cellar focuses on local wines – I did not recognise any vineyard names but I tried a white, red (merlot-cabernet blend) and dessert wine and all were very palatable. Hot and cold snacks are also available throughout the flight from the galley. I watched a new-release movie while I ate – there are 580 hours of IFE available from the moment you sit down to arrival at gate; the touchscreen system was simple, the screen very clear and the active noise-cancelling headphones very effective. Later, after some time working on my laptop, I used the bathroom and while I was there the crew laid out my bed. The mattress is excellent – a six-footer will be accommodated easily – and with two good pillows I slept very well for five hours. Breakfast was served 90 minutes before arrival; for me it comprised a smoothie, fruit and yoghurt, coffee and an omelette plate – no complaints at all. As we began our descent, the head of cabin crew went round every business class passenger asking how the flight had been and if there was anything they could improve upon – a touch of class. ARRIVAL We touched down at HKIA at 0616, 11 minutes behind schedule – having taken off 30 minutes late. Within five minutes we were at the gate, priority disembarking saw me at an empty immigration in another five, and I was on the train to downtown Hong Kong by 0635. VERDICT The combination of a quality seat product, good F&B and most of all a great balance between genuine friendliness and efficient service made this a great flight. The airline punches above its weight and deserves the plaudits it often gets.   FACT FILE
  • DEPARTURE 2350
  • JOURNEY TIME 11 hours 15 minutes
  • BED LENGTH 79.5in/201cm
  • SEAT WIDTH 22in/56cm
  • SEAT RECLINE 180 degrees
  • PRICE Internet rates for a return Business Premier flight from Auckland to Hong Kong in mid-August start at NZ$5,803 (US$3,900) including taxes and surcharges.
Jeremy Tredinnick
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