There are currently two airlines offering Business Class across the Tasman. Qantas offers Business Class on all its Boeing 737 and Airbus A330 flights between Australia and New Zealand, while Air New Zealand offers what it calls “Business Premier” on its Boeing 787 Dreamliner services.
After flying with Qantas to New Zealand during COVID-19, I returned to Australia with Air New Zealand to sample their Boeing 787-9 Business Class product on a flight to Perth.
At 7 hours and 30 minutes, Air New Zealand’s direct Auckland-Perth flight also happens to be the longest non-stop flight available within the trans-Tasman bubble. This could almost be classed as a long-haul flight!
As a side note, I happened to take this flight the day after the New Zealand government suspended all travel from Australia to New Zealand. It’s a miracle that this flight even operated at all, as I had received an alert the night before that it had been cancelled. As it happens, I received another notification from Air NZ around 1am on the morning of the flight that it had been reinstated. The flight was actually quite full, but the aircraft had to be ferried from Perth back to Auckland overnight without passengers.
|Route||Auckland (AKL) to Perth (PER)|
|Aircraft type||Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner|
|Class of travel||Business Premier|
|On-time performance||We arrived on time|
I booked an award ticket with Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer miles. The cost was 31,000 KrisFlyer miles + around AUD56 in taxes.
When I booked around a month ago, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Air New Zealand had released lots of award availability on the Auckland-Perth route to partner airlines. Unfortunately, award seats are now much harder to find.
If you were buying a one-way Business Class ticket from Auckland to Perth, Air New Zealand normally charges AUD1,456. You can occasionally find cheaper fares during a sale.
As the trans-Tasman bubble had just been suspended in one direction, I expected Auckland Airport to be quiet. But I wasn’t expecting it to be that quiet! The terminal was almost deserted…
As an Air New Zealand Business Class passenger (or if you have Star Alliance Gold status), you can normally use Air New Zealand’s premium check-in area at Auckland’s international terminal. But as I was connecting from another flight and had already checked in, I didn’t use this excellent service on this occasion.
Auckland Airport was eerily quiet after clearing immigration and security as well.
I headed up to the Air New Zealand lounge, which was open but not very busy either. While it’s not quite up to the high standard of the Qantas First Lounge in Sydney, the Air New Zealand lounge is a nice, large space with runway views.
There was an extensive buffet (yes, this is still a thing in New Zealand!) with plenty of hot and cold breakfast options available. These included scrambled eggs, roast potatoes, sausages, baked beans, toast, croissants, Danish pastries, cereal, yoghurt, fresh fruit, smoothie shots and porridge.
A wide selection of drinks were available, including self-service wine, beer, spirits, juice and soft drinks, as well as barista coffee prepared to order from the bar.
My favourite spot in Air New Zealand’s flagship lounge is the outdoor seating area. Being winter, the roof was closed but there is a great view of the airfield from there.
Auckland Airport’s international departures area is currently split into two sections – one for “green zone” flights to Australia & Rarotonga, and another for “red zone” flights to everywhere else. The green zone flights all depart from gates 1-10, while red zone flights use gates 15-18.
Once it was time to board, I headed over to gate 5. Premium boarding for Business Class, Premium Economy, Star Alliance Gold, Air New Zealand Gold & Elite customers and Koru Club members was called first.
The Hard Product
Air New Zealand’s Boeing 787-9 Business Class seats are laid out in a 1-1-1 herringbone configuration, meaning every passenger has direct aisle access.
However, to be perfectly honest, I found the seat weird and lacking privacy. From my seat, I could see everybody else in the Business Class cabin and had a great view of everyone’s feet poking into the aisle. The seat was also a tad narrow and seemed quite close to the neighbouring seat.
For some reason, every seat in Air New Zealand’s Business Class cabin faces away from the windows. You’re basically sitting on an angle, facing the rest of the cabin. At least being in the front row, I only had one seat next to me and was facing towards a wall.
There is also very limited storage space around the seat.
The good news is that Air New Zealand has hinted it’s working on a replacement for these older-style Business Class seats. That will be a welcome change.
Having said that, the seat was very comfortable once converted into a lie-flat bed. The seat itself actually folds over to create the bed, and the cabin crew added a very comfortable memory foam mattress cover. Pillows and blankets were also provided. I slept really well for a few hours mid-flight.
The bed is one aspect of the hard product where I think Air New Zealand beats Qantas. Although Qantas also offers lie-flat seating on its A330s, I find the seat quite firm to sleep on and Qantas has stopped providing any sort of bedding, pillows or blankets since the start of COVID-19. This includes on overnight flights.
Every passenger in Air New Zealand Business Premier has a personal in-flight entertainment screen, which folds out from the side of the seat. The in-flight entertainment selection was excellent, with lots of content including movies, TV shows and music to choose from. However, no wifi was available on this aircraft.
One final comment about the aircraft. Air New Zealand is one of the only airlines I know of that makes an effort to decorate its bathrooms! The wallpaper was pleasant, and you can even listen to pop music while using the facilities.
The Soft Product
While I wasn’t a huge fan of the Air New Zealand Business Class seat, the on-board service was excellent. The cabin crew were enthusiastic, friendly and professional.
It was also very noticeable that Air New Zealand hasn’t made the same cutbacks to its service as Qantas has during the pandemic. Air New Zealand continues to provide amenity kits, for example. There was also a water bottle and noise-cancelling headphones when I arrived at my seat.
Before takeoff, the flight attendants offered Laurent-Perrier champagne or orange juice.
The crew also took drink and meal orders before departure. The flight attendant informed me that printed menu cards are normally provided, but were not loaded onto this particular flight. So I was told that the lunch options were New Zealand salmon with white wine risotto; beef cheek with polenta; or roast chicken with root vegetables.
I chose the salmon, which had a tomato-based sauce. This was served with quite a tasty fish & tomato entrée, cheese & crackers and a selection of warm breads from a basket.
The meal was tasty, and topped off with a delicious tub of Kāpiti lemon shortcake ice cream and Whittaker’s chocolate for dessert.
The crew offered regular drink top-ups and bottles of water throughout the flight. After each meal service, they also handed out fresh face masks. (Due to Australian government regulations, face masks were required to be worn during the whole flight except when eating.)
If you were feeling a bit peckish during the middle of the flight, the crew were handing out a range of ambient snacks like chips or protein bars.
A lighter meal was served around 90 minutes before landing in Perth. A selection of finger sandwiches and desserts were offered directly from the trolley, along with fruit, tea and coffee.
After landing in Perth, we were instructed to remain seated for around 15 minutes while the WA Police made various announcements and the crew handed out information about COVID-19. Other than that, the international arrival procedure into Australia was relatively normal except for queueing up to show my G2G Pass to a police officer. Duty-free shopping was available on arrival at Perth Airport.
We were the only international flight arriving at that time, but it still took 30 minutes to get out of the airport – compared to 8 minutes in Auckland recently.
Air New Zealand 787-9 Business Premier
Overall, I had an enjoyable flight in Air New Zealand’s Business Premier class. Although I wasn’t a huge fan of the seat, which faces away from the window and lacks privacy, it did at least convert into a very comfortable lie-flat bed.
The service was excellent and I came off the flight feeling rested – although I did have a bit of a sore neck from trying to look out the window!
While Qantas has used COVID-19 as an excuse to stop providing amenity kits, pillows, blankets, mattress covers and even proper desserts, Air New Zealand still had all of these things. It was great to see.
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