Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. Air New Zealand has 13 Dreamliners in its fleet but normally uses a Boeing 777 on this route.
Rarotonga to Sydney
Premium economy, seat 23J (aisle)
Airpoints (Star Alliance)
7 hours, 20 minutes
Once a week
The premium economy cabin features 21 seats in a 2-3-2 layout. The seats offer 41 inches (104 cm) of pitch and are 19 inches (48 cm) wide.
Premium economy passengers get two carry-on bags up to seven kilograms each, plus one small additional item. Checked baggage allowance is two bags up to 23 kilograms each.
23J is a bulkhead seat at the front of the cabin. While this means you don't have anyone reclining into your space, it also means you don't have a seat in front of you to stretch your legs under, limiting the leg room if you're tall. The foot rests raise up to a decent height, offering the feel of a recliner (though I'm 1.85 metres tall and my legs must remain bent in this position). The cabin has its own lavatory, which, given there are only 21 seats (nine of which are unoccupied on this flight) means very little waiting to use the facilities. The amenity kit provided has an eye mask, socks, toothbrush and paste, ear plugs, lip balm and a pen.
There's a large selection of recent release and classic movies (with a particularly strong set of '80s favourites) and a whole section dedicated to Disney flicks. In the TV shows section, there's a solid section of comedies and dramas including entire seasons of recent hits such as Westworld and The Good Place. Basic economy fares don't include movies, you have to pay extra for them, but they're part of the premium economy fare by default. However, my system asks me (and the other premium passengers) to fork out in order to upgrade to the movies package. A quick word to our flight attendant and the issue is fixed by a reset. The system also features music, games, podcasts.
We have two flight attendants dedicated to the premium economy cabin for the flight. Our friendly crew, Sascha and Christine, are helpful and attentive throughout.
A bottle of water awaits in the seat pocket when we board, meaning there's no wait for the drinks service to quench my thirst after departing a tropical paradise. Dinner starts with a smoked duck salad served with mango, pickled ginger, chili salsa and mayonnaise, plus a choice of several breads. For the main course there are three options and, while I would normally choose something lighter for flying, I opt for the slow-cooked beef short rib with beans and roasted squash. It's an excellent dish, worthy of business class. I also steal a mouthful of my partner's salmon with noodles and it's also good quality. For dessert it's a dark chocolate and orange tart. We also get a second meal closer to landing, with choices of a chicken and bacon roll, fish cakes or mushroom pasta.
ONE MORE THING
Although there's only one non-stop flight a week between Sydney and the Cook Islands, there are 13 between Rarotonga and Auckland. So those looking to visit the islands with less, or more, than a full week to spare, can easily transit through the New Zealand city and connect to a flight back to Australia.
Air New Zealand's premium economy offering took out the best premium economy cabin and best premium economy seat titles at this year's World Airline Awards. The airline offers everything you could want in a premium economy cabin: roomy seats, excellent service and quality food. Personally, though, I would opt for a second or third row seat rather than a bulkhead.
Our rating out of five
The writer flew as a guest of Cook Islands Tourism.
See also: World's best airline for 2018 named