Melbourne to Auckland
Airbus A321neo; Air New Zealand's first A321neo, part of the A320neo family, went into service last November, and the airline now has five in its fleet.
THE LOYALTY SCHEME
Airpoints allows members to earn and redeem points on other Star Alliance airlines such as Singapore Airlines and Thai Airways.
Three hours and 20 minutes. The flight departs 15 minutes late but makes up 15 minutes across the Tasman, arriving in minute-perfect time.
Three daily flights (two on Saturday).
The Air New Zealand app makes check-in simple, requiring just bag drop at the airport. At 7.30am, it's a breeze through security and immigration in Melbourne.
Aisle seat 5D, part of the Space+ zone, which stretches from rows two to nine (for seats A, B and C) or two to seven (D, E and F). Space+ seats are available to Air New Zealand Airpoints Elite and Gold members, Koru members and Works Deluxe passengers, and have an 83-centimetre pitch, compared to 76 centimetres in the standard seats. Middle seats are two centimetres wider than window and aisle seats, though the latter are still a centimetre wider than seats on Air New Zealand's existing A320 fleet.
Checked baggage allowance is 23 kilograms, with carry-on baggage limited to seven kilograms and one bag.
This A321neo is fresh out of the wrapping, with the smell of fresh leather seats as I step aboard to prove it. There's a strikingly homely feel about the cabin – the leather is as soft as the seats in a European car, and there's cute butterfly wallpaper in the toilet. The Space+ seat brings ample legroom, with my knees coming up a good 15 centimetres short of the seat in front, and even with two large people seated beside me, it doesn't feel crowded.
On a short trans-Tasman flight, the screen is everything. The A321neo sports Air New Zealand's new in-flight entertainment system, and the selection is probably the best I've encountered on a flight. Movies on the 10-inch screen range from freshly minted Oscar winners to old-timers, and each film comes with a trio of "you might like" recommendations if you're keen to work your way through a genre. There's a range of TED talks, podcasts, audio books and the flight map is interactive, featuring photo galleries for adults and a map with world animals for kids. There's also a kids' viewing mode that allows you to set the system to G, PG or PG13 programs only. A search engine makes for easy navigation – it's like Netflix in the sky.
The flight begins with the usual mirth of the Air New Zealand safety video, but the smiles aren't all on the screen. Cabin crew are friendly and personable, spending a lot of the flight chatting to passengers. In a quirky final touch, a Kiwi athlete flying home from a championship win is seconded to hand out the sweets through the cabin just before our descent.
Works and Works Deluxe fares come with meal and drinks. Breakfast options are Bircher muesli with fruit salad and muffin, or scrambled eggs with sausage and tomato. It's simple, light fare that's enough to carry us over the Tasman Sea.
ONE MORE THING
Wi-Fi access on the plane is free of charge.
This is as comfortable as it gets crossing the Ditch, with the finest entertainment system in the sky – it might almost have you wishing the flight was longer.
5 out of 5 stars