I kicked off my trip in search of the Lufthansa rubber duck with something different. Rather than a premium cabin redemption, I found a discount fare in Premium Economy. Air New Zealand Premium Economy on their Fifth Freedom Los Angeles to London route, to be precise. While no substitute for business class, I found this a good, comfortable product in its own right.
Note: this post is part of my trip report covering my trip to Germany in March, 2019. Click here for the introductory post and trip report index.
Air New Zealand (NZ) Flight 2
- Thursday, March 7, 2019
- Depart: Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), Terminal B, 16:06, 4m early
- Arrive: London Heathrow Airport (LHR), Terminal 2, 10:10 (+1), 30m early
- Duration: 10 hours 4 minutes
- Seat: 26K
- Equipment: Boeing 777-300ER
Check-In and Boarding
With hand baggage only, I checked in online, and so avoided the queue for check-in. I used the “secret” security checkpoint at the end of the Tom Bradley International Terminal; this took only a few minutes and I headed to the KAL Lounge to kill some time. (Note: there is a guard standing at the entrance to the checkpoint. It seems they’re reluctant to let people use this checkpoint. He eventually let me in after I showed my boarding pass, though.) I then headed to the gate a few minutes before boarding time, reaching just as Business Class boarding began. Air New Zealand provides priority boarding to Premium Economy passengers, right after Business Class. After a quick passport verification, I headed down the bridge, crossed over, and turned right to find my seat.
Air New Zealand Premium Economy – Seating and Interior
Air New Zealand Premium Economy features 54 seats in a 2-4-2 configuration behind the Business Class cabin. The cabin certainly feels more spacious than the 3-4-3 Economy cabin. Personally, I also liked the look of the cabin, with its dark leather seats and mood lighting. A little like Virgin America, in a way.
Seat controls are quite simple, with pushbuttons for both recline and the footrest.
Meanwhile, Premium Economy seats measure 20″ wide, with 41″ of pitch. That’s really quite generous, and in fact provides a good 3″ more pitch than American’s Premium Economy, for example. They are slightly less roomy than Norwegian Premium Class, though. Nevertheless, thanks to good padding, I found the seat comfortable in both upright and reclined mode. The seat includes a swing-out foot rest. I really don’t care for these; they make my lower legs achy when I sleep. But they are there if you like them.
The seats include a decent pillow and blanket.
As for sleep comfort, you face the same challenges you do on any recliner-type seat. Namely, preventing your neck from getting stiff and your posterior going numb. Nevertheless, I slept pretty solidly for a good 5 hours. Not bad. The good pillow in particular helped; though I still woke up a few times to adjust my neck, it didn’t get nearly as cricked as usual.
As you can see from the photo above, waiting at each seat were a bottle of water, amenity kit, and headphones. Both the amenity kit and headphones are very decent for Premium Economy. The amenity kit contains basics like eye shades and socks, and even an Ashley & Co. lip balm.
Other nice touches in the Premium Economy cabin include real cloth towels in the lavatories.
Each Air New Zealand Premium Economy seat comes equipped with a large seatback TV with a USB port.
Each seat also includes a 110V power port on the lower part of the seat.
The IFE system is controlled by a small handheld controller. There’s not much to it – just buttons to adjust the channel and volume, and a circular controller for playing games.
As for the IFE system itself, Air New Zealand offers a pretty good selection of movies, TV shows, and games. I counted 100+ options, including a mix of both North American and New Zealand-centric selections. The selection was perhaps a bit light on US-based TV series, if that matters to you.
The seatback screens provide excellent resolution. I started off with an episode of Dynasties which followed a family of tigers in India. Later, I switched to an old classic, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. My son’s somewhat obsessed with the bicycle scene, which had me in the mood to watch it again.
Air New Zealand Premium Economy Food & Beverage
The flight attendant serving our side of the aisle handed out menu cards shortly after boarding. Air New Zealand offers a special menu for Premium Economy passengers. It’s not as extensive as Business Class, of course, but a big step up over standard Economy. Air New Zealand also provides Business Class wines in Premium Economy. (My apologies, the wine list is on the IFE system, and I forgot to take a photo.)
Before takeoff, the FA came through the cabin to take main course orders. Against my better judgment, I decided to order the beef. Beef is hit or miss, mostly miss, on planes. But hey, I held out hope since New Zealand is known for its beef.
About half an hour after takeoff, the FA offered a choice of sparkling wine or water. Naturally, I took the sparkling wine for the obligatory selfie.
Nearly 40 minutes later, dinner service began. Dinner service itself resembled a somewhat odd cross between Economy and Business Class. First, the FA presented the appetizer, bread, cheese, and desert all on a single tray, but on decent quality plates. I ordered a glass of an excellent New Zealand sauvignon blanc to go with it.
The beetroot-cured salmon appetizer was quite tasty. The mix of sweet (pomegrante), bitter (grain mustard), and rich (creme fraiche) made a nice combination.
The bread was probably the star of the early show, though. I love garlic bread to begin with, and the crusty yet chewy version here really hit the spot.
The main course arrived about 30 minutes after the appetizer/bread/dessert combo tray. This course came on a separate plate. Despite being slightly overcooked, the beef was actually quite good. Well-seasoned and with good flavors, it had a nice pot roast look and feel. Tender, flavorful vegetables complemented the meal nicely. The only demerit – a horseradish cream that lacked much horseradish flavor.
After polishing that off, I headed back to the pre-plated tray for the cheese and dessert. I found the cake a mixed bag. While the cheesecake itself tasted pretty good, the top layer had a decidedly spongy texture.
So in the end analysis, you receive a semi-coach presentation, coach cheese/crackers and dessert, a Business Class appetizer, bread, and main course, and Business Class wines. Overall, I’d rate the dinner experience “Business Lite”, though the main course certainly stood out. It wasn’t just “better than coach”, but really good in its own right.
My primary complaint, though, was the inconsistent service flow. From start to finish, dinner service took about an hour and 40 minutes to complete. That’s not terrible, though the delay between courses was a bit much. Nearly 40 minutes between the first drink and the appetizer seemed particularly long.
Anyway, breakfast service commenced a little over 2 hours prior to landing. Actually, I slept through the start of the service, waking up to find my neighbor eating away. Thankfully, the FA noticed quickly and came over to take my order. Service began with yogurt, cereal, and fresh fruit (I asked for just the yogurt). Aside from the strawberry, the fruit unfortunately wasn’t very good – unripe and tasteless.
For the main course, I ordered the omelette. There’s only so exciting you can make an omelette, but it was tasty. The cheese especially added some nice creaminess and flavor. The corned beef skillet hash, while flavorful, was dry.
Once again, service flow seemed a bit slow, with breakfast taking about an hour from start to finish. One thing I really dislike about flying coach on an eastbound redeye is breakfast service 2-3 hours before landing. It makes sleeping in difficult, and if you sleep through it, you’re unlikely to receive service at all. Such was the case on my KLM Economy Class flight last November. At least I received a delayed start, but still, timing isn’t much of an advantage over coach.
So overall, I come back to meal service rating at “Business Lite”. You don’t get the extensive choices of Business Class, but quality was good overall, and the food plentiful. I found it better than the domestic First meals in American’s Premium Economy, and much better than the standard coach meals in Norwegian Premium Class.
Air New Zealand Premium Economy – Service
Service levels began well from the beginning. The FA serving our side of the aisle introduced herself to each passenger, and then handed out menus. Later, she added nice touches like keeping her voice down during drink orders, so as not to disturb my neighbor who fell asleep. And I greatly appreciated the late start for breakfast. When I woke up and noticed everyone else already eating, I figured I’d just missed breakfast. But she cheerfully came by a few minutes later to take my order. Overall, I found service warm, friendly, and proactive throughout.
My only complaint, as noted above, was the speed of the meal service. Breakfast service in particular was a little too drawn out in my opinion. Then again, with 54 Premium Economy seats to service, perhaps that’s just as fast as you can reasonably expect.
Naturally, I took advantage of my window seat and an afternoon departure to do some flightseeing. The party started right away, with a Lufthansa A380 and a British Airways 747 next door.
The sunny afternoon provided a gorgeous view of the Malibu coast and the sprawling LA basin after takeoff.
Later, we passed over the gorgeous red rock landscape of Nevada and Utah just as the sun set.
Later, after breakfast, I enjoyed the views of the English countryside and the southwest London suburbs.
I couldn’t quite get a shot of the London skyline, but did get a decent one of the River Thames meandering through the city.
Finally, after landing, it was time for some Heathrow planeporn. London Heathrow is one of my favorite airports for spotting, and this day didn’t disappoint. First up, a Qantas Dreamliner in special livery.
Next up, I had no idea this would be the last time I’d see a Jet Airways 777.
Farther down was a Saudia 777.
And finally, an Aer Lingus A320 in a retro “Irish International” livery.
Despite a long, stop-and-go taxi, we arrived at our gate at the Queen’s Terminal a full 30 minutes early. I’ll take that any day.
In general, I find Premium Economy products range from “Economy Plus” to “Business Light”. Air New Zealand Premium Economy definitely fell on the “Business Light” end of the spectrum. A roomy seat, friendly, proactive service, and enhanced meals definitely made this feel like a big step-up over standard coach. I find the product better than American’s, and about on par with Norwegian Premium Class, though with better food.
So is the buy-up worth it? A search of random advance purchase fares shows a premium of $250-450 each way over coach, both to London and Auckland. Personally, as someone who has no trouble sleeping in non-flat seats, I think the quality of the product justifies such a premium. The extra 9-10 inches of pitch made a big difference. If you have trouble sleeping in standard seats, though, a Premium Economy recliner isn’t going to help.