Review: Air New Zealand Business Class San Francisco – Auckland

Air New Zealand operate the only non-stop flights between the North American mainland and New Zealand. Its flagship product is marketed as Business Premier, which the airline’s website calls ‘utter luxury’.SFOAKL20After waiting some 15 minutes following the flight being announced as boarding in the lounge, we ambled off to the gate to find the flight was not in fact yet boarding – although all the passengers from the lounge were standing around looking pretty cheesed off.

When the flight did board, the gate staff started by calling for passengers with infants and children to board flight NZ7 to Auckland. Despite two boarding entrances set up (as pictured below), neither had any signage. The leftmost one wasn’t in use for boarding passengers with children – it was just left empty. Why not dedicate one to priority boarding for business class and do both simultaneously?

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Eventually we made it on-board and settled into our front row seat in the mini-cabin. This is the second cabin, located behind door 2L. This mini-cabin is usually emptier than the forward business class cabin, although it’s worth noting that the economy and premium economy cabins board through this mini-cabin to get to their seats.

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While the cabin looks great from the distance, our seat could have done with some cleaning as there was an obvious pen marking on the side wall.

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There were also significant amounts of dust resting around the back of the seat (which is where you sleep).

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The seatbelt has an airbag, meaning the seat can be reclined for take-off. The recline isn’t deep with this kind of design, but it is better than nothing. Reclining is usually enough to get you out of line of sight from most other passengers.

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The controls to operate the seat are very simple – allowing for recline and adjustment of lumbar, as well as to pop the table out.

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The table comes out of the side wall near the ottoman. It is a large table and can be pushed back and forward to enable you to get out of your seat while the table is down. This is good, although if your table is in the outmost position it does get caught by the odd person passing in the aisle.

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Above the table mounting there are separate controls to flip the back of the seat down to bed mode.

There were a number of empty seats on this flight, making for a pleasant atmosphere.

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At our seat was a pair of cheap-looking Phitek headphones. These apparently have noise cancellation technology. This wasn’t noticeable, so we used our own Bose headphones instead.

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After some time sitting in our seat watching a number of passengers walk by, a flight attendant approached offering a pre-departure beverage. Throughout this flight the crew seemed to universally have a strong aversion to using passengers’ names or polite expressions such as sir / madam, preferring more casual ways of addressing passengers.

Before long, the flight had finished boarding and the door closed. Then we had the ‘middle earth’ safety video, which is something like four and a half minutes long (are there any longer safety videos out there?). Quite why it is necessary to advertise New Zealand on a jet bound for New Zealand is beyond us, but we digress.

After we lifted off, the captain switched off the seatbelt sign promptly. However, we were quite some way out San Francisco before there was any hint of any service. Drinks were served with cold nuts – so it wasn’t like they were waiting for the nuts to warm.

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The curtain between cabins remained open for some time. In our experience, closing this is the first thing the crew do after the plane is airborne.

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The amenity kit came in a huge bag, despite the contents being minimal. This might be so that it can double as an iPad case. Unfortunately there is a zipped compartment on the inside that would probably scratch your iPad if you put it in there.

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A flight attendant came around to take our order for both starter and main. And then another came to take our order again.

The menu for our flight was as follows.

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Once we were at least an hour out of San Francisco, our table was laid for dinner. Well, it was insisted that we put our table out and we were given a tablecloth. This was well before the dinner service actually started. Another drink would have been nice – as it was our empty glass just sat there.

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Finally, our starter arrived. We had the marinated baby mozzarella in salsa verde with char grilled asparagus, tomatoes and prosciutto. Perhaps it sounds better than it looks, but it tasted fine.

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While we were eating our starter, we were asked (for the third time on this flight) what we would be eating as our main. The same thing we ordered the last two times you asked please! We were presented with a main meal that looked like it wouldn’t be out of place in economy class (although it was on proper flatware). We had a few bites.

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To finish, we had some cheese. Being used to flying Asia-based carriers, we were particularly pleased with the number of crackers provided.

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The drinks list is particularly vague. Which would be fine if the flight attendants had knowledge of what wines were actually loaded on the flight. Instead the flight attendant made a show of struggling to remember what they were, before disappearing to the galley to check.

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It is also theoretically possible to order food and beverage through the entertainment system. This functionality never seemed to be switched on however.

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We were frustrated by the Airshow, as it was not possible to skip music tracks that were playing in the background while in the Airshow mode. Every media selection page has a ‘time to destination’ counter which is handy.

The airline is heavily into marketing, and so in addition to the cabin crew announcing that it is ‘Airline of the Year’ more than once, the entertainment system also has music playlists arranged by a number of New Zealand celebrities.

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Disappointed in the food and beverage offering, and the service, we decided to call it a night. We rang the call bell and thankfully a flight attendant was quick to respond to make our bed.

The flight attendant flips the back of the bed down and retracts the standalone armrest to create a flat surface before unrolling a memory foam pad, similar to that offered by Virgin Australia in business class on its Boeing 777-300ER aircraft. A nice touch is added with two full-size pillows.

Unlike competitor/investment/partner Virgin Australia and competitor Qantas, Air New Zealand does not provide pajamas in business class on long haul flights.

The bed is wide, but isn’t exceptionally long. We found ourselves pushing against the end of the ottoman with our feet and the top of our head pushing into the far corner (which we covered with one of the two supplied pillows). As the ottoman has a high lip on the end of it, this was relatively uncomfortable for sleeping. Shorter passengers might not find this a problem at all.

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One thing we did notice throughout the night was that whenever the flight passed through the smallest turbulence, the flight service manager was particularly concerned to rush through the cabin demanding in a very loud fashion that everyone put their seat-belts on.

We were awoken two and a half hours out of Auckland by the crew bashing around in the galley. The cabin lights were already on (not quite on full, but the mood lighting doesn’t hide much). We went to bathroom. We came back to find our bed packed up and back in seat mode. Having not been asked and at a point in the flight when it was still reasonable to be sleeping, this was disappointing.

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For breakfast, a trolley was brought down the aisle. We had some fruit and yoghurt. We wanted the smoothie listed on the breakfast menu, but it seemed that this could only be accommodated with a significant wait.

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Eventually we got the smoothie… which was great.

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We then had the brioche french toast. After scrapping the pile of cranberry, orange, pear and ginger compote (read: syrup) and ricotta cream off the top, we found the french toast to be quite tasty.

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We did some work and before long the cabin was being prepared for landing. Soon we were disembarking in Auckland through Door 2L, and we were on our way.

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The lack of non-stop competition on practically all of its long-haul routes means that Air New Zealand’s service standards in business class continue to slip. The self-described ‘utter luxury’ was not evident at all during this flight. However, the seat is serviceable and most importantly this is the only non-stop way to get between San Francisco and Auckland.

Air New Zealand also offer non-stop services on the Auckland – Vancouver and Auckland – Los Angeles routes. Recent media speculation has suggested that United and American are both studying entering the market. This would be most welcome, given that both offer the level of service that Air New Zealand provided on this flight – but at a fraction of the price.

7 Comments on "Review: Air New Zealand Business Class San Francisco – Auckland"

  1. Right on. Air New zealand provide poor value for money and substandard service in all classes. They frequently extoll their own virtues which are unfailing echoed by the New Zealand media. Qantas, Emirates, Singapore Airlines and even the US carriers provide better value, better quality or both.

    • Thanks for your comment Gerard.

      We thought the airline’s claims that Business Premier offered ‘utter luxury’ did not square up with our experience. We were particularly concerned by the attitude of the flight service manager who seemed to think she was solely there for passenger safety and not to also lead the flight service. It is perhaps no surprise that we were left staring at an empty glass on top of a badly creased table cloth.

      Other elements of the experience had nothing to do with the crew. For example, the main meals offered. It takes a lot for us to only take a few bites out of a meal. The reality is that it was well below the quality of practically every business class meal we have ever been served.

  2. I honestly feel like it’s not quite fair to compare an airline for a small, modest country like New Zealand to the likes of Singapore, Emirates, or profit-heavy US carriers. Air New Zealand will never be a caviar-serving, 5-star airline. Last I checked, Qantas doesn’t even serve caviar in first, and their first class service is often hit or miss. They are the only airline that offers direct flights from the US to New Zealand, and perhaps they should do some re-branding so that they don’t get hopes up too much when it comes to their bare bones product, but there are things about their product that make them the better airline to fly if you’re in the US and want to get to New Zealand (or vice versa). I’ve flown Delta (via Sydney) to New Zealand AND Air New Zealand in economy. Personally, Air NZ had the better food, service and hard product by leaps and bounds, and I’d paid less for my Air NZ ticket. The only difference I noticed was the entertainment selection. My point is – take this airline for what it is. If you want to get to New Zealand from the US quickly, it’s a good way to go. If you’re flying anywhere else, you don’t have to touch them. Maybe next time just pay $3000 r/t for premium economy and keep your expectations basic rather than expect to get the same service from Air NZ as you would a substantially larger airline with multiple A380s in their fleet.

    • Agree entirely Reine. But it is Air New Zealand that made the choice to market their business class as ‘utter luxury’ and charge accordingly.

      And to be clear we didn’t even mention caviar, nor would we suggest that Air New Zealand should offer it. In fact we would have been happy with an edible main meal, delivered with a service mentality that wasn’t straight out of economy class.

      Incidentally, we have done a review of Qantas First (which we found more miss than hit). However we were really pleased with another Qantas flight we took from Auckland to Perth in business class.

      It is good to hear that you found Air New Zealand economy class to be better than Delta economy class.

  3. Couldn’t agree more……an expensive fare for an average cabin and at times average service. Really disappointing how over the last 2-3 years airnz have dropped so far behind its competition. To Asia now you often get cheaper fares on Singapore with a much higher quality cabin…….if only there was competition to America……well written article.

  4. Mark Coltman | July 8, 2016 at 7:25 am | Reply

    I have to say I regularly travel all of the big airlines (BA/Virgin/Air New Zealand) from LHR to LAX and find this review to be simply wrong. BA Business Class forces you to sit in immediate proximity to another (through the dreaded screen) – assuming first class is out of reach financially. So, that aside, you are left with Virgin Upper Class and Air New Zealand. Well, they both offer the exact same seat but I find the ANZ flight much more friendly, roomier and there is no noisy bar. Sit in the front cabin and all is well. The virgin flight is also usually more expensive. Take the LHR Virgin lounge out of the equation (which is unbelievable) and I think ANZ edges it…

    • All the big airlines? American fly non-stop on that route with their new configuration planes. Probably the best fixed seats of the lot.

      Unfortunately our repeated experience of Air New Zealand’s business class service has not been pleasant. Even tried it again in 2016 with an open mind and it was a significant step down from what is even described in this review. Couldn’t be bothered writing about it – just confirmed the need to fly another airline and encouraged colleagues to do the same.

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