Edited by: Nick Ellis
& Keri Stooksbury
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Airline: Air New Zealand
Aircraft: Boeing 787-9
Flight #: NZ106
Route: Sydney (SYD) to Auckland (AKL)
Date: February 3, 2023
Duration: 2hr 25min
Cabin and Layout: Business class, 1-1-1
As I’m always on the lookout for new airlines and cabins to try out, it was a no-brainer that I’d try out Air New Zealand when I decided to take a trip to Auckland from Australia for a weekend to visit some friends.
I had several options to choose from including Air Asia X, Qantas, Jetstar, and even LATAM, which operates a fifth freedom flight between the 2 cities en route to and from Santiago (SCL) in Chile.
True to form, I was keen to fly either the carrier’s Boeing 777 or Boeing 787 Dreamliner rather than one of the narrow-body jets that it operates on the route.
With those criteria in mind, I set about booking my flight.
Where I can, I like to fly in premium cabins — especially on wide-body aircraft where the product is often leagues above what you’ll find on smaller, single-aisle jets.
On the day I wanted to travel, Air New Zealand offered 2 flights with wide-body aircraft. I decided to book the later departure that left at 3:30 p.m. in case I experienced any delays with my connecting flight from Brisbane (BNE).
While looking at ticket options, I noticed that a premium economy ticket would only cost me AU$75 (~$51) more than an economy seat plus a bag. I thought at AU$730 (~$497) total, this was a good deal for premium economy.
You must be wondering why I’m talking about booking a premium economy ticket in a business class review.
Well, I fell victim once again to an airline’s tempting upgrade bid email.
At just AU$205 ($139), I bid just shy of the lowest amount possible to have a chance at an upgrade.
It wasn’t until the early hours of the morning — just 9 hours before my scheduled departure — that I got the email congratulating me on my successful bid.
When all was said and done, I paid a total of $636 for a one-way business class flight with Air New Zealand from Sydney to Auckland.
I used the U.K. version of The Platinum Card® from American Express to pay for the flight which earned me a measly 1 point per pound spent. If I were based in the U.S., I’d have been able to choose from a host of travel rewards credit cards that earn bonus points for travel purchases like this flight.
I touched down in Sydney on my Rex flight from Brisbane (BNE) several hours before my Auckland flight was scheduled to depart.
Once I’d deplaned, I had to pick up my bag from the domestic arrivals as my Rex and Air New Zealand tickets were separate.
I hopped on the train over to Sydney’s international departures area and arrived well before my flight was scheduled to leave.
Even though there are several Air New Zealand flights from Sydney to New Zealand each day, check-in only opens 3 hours before your flight’s scheduled departure — and judging by my experience, this is strictly enforced.
Even though I was probably the fourth person in line, it took 15 minutes for me to drop my bag and get my boarding pass as there was only 1 staff member operating the premium check-in desks.
Dozens of economy passengers walked past us with their boarding passes in hand while I waited.
Check-in for Air New Zealand is located in Zone A where economy passengers use self-check-in machines to print their boarding passes and bag tags before waiting to see an agent.
I probably gained a bit of time back thanks to my business class ticket affording me access to the fast-track security lane.
After a brief visit to the Sydney Centurion Lounge, I headed straight to the Air New Zealand lounge for the little time I had left.
I loved the contrasting black and white of Air New Zealand’s branding.
I also loved that you’re welcomed into the lounge with “Kia Ora” which is a Māori greeting that can be used to say hello, good morning, good luck, or generally just to wish someone well.
I was immediately impressed with the size of the lounge. It was spacious, bright, and airy, and had more than enough seating for everyone.
I spent most of my time in the relaxed seating area at the far right of the lounge. I did a few laps before I saw an open window seat.
The buffet area is located right in the heart of the lounge and had more options than I was expecting.
Hot self-serve options included Thai chicken curry, saffron rice, sweet potato mash, and green pea and potato and mint soup.
In the cold section, you could find everything you’d typically expect such as salads, a couscous dish, and various other lighter options.
I also gave in to my sweet tooth and tried one of the mini muffins that were dotted around the buffet area. Unfortunately, the mixed berries and chocolate chip muffin was a dry, tasteless disappointment.
The Thai chicken curry and saffron rice, on the other hand, was a hit.
The lounge had numerous self-serve drink stations where I could help myself to everything from soft drinks and fruit juice to beer, wine, and even spirits.
The sparkling option, also self-serve, was the New Zealand-produced Dulcét.
There was also a full-service bar where you could have a drink made for you instead. Coffee lovers like myself would particularly enjoy the proper barista-style coffee options instead of using self-serve machines.
I love it when airlines give a nod to their history, such as Air New Zealand does with this poster from the days when it was known as Tasman Empire Air Lines.
The lounge also featured sizeable shower rooms where you could find everything you’d need for a quick spruce-up before a flight.
I headed to the gate almost an hour before our scheduled boarding time to make sure I’d be one of the first onboard — all in the name of content.
Boarding started at 2:50 p.m., well ahead of our scheduled departure time of 3:30 p.m.
As my upgrade was granted right at the last minute, the only seat available for me was 1J in the middle of the 1-1-1 configured cabin.
It’s a shame to say it, but Air New Zealand’s current business class offering lags far behind most of the competition. The seats are incredibly narrow, offer almost no privacy, storage is minimal, and to see out the windows you have to crane your neck.
Thankfully, New Zealand’s flag carrier will be rolling out a new business class product, starting in 2024.
My photos of 1J didn’t turn out so great, so here’s 1K instead.
Until then, passengers flying business class on Air New Zealand’s Boeing 787-9 and Boeing 777 aircraft will have to deal with these restricted views. This was the view from seat 2K which a fellow kindly swapped me for.
This situation is created by the fact that the seats are angled 45 degrees away from the windows.
It required an awkward bend of the elbow to reach around and use the Dreamliner’s dimmable window shade.
The impractical seat-control panel featured just 4 buttons to lower or raise the seat or release the tray table. The seat does transform rather awkwardly into the lie-flat position — though I didn’t turn my seat into a bed on this short flight.
Once you’ve popped it out of its housing, it’s not easy to find the latch to fully retract the tray table.
However, one thing I did like about the seat is that the ottoman is easily reachable from the upright position required for landing and take-off. This means you can rest your weary legs from gate to gate, something that’s not always possible when flying business class.
Once extended, the tray table is sizeable and slides far enough away from the seat that I was able to get up easily even when it was full of food and drink(s).
Due to the cramped and narrow nature of the seat, the handheld IFE remote, literature compartment, and universal power outlet were awkwardly located down low and to my right.
While Air New Zealand’s seats are impractical and pale in comparison to the competition, I did enjoy the black-and-white color scheme with purple highlights. It helped the cabin look and feel a lot younger than its age of almost 20 years.
Looking across the cabin from the starboard side (“K” seats), passengers can look directly at almost every other passenger in the cabin.
If you do happen to find yourself flying this product, you’ll find the most privacy by sitting on the port side of the aircraft (“A” seats), where you’ll face the back of the middle row of seats.
There was plenty of storage given the 4 rows of sizeable overhead bins.
This is the premium economy cabin where I would have been sitting if my upgrade bid had been unsuccessful.
The cabin features wider recliner seats with more pitch and a roomier 2-3-2 configuration than the economy seats further back.
I was hoping the food and beverage experience would make up for the hard product’s shortcomings.
Things got off to a speedy start around 20 minutes after take-off when the crew came around with the drinks we’d ordered while on the ground.
A couple of minutes later I was offered an amuse-bouche of beef tenderloin with smoked kūmara (sweet potato) puree and pickled daikon.
I was impressed — receiving an amuse-bouche isn’t commonplace, even on long-haul international flights. While it looked delicious, I don’t eat beef so I politely declined.
Each course was plated and served individually. I chose the “smoked Ahia moki rillette” (similar to a fish pâté) with roast baby beetroot and green beans to get started. The second option was a pumpkin hummus dish with roasted artichokes, feta, and almond dukkha.
The starter was accompanied by a choice of 3 breads: sundried tomato rolls, “traditionelle” loaf, and garlic flatbread. I went for a slice of garlic bread, which was warm and flavorsome.
There were 3 choices for the main course:
I liked that Air New Zealand had a meat, fish, and veggie/vegan option to cater to passengers’ varying dietary restrictions and preferences.
The flavorful salmon was soft and tender inside and finished off perfectly with a slightly crispy top.
The desserts on the menu were strawberry ice cream or a honey tart. Luckily for me, as a devout chocoholic, the menu was wrong and instead I was able to feast on this decadent slice of layered chocolate cake.
Air New Zealand likes to keep you on your toes with its wine selection. The menu stated: “For details of wines available on your flight today, please ask your Flight Attendant.”
I went to the galley after food service and did exactly that. The crew kindly set up this display for me.
Except for the Lanson Champagne, each of the wines was from New Zealand.
The combination of the excitement at being able to get an espresso in the sky and the fact I was exhausted meant I broke my personal rule of no coffee after 2 p.m.
It was a nice touch, but not as good as I’m used to on the ground.
The usual soft drinks and juices were available as well as a selection of beers, cider, spirits, ports, and liqueurs including 42 Below Vodka, Glenlivet Distiller’s Reserve single malt Whisky, and Bailey’s Irish Cream.
Before landing, a member of the crew came around offering hardboiled sweets to help with the pressure change — a nice touch that more airlines could adopt.
I found the 4-course (5 if you went for cheese, too) meal to be more than enough for this short flight. The quantity (and quality) of the food served was better than I expected.
As I’ve already alluded to, the seats — and by default, the IFE — in Air New Zealand’s business class is subpar for a premium cabin in 2023.
The tiny, slightly pixelated IFE screen was located awkwardly in the seat console. To watch, it extends to just in front of your face. Because of that, it must be stowed for take-off and landing.
For context, I have very small hands.
The headphones felt cheap and were unnecessarily wrapped in plastic.
Wi-Fi is offered free of charge for all customers and is easy to connect to.
A quick speed test showed download speeds of 12 Mbps and upload speeds of 0.12.
Air New Zealand doesn’t offer amenity kits to business class passengers on these short trans-Tasman flights between Australia and New Zealand.
Air New Zealand wins the prize for the most unique lavatory decor I’ve ever seen on a plane.
Admittedly, the butterfly encyclopedia mural stole the show as there were no business class amenities to speak of.
From the second I stepped onboard flight NZ106, every crew interaction was a pleasure.
Before we took off, hot towels were handed out and our first drink orders were taken.
One of the things in particular that stood out to me about this crew is that they seemed to have a genuine interest in their passengers and their reasons for traveling.
Several times I heard crew members starting a conversation with a passenger by saying: “Are you heading home?”
I thought was a simple, effective way of building proper rapport.
My response to the question was that I was visiting New Zealand for the first time.
After learning this, Katrina insisted that I try each and every one of their New Zealand wines so I could get the full experience.
I obliged, of course.
I’d also like to point out that in the week before my flight, Auckland had been in a state of emergency due to flash floods that caused landslides and flooded the airport, forcing its closure. Despite this, the crew seemed to be in great spirits.
In light of the weather events, I received an email 3 days before my scheduled flight to reassure me that it would be going ahead.
This is a very proactive customer service approach and would undoubtedly have saved concerned passengers from calling the airline to check instead.
We descended through thick clouds and rain into a very humid Auckland at 8:24 p.m. — 6 minutes ahead of schedule.
Given the number of questions I had to answer on the customs form that I was handed on the plane, I feared the process would be long and drawn out.
To my delight, I got cleared customs without any delay.
Hot Tip: Read our full guide on getting to New Zealand using points and miles to see how you can travel to this far-flung destination without breaking the bank!
I’ll start on a positive note: I really enjoyed this flight to Auckland.
The high-quality food served by charismatic and professional crew members was a pleasure to have experienced — especially on such a short flight.
However, I can’t say I’d feel the same after spending several more hours in this seat on one of the airline’s longer routes to Asia or North America. In fact, I’d pick pretty much any of the competitors over this product.
Thankfully, Air New Zealand will be introducing a new business class product in 2024.
Until then, I’m sorry Air New Zealand, but your business class just doesn’t cut it.
For rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, click here.
Yes, Air New Zealand’s wide-body aircraft all have lie-flat seats.
No, Air New Zealand and Qantas are the flag carriers for New Zealand and Australia, respectively. They’re neither partners nor are they in the same airline alliance.
No. Air New Zealand’s highest cabin class is business class.
Yes, Air New Zealand operates nonstop service from Auckland (AKL) to Chicago (ORD), Honolulu (HNL), Houston (IAH), Los Angeles (LAX), New York (JFK), and San Francisco (SFO), as well as Vancouver (YVR) in Canada. Check out our definitive guide to Air New Zealand’s direct routes from the U.S. for more details on plane types and seat options.
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