Air New Zealand Business Premier
by John Wegg
Airline: Air New Zealand
Flights: NZ1, NZ2
Routes: Los Angeles, California (IATA: LAX)–Auckland, New Zealand (AKL), and return
Aircraft: Boeing 747-400
PHOTO: ROB FINLAYSON
At LAX, Air New Zealand uses Terminal 2, which has become a mini international building as it also serves nine other overseas airlines. The spacious Air New Zealand check-in area is at the east end, with a separate section for premium class customers nicely divided from the main area, enhancing the aura of exclusivity. My bags had, I hoped, arrived with me at LAX on a Delta domestic service. They had been tagged to AKL at origin and thus should automatically be transferred to Air New Zealand. I simply walked across the center of the airport from Terminal 5, opposite, which offered a little exercise and close-up views of the iconic theme building and the air traffic control tower.
Check-in is handled by contract staff, who were friendly and efficient, and as I was the only 'Business Premier' customer at the time I had a boarding pass issued within two minutes. My seat assignment (19K, on the upper deck, 'both aisle and a window') was explained to me, and directions given to reach the lounge after negotiating security. The TSA checkpoint was equally quiet at this late afternoon hour and a few minutes later I was at Air New Zealand's Koru Lounge, located on the mezzanine floor above Starbucks.
PHOTOS: AIR NEW ZEALAND
From all accounts, this is one of the nicest of the Star Alliance lounges at LAX, and is also used by other airlines, such as Virgin Atlantic Airways. Divided into zones, there are areas for watching television, reading, conducting business, or simply relaxing in a comfortable chair with a drink and enjoying the expansive view of the T2 western ramp and northern runways. Complimentary Wi-Fi is available for Internet access.
The decor is New Zealand-inspired, and local newspapers are available, as well as other literature about the country. A good selection of New Zealand beers and wines—as well as 42BELOW Kiwi vodka—adds to the ambiance. A selection of cheeses, salads, and meats formed a buffet spread, and later pavlova was offered—a favorite Kiwi dessert.
About 30 minutes before boarding, NZ1's international airline concierge, Elaine, walked through the lounge to introduce herself. An idea launched by the airline two years ago as a world's first, the friendly concierges are ambassadors for New Zealand, available to all passengers (not only those up front) to spend a little time with customers, perhaps help them choose a local wine with their meal, and assist with travel arrangements and destination advice.
Although the 747 operating NZ1 was an hour or so late in arriving at LAX from London, a fast turnaround saw boarding called for an on-schedule 2130 departure. Premium class passengers are escorted in a group from the lounge, pre-boarded through a separate channel at the gate, and welcomed by the concierge. At the aircraft door, two cabin crewmembers directed passengers to their seats with a cheery 'Welcome to business class'.
On the 747-400, Business Premier occupies the nose section forward of the galleys, Rows 1-7; Rows 10-15 aft of the galleys; and Rows 16-20 in the forward section of the upper deck (Rows 22-26 are Pacific Premium Economy seats). Follow this link to see Boeing 747-400 seat map.
Business Premier features 22in (56cm)-wide, leather-covered lie-flat seats, arranged in individual pods set an an angle for best use of the available space. The result is very comfortable privacy, although couples could feel a bit isolated, and it is difficult to see out of the windows. (Apparently, this is of little concern because on both sectors I noted that hardly a business customer glanced out on takeoff or landing.) At the foot of each seat is an ottoman that serves as a footrest, or as a companion seat, although there is no backrest. Menus and a toiletry bag were positioned on the ottoman. An examination of the contents of the bag revealed socks, an eye mask, toothbrush and toothpaste, ear plugs, lip balm, and eye cream (for the skin surrounding the optics, not as a salve for red oculars). A bottle of water was provided by each seat, which have a power port to plug in a laptop. The overhead bins provide ample carry-on baggage space. Flight attendants (FAs) were quick to offer to hang up jackets and serve a welcome drink of orange juice, water, Deutz New Zealand sparkling wine from Marlborough, or Champagne—which proved to be Piper-Heidsieck Cuvée Brut.
After the safety briefing was conducted, we were welcomed on board by the captain, who advised flight time would be 12hr 30min for the 6,400mi (10,500km) trans-Pacific hop, and shortly thereafter we pushed back from Gate 21 for a short taxi to Runway 25L.
Once airborne, aperitifs were offered, along with landing cards that all travellers to New Zealand must complete. Newspapers and magazines were available, but most passengers appeared to dive straight in to the extensive IFE (in-flight entertainment) on offer, watched on a 10.4in (26cm) personal screen accompanied by good-quality headphones. A huge selection of movies, television and radio programs, CD playlists are available to suit all tastes, as well as sports, arcade, and word games. Because of its home's location, Air New Zealand is by default primarily a long-haul carrier, but no flight would be long enough to explore all the options. Thankfully, for those less hi-tech minded, the operating intricacies of the system were explained by a helpful crew member.
FAs then set up our tray tables or dinner. For those who prefer to sleep as soon as possible, a 'Fast Dine' option offers soup and dessert. (And for those who want to sleep as long as possible, a Fast Dine breakfast of a hot bacon roll can be pre-ordered.)
Those taking advantage of the four-course meal service first partook of a bean salad with prosciutto, accompanied by garlic, black olive, and sourdough breads. The three main choices comprised lamb, chicken, and Pacific snapper. Dessert was ice cream, and for the hearty of appetite this was followed by a cheese and fruit selection. Throughout there was ample liquid refreshment, with some fine New Zealand wines (helpfully explained by a seat-pocket guide).
With any hunger pains well assuaged, it was time for sleep. An attentive FA pushed a couple of buttons and made up the 6ft 7in (2m)-long bed with mattress, pillow, and cover. This is the star of Business Premier, and I appeared to be one of the last to awake after several hours in the arms of Morpheus. To suit my metabolism, I opted for a light breakfast of yoghurt and fruit; others with more robust stomachs at that hour chose the omelette or corned beef and vegetable hash cakes.
During the pre-descent preparations, our concierge came through to check that there were no concerns and to thank each customer for travelling with the airline. Thanks was also personally extended by the lead FA, and on the PA by the first officer—the second time we heard from the flightdeck crew.
The smooth touchdown after a half-day's journey across the vast Pacific attracted little notice from the occupants of the upper deck. We had made up time en route, and blocked in some 20 minutes ahead of the STA of 0530, day two after leaving LAX. In customary fashion, premium customers are allowed to deplane ahead of other occupants. As one of the the first international arrivals that morning, that privilege resulted in a line-less finish at immigration. Although my bags were not tagged as priority by Delta, they arrived on the baggage belt at the same time as I entered the arrivals hall, which has an ample supply of free baggage trolleys. After customs formalities, and a bio-security X-ray check of luggage, I emerged landside at 0550.
PHOTO: ROB FINLAYSON
At Auckland, I checked in almost exactly two hours before departure, as required for passengers travelling to the USA. There is a completely separate check-in area for premium class passengers, which makes the process very civilized, and as I was the sole customer in sight procedures were relaxed, and the friendly Samoan agent had time for a chat about her home country. A lift (elevator) gives access to a separate passport control, leading to a less-congested security checkpoint, making this process a breeze.
PHOTOS: JOHN WEGG
Air New Zealand's spacious Koru Lounge offered a selection of cold snacks—the quark and almond quiche was a noteworthy marriage of ingredients—as well as the usual amenities. I found plenty of available power outlets for the laptop to take advantage of the complimentary Wi-Fi and attempt to catch up with emails.
Aaron, our concierge for this trip, passed through the lounge to explain arrival procedures in LAX, and the transit procedures for those travelling through to London. (These were also carefully explained in PA announcements on board the aircraft when arrival forms were distributed, and again before landing.)
A call was made in the lounge, and passengers made their way at leisure to the gate. Before entering the holding area, there was another passport and boarding card check, followed by a second security screening of carry-on bags. This extra care is given only to US-bound flights at the behest of the TSA.
As I arrived at the gate, Business Premier customers were invited to board, and I did so without delay. Again, there was a cheery greeting at the aircraft door, and again I was made to feel welcome in my upper deck seat (19A this time).
Another on-time departure set the style for the next 11½ hours.
Service procedures duplicated those of NZ1 and underlined the consistent standards delivered by the cabin crews.
Gastronomically speaking, supper began with poached prawns with cos jelly and Caesar dressing. This was followed by miso and soy braised beef short rib with mustard potato mash, wok-fried Brussels sprouts, and pak choy; or smoked chicken macaroni with corn, mushroom, capsicum and thyme ragout with fresh rocket; or macadamia nut crusted salmon with ginger and lemon beurre blanc, crushed peas, carrot, courgette, and baby potatoes. My seat neighbor was overheard commenting to the FA that the salmon was “superb.” Although a close-run thing, AKL catering had the edge over LAX.
As on the southbound flight, snacks were available for insomniacs, but I could not resist the temptation of the lie-flat bed.
Breakfast choices were as before, and I noted, but did not try, the scrambled eggs with pork sausages, potatoes, and roasted tomatoes, and a cinnamon spiced brioche toast with wild berry compote and pohutukawa honey cream.
I doubt that there was any dissatisfaction expressed to Aaron, our ever-cheerful concierge, as he made a farewell tour of the cabin before descent. Another smooth touchdown, and we were pulled (by tug) into the gate at 1430, ten minutes before schedule, and seven hours before we left AKL, thanks to crossing the International Date Line.
LAX is not the happiest of places to arrive, especially after a 12-hour overnight flight, but Terminal 2 is better than the alternate Tom Bradley International. Thanks to priority tags, my bags were waiting for me when I cleared immigration and I was curbside within 45 minutes of arrival.
Air New Zealand's service throughout was professional and courteous, and delivered in a good-humored and friendly fashion; in short: uniquely Kiwi.
Business Premier is a world-class long-haul product, and although enjoying the predominant market position on nonstop service between North America and New Zealand, the national flag carrier avoids the less-strenuous path of mediocrity and strives to deliver a superior customer experience.
In size, Air New Zealand rates 36th in the world, but it belongs in the top half of the top ten when it comes to service, as attested by several recent international accolades. Recommended without reservation—but you'd better have one as the business cabins on both flights I travelled on were fully occupied.
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