Review: Air New Zealand 787 Business Class Chicago to Auckland

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Kia ora! I recently returned from a short trip to Melbourne and Auckland, courtesy of the Air New Zealand business class mistake fare earlier this year. I got to experience Air New Zealand’s Business Premier, and here is my take on their Chicago to Auckland flight.

Booking The Air New Zealand Flight

We had an absolutely incredible start in 2019 in terms of mistake fares. Cathay Pacific dropped a sub-$1000 First Class fares to Vietnam, and Air New Zealand gave us an excellent fare to Australia (via New Zealand).

Flying to the South Pacific is always a challenge when redeeming points, and Air New Zealand award space is virtually non-existent (except when the flood gates open a few times every few decades). Because of that, I jumped on the opportunity to fly down under on this mistake fare, and try out Air New Zealand’s premium cabin in the process.

This also turned out to be a great opportunity to review the new(ish) route from the airline, from Chicago to Auckland. This is currently the 17th longest non-stop flight by distance, and launched Chicago into one of the very few cities with non-stop flights to six continents. I carved out a week in May and decided to visit Melbourne, with a very brief stopover in Auckland on my way back.

All in all, the airfare came out to ~$1,521. I could only find the fare on Orbitz, so I paid with my Chase Ink Preferred Business card to earn 3 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar. Had I been able to book with the airline directly, the American Express Platinum card and the Citi Prestige both offer 5 points per dollar in their respective programs.

Where To Credit The Miles

The flights covered a total distance of 19,562 miles. I no longer have status with any Star Alliance airline, so I planned to credit my flights to Avianca LifeMiles. With a 100% bonus for the fare class, I could earn a total of around 39,000 miles in the process. With my valuation of ~1.3 cents per LifeMile, this would come out to about $500 worth of miles, which is awesome.

However, while my Auckland to Melbourne flights posted without issues, my Auckland to Chicago flights did not post automatically to LifeMiles. When I asked to have them manually posted, I was told by LifeMiles that Air New Zealand rejected these flights as miles-earning.

I am not sure if the LifeMiles agent made this up (aka lied to me), or if Air New Zealand is really denying miles-earning with these mistake fares to LifeMiles specifically. Either way, I ended up successfully crediting my two long flights to Aegean Miles+Bonus, which earned me Star Alliance Silver status in the process anyhow.

Air New Zealand (NZ) Flight 27
Chicago (ORD) – Auckland (AKL) | Airbus Boeing 787-9
2120/0630+2 (16 hour 10 minutes)
Business Premier (Business Class)

Air New Zealand, like most international airlines, operates out of Terminal 5 in Chicago O’Hare (ORD). I arrived at the airport pretty early after a late check-out at my hotel in Chicago, and was happy to find out that the check-in counters were already open four hours before departure.

There was a dedicated line for Business Premier passengers, and I was helped immediately. The agents were wearing United badges, and the gentleman checking me in had to fuss around a bit to get my boarding pass printed. This seemed to be the case for other people around me checking in. However, there was a supervisor going between desks in the back to quickly fix any issues, and I was on my way in a couple of minutes.

As usual in the late afternoon, O’Hare Terminal 5 security check was an absolute madhouse. At least there was a line for premium cabin passengers. However, I ended up waiting in line for 45 minutes at the TSA check point anyway. This was because there was only one agent checking IDs at the premium lane, which also doubled as the crew lane. Meanwhile, there were 4 agents checking IDs for the regular lane, so that line actually moved much, much faster.

Boarding commenced on time, and began with passengers traveling with children or needing assistance. This was followed by Business Premier passengers and elites. I appreciated that there was a dedicated line for those requiring assistance, since it actually helped reduce crowding in the Business Class/Elite boarding lane.

Air New Zealand 787 Business Premier Cabin

I need to preface this section by saying, I didn’t mess with the white balance of the photos. The cabin really was that purple. If anything, I actually tried to fix them to make them look less nauseating. But oh well, this is the best I can do.

Air New Zealand brands their Business Class cabin as Business Premier, which is their highest available cabin. On my 787, there was one singular cabin located between doors 1 and 2. The seats were arranged in a traditional herringbone-ish pattern, in a 1-1-1 configuration, with a total of 27 seats.

Seats faced away from the window, toward the aisles. There was a short wall separating the aisle of port side seats from the two starboard side seats. The overhead compartments above, as a result, was bonus storage for passengers on the port side of the plane.

If you are traveling alone, I would high recommend selecting one of those port side seats (the “A” seats). Even couples may also want to select two seats in front of one another (e.g. 5A and 6A), since I think they are actually closer than selecting two seats that face each other (the “J” and “K” seats) in the middle and right columns.

There were two lavatories for the Business Class cabin, both located in the front of the cabin by the galley. They were pretty barebones, and there weren’t any amenities unique to the business class cabins. I did like the quirky wall decor, and the fact that they played elevator music inside the bathrooms throughout the flight.

Air New Zealand 787 Business Premier Seat and Amenities

Air New Zealand Business Premier uses a traditional herringbone seating arrangement. The seats all face the aisle, and all have direct aisle access. I assigned myself seat 6A, on the port side.

Waiting for me at my seat were a pillow, a bottle of water, and headphones.

The seat reminds me of Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class, and the really old (and no longer flying) “coffin seats” on Cathay Pacific A330s. I will never understand why airlines would install window seats that literally face away from the windows.

How The Seat Actually Worked…

Turning on the IFE system prompted a video explaining the features of the seat. I am really glad they made this three minute video, because frankly, this was one of the least intuitively designed seats.

The cocktail tray was literally behind the seat to your left, so you had to constantly reach over to grab your drink. The IFE screen deployed over the tray table, so once you have food on the table you wouldn’t be able to move the screen without knocking over everything. There was also virtually no storage in the seat, save for one small cubby for a phone or passport in a pop-up armrest on the left, and the literature pocket on the left.

There were simple controls to the right of the seat, just recline or upright, and lumbar support. The seat did not recline into a bed-rather, it flipped over to form a flat surface. As a result, recline was limited, and you couldn’t really make any adjustment once you entered bed mode. The controls for switching between bed and seat modes were at the far end of the seat, which was (for once) an intuitive design, since you had to get up to make the switch.

The seats also didn’t provide much privacy. The dividers/walls between seats were very low, so in the upright position you are just inches away from your neighbor’s face, and staring straight into their IFE screen. Leaning just a bit forward gave you a close view of your neighbor’s feet, and whatever scent came with it. Literally. So just cross your fingers that your neighbor doesn’t have smelly feet! (Mine fortunately did not.)

Resting on the ottoman was an amenity kit, as well as menu for the flight. The ottoman doubled as a seat for visitors, and even came with its own seat belt. However, the seats were pretty tight as it stands, and I am not sure that it’s really all the comfortable to dine together or even sit for more than a few minutes. Still, it was nice to have this unique feature – which is unheard of in business class.

There was room under the ottoman for shoes, but even for a pair of men’s size nine like mine, they stuck out a bit.

Amenity Kit

The amenity kit was perfectly serviceable. There was a dental kit, mouth wash, a pen, ear plugs, and eyeshades. There was also a pair of socks, with toe seams actually in the right, non-annoying places (I know, I’m nit-picky. But while we’re here, I would point out that United is the only other airline to get amenity kit socks right.) I also appreciated the generous size of the hand lotion and lip balm, both Ashley & Co branded.

Air New Zealand 787 Business Premier Entertainment

The in-flight entertainment screen was definitely on the smaller side, but it was moveable and I could get comfortable viewing in seat, reclined, or in bed mode. The provided headphones were absolutely garbage, though.

Fortunately, I carried my trusty noise-cancelling Bose in-ear headphones with me, which came in handy. There were both a single aux jack below the screen (for your own headphones) and a double aux jack by the remote (for the airline-provided headphones).

I was also very impressed with the entertainment selection. There was a great selection of both classic and recent movies, and many of the TV shows came either as a box set or had multiple episodes. I was personally delighted by the 50 episodes of Friends!

As far as connectivity and power go, there was a USB port right under the screen, and a universal power outlet by the literature pocket.

It’s worth noting that Air New Zealand now offers free Wi-Fi to everyone where available. Of my four flights with them on this itinerary, only one aircraft featured Wi-Fi. Nonetheless, I think it’s a great perk. In time, it may even become a universally free amenity, just like Wi-Fi at hotels have become.

Air New Zealand 787 Business Premier Dinner Service

There were primarily two flight attendants serving my aisle.

Mary was an older, gray haired lady who was super chipper. She brought over a selection of pre-departure beverages: orange juice, champagne, or water. Her younger colleague serving the same aisle, meanwhile, just really didn’t seem like she wanted to be there. Perhaps she was having a bad day, but the curt, monotonic, almost command-like interactions I had made me question whether I was flying American Airlines.

Fortunately, my subsequent flights with Air New Zealand proved this to be an exception rather than the norm.

There was a cabin manager, Jane, who came by to introduce herself and welcome each Business Class passenger individually. She also handed out customs form for New Zealand, and referenced her iPad to make sure only passengers actually needed one got one, to avoid any confusion.

A flight attendant then came by with hot towels. For the towel snobs out there, this was among the flimsiest I’ve seen.

One flight attendant came by to take order post-departure drinks, while another came to take our meal order. Shortly after, we began our taxi for takeoff, and the safety video began to play. My flight was in May 2019, but it seems that Air New Zealand has reverted back to the “Summer of Safety” video, which debuted in 2016.

Shortly after take off, flight attendants came by with a pre-meal beverage. I was boring and went with a sparkling water with lemon. This was accompanied by a small ramekin of mixed nuts, served ice cold. The champagne on board was Laurent-Perrier Brut NV for those curious.

Flight attendants then set the table for a meal service, with a proper dinner. To begin, I selected a “smoked scallops with Pervuai style salsa salad and ahi verde sauce” as my starter, which was refreshing and delicious.

I opted for some warmed garlic bread from the bakery. Nothing will ever be as good as Singapore Airlines’ garlic bread, but these weren’t too shabby. For my main course, I had the New Zealand sous vide lamb shank with saffron polenta, roasted carrots, black olives, and baby onions, salsa verde.

To finish, I had some rocky road ice cream with crushed strawberry compote and chocolate sauce. The ice cream was rock hard frozen, but I suppose the opposite would be way worse.

All in all, the meal service-done front to aft-took about two hours.

I should note, there were a variety of mid-flight snacks available, including a basket of crisps, cookies, and chocolates at the galley. There were also a few “warm” options as stated on the menu, but when I requested they were served cold. I had a buffalo chicken sandwich half way through the flight, but sadly was famished and devoured the whole thing before I could snap a picture of it. Oops.

Air New Zealand 787 Business Premier Bed

The Good

The flight attendants came by to proactively make up the beds for everyone towards the end of the dinner service. The bedding consisted of a nicely sized pillow, a thick mattress pad, and a duvet. The bedding was definitely some of the better offerings in business class that I’ve experienced. The mattress pad was substantial, and the duvet was actually long enough to cover both the shoulders and the feet.

The Not So Good

The one qualm is that while the mattress pad was thick, since the bed tapers to a sharp triangle at the head, the mattress pad actually doesn’t quite reach that far. As a result, there’s about a 1-inch drop where your head and feet go. I ended up doubling over my pillow to fill in the gap.

There was also a separate seat belt for bed mode, which was awesome, since it didn’t come with the bulky air bag that would otherwise be present in seat mode.

The Bad

Air New Zealand touts that they have one of the longest beds in the sky, and the 1-1-1 configuration is certainly seems conducive to that. Sadly, I actually found the bed to be quite short. If I laid perfectly straight, my feet could easily touch the wall of the foot cubby when my head was touching the fuselage wall. And I’m only 5’8″!

No worries, I thought, I’d just sleep on my side. Unfortunately, because of the traditional herringbone layout, the space was actually pretty tight, and I found it really hard to sleep with your knees flexed.

I can definitely understand where the term “coffin seat” came from. For reference, many of the reverse herringbone products out there (like on Cathay Pacific, EVA Air, American Airlines, Air Canada, Air France, to name a few) have a “flip up” cushion that provides extra support for your posterior should you choose to sleep on your side.

Since the seat flips over to become a bed (as opposed to recline into one), once you are in bed mode, you can’t fine tune the angle of your seat back. Additionally, the table could not be deployed while in bed mode. As a result, if you wanted to have a quick snack or watch a movie mid-flight and later go back to sleep, you’d have to sit up in bed. Not the biggest problem in the world, but a pain point worth noting nonetheless.

However, even with these issues, I managed to sleep for about 8 hours on and off, which I count as a pretty good flight.

Lights were switched on about 2.5 hours before landing, while breakfast service didn’t start until 1.5 hours prior to landing. Contrary to the dinner service, the breakfast service was done aft to front.

I was first offered a wake-up drink: a banana, mango, and berry smoothie. It was super delicious. A variety of juices were also available on demand as alternatives.

Flight attendants then came by to set the table. Many airlines serve the pre-arrival meal on a tray in business class as a way to streamline service. Not here. Kudos to Air New Zealand, where I didn’t see a meal-on-a-tray the entire flight.

From a cart, there was a selection of fresh fruits, yogurt (plain and berries flavored), cereal, and muesli. These were plated individually, and you could basically choose whatever (and as much as) you wanted. I asked for plain yogurt, and the flight attendant went, “hmmm that looks too plain. I’m gonna add some fruit.” No complaints here.

Next up was a selection from the bakery. I opted for a warm, buttery, and fluffy croissant with some very nice strawberry jam. Also on offer was whole wheat, white, or muesli bread toasts, with various marmalades, Vegemite, and Marmite.

For the main course of breakfast, I went with an omelette filled with soft cheese, corned beef skillet hash, with tomatillo salsa and roasted tomato. It was rather bland, but pretty filling.

Another round of coffee and tea, and we were ready for landing. I should note that Air New Zealand serves “plunger coffee” by default. It’s basically French Press coffee, and done at scale onboard, but the five-year-old in me will never not find that terminology amusing.

Overall Impression of Air New Zealand 787 Business Premier

Overall, I was happy with my experience on this Air New Zealand flight.

The service was friendly, for the most part. I appreciated that meal services were done at the right pace for a 16-hour flight; there were no unnecessary bells and whistles to drag the service out, but it was still done with care (such as nothing being served on a tray). The food was delicious, with what I thought were the perfect portions. The in-flight entertainment selection was extensive, though there was no Wi-Fi onboard.

The bed was a serious weak point, though. The thick mattress pad was comfortable, and the cabin was kept at a perfectly cool temperature, which along with a late departure helped with my sleep. However, the bed was definitely on the narrow side, and the traditional herringbone configuration means that it was, well, coffin-like. I found that you couldn’t really toss and turn, since any movement would cause you to bump into the walls of the seat. Air New Zealand is rumored to be working on a new business class product, and I hope this is something they will address.

At the end of the day, the 16-hour flight passed much faster than I thought. Between the comfortable bed and the decent entertainment options, killing time was rather easy. Still, there was really nothing special or memorable about the experience, which I suppose is what business class is really about: getting you from point A to point B, comfortably.

In that way, I think Air New Zealand did a perfectly fine job.

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