At the tail end of my trip to Hawaii, Fiji, and New Zealand, it was time to fly Air New Zealand business class back home and celebrate Christmas back in Canada.
I had originally booked our return trip on a mixture of Singapore Airlines and Air Canada via Singapore and Seoul, which would’ve made for a gruelling 36 hours or so spent in airplanes and airports.
After booking this, I had set a few ExpertFlyer alerts for Air New Zealand business class award space on their direct flights across the Pacific, but I wasn’t feeling too optimistic about this, given that Air New Zealand is known for releasing extremely limited numbers of award seats in both economy and business.
However, my alert pinged me a few months before the flight to let me know that two seats had opened up on Flight NZ2 from Auckland to Los Angeles (a flight that would then continue onwards to London Heathrow as a fifth-freedom flight).
I swiftly called up Aeroplan to change my booking for a $75 change fee and secure a much more direct journey home onboard the notoriously tough-to-book Air New Zealand business class.
The overall Aeroplan redemption began in Queenstown, heading to Christchurch in economy class for a 24-hour layover, before heading to Auckland (still in economy class) to connect to the business class overnight flight across the Pacific. At LAX, we’d have enough time for some sunset planespotting at the famous In-N-Out Burger, before catching another red-eye flight and landing in Toronto in the morning.
As the journey began, I was feeling very curious as to what type of experience I’d have on this flight, since the elusiveness of Air New Zealand’s business class award space undeniably results in a certain air of mystery about it.
Despite travelling in economy class on the Christchurch–Auckland sector, we were still granted lounge access in Christchurch since we’d be flying in business class later on that evening. I’ve found Air New Zealand’s airport lounges to be a consistently positive experience with great food and wine, and the Christchurch location proved to be no exception, offering up some satisfying tarmac views as well.
Then, after an uneventful one-hour flight across the North Island, Jessy and I spent a few hours in the Air New Zealand Lounge Auckland, which I’ve already reviewed before on an earlier visit.
The airline’s flagship international lounge boasts a wider food selection and a unique outdoor patio, where Jessy and I downed a few more glasses of Marlborough sauvignon blanc before heading to the gate.
Jessy had received the dreaded “SSSS” on her boarding pass, so she underwent some extra screening at the gate, but we still got there early enough to be among the first passengers to board.
We also briefly chatted to a few of our fellow passengers who’d be travelling all the way to London via Los Angeles – now that’s a very long way to fly, even in business class!
Air New Zealand | NZ2
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER
Cabin: Business class
Route: Auckland (AKL) to Los Angeles (LAX)
Date: Sunday, December 22, 2019
Time: Departing 10:55pm and arriving 2pm
Duration: 12 hours 10 minutes
As one of Air New Zealand’s flagship routes at the time, the Auckland–Los Angeles–London route would be serviced by the larger and heavier Boeing 777s, compared to the more nimble Boeing 787s that complement the airline’s long-haul flying.
Both aircraft offer the same herringbone-style seating in business class, and here on the Boeing 777-300ER, the 44 business class seats are arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration across 11 rows, with the first seven rows in the main cabin and the remaining four rows in a mini-cabin behind the galley.
Jessy and I had elected to sit in the mini-cabin, taking up Seats 9A and 10A by the left-side windows, one after the other. We therefore turned right as we boarded via the second door on the port side.
As far as modern business class seat types go, herringbone seats are definitely rather outdated, since they tend to lack privacy, functionality, and storage.
Indeed, once you’re sitting down, you feel quite exposed to the rest of the cabin. Meanwhile, compared to reverse herringbone seats in which every seat faces away from the aisle, the seating arrangement doesn’t really allow for efficient positioning of storage compartments, tray tables, entertainment screens, and other seat features.
Moreover, there’s no real winner in terms of which seats you should choose when travelling as a couple. Choose the middle seats and you’re facing away from each other; choose a pair of window and middle seats, and you’ll be facing each other, but with a huge between you in the form of the aisle.
I imagine that most couples would probably end up selecting seats like Jessy and I did, with one in front of the other along the windows, making peace with the fact that your interaction throughout the flight will probably be limited to tapping each other on the shoulder every now and then.
Altogether, Air New Zealand business class somewhat reminded me at first of my subpar experience onboard Air Canada’s Airbus A330 (which also feature herringbone seating), although I must say that the chalk-coloured leather seat finishes and soft pink mood lighting here on Air New Zealand made for a much nicer visual experience, which was definitely something of a redeeming quality.
The seats are composed of a leather armchair and an ottoman foot rest at the end, along with the majority of in-seat features built into the console on either your left- or right-hand side.
The menu and amenity kit had been left for us on the ottoman, while a bottle of water was placed in its holder adjacent to the seat. Because of the limited space available, everything felt just a little bit cozier than the standard business class experience these days.
Let’s go through the features on the seat console to your side. A reading light is perched above a fold-out mini-table, which represents the only surface space available to you if you don’t feel like taking out the full tray table. There’s enough space here to place your drink or maybe a slip of paper, but not much else.
Adjacent to that you have the entertainment screen, which is flush against the wall in its default position and must be folded outwards for you to view comfortably. The screen size is quite limited at 11’’, making it a far smaller and lower-resolution screen compared to many other business class products out there.
“Kia Ora”, New Zealand’s national greeting which means “hello” in the Maori language, welcomes you to the flight.
Beneath the screen is the entertainment controller, literature pocket, USB and power ports, and bottled water holder. The literature pocket is thick enough for you to place a book or maybe a tablet there too, but otherwise, the seat definitely suffers from a lack of storage space for putting your loose items during the flight.
It’s pretty clear that all the seat features have been squeezed into a very small area – a symptom of the fact that these herringbone-style seats are well past their time. Indeed, when a crew member stopped by to welcome us to the flight, he mentioned that the Air New Zealand business class seat was introduced 10 years ago, so it’s definitely time for the airline to roll out a new design.
While the armrests on the side are raised by default, you may lower them to give yourself a little more room.
The seat controls are split into two sets. The first is found on the opposite side of the rest of the control panel, allowing you to fine-tune your seat position and seat cushion, and pop your tray table out of its holder.
Meanwhile, a separate set of controls at the very front of the seat is used by the crew to convert your seat into a lie-flat bed. Unlike the other herringbone seats I’ve encountered on Air Canada business class, where the seat simply reclines all the way into a fully-flat position, Air New Zealand’s seats actually convert into a bed in an entirely different way. We’ll get to it later.
The tray table pops out of its holder with the push of its designated button, allowing you to pull it outwards and then fold it down into place.
Overall, it’s fair to say that I wasn’t overly impressed with the Air New Zealand business class seat, although I do have to give it props for holding up in a good condition even after 10 years of use. The outer layer of the seat was made of a comfortable leather, while the walls were a smooth, shiny surface that didn’t have much in the way of wear and tear at all.
Our flight attendant came by to pass out the welcome drinks, and I chose a glass of the sparkling wine.
The gentleman taking care of us this evening was a friendly Asian Kiwi fellow who didn’t hold back on the Kiwi lingo – it was “mate” here, “sweet as” there, and as someone who loves it when an airline shows off their true national colours, I was all for it.
(Speaking of which, the entire business class crew seemed to consist mostly of men rather than women, which is something of a rare occurrence in my experience.)
Boarding was completed by now, so I spent the next few minutes before takeoff inspecting the menu and amenity kit. The flight attendant also returned a bit later on to take my meal order.
The menu read as follows:
Meanwhile, the amenity kit was a simple but aesthetically pleasing design, drawing inspiration from the airline’s brand identity in the form of a black pouch adorned with a band of hot pink.
Its interior contents included tube socks, earplugs, a dental kit, hand cream and lip balm by Ashley & Co, and mouthwash by White Glo (both of which are Australian companies, which is a bit surprising for a Kiwi airline!) There was also a pen inside, which is always useful.
I then got Jessy to take my Instagram photo for me, which was a bit awkward here in the open-air herringbone seats because the teenage girls sitting opposite us happened to be getting their pictures taken as well.
As we took off and began our climb out of Auckland, I decided to browse through Air New Zealand’s in-flight entertainment system. Even though the screens are older and on the smaller side, they still felt quite responsive to the touch, and more importantly offered a variety of about 100 movies and TV shows.
For anyone making the journey from Auckland to London (or from Auckland to Newark, which is the airline’s newly-launched longest route, for that matter), a strong entertainment selection will be essential to pass the time, and Air New Zealand scores pretty high marks in this regard.
I also browsed through the moving map feature (how satisfying is that flight path across the Pacific, compared to a roundabout routing through Singapore and Seoul?)…
…as well as a few of the more interesting features on the entertainment system, like the ability to order model aircraft or New Zealand wines delivered straight to your home.
I also connected to the in-flight wifi at this point. Air New Zealand is one of the few airlines out there that offer unlimited free wifi for all travellers, no matter your class of service, so connecting was a simple as the touch of a button. There’s that famous Kiwi hospitality on full display!
Since most passengers were looking to get to sleep as soon as possible, our dinner service began very soon after takeoff, starting with hot towels being passed out.
The crew then came around to serve drinks before the meal. I had asked for a glass of the sauvignon blanc to drink, although the flight attendant poured me a chardonnay instead. When I asked about this, he was quick to rectify the mistake, and it would turn out to be the only service misstep throughout the entire flight.
I should note that the ottomans at each seat are in fact equipped with a seat belt, which would in theory allow you to dine face-to-face with your companion – a luxury reserved for First Class seats.
However, the ottomans are significantly smaller than the main forward-facing seat, so whoever takes up that spot will probably sit less comfortably during dinner than if they had simply remained in their own seat.
Neither Jessy nor I ended up wanting to leave the comfort of our own seats, so we decided to just stay put. After all, we’d have plenty of opportunities to dine face-to-face more comfortably on a few upcoming First Class flights.
After the first round of drinks was poured, there was a slight delay to the meal service, and only about 20 minutes later did the crew begin to set everyone’s tables. To begin, our tray tables were each fitted with a cloth, a salt and pepper tray, and a bread plate (I went with my usual choice of garlic bread).
After that, our appetizers were served. I had selected the chilled smoked fish as my appetizer, which was mixed with a dill & miso egg salad in a creamy texture. It was a tasty dish that got my dinner off to a good start, and I thought it paired very well with my white wine too.
Over on Jessy’s table, she had selected the beetroot salad, which came with hints of hazelnut and mint, and according to Jessy it was “just fine”.
For the main course, I went with a slightly daring order: the New Zealand lamb burger. Lamb dishes and burgers can both be tricky to pull off on an airplane, so when you combine the two, you have the potential of getting something either outstandingly tasty or downright inedible.
Well, the first bite was delicious, and I could tell immediately that the patty had been cooked to just the right tenderness and the caramelized onions were definitely working their magic. However, after a few more bites, it became apparent that the bread-to-meat ratio was a little too high, and I ended up needing to take quite a few big gulps of wine to wash it all down.
In the end, the lamb burger fell somewhere between the two extremes, although it leaned more in the positive direction.
In comparison, Jessy had made the seemingly safer choice of cod fish with chick peas and spinach, which she described as “light and tasty, and just the right portion size”.
Speaking of portion sizes, I was pleased to see that both the cheese and dessert courses were served in small and manageable portions, and I snacked on them slowly alongside a cup of black tea to finish off the meal. I took particular enjoyment in the dessert – an indulgent blend of chocolate ice cream with caramel sauce and cookie bites.
After dinner, I headed to the restroom to get ready for some sleep. The business class restroom on this Boeing 777 offered a window to let in some natural light, although I was disappointed to see that there was very little in the way of special amenities for business class passengers.
Upon returning to my seat, I caught the flight attendant just as he was clearing up my plates, and I asked if he could help make my bed as well.
Whereas other airlines provide turndown service as an optional gesture, Air New Zealand’s business class seats can only be converted into a bed with the help of a crew member, since the seat-back needs to be folded downwards to allow the sleeping surface to pop out from behind it.
One quirk of the bed’s design is that the bed’s height ends up being slightly higher than the original seat’s height. Then there’s also the problem of a lack of customizability: you can’t fine-tune the seat angle to and make it anything other than fully-flat, even if you wanted to.
That wouldn’t be too much of an issue on this flight, given that I was planning to sleep for as long as possible, but it can definitely prove inconvenient if you simply wanted to nap or relax on a reclined surface rather than sleep on a fully flat service.
For his part, my flight attendant prepared my bed very nicely, fitting the sleeping surface with a mattress pad before adding the pillow and blanket.
And as I took my position on the bed, one clear advantage of these herringbone seats became apparent: whereas modern-day business class seats almost always involve stuffing your feet into tight footwells during sleep, these older herringbone seats allow you to move your legs freely in the air as you please, as long as you aren’t getting in the way of people walking through the aisle.
Finally, a small silver lining to what had been a decidedly underwhelming hard product.
I slept for a total of seven and a half hours – a very long time by my standards – and woke up with about 1 hour and 40 minutes of the flight remaining, just as we were entering the final stretch of the journey across the Pacific.
The flight attendant was right on cue to help me convert my bed back into upright mode and ask if I wanted my breakfast to be served.
Some orange juice and coffee lifted me out of my sleepy state, and then the breakfast service began in earnest with a bowl of fruit, yogurt, and multigrain.
That was followed up by a portion of fried rice with egg and smoked moki fish – something of a reprise of the appetizer dish from dinner. While I had enjoyed the earlier appetizer very much, I found the flavours of the smoked fish to be overly complex for a breakfast item, and I probably should’ve gotten the scrambled eggs instead.
After breakfast was complete, I opened my window shades to savour the landing views with my cup of coffee in hand. It was a day of crisp blue skies on the West Coast, which made the famously captivating approach into LAX all the more beautiful.
I think it’s fair to say that Air New Zealand business class benefits from a reputation that somewhat precedes itself, thanks in part to how exclusive they make their business class awards available for mileage redemptions.
The major shortcoming of this product is the outdated decade-old business class seat, which lacks privacy, functionality, and customizability. These weaknesses are partially offset by a small number of redeeming qualities, like the ability to sit face-to-face with your companion on a small ottoman and to freely move your feet around while sleeping, but overall the hard product pales in comparison to most of the airline’s peers.
However, Air New Zealand excels in the soft product: its onboard menu, wine list, and service principles were all highly impressive and came with a great deal of national Kiwi flair, which is something I love to see. Those elements made this 12-hour journey from Auckland to Los Angeles a very enjoyable one, despite the older seat type.
Ultimately, Air New Zealand business class also represents by far the most convenient way to get to New Zealand for most travellers, so I’d fly with them again in a heartbeat if I’m heading back to one of my favourite countries in the world.
I’d love to see them refresh their business class hard product sometime soon, though – and given their propensity for innovation (as seen in their Skycouch and the proposed Skynest), I have very high hopes for when they do.