Auckland to Houston
A refitted Boeing 777-200. These planes were revamped with new seats and touchscreen entertainment systems in 2015, so the airline's 25 wide body aircraft – including the Dreamliner and 777-300s – now all look and feel the same. Consistency like this is a comfort for any frequent flyer.
THE LOYALTY SCHEME
Airpoints (free to join) lets members earn and use points on other Star Alliance airlines, including Singapore Airlines, United and Lufthansa.
13 hours and 10 minutes, a haul so long it gets a laugh from the pilot when he announces it. Our flight departs one hour late, but makes up most of it while crossing the Pacific.
Air New Zealand flies to Houston up to five times a week via Auckland from Sydney, Brisbane, Coolangatta, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth and the Sunshine Coast.
I start the journey in Brisbane, where machines are not my friends. I have a stand-off with a frozen check-in kiosk, then a bag drop that won't read my bag tag. Luckily, the human staff are very friendly and sort these issues out in a flash. Immigration is a nightmare thanks to a mass passport control machine failure across Australia, meaning all passengers need to be processed manually, but this is no particular airline's fault.
Seat 25E, in the middle of the middle of a full plane. Thanks to quiet neighbours, a 41 inch (104-centimetre) pitch giving me masses of legroom, a 23-centimetre recline (50 per cent more than economy) and an extendable footrest, I get comfortable quickly. The soft, 49-centimetre-wide leather seat feels more armchair than airline seat, and Air New Zealand's short video explaining how your seat works helps save time and aggravation fiddling with levers.
Two check-in bags of 23 kilograms each. A decadent 14 kilograms of carry-on is also allowed for premium economy, spread over two bags of seven kilograms each, plus one small item.
Once my seat is fully reclined and my blanket is wrapped around me, I'm almost as snug as I would be in business. Turbulence gets severe about 90 minutes into the flight, but our pilot's relaxed explanation that we're "bumping across the tops of the clouds" helps soothe the nerves, as do a couple of glasses of that famed New Zealand pinot noir. I'm able to sleep for almost 10 hours. The feather pillow helps, as does the amenities kit which includes comfy blue socks and a nice, rich lip balm from Auckland-based company Ashley & Co.
Air New Zealand's touch screen entertainment system has a very user-friendly design like a smartphone app. There's a great selection of high definition new releases including A Star Is Born and Bohemian Rhapsody, as well as arthouse films, classics, documentaries, TV box sets, video games and more. There are also nifty extras like Seat Chat, which lets you message friends and family onboard; Screen Share, so you can watch the same movie as the seat next to you at the same time; and Destinations, which includes guides, photos, videos and more about your destination.
Staff are efficient, helpful and not overly friendly, which suits me since I prefer minimal chit-chat. Sparkling wine is offered after take-off but in plastic cups – given we're in premium, it would be nice if they opted for glass. Staff are very forthcoming with the water, always appreciated on long-haul flights.
My vegetarian meal starts with a healthy quinoa, black and green olive and pea salad, which I devour, with fresh garlic bread, followed by a chickpea stew with rice and boiled vegetables. Breakfast is fruit, granola, a chocolate muffin and yoghurt.
ONE MORE THING
Air New Zealand recently announced it will be progressively replacing this 777-200 fleet with Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner aircraft, with the first jets set to arrive in late 2022. The new planes will be 25 per cent more fuel efficient that the existing fleet.
Comfort is everything on these gruelling long-haul flights, and the Kiwi carrier pays very close attention to seat comfort. Plus they have what could easily be the best entertainment system in the sky.
4.5 out of 5 stars.