Unsure of how bad the traffic would be, I allowed plenty of time to get from West Hollywood to Los Angeles International airport (LAX) where my Air New Zealand flight would be departing at 1610 from the Tom Bradley International Terminal (B) to London Heathrow.
In the end it only took about 30 minutes, although the drop-off points outside the various terminals were highly congested. (Note that if you have a lot of luggage, trolleys are available outside the terminal but you have to pay for them.) Once inside the terminal, I swiftly found the Air New Zealand check-in area in Zone C.
I tried to check-in online but the system wouldn’t allow me to so I queued at 1340 for about five minutes at the staffed counters (there are also self-service kiosks). There were two desks (C39 and C40) assigned for business class, premium economy and gold members of Star Alliance/Koru. In the end, an economy counter opened up first and my luggage was checked in and priority tagged (two cases are permitted in premium economy, three in business).
I was issued a paper boarding pass and then made my way up one level to security, where there were very long queues. There were separate priority lanes for first and business class passengers and staff were polite. Some people were directed through body scanners but I wasn’t. All passengers have to take off their shoes, and remove laptops and liquids from bags.
Air New Zealand operates the magnificent Star Alliance lounge at Tom Bradley International. Located on level six, there are 375 seats, buffet counters with free food, fridges stocked with beer and wine, a staffed bar for spirits, a library work zone, free wifi and shower suites. The highlight is the outdoor terrace with open fires, a bar and views of planes – an unusual feature for airport lounges. There is also a mezzanine balcony looking into the terminal.
My flight was departing from Gate 157, about five minutes’ walk from the bulk of the restaurants and shops. It was crowded in the waiting but there was plenty of space and, at some available seats with USB charging points for your phone, which was handy. Boarding of business class passengers began at 1540 after families with young children.
All passengers were greeted warmly once seated (the member of crew looking after my section of the cabin was Sarah) and a choice of Billecart Salmon champagne, orange juice or water offered. The cabin was almost full – some people would have come from Auckland, touching down in LA on the way to London, so would have disembarked for a couple of hours before getting back on the plane.
Hot towels were handed around at 1606, during which time the captain came on to give a few details about the journey ahead. The flight time was estimated to be ten hours 30 minutes with arrival the following day at 1040, although entertainment screens suggested the flight would be quicker at nine hours 50 minutes.
I was seated in 2J at the front of the second business class cabin, which is from row one to seven. The second cabin, which is in front of premium economy, is across rows nice to 12. The product is arranged 1-2-1 (A, B-J, K) so everyone has direct aisle access. In total there are 44 business class seats measuring 22 inches in width, and 79 inches when in fully flat mode (with 33 inches of shoulder room).
Like Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class, they are in a herringbone formation so window seats are angled away from the windows. They have the same shape as well, pods having low walls for a certain degree of privacy (more when lying down on the fully flat bed), plus off-white leather upholstery (aubergine for the ottoman, which doubles as a guest seat). A button releases the seat, which folds forward to create a flat surface for sleeping on.
Menus and amenity kits (containing socks, an eyemask, Ashley and Co lip balm and moisturiser, a toothbrush and paste, mouthwash, a pen and a mint) were placed on the ottoman in front of each seat. Bedding bundles and pillows were neatly piled behind the seat back.
There are USB and universal power sockets below the 11-inch touchscreen entertainment monitors, which also have a remote built in underneath. Large, solid tables pop out of the side of the pod (crew tend to operate these when beginning the meal service) and there are smaller drinks trays that fold out next to the screens. There is no wifi on board.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE?
Rows one and two are nearest the galley at the front of the plane, while row seven and 12 are nearer the central galley so there can be some noise and cold air coming through, although the curtains remains shut for most of the flight. The washrooms are closest to row nine and there are bassinets for babies behind seats 12B and 12J in premium economy, which could mean there is some disturbance if they start crying. The second cabin is smaller, which some people might prefer. Other than that, all the seats will offer the same level of comfort and aisle access.
The aircraft pushed back at 1620, taking off at 1640. Pre-ordered drinks were delivered at 1700 once airborne, along with small dishes of salted cashews and almonds. The order for my main course was taken not long after, while pre-plated starters were brought around on a trolley, along with more wine and champagne, and a selection of fresh, warm bread (olive, garlic and rye).
The menu listed two starters (Sonoma county smoked duck, roasted heritage carrot salad with nigella seed and tahini orange yoghurt; and marinated baby mozzarella with asparagus and prosciutto) and four mains.
These were slow-cooked beef in red wine and garlic with cremini mushrooms, potato mustard gratin, spinach, green olive and mint tapenade; wood roasted chicken with creamy red-skinned potato mash, fennel, celery and pomegranate salad; herb-roasted cod with grilled globe artichoke, broad beans, courgette and peas with romesco sauce; and tomato and smoked chipotle soup with roasted corn and Feta salsa. I chose the fish, which was reasonably moist and went well with the accompaniments.
To finish, there were desserts of cookie dough ice cream and warm chocolate ganache tart, plus a cheese plate with Cheddar, Brie and blue cheese with fig relish. The bar menu was extensive, encompassing Panhead and Mac’s craft beers, single malt whisky, port and cream liqueurs, a sparkling wine from Marlborough, New Zealand (Nautilus Cuvee), as well as various reds and whites. If you are hungry during the flight, there are snacks in the galley, and a bagel with cream cheese, bacon, tomato, pesto, onion jam and spinach (this is also served at breakfast).
The dinner service was well paced and, by the time it got to 1900, most people were settling down to sleep and the final tables being cleared. By this point there was 7.5 hours left of the flight.
I asked a member of crew to help make up my bed – a button releases the seat and flips it forwards to create a flat surface meeting with the ottoman. I was impressed to find travellers are provided with thick, cotton-covered memory foam mattresses, as well as two pillows and a cover. This was one of the most comfortable business class beds I have ever experienced, although I was a little cold at times (an extra blanket would have been nice).
I woke up at about 1230 when breakfast was being served, beginning with juice and a delicious mango, ginger and turmeric smoothie. Some people continued to sleep – there had been a lot of turbulence so it made sleeping all the way through difficult.. I wasn’t very hungry but tried a little fresh fruit with yoghurt and cereal, along with a slice of (very dry and crunchy) wholemeal toast and Marmite (there is also Vegemite).
For those with a good appetite, there are an additional four hot options including poached eggs with Black Forest ham and hollandaise sauce, an omelette with pan-friend Linguica sausage, and cinnamon sugar brioche French toast. Tables were cleared at 0155 in preparation for landing.
The aircraft touched down at London Heathrow Terminal 2 on time at about 1040. It didn’t take too long to get to the stand and disembark via an airbridge, although the walk to arrivals was a long one (about 15 minutes). The queue for the e-passport gates moved quickly and I was down in baggage reclaim by 1115. My suitcase arrived soon after.
Frequent flyers on this route will appreciate the Star Alliance lounge at LAX and the supremely comfortable fully flat beds in ANZ’s business class. The food wasn’t knock-out but there certainly was a lot of choice. I would compliment the staff on their excellent service, which is professional, warm and cheerful.