Flight test: Air New Zealand economy

THE ROUTE

Rarotonga (Cook Islands) to Sydney.

THE PLANE

Boeing 767-300.

THE LOYALTY SCHEME

Airpoints (Star Alliance).

UP THE BACK OR POINTY END?

Economy, seats 28 J/K and 29 J/K for two parents and children, five and three. An extra $70 each buys The Works and Kids Works packages, entitling you to choose your seats, 23-kilogram luggage allowance, meals and drinks.

TIME IN THE AIR

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Seven hours 48 minutes. Departure is 35 minutes before schedule, arrival five minutes early.

THE SEAT STUFF

78cm pitch, 44cm width, 15cm recline. A 3-2-3 layout for 206 economy seats, 24 (non flat-bed) business seats.

BAGGAGE

One checked bag up to 23 kilograms, a carry-on bag up to 7 kilograms and a personal item (for example, a handbag) up to 10 kilograms.

COMFORT FACTOR

The economy seats are on the firm side. Armrests don't raise on aisle seats. However, sharing two seats with a small child gives parents enough space. Blankets provided but no pillows.

THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT

The KiaOra entertainment system is extensive but new release movies are limited. Cinema-starved parents are happy though to catch up on less recent films such as Argo. Both parents' screens are slightly faulty, hiccuping through some programs and on mine, the airshow giving flight details, doesn't work. Children's options are good and the system is available from when we board. A Kids-Only section includes movies, games and audio stories and a Kidsafe function allows parents to restrict viewing to PG and/or G-rated material. No kids' activity packs have been loaded but the KiaOra system entertains them for several hours.

THE SERVICE

The mature flight crew is welcoming and attentive. One cabin attendant adds jocularity to proceedings, quipping "sorry, we're out of cocktail umbrellas" as he serves my soda water.

FEEDING TIME

My partner describes her grilled salmon lunch and pumpkin, chickpea and carrot salad, served 90 minutes after boarding, as among the best airline food she has tasted. My main of butter chicken is flavoursome too, although the accompanying peas are overcooked. Same with the vegetables in the kids' meals. New Zealand's Brancott Estate provides all wines served onboard and there's Speight's and Steinlager beer and a few different spirits. A hot cheese and ham roll is served about 90 minutes from Sydney.

ONE MORE THING

Air NZ check-in/bag-tagging machines in Sydney are fast and efficient and a quick flight time to Rarotonga means we arrive 45 minutes early. Check-in at Rarotonga is also very swift.

THE VERDICT

Paying extra for The Works is worth it and despite entertainment system glitches, the crew and food make this an above-average family flying experience.

THE FREQUENCY

Air NZ offers one direct return trip from Sydney to Rarotonga each week, leaving 9.15pm Saturday (arriving 7.05am Saturday local time), returning 4.30pm on Friday (arriving 8.05pm into Sydney).

Tested by Daniel Scott, who flew courtesy of Cook Islands Tourism. His family travelled at their own cost.