Air New Zealand 787-9 Business Premier Sydney to Auckland Review
A crowded cabin configuration on an otherwise delightful trans-Tasman service booked using the complimentary United Excursionist Perk
Aircraft Type: Boeing 787-9
Route: Sydney to Auckland
Class: Business Premier
Air New Zealand is one of the key carriers operating across the Tasman Sea, with four to six daily flights between Sydney and Auckland alone. A one-way business class ticket originating from Sydney typically costs $900, but I redeemed this ticket by paying only the $90 charged for taxes and fees, thanks to the United Excursionist Perk.
United Excursionist Perk
United’s Excursionist Perk is a unique feature to United Mileage Plus, allowing you to add a complimentary sector while redeeming round-trip itineraries between two regions. In this case, I redeemed 70,000 United miles (pre-devaluation in November 2017) on a combination of first and business class flights:
- HKG-BKK-SYD (Thai Airways, Royal First)
- SYD-AKL (Air New Zealand, Business Premier) **
- MEL-BKK-HKG (Thai Airways, Royal Silk)
I added a one-way side trip to New Zealand for free using this amazing perk. To trigger this perk during your reward search, select the multi-city search function and enter your desired complimentary city pair under the second of the three segments. You will find that only taxes will be charged for this complimentary segment. For more information about earning United miles, you can refer here.
Select the multi-city search option to activate the Excursionist Perk
Complimentary segment applied
Pre-flight seat selection was somewhat of a hassle. It required a phone call first to United Airlines to obtain the corresponding NZ booking reference number, followed by calling Air New Zealand’s customer support to select my seat. Unfortunately, my flight was delayed and there was a last minute aircraft swap from a Boeing 777 to 787, negating my original seat selection.
Priority check-in is available for business premier travellers as well as for Air New Zealand's elite members and their partners. This arrangement currently includes Velocity gold and platinum members, though this will change following the imminent partnership “break-up” between Virgin Australia and Air New Zealand. The check-in process was surprisingly smooth although only one counter was dedicated to premium check-in.
Air New Zealand's lounge is located upstairs beside the SilverKris lounge
The Air NZ lounge in Sydney is located on the mezzanine level, just after the duty-free shopping zone towards gate 59. The Singapore Airlines lounge next door is technically accessible too as part of the Star Alliance reciprocal benefits. I was happy to use the Air NZ lounge for a change, having frequented the lounge next door on a number of occasions.
Air New Zealand Sydney lounge exterior
Nature-inspired lounge entrance
Refurbished in 2015, the Air NZ lounge has a spacious Kiwi-inspired interior. Both at the entrance and the food bar, you will find an ultra large plasma TV screen displaying life-like scenery. Aesthetically pleasing rows of tear-shaped glass chandeliers lit up the space and could be considered the centrepiece of the lounge. There was also a good amount of natural light with windows overlooking the adjacent gates.
Drinks and dining area with overhanging chandelier
Window-facing seating area
Buffet food station
The food options were quite generous. Fortunately, my wife and I arrived just in time to observe the transition from breakfast to morning tea, switching from eggs and beans to an assortment of cheeses and sandwiches. There were a few minor issues with the dietary signage as all the vegetarian and vegan food options were labelled incorrectly – a pet peeve for my missus (a vegan for half a decade.) Making matters more frustrating, when she reported the error, the chef reluctantly removed the labels with little acknowledgment.
Fresh fruit, pastries and cereals for breakfast
Wraps and sandwiches for lunch
Unlike most international lounges, you can forget about the standard self-serve espresso machine. Barista-made coffee can be ordered using a touch-enabled screen at the bar. In case you're in a hurry, coffee is also available in a takeaway cup. I am glad to say my last flat white before a long stint abroad did not disappoint. A variety of New Zealand wines and imported beers are also available from the lounge bar.
We decided to stretch out and wander around the terminal for a little bit before the boarding announcement was made. It turned out that boarding was delayed by 20 minutes, so in retrospect I could have remained in the lounge a little longer. In spite of the delay I was the first to board the business cabin, which meant I could take a few snapshots of the cabin uninterrupted.
Business Premier Cabin
Herringbone seats on Air New Zealand's Business Premier Cabin
This 787-9 cabin could easily be mistaken for a sci-fi spacecraft. Installed with white coloured herringbone seats, sleek and curvy silver partitions and purple mood lighting, it’s retro simplicity at its finest. The crew members were warm and jovial, greeting passengers and extending their customary Maori welcome “Kia Ora” as we board the aircraft. I did not feel pressured to take my seat immediately, so I was able to take photos and survey the cabin before the other passengers arrived. As we were seated, cabin crew came around to offer lemon-scented hot towels and welcome drinks. Renowned for its innovative inflight safety videos, Air New Zealand is currently airing an Antarctica-themed production dubbed the “world’s coolest safety video, literally”.
The A and J seats in Business Premier Cabin
When it comes to cabin ergonomics, I have several criticisms. My first complaint is over the lack of privacy. The seats are arranged in a 1-1-1 configuration and are all angled diagonally towards the aisle. This is perhaps the most “social” cabin configuration I've come across, especially for the J and K seats as they share the same aisle. You can expect plenty of eye contact with the other passengers and a collective display of feet across the aisle where the ottomans are located. As it was a daytime short-haul flight, I did not put the flatbed to the test. Amenities such as blankets and bedding, usually provided on longer flights, were not offered, which is fair enough given the duration of this service.
Dimmed cabin with mood lighting in full swing
My second complaint has to do with not having enough stowage space. In addition to seat width being below average, it was difficult to find meaningful stowage space apart from the space below the ottoman, which would possibly accommodate only a small handbag. Unfortunately, my sole stowage area was already occupied – by a pair of used socks from the previous flight.
A pair of used socks under my ottoman
My third complaint was over the fact that I ended up nursing a sore neck after attempting to catch a glimpse of the view out the window, which is inconveniently located behind the seat. Furthermore, the inflight entertainment screen has to be stowed away to the side during taxi, take-off and landing.
Stowable touchscreen IFE screen
In my opinion, Air New Zealand has the best onboard catering across the Tasman. I have flown with every airline that operates over the pond except one: LATAM (Rest assured I will re-evaluate after my LATAM flight at the end of this year!). But honestly, the quality of the food and beverages on this short service was exceptional.
The lunch menu was inspired by Kiwi chefs Peter Gordon and Michael Meredith. What I love about the menu was their exemplary effort in showcasing the flavours and freshness of New Zealand's local produce, ranging from seafood to wine and cheese.
Onboard drinks menu
I selected the smoked North Island blue warehou salad to begin, followed by NZ hapuka as the mains. The salad was refreshingly balanced in flavour and the white fish was perfectly grilled. It was caramelised on the outside and succulent on the inside. To finish, I had the feijoa mascarpone parfait which was also delicious.
Blue warehou salad and bread rolls
New Zealand Hapuka
Feijoa mascarpone parfait
One thing missing from this service was an espresso coffee; a mediocre drip coffee was offered instead. I remember ordering a cup of cappuccino on the same aircraft a year ago, so I am unsure why it was not available this time. A possible explanation is again due to the duration of this flight being relatively short.
Overall, the meal service was conducted in an efficient and organised manner. I enjoyed watching the documentary entitled Antarctica: A Year on Ice, having been freshly inspired by the grandeur of the frozen south seen on our safety video. Just as the film was drawing to a close, the cabin crew came around to thank us and offered us landing cards to assist with our arrival into New Zealand.
Arrival into Auckland International Airport
The Points Finder Flight Rating: ★★★★☆☆
I have mixed feelings about this service. The hard product ticked many boxes for a solid premium product, such as direct aisle access, excellent aesthetics and fully lie-flat seats. However, the herringbone configuration does not afford the level of privacy and comfort seen elsewhere in this ever-competitive industry. I imagine a long-haul flight in this cabin could be rather uncomfortable.
Having said that, I would gladly fly in this cabin again on short-haul routes. For future reference, I would select one of the A seats for added privacy. Finally, the catering and cabin crew were fantastic. These are some of the compelling reasons why I would continue to fly with Air New Zealand.
United Mileage Plus
Mileage Plus is the official loyalty program for United Airlines, which is a Star Alliance carrier. Depending on your travel patterns, United miles might be difficult to come by for Australia-based travellers due to limited Australian credit card transfer options. However, transfers from Commonwealth Bank Awards (CBA) credit card points to United Mileage Plus have recently been made possible, though at an unfavourable rate of 4 CBA points for 1 mile.
Alternatively, United miles can be acquired through its "buy miles" portal. United typically runs multiple promotional campaigns throughout the year. Currently, it is offering a flash sale of up to a 100% bonus on purchased miles by 6 September 2018, which is an excellent way to boost your points balance towards your next redemption.
Current United “Buy Miles” promotion ending on 6 September 2018