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    Air New Zealand to Chicago is a great alternative

    9.5/10

    From 2 editor reviews

    Steve Creedy

    Cabin: Business Premier
    Route: Sydney-Auckland-Chicago
    Aircraft: Boeing 777/Boeing 787-9

    9/10

    Air New Zealand strike averted
    Journey’s end: Chicago. Photo; Steve Creedy.

    The new ultra-long-haul non-stop between Auckland and Chicago gives residents on both sides of the Pacific a great new way of traveling to each other’s countries.

    For Chicagoans, it puts the Land of the Long White Cloud a single flight away and hopefully addresses some of the misunderstandings about how long it takes to get to New Zealand. Australia is then an easy three-hour hop away across the Tasman Sea.

    It gives Australians one-stop access to one of the United States’ most important cities, allowing those bound for Chicago to largely avoid what can be the unpleasantness of the US domestic airline system.

    For those heading  on to other destinations in the US and Canadian east coasts, it lands them at a major hub for Air New Zealand partner United Airlines

    Sydneysiders can take a widebody Boeing 777 and switch to the same class on a Boeing 787-9 with just a couple of hours of easy-going transfer through Auckland International Airport.

    In this case, the journey started smoothly at premium check-in for the 9:50 am NZ 101 service from Sydney to Auckland.

    It switched to NZ 26 departing at 4:55 pm after a pleasant sojourn of fewer than two hours in AirNZ’s impressively renovated lounge.

    Luggage — you get up to two pieces each weighing 23kg —  was checked through to Chicago to make the transfer painless.

    Travelers will also be pleased to know the aircraft used on the Auckland-Chicago route have Rolls-Royce TEN engines that are not subject to the problems that have grounded other Dreamliners.

    Seat and Amenities

    Air New Zealand business Hangar 22 accelerate
    I found the 787 seat narrower than that on the 777. Photo: Air NZ.

    Business Premier is a tried and true concept that has worked well for Air New Zealand on its B777s and offers one of the most comfortable sleeping platforms in the air.

    The memory foam mattress and two generous pillows mean that even an aviation insomniac such as yours truly can get some shuteye.

    That’s still the case on the B787 which makes  the set-up just the ticket for a flight that’s roughly 15 hours one way 16 hours coming back

    A herringbone 1-1-1 layout means everyone gets aisle access but there isn’t the privacy afforded by some newer seat products on other carriers.

    I was in seat 8J in the middle and found the 787 seat narrower than its 777 counterparts.

    The narrower configuration was fine for those wanting to chill out, watch movies and put your feet up on the ottoman. But I found it a bit constraining when trying to work.

    A lack of storage also proved frustrating as was the juggling act between the tray table and the video screen. The latter appears to have been repositioned and I activated it several times with my elbow when it was in the stowed position, at one point inadvertently summoning the cabin crew.

    There was a bit of additional room when the screen was extended and you could use the recess it inhabited on landings and take-offs to park your elbow and maybe a drink

    The generously proportioned sliding tray table remains a great design and the seat controls are similar to the 777, meaning they are intuitive and easy to use.

    A  previously elusive headphone socket is now easier to find and the fold down drink holder at the rear was positioned well in terms of avoiding spills but is not the easiest thing to access.

    Customer service on board

    New Zealanders are a friendly and gregarious people and this applies to the national carrier’s cabin crew, although not all are kiwis.

    The service was exemplary from the welcome drink in Sydney to the farewell in Chicago.

    This was consistent over all flights, which is always a good sign of a top-tier airline on its game.

     

    Catering

    Air New Zealand chicago
    The smoked duck was delicious

    This is a country famous for its great food and wine and Air New Zealand considers itself an ambassador in this regard.

    We were treated to lunch on the Sydney-Auckland leg and dinner on the way to Chicago, followed by breakfast.

    There was a choice in both cases of two entrees and three mains, .swashed down by a stunning Pinot Gris and a mouth-watering syrah.

    For dinner, I opted for a tasty starter of smoked duck with pickled pear relish and walnuts, horopito and roasted garlic followed by a surprisingly good Angus beef burger with a Swiss cheese melt and relishes for the main course.

    New Zealand cheeses are among the world’s best so the cheese plate was hard to go past for dessert.

    There was a mid-flight snack of gourmet Chicago  hotdog for those who couldn’t make it through  to breakfast, which in my case centered on scrambled eggs with corned beef hash cake and tomato relish on a toasted grain muffin.

    That was one of four hot breakfast options or you could opt for lighter fare.

    Inflight entertainment

    Business premier chicago
    The IFE is intuitive and easy to use

    This is great entertainment system when it comes to pausing as you head off to the loo and backtracking when you’ve fallen asleep during a crucial point in the move without which the rest of it makes no sense.

    It’s an intuitive system that allows you to easily switch between functions and gives you a quick reference to how many hours are left in the trip so you can plan your box set binge accordingly.

    There’s ample content with a selection of decent contemporary and past movies and shows.

    The screen is sharp and bright and business passengers get noise cancelling headphones which are Ok but nothing to write home about.

    There was no wi-fi, which was fine by me.

     

    Extra information

    The new Chicago service is good news for Kiwis and American alike as well as a great option for Australians not heading to the US West Coast.

    Sydney-Chicago came in at about 20 hours thanks to headwinds that shaved about an hour off the flying time.

    The return trip would have been longer but was unable to assess that thanks to a thunderstorm that saw our Sydney-Auckland aircraft affected by a lightning strike while sitting at the gate.

    A downside for business travelers is the service is currently only three days a week but Air New Zealand officials are optimistic it will quickly move to daily.

    Steve Creedy flew to Chicago courtesy of Air New Zealand

    Sharon Petersen

    Cabin: Business Class
    Route: Auckland to LA return
    Aircraft: 777-300ER

    10/10

    For some flying Business Class overseas is a regular thing, but for most of the population it’s a treat that happens very seldom. No matter what category you fall into, you the customer are paying more for Business Class and naturally you want a faultless and pleasant experience.
    I was excited to test the long haul Business Class product on Air New Zealand after hearing some very positive reports from our website viewers. Could this airline really be “that good”? The moment I stepped on board, I was greeted with a champagne, hot towel and personalised welcome I knew immediately that there was something different about this airline – they had an energy, an edge and I immediately liked what I saw.

    Seat and Amenities

    The Business Class seats are arranged in a fishbone or herringbone configuration meaning every passenger has aisle access and privacy which is priceless when you are sleeping – it’s like having a private suite. Despite the industry wide advances in Business Class, some airlines still carry those ‘side by side’ business class seats with no privacy and poor aisle access which is ok when you are travelling with a loved one but when you’re sleeping next to a stranger making all sorts of snorting noises in their sleep it’s just not pleasant. Having said that, for those that do want to sit together at meal times (or anytime in the flight) it’s absolutely no problem. At the end of every seat is an ottoman with a seatbelt so passengers can dine and wine together without interruption. The leather seat itself is 22 inches wide, has many reclining options and comes with a blanket, thick duvet and full sized pillow. There is an above average amount of storage space both next to the seat (under the TV), in the pop up arm rest and under the ottoman. When you are ready to lie down, the cabin crew will convert your seat within a minute to a fully flat 6 foot 6 inch bed which fits even the tallest passenger. It is at this point that Air New Zealand shows one of its competitive edges in Business Class – a mattress. Yes – an almost inch thick mattress is laid over the converted seat to create arguably the most comfortable Business Class bed in the sky. It sounds so simple but the difference between two business class beds – one with a mattress and one without is quite amazing. The bed is wide and every side sleepers dream. The seat features a charging station so you can power laptops, mobile phones and other electronic devices. There is an amenity kit at every seat containing an eye mask, ear plugs, hand moisturiser, lip balm, brightly coloured bed socks and an eye mask with an “are we there yet” or “beware I sleep walk” catchphrase on it .
    The cabin itself features mood lighting to create a suitable mood for the time of day or night. Immediately after the meal service is complete the lights in the cabin are dimmed. For night flights that are flying into daylight all passengers are asked to draw their window shades until the morning.

    Customer service on board

    There is no denying that Air New Zealand’s strength that sets them apart at ‘the pointy end of the plane’ is their cabin crew. Whilst I was travelling as a guest of the airline the cabin crew had no idea I was reviewing the flight and the exemplary customer service I received was clearly received by every single passenger in that cabin. The crew are quite simply professional, passionate, helpful and friendly beyond belief. They like their jobs, they like the company they work for and they are proud of what they do and how they do it. One passenger summed it up perfectly when he said “I sometimes need to travel for work on another airline that has basically the same seat/bed, food and in flight entertainment but they don’t have the wonderfully consistent cabin crew that Air New Zealand has and they’re what make the experience special and make me come back time and time again”.
    The cabin crew has incredible intuition and know how to relate to a passenger and meet their needs without the passenger even having to ask. The crew knew I was exhausted on one leg and without even asking how I felt they suggested I should move to a spare seat further back so the noise of the galley wouldn’t bother me. They also picked up that another passenger drank a lot of water and they come around with spare water bottles before the current one was even empty. Wine glasses were never empty and LED candles were available to those dining together to create a “romantic restaurant in the sky”. I found it very amusing when the crew member delivered my fatty bacon bagel breakfast and said “ma’am – here is the low fat breakfast option you ordered”. The crew have personality, a sense of humour and a warmth about them that you just don’t encounter on every airline. You leave the flight feeling like you have made five or six new friends. It is this personalisation and ability to ‘just know’ how much or little to interact with a passenger that is unique to Air New Zealand and a skill that very few airlines cabin crew possess these days. Customer service can be so “hit and miss” but you don’t have to worry about that here, this airline epitomise what Business Class service should be.

    Catering

    Every seat has a food and drink menu as well as an extensive separate wine list. Not long after take-off drink orders are taken and tables are set. Once these were served passengers then had the difficult task of choosing an entree, main and dessert from the three or four delicious options available for each course. The Air New Zealand staff are highly trained when it comes to food and beverage preparation, service and knowledge. Wines were recommended based on the meal and if you had any questions about the meal they knew the answers and if they didn’t they found out.
    Tables are lain with a crisp white linen table cloth and all meals are served on china with silverware (there’s not a piece of plastic in sight).
    For my dinner entree I chose a prosciutto, Bocconcini and fig salad and from the bakery, fresh bread with olive oil. For the main I ordered a beef dish with seasonal vegetables and a delicious jus. Dessert was a creamy cheesecake with a cheese platter to follow. Breakfast orders were taken as you woke up about 2 hours before landing. Fresh juices, tea and coffee are offered regularly and there are plenty of options in the bakery basket for those that want a light meal or an accompaniment to their main. Breakfast is served in two parts, firstly a fruit salad with compote and yoghurt as well as your selections from the bakery basket and cereal. After this is cleared the main breakfast meal is served
    I asked a few fellow passengers what they thought of their meals just to make sure there was consistency in perfection and taste across the board and I received nothing but positive feedback. On late night flights Air New Zealand also offer a quick dine option so you can have something light to eat and go to sleep. I opted for this on the flight home from Los Angeles and it consisted of a soup with a fresh roll and small dessert. Most importantly it was as the name suggested, quick.
    For passengers that get hungry throughout the flight there is a help yourself snack bar or if you’re just too comfy to move from your bed simply ask the crew and they will give you all the options at your seat.

    Inflight entertainment

    Every seat in Business Class is equipped with a 12.1 inch touchscreen TV. Air New Zealand provides an endless menu of TV shows, movies, documentaries and music which can be enjoyed gate to gate. All viewing is enhanced with a set of comfortable noise cancelling headphones. The TV is stowed in the side of the seat at takeoff and landing but can still be watched quite easily. After takeoff it simply pops out and can be watched whilst sitting, eating and laying down.

    Extra information

    For some flying Business Class overseas is a regular thing, but for most of the population it’s a treat that happens very seldom. No matter what category you fall into, you the customer are paying more for Business Class and naturally you want a faultless and pleasant experience.

    I started to get worried as my plane touched down in Auckland after spending a total of 24 hours in Business class (with return flight) I still hadn’t found a fault. My fellow passengers couldn’t find a fault – every review needs a fault of some kind but still as I write this I simply cannot find one. Air New Zealand are actually “that good”.

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