Travelling to New Zealand is no picnic for us Europeans. For us, the country is at the end of the world and so even the fastest flight connection takes around 24 hours. It is all the more important on such a long journey not to arrive at your destination completely exhausted.
So when the reopening of New Zealand’s border was foreseeable this summer, I didn’t hesitate for long and took a trip around the world in premium economy. Two long-haul flights with the flag carrier of the Kiwis were also part of the small round-the-world trip. Here are a few glimpses of their in-flight product.
The focus point is the longest flight of the trip – with a flight time of around 14 hours from Auckland to Chicago. But first the flight data of this segment:
- Flight: NZ 26 Auckland
- Seat: 27K
- Plane: Boeing 787-9 ZK-NZN (delivered September 2018)
- Departure: 20:15
- Arrival: 16:00
- Flight duration: 14h 45
- Month: November 2022
We booked the Star Alliance’s round-the-world offer this summer. For around €1,600 we booked the following flights with the travel period October – November 2022:
- Paris – Munich – Osaka in Lufthansa’s premium economy
- Tokyo – Auckland in Air New Zealand’s premium economy
- Auckland – Houston in Air New Zealand’s premium economy
- Austin – Frankfurt – Paris in Lufthansa’s premium economy
Since booking, almost all flights of the original booking had been cancelled or postponed. A few (involuntary) rebookings later, the above routing became:
- Paris – Frankfurt – Seoul in Lufthansa’s premium economy
- Seoul – Osaka in Asiana’s economy class
- Tokyo – Auckland in Air New Zealand’s premium economy
- Auckland – Chicago in Air New Zealand’s premium economy
- Chicago – Houston in United Airlines’ economy class
- Austin – Frankfurt – Paris in Lufthansa’s premium economy
The rebookings were annoying, but at least there were a few additional segments (and a 23-hour stop in Seoul). In the review here, however, we’ll lie our focus on the almost 15-hour long flight from Auckland to Chicago.Error: 429
We were able to reserve the seats free of charge from the time of booking. The online check-in, therefore, offered no advantages, but it worked.
There are two separate terminals in Auckland. In the international departures area, Air New Zealand operates its own check-in wing for premium customers. It is open to all Star Alliance Gold customers as well as premium economy and business class passengers. From the outside, the check-in looks just as pompous as many a first-class counter:
Inside, it doesn’t look quite as luxurious anymore. There are numerous machines for self-check-in, but only a few manned counters. Luckily, it wasn’t too busy during our visit, and we were able to use the counter without a long wait.
What followed was one of the slowest check-in processes I’ve experienced in months. Since Air New Zealand didn’t seem to be able to access the rest of the booking, we had to manually show the reservation for the return flight. Just storing this in the system took several attempts and about 5 minutes. Only after about 15 minutes did we then have the boarding pass in our hands and were rid of our suitcases. We had to enter the Known Traveller number (for the TSA Pre security check on the connecting flight ORD-IAH) through United’s website, as the check-in lady had never heard of it.
Theoretically, the fast track of the security check follows the premium check-in directly. When we visited in November, it was closed.
So while the dedicated check-in area is well-intentioned and nice-looking, the overall experience was underwhelming. But I assume that this is just a snapshot and that other passengers will have better luck.
Unfortunately, a premium economy ticket alone does not entitle you to lounge access. However, thanks to our Star Alliance Gold status, we were still able to visit the international lounge at Auckland Airport. And it can definitely compete with other lounges.
The lounge is spacious and furnished with all sorts of places to eat, work and relax. There is also a shower, which we were happy to use after a long, long-distance bus ride from Wellington. The showers are spacious and offer everything you need:
The food is served as a buffet. It’s about the same as a Lufthansa Senator Lounge. At the time of our visit, there were three hot dishes to choose from and a large salad bar with e.g. cheese in one piece. Definitely enough for a small pre-flight meal.
The moment when we were asked to go to the service desk in the lounge over the loudspeaker was a bit irritating. Was there an unexpected upgrade? Unfortunately, no. The lady at check-in had simply forgotten to check our vaccination certificate for the flight to the USA. So we had to dig it out and show it.
Boarding started 35 minutes late, with no reason given. At least there was an announcement that boarding would take a while. Then all guests with a business ticket or Star Alliance Gold status (including me) were allowed on board. A premium economy ticket alone apparently does not entitle you to preferred boarding.
Air NZ has two different configurations of the Boeing 787-9. The premium version with additional seats in business & premium economy class was used on our flight. There are a total of 33 seats in premium economy, distributed in the usual (for the Dreamliner) 2-3-2 configuration.
We chose two seats in the last row (27). The cabin is separated from economy class by a partition wall. So there is no noise from the galley, but there are possibly disturbing children screaming from the economy bulkhead. Luckily, that wasn’t the case on our flight.
Air New Zealand used to have a very unusual premium economy product with the SpaceSeat. Today, the premium economy seats of most manufacturers hardly differ – and so the SpaceSeat is now history.
But the airline can score in another aspect – and that is the legroom. Air New Zealand offers a whopping 41″ (104 cm) of space between seats. That’s more than any other airline in our premium economy comparison (except for the Qantas A380). And thanks to those 5 to 10 cm more space, it’s easy to cross your legs and with a little effort, you can even get past the aisle passenger without them having to get up.
The large seat spacing also allows the installation of a spacious leg rest, not only on the bulkhead but on each seat. The attached footrest is useless to me at 1.98 m, but fortunately, it does not have to be folded out.
The headrest can be folded to the side to lean against it while sleeping. Of course, it is also height-adjustable. In my case, it was even a bit too adjustable, because I suddenly had the entire headrest in my hand. Luckily, with the help of the crew, it snapped back into place.
Since we chose a seat in the last row (oops), the recline was underwhelming. Even on the flight from Tokyo to Auckland, it could have been a little more. But that’s complaining on a relatively high level, as is the desire for a small extra pocket on the large seat pocket to store one’s things in a more organized manner. Overall, thanks to the large seat pitch, good padding, etc., I was able to sleep better than on any other premium eco flight.
Food & Drinks
Even before the start, each guest was given a refreshing hot towel. However, there was no welcome drink before takeoff, so it took about 60 minutes until the first drink service.
The selection of drinks includes all kinds of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. There was no wine list. The menu said to contact the crew for beer and (New Zealand) wine choices. But (it only occurs to me when writing the review) you could have looked in the entertainment system.
Air New Zealand deserves special praise for its orange juice. While other airlines use the cheapest concentrate, here it tastes fresh. I only experienced that in Lufthansa’s business class.
Here is a look at the food and drink menu:
The dinner options all sounded very good. Among the main courses, I chose beef with polenta and beans.
The food arrived quite late on this flight (about an hour and a half after departure) due to slight turbulence. But that’s the only point of criticism. Because the beef (a kind of goulash) was excellent, and the side dishes were also delicious. Overall, the food is very close to what other airlines serve in business class. As a business class customer, you might only deduct a point for the starter and dessert.
A great idea: As soon as the big meal service is over, drinks and small snacks can also be ordered via the screen. As far as snacks are concerned, the selection in the IFE is unfortunately poor: there are only the same small snacks (chips & drinks) as they offer in the galley.
The menu also promised a hot dog as a mid-flight snack. Since I slept through most of the flight, I didn’t order it until just before breakfast. It looked a little sad, but tasted okay:
Three hours before landing in Chicago, the lights slowly were turned on, and breakfast was served 2 hours and 10 minutes before landing. Normally there would be minus points for waking up early, but with a 15-hour flight time, there was still enough time to sleep.
For breakfast, I chose the savoury option: scrambled eggs with bacon and vegetables (and of course the good OJ). There were also various side dishes: strawberry yoghurt, fruit salad, croissant and muesli with milk. So nobody had to get off the plane hungry, especially if they had just had the hot dog beforehand.
Overall, the catering in the Air NZ premium eco deserves great praise. Only the midnight snack might still have some room for improvement – at least when I compare it with what Qatar Airways serves on a 15-hour flight, even in economy.
On our flight, two flight attendants took care of the premium eco passengers. We were lucky and caught a slightly older gentleman who was always in a good mood. He was joking the whole time and spread a good mood among the passengers. At the same time, he was very attentive. I didn’t have to use the function to order drinks via the screen, because before I knew it, the glass of coke was refilled.
If you don’t want to draw attention to yourself with the crew call button, you have another way of reaching the crew: a chat. Each passenger can type in their wishes directly on the entertainment screen, and the crew then sees all the messages in their interface. We used the feature 3 hours before landing to ask if the hot dog was still available.
Just a minute later, a flight attendant spoke to us and explained that this was unfortunately not possible because breakfast would start in 15 minutes. Apparently, the crew had not discussed this among themselves. And so another steward came to us shortly afterwards: Breakfast would start in half an hour – but if we wanted to, we could still get a hot dog each. Of course, we didn’t say no.
Each seat is of course equipped with its own touch screen for entertainment. In premium economy, it measures 11″ (28 cm) diagonally (in economy 9″). 13″ is now the standard for brand-new seats, but for an 8-year-old product, that’s not too bad.
The selection of films is decent, even if many of the contents are several years old. There are also various series and five games including Angry Birds. In any case, you won’t get bored, even on an ultra-long haul.
In order to be able to enjoy the in-flight entertainment, over-ear headphones were located at each seat. Although they didn’t have active noise-cancelling, they were still quite valuable – for premium eco standards.
There are two other exciting features at Air New Zealand’s IFE that deserve a special mention:
- Chat: The screen can be used to start a conversation with other passengers on the plane. Even group chats are possible here and there is a notification as soon as a new message arrives. Of course, typing is not as fast as on a smartphone, but still nice.
- Synchronize films with those sitting next to you: With one click, you can see what the person sitting next to you is watching. With another click, the same film will also open on your screen. The best thing about it is that the films then (theoretically) run synchronously, i.e. without a time offset. Unfortunately, there was a delay of about one second, i.e. the films did not run 100% synchronously in the end. And when my neighbour paused the film for a moment, it just kept playing for me. Good idea, but only 3 stars for its execution.
Each passenger in premium economy receives a small amenity kit consisting of:
- Small, padded bag
- Sleep mask
- Toothbrush & toothpaste
- Lip balm
In premium economy, there is also an (almost too) large pillow and a large blanket. The latter is not at the business level, but thick enough for you to be able to sleep comfortably.
Each seat has a USB port (near the screen) and at least one electrical outlet. The latter accepts plugs from almost every country in the world and is located (each as a pair of 2) between the seats.
Air New Zealand has its own exclusive toilets for premium economy. In our case, there were two bathrooms, positioned between premium eco and business class.
Wi-Fi is a double-edged sword at Air New Zealand. For the flight Tokyo – Auckland, there would be zero points in this aspect, because there was simply no Wi-Fi. On Tokyo – Chicago, on the other hand, we were lucky: we caught one of the four Dreamliners, which are already equipped with WLAN antennas.
And in this case, Air NZ can definitely score: Because Wi-Fi, if available, is free for all passengers. And the speeds were also quite impressive. At least if you consider that we were speeding across the Pacific at 1,000 km/h at the time:
- Check-in & Boarding
- Food & Drinks
- In-Flight Entertainment
At some airlines (e.g. Lufthansa), premium economy is little more than economy class with more comfortable seats and additional baggage allowance. On the other hand, I had the feeling that Air New Zealand takes the word “premium” in the product name much more seriously. This starts with your own check-in area and is expressed on board with the food in business class quality.
I also liked the seating comfort better than with other seats (e.g. Lufthansa or United) that I have flown on before. This is not least due to the unrivalled large seat pitch. If the price is right, I will happily choose the Air NZ premium eco again in the future. It’s just a shame that the airline no longer flies to Europe (since the LHR-LAX-AKL route was discontinued).