Airline review: Air New Zealand premium economy, Sydney to Houston via Auckland

Read our writer's views on this property below

THE PLANE

Boeing 767-300 from Sydney to Auckland. Boeing 777-200ER from Auckland to Houston. Air NZ has eight 777-200ERs in its fleet.

THE ROUTE

Sydney to Houston via Auckland.

THE LOYALTY SCHEME

Air NZ Airpoints. Passengers can also earn points towards other Star Alliance membership programs.

CLASS

Economy from Sydney to Auckland, aisle seat 8F. Premium economy from Auckland to Houston, window seat 25K.

DURATION

Three hours from Sydney to Auckland, one-hour transit in Auckland, then 14 hours, 30 minutes from Auckland to Houston.

FREQUENCY

Five times weekly moving to daily during December to February. The service launched in December 2015.

SEAT

There's no premium economy on the connecting Sydney to Auckland flight so I'm in economy with the "Works Deluxe" package, which includes a meal, drinks and an empty adjacent seat. On the Auckland to Houston leg, there's a separate premium economy cabin with 40 seats in a 2-4-2 configuration. Seats have a multi-adaptor power point, a USB connector and an adjustable leg rest and foot bar. Premium economy seat pitch: 106 centimetres; width: 49 centimetres; recline: 22 centimetres.

BAGGAGE

Premium economy passengers are allowed two checked bags up to 23 kilograms each, plus two carry-on bags (up to 14 kilograms in total) and one small personal item.

COMFORT

Air NZ's armchair-like black leather premium economy seat has the largest seat pitch in its class with 50 per cent more recline than economy. Throw in adjustable leg, foot and head rests and you've got the next best thing to having a bed. I sleep for six hours from Auckland to Houston.

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ENTERTAINMENT

Both legs have seatback TVs but the premium economy system is the more impressive with 1800 hours of on-demand entertainment available through a responsive 11-inch (28-centimetre) touch-sensitive screen paired with noise-cancelling headphones. In addition to 23 new release movies and more than 40 games, there's a wide range of documentaries and TV shows plus an exclusive Air NZ radio channel. A handy favourites system allows you to save selections and people travelling together can synchronise their viewing using a "screen share" function.

SERVICE

Service on both flights is friendly and jovial. On the Auckland to Houston leg, there's a dedicated crew for premium economy and extra touches include hot towels, sparkling wine after take-off and an amenity pack containing ear plugs, eye mask, socks and toiletries.

FOOD

My tandoori chicken salad in economy from Sydney to Auckland is tasty and filling but there's a noticeable step up in quality and presentation on the premium economy leg with printed menus and proper plates and cutlery. Both my Peking spiced smoked chicken starter and harissa braised lamb main are excellent. There are four choices of NZ wine, four types of bread, a rhubarb frangipane tart dessert and several rounds of tea and coffee. Breakfast is similarly impressive with cereal, yoghurt, croissants and two hot options. If you get peckish mid-flight, there's a self-service bar with crisps, cookies and chocolate.

ONE MORE THING

My passage through Houston airport is a new personal best for entering the US – 20 minutes from arriving at the gate to standing outside.

THE VERDICT

This route opens up a welcome new US entry point, particularly if you're visiting the South or the east coast. It's a long flight so the additional space, comfort and amenities in premium economy make it a compelling proposition.

Tested by Rob McFarland, who travelled as a guest of Air New Zealand.