Flying Premium Economy on Air New Zealand (Again)

Photo courtesy of Air New Zealand
Photo courtesy of Air New Zealand

When you enjoy something, you tend to not want to enjoy it only once as was the case with my last trip to Australia.  When I first flew to Sydney on Air New Zealand back in October 2013, the experience was so good that I didn’t even consider another air carrier for my trip back.

To give you a better idea of Air New Zealand the quirky kind of company they are, take a look at the safety video they produced.  If you love the Hobbit or simply have a great sense of humor, you’ll love it.  Even if you don’t, how can you not enjoy anything other than the standard safety video?

Waiting to board flight in San Francisco to Auckland
Waiting to board flight in San Francisco to Auckland

To get to Sydney, I needed to fly first from Boston to San Francisco on United and then I was able to make my connecting flight from San Francisco to Auckland.

TSG Tip: If you’re flying United and you think your checked bag might be over the allowed 50 lbs., don’t do self check in at the kiosks.  Although we were allowed two bags each at 50 lbs. a piece, when I tried to check my bag in, I had to take some items out — something I vowed I would never do in the middle of an airport.  My bag’s weight? 50.5 lbs.  I spoke with a supervisor who said that if I had gone to the full service check in line the agent would have been able to let the 1/2 pound slide, but the computer associated with the self service check in kiosks don’t allow the agent to adjust the weight.

Premium Economy: I purposely chose Air New Zealand‘s Boeing 777-300 for both my outbound and return flights because of my prior experience in the Premium Economy Spaceseat.  Just look at it!  It’s amazing and truly a benefit for long haul flights. Located in a separate cabin behind Business and in front of Economy, For a nearly 13 hour flight, I like having the extra legroom, but not having to pay the premium of Business class. The seat moves forward within the shell, which then allows you to prop your feet up on the beanbag to relax. The overhead bins (or lockers) are for each individual seat so there’s plenty of storage space available.  I love the little mirror at the top for short people like me so I can see if I have gotten all of my goods out before exiting the plane.  If you’re unsure of how to take full advantage of your Premium Economy Spaceseat, don’t worry! You can read the super fun and informative flyer in the seat back pocket if you choose.

Key Features:

  • 40-42″ seat pitch
  • Footrest bean bag
  • Premium check-in
  • On-demand inflight entertainment
  • Noise canceling headphones
  • In-set power, USB and iPod connections
  • Chef-designed menu with NZ wines
  • 2-2-2 cabin configuration
  • Amenity Kit

Amenity Kit: Let’s talk about the new amenity kit that Air New Zealand is offering to its Premium Economy customers.  I have to admit that I was a little disappointed in the new amenity kit which is now nothing more than a ziplock type bag with a pen, socks, a sleep mask, ear plugs, and a toothbrush with toothpaste. No special bag and no toiletries make this less than a stellar amenity bag for this class of service.

What did I do during my flight? I did what would only be expected of me and I ate, drank, slept, and watched the progress of my flight when I wasn’t busy watching movies or television shows.  I enjoyed watching “Fury,” and that killed some time before I dove into reading all the information in the “Concierge” section that included incredibly useful information about Sydney, Auckland, and other cities in Australia and New Zealand.  Had I wanted to, I could have kept drinking and eating the entire flight as food and beverage was always available.  I chose to enjoy a few hours of sleep instead.

TSG Tip:  Not all of the bathrooms on board the aircraft are the same.  I don’t mean depending on the cabin class, but depending on what side of the plane you are in.  If facing forward, the bathroom on the left was significantly bigger than on the other side.  Either way, don’t miss out on the outstanding wallpaper they used in the restroom.  The lavatory I used had books on the wall like a library, which was so cute.  On prior flights I saw chandeliers on the wall.  That’s why I love Air New Zealand because they are so unique and original!

Dinner on flight to Auckland: I decided that I was going to defeat jet lag by trying to adjust my internal clock to match the time in Sydney when we left San Francisco.  That lasted only for a few hours, probably just past dinner, but I did try.  I had pre-ordered a vegetarian meal and I was presented with cheese and crackers, a salad that had tofu (yes – tofu!), and a chocolate cake for dessert.  My entree was ravioli with vegetables on the side, which was average at best, but still edible.  The highlight of my meal was enjoying a glass of Mud House Sauvignon Blanc, a New Zealand wine that was quite good.  Not being a wine connoisseur, I usually take whatever is offered, but I was thrilled to have this as an option.  Mud House describes their Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2014 as having “pure aromas of crushed citrus, snow pea and ripe grapefruit.”

Breakfast on flight to Auckland: Sticking with the pre-ordered vegetarian meal, breakfast was served and I started with a bowl of fruit that had a strawberry that was larger than my entire thumb. It was huge and all of the fruit, I must admit, was incredibly delicious.  For my breakfast entree I was given spinach, some kind of a potato-type pancake, and ratatouille which was strange, but good.  The flight attendants also served hot croissants, yogurt, coffee or tea, and orange juice.

Auckland airport for flight to Sydney: My flight from San Francisco to Auckland arrived at just before 5 am after traveling a distance of 6,526 miles.  I stopped to take a picture of the sun rising over New Zealand and it was beautiful.  With a little time between flights, we walked through the airport and checked out was available from both Duty Free and the regular shops.  There’s plenty of seating throughout the airport for those waiting for flights, especially as they won’t announce the your flight’s gate until about an hour before the flight is scheduled to depart.  So if you have to wait, grab a coffee, put your feet up, enjoy the free 30 minutes of WiFi that the airport provides, go shopping, or just relax. I love this image hanging in one of the stores and had to have a picture of it.  Is it me or don’t you think it would make a great tattoo?

Flight to Sydney: My Air New Zealand flight from Auckland to Sydney was on a Boeing 767-300 and my seat was a comfy Works Deluxe seat.  What does that mean?  With the same configuration as Economy, this class of seating occupies rows 7 through 16, with seats A/B and J/K as seats of two on the left and right of the plane.  But seats D and F are in the middle of the plane in a configuration of three seats with the middle seat, E, left unoccupied.  This is great for the business traveler or any traveler who doesn’t need or have the desire to spend extra money for Business class seats for a three hour flight and wants a little extra room.  To my surprise, another meal was served on this flight as well.  Meal included coffee or tea, fruit, a vegan muffin, and a vegetarian meal entree.  The entree consisted of mushrooms in some kind of gravy, spinach, brown rice, and tomato sauce over the rice.  I did try it, but chose to not eat it because well, I wasn’t hungry and it wasn’t terribly appetizing.

64FC822B-6CC0-43DC-B575-BDFABEF9A7E5_zpskkssfzgtAfter a few weeks traveling around New Zealand, before I knew it I was flying back to the United States.  It was so weird to see that my boarding time for my flight to Los Angeles on Sunday was the same exact time as my flight from Los Angeles to Boston — also on Sunday.  Crossing the international date line always proves to be crazy on the mind.

One of the benefits of Air New Zealand‘s Premium Economy allows you to board in the first group after those needing assistance and small children.  For this 12 hour flight back to Los Angeles, I was planning on doing a whole lot of nothing for the 6,512 mile flight.  I did get to watch “Whiplash,” which was the highlight of my flight and I slept, but for some odd reason, I was extremely uncomfortable.  I don’t think it was the plane as we were sitting in the same exact seats as we had on the flight out.  I am going to blame it on jumping off the Auckland Sky Tower, but that’s a story for later.

The gate for this Air New Zealand flight was in the same area that our flight from Auckland to Sydney was, which was down an escalator after having your ticket checked to allow you to enter the boarding area.  Call me crazy, but I do love the pattern on the carpet in that section of the airport. Our flight was leaving at 10:45 pm on Sunday and was scheduled to arrive in Los Angeles at 1:45 pm on Sunday – yes the same day but earlier.

TSG Tip:  I love to travel and my travels have taken me to many places around the globe.  So it is my duty to inform you that no matter where you travel, people will always line up and crowd the area in front of where you need to go to board the plane.  Why do people insist on doing this?  Then they get on the plane and act like they’ve never been on one before and take 20 minutes to put their items in the overhead bin.  <End of rant – I promise!>

Auckland Airport: When we arrived at the airport in Auckland, I immediately went over to the kiosks to check in, but was intercepted by an Air New Zealand employee who took over and did it for me, which kind of defeats the purpose of calling it a self service kiosk.  He flew threw the prompts without asking me anything, which bothered me, but what can you do? We collected our tickets and then dropped the bags off before heading through the Premium Economy entrance, which gets you through security at the speed of sound. Nothing beats that, especially when you are only steps away from Duty Free shopping, right?  Although we had Premium Economy seats, we were not allowed entrance to the Air New Zealand lounge, so instead we walked over to the conveniently located Emperor Lounge located at the bottom of the escalator near Duty Free.  The entire time we were there we never saw more than five or six people, which was great.  The lounge had WiFi, drinks, food, great seating, television, and shower and bathroom accommodations.  After shopping for a few things and not being able to bring back any honey because of the size of the jars, I sat down with a glass of wine and sweet corn soup and waited for our flight.

TSG Tip: While you could pay the $55 NZD per person to enter the Emperor Lounge, you could also sign up for Priority Pass, which provides you with access to lounges worldwide for as little as $99 per year with visit fees of only $27.  Even better, get a code for an additional discount and save even more money.

As you can see, my seat going from Auckland to Los Angeles was the same seat I had from San Francisco to Auckland.  Everything was pretty much the same, but for service.

Dinner on flight to Los Angeles: A short while after take off, our flight attendants offered meal service.  When I asked for the Mud House Sauvignon, I was informed that it wasn’t available and I opted to hold onto the champagne that was offered from earlier.  Keeping in mind that I had ordered a vegetarian meal, this meal was all about cheese.  Seriously – who eats this much cheese? There was a plate with cheese and dates, a salad of lentils, mozzarella, and tomatoes as well as rolls and yes, more cheese.  The entree was a vegetable lasagna served with green beans and topped with pumpkin seeds.

Breakfast on flight to Los Angeles: If for some reason after reading this post you don’t remember that I had ordered a vegetarian meal through Air New Zealand, I might accuse you of working for them.  Breakfast which was served about an hour before landing consisted of a weird vegan piece of bread, a vegan muffin, muesli, yogurt, fruit, and tea or coffee.  That’s not weird, but getting an entree that had a huge omelet covered in baked beans, mushrooms, spinach, and half a tomato is.  To serve eggs after serving vegan items is just so incredibly strange.  I don’t eat omelets or eggs so that went untouched so I was glad that I had the cereal and vegan muffin for breakfast.

While I enjoyed the space and comfort that Air New Zealand‘s Premium Economy seats offered, the service on all of my flights were good, but not as great as with my first experience only one year earlier.  In fact, my flight from Auckland to Los Angeles I felt as if my flight attendant was rushing and either tired or overworked. Overall, it didn’t feel as special as it had previously and that to me, was a huge disappointment.  If you’re paying for a premium product, you expect and deserve premium service, especially from an airline that recently won airline of the year (2015) again from after winning it in 2014.  That doesn’t mean I won’t fly with them again.  It simply means that it didn’t live up to the high expectations I had for them from a prior experience.  I’m hoping that they will do all they can to win me back.  Are you listening Air New Zealand?