7 MARCH 2011

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Article from BTNews 7 MARCH 2011

Business Class Minus - Air New Zealand's Premium Economy

An AERBT Special Report

When it comes to Premium Economy, definitely the ‘in thing’ with airlines trying to extrapolate every penny they can from a more and more discerning public, it is Air New Zealand (ANZ) that is setting the pace.  Whilst Virgin Atlantic likes to take credit for inventing the class (back in 1992) it is ANZ that is leading the pack.  Not for them the basically Economy product with slightly more legroom favoured by British Airways, what ANZ offers is essentially its Business Premier product but without the flat seats.  The cabin staff even take your jacket on boarding, and sparkling wine (New Zealand of course) or orange juice is offered before take-off, as is a proper cloth hot towel. 

In financial terms ANZ Premium Economy is about twice the price of Economy and half that of Business Premier.

It is not often that AERBT writes about an outdated product but with one Boeing 777-300ER already delivered, and more on the way, within a few weeks the venerable Boeing 747 on the London – Los Angeles – Auckland route will be replaced by the new aircraft with some interesting passenger novelties including seat-back tv menu selection anytime on the flight.  We look forward to trying all the innovations.

In the meantime the 747 soldiers on, a fine platform for an excellent service.

What is on offer is very apparent at Heathrow.  Premium Economy passengers have their own check-in.  With a maximum of just 39, not for them queuing with 294 others in the standard class.  With a daily 15:45 departure early after lunch Terminal One is at its quietest.  ANZ is the world’s only airline that flies either east or west to the same place (Auckland).  Flight time is 75 minutes longer than the alternative route via Hong Kong.  Passengers to New Zealand by way of Asia do not have to go through the agony of American customs and immigration at Los Angeles.  To be fair, from recent personal experience at Houston, on Continental, the authorities have got it down to a fine art, the stop a nuisance rather than a pain.  The Hong Kong flight is later in the afternoon when the terminal is far, far busier.

After check-in it is through Fast Track to the Star Alliance lounge.  Here there is a good selection of hot and cold snacks and a well stocked bar.  Courtesy wi-fi is provided but bring your own laptop.  There is no computer station.

For those who can remember the Irish gates when BA operated from T1 these were reckoned by regular travellers as the longest departure walk at Heathrow (perhaps the world).  The ANZ departure must have broken that record.  It was a long way.

Premium Economy passengers gain priority boarding.  Seating is provided both in the bubble and downstairs.  Don’t rush for the upstairs.  On the main deck accommodation is four rows of paired seats either side of the staircase with the popular window storage boxes provided, the same as in the top deck on most 747s.  Lots of room for storage and more what is effectively table space.  Toilets are provided only on the upper deck unless you want to take the long walk through the curtain to the Economy provision.  Either way it is good exercise on a long journey.

The seat pitch is up to 40 inches with 50% more incline.  The in-flight entertainment (IFE) is last year’s, still more advanced than most, with a huge selection of films (including The King’s Speech if you have not seen it) with a stop/start and rewind facility.

You do not get the large 10.4 inch screens, nor the dining table provided in Premium Class and the space around you is nowhere near the same.  No flat beds for sleeping.  However travelling up front, whilst ideal for single travellers, is less socially appealing than in Premium Economy where you actually sit next to your fellow passenger.  Wives generally like this arrangement.

The meal selection and provision is essentially the same as Premium with fine china crockery and metal cutlery even including a cheese course with Port provided.  ANZ is famous for its wines and whilst, unlike those up front who gain a drinks menu, you are told of the selection, the choice and quality is excellent.  

To Los Angles from the UK the non-stop choice is American Airlines, British Airways, United Airlines and Virgin Atlantic, plus of course Air New Zealand.  With a quality service, aggressive selling and a fine reputation it is not surprising that ANZ is the choice of many.

Air New Zealand together with the British Red Cross is making a great effort to support victims of the recent earthquake disaster.  Donations please to www.redcross.org.uk

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