THE FLIGHT: NZ2 on a B777-300ER from Los Angeles to London Heathrow. Flight time was nine hours 25 minutes, three minutes faster than the anticipated time when the Flight Services Director introduced himself in the lounge an hour or so before take-off. This was a nice touch with an invitation for any passengers to chat with him or, “I’ll meet you individually on board”. A short time before boarding an announcement was made that “you’ll be escorted on board in 10 to 15 minutes by Clare”.
THE CHECK-IN: Both Business Premier and Premium Economy passengers enjoy a separate check-in at LAX which was friendly and efficient with the clerk asking me if I was pleased to be heading home (which I was after 2.5 weeks away). Security too was speedy in spite of an extra search of my carry-on bag.
THE LOUNGE: Airport lounges are always a welcome haven but the more so in LAX where pre-flight diversions are limited. Air New Zealand’s lounge is extensive with full facilities, from TV to computers plus an extensive range of food and drink options including, of course, a selection of New Zealand wines. There’s copious and varied seating options, some including great views of the airport runways. Particularly impressive for news junkies was the delivery of UK Sunday newspapers while I was waiting for my flight, perfectly timed as I’d just finished the Saturdays! There were showers and a number of desk-top computers.
THE SEAT: Business Premier 9B in the centre section, very cocooned from other passengers and with a design that allows take-off and landing in a reclined seat position. The 22 inch-wide leather seat and footstool were very comfortable but, for those not used to Air NZ’s business class, a guide to converting the seat to (an equally comfortable) 6 ft 7.5 inch bed would be useful. I discovered that the red light ‘obstruction’ to achieving the conversion was me, because I was sitting on it! But, with friendly assistance from the flight crew I turned the seat into a bed, which came with a large cotton pillow, duvet and sleep sheet. Other features include large adjustable table, in-seat power in every seat, (which accepts most common connector plugs without the need for an adaptor), multiple stowage options, three individual reading lights and a retractable cocktail tray and water bottle holder.
THE SERVICE: Excellent, from the pre-take-off drink to the pre-landing boiled sweet. An excellent dinner, which came with a choice of six main courses, was served at a leisurely pace with plentiful top-ups of quality New Zealand wines. The 10.4 inch high-resolution touch screen entertainment system offers enough choice to stay airborne for weeks with scores of films, TV programmes, 12 music genres and games as well as route maps which, strangely, also show the sites of historic sea wrecks. Amenities are supplied in a ribboned gift box and there’s also a bottle of water at every seat. Breakfast came with four main course options.
THE ARRIVAL: A touching reminder of yesteryear with a bowl of boiled sweets handed round to passengers before landing. Much of the 40 minutes gained through the early arrival was lost because the Heathrow staffs’ training was not quite in the same league as that of Air NZ when it came to attaching the air bridge, but on the plus side my bag was already offloaded from the carousel by the time I arrived in the baggage reclaim area.
THE DETAILS: Air New Zealand flies daily between Los Angeles and Heathrow with a scheduled 16.30 departure from LAX to reach LHR at 11.00 the next morning. Return LHR/LAX Business Premium fares are from £2,896, including taxes.
Outstanding. Air New Zealand exudes an air of innovation at every turn and there is clearly enormous attention paid to the quality of its crew training. The airline’s Airline of the Year Award in 2010 is little surprise and in an era of mass travel Air New Zealand still manages to maintain an envious degree of individuality compared with most other airlines.
Managing editor, Selling Long Haul