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    Japan’s Peach continues to suprise

    8/10

    From 72 editor reviews

    John Walton

    Cabin: Economy (Space Option)
    Route: Osaka Kansai-Tokyo Narita
    Aircraft: Airbus A320

    10/10

    Peach is very much a low-cost carrier, and so 29-inch seating is only to be expected these days. It’s the same as Jetstar, easyJet and most other LCCs operating Airbus narrowbodies, which have wider seats than Boeing’s 737.

    Seat and Amenities

    Peach
    Legroom is standard for an LCC these days. Photo: John Walton

    It’s a pretty basic LCC seat, but the airline has happily installed slimline seats: less padding, but also less seat structure in front of your knees, so it feels a little better.

    Bulkhead and exit rows are available, but I chose the Space Seat Option, which allows you to keep one or two seats next to you free in order to relax, snooze, or sleep. Each extra Space Seat on a domestic leg is ¥2000, or about A$25, which you pay over the phone to their English-speaking staff.

    For my money, that’s one of the best deals in aviation, especially since the seats are pitched at a knee-crunching 29 inches. As a traveler who’s 1m 90cms  tall, I certainly appreciate being able to spread my knees out sideways, rather like the dainty Downton Abbey maiden I am very much not.

    And this European has to note that it’s just about as good as Eurobusiness, but at a fraction of the cost.

    Customer service on board

    It’s always something of an oddity how much of high-tech Japan’s passenger experience involves laminated printouts. Photo: John Walton

    It’s no surprise that customer service on a Japanese airline would be the envy of the world, but I have to say that Peach’s was exceptional.

    From the friendly English-speaking ground staffer who walked up to me as I approached the check-in kiosk to see if I needed help, to the efficient gate agents who kept updating a delayed flight’s passengers in both English and Japanese via PAs, FIDS screens, and a whiteboard, I was impressed before I even got on the plane.

    And truly, it’s only in Japan that flight attendants walk up and down the plane during boarding to play overhead bin Tetris, passing coats and other smaller items that really shouldn’t be in the bins down to passengers, squeezing extra suitcases in, and generally being helpful.

    Catering

    A peachy snack and a fresh, bright white wine hit the spot. Photo: John Walton

    It’s no surprise that customer service on a Japanese airline would be the envy of the world, but I have to say that Peach’s was exceptional.

    From the friendly English-speaking ground staffer who walked up to me as I approached the check-in kiosk to see if I needed help, to the efficient gate agents who kept updating a delayed flight’s passengers in both English and Japanese via PAs, FIDS screens, and a whiteboard, I was impressed before I even got on the plane.

    And truly, it’s only in Japan that flight attendants walk up and down the plane during boarding to play overhead bin Tetris, passing coats and other smaller items that really shouldn’t be in the bins down to passengers, squeezing extra suitcases in, and generally being helpful.

    Inflight entertainment

    Peach is an LCC, so there’s no inflight entertainment beyond the inflight shopping magazines and the view of Mount Fuji out the window, but that and an iPad loaded with content sucked down over the ultra-fast wifi at Kansai Airport kept me more than happy during the flight.

    Extra information

    Japan is covered by the takkyubin network of baggage shipping services, including Kuroneko Yamato and Sagawa. There’s no need to either pay for a suitcase on Peach or to even bring it to the airport — it’s only the equivalent of a couple of dollars more to have it shipped. I packed my suitcase the night before, handed it to my hotel’s front desk, and it was waiting for me the next afternoon at my Narita Airport hotel.

    Steve Creedy

    Cabin: economy
    Route: Sydney-Brisbane
    Aircraft: Boeing 717

    6/10

    QantasLink seat from hell
    A QantasLink 717. Photo: Qantas.

    Not enough QantasLink. Not enough seat width. Not enough legroom.

    Spending 90 minutes in a QantasLink 717 standard economy seat put me as close to airline hell as you can get without flying on a low-cost carrier.

    The 717 is a smaller plane but I have vague memories of these aging aircraft once being comfortable. If that’s so, Qantas has somehow managed to retrofit them, at least from a Big Guy perspective, into a conveyance worthy of Dante.

    My seat was so confining it even made its tight but tolerable counterpart on the Boeing 737 flight home look good.

    What made it worse was this was a Qantas ticket on a major trunk route.

    Among the plusses: the airline’s standard inclusion of checked luggage in the ticket price along with frequent flyer miles and status credits.

    Seat and Amenities

    QantasLink and the seat from hell
    The seat was too tight, badly designed and confining. Photo: Steve Creedy.

    In the interests of disclosure, I’m just under 6ft 5inches and not a small guy.  But I’m not alone in having long legs.

    For me, this was a cramped, confining, uncomfortable seat and an instance where short people were very definitely having more fun.

    My legs were trapped hard-up against the seat in front to the point of causing discomfort and an overwhelming desire to be pretty much anywhere else.  The guy in the middle seat appeared to be praying.

    This is the kind of circumstance where there shouldn’t be seat recline and if there is, using it should be a capital offense. But people did.

    Getting anything out of a trouser pocket was a logistical nightmare, there was nowhere to stow anything and the tray table hit the top of my legs at an angle of about 15-20  degrees and refused to go lower.

    If this tray table trouble had been due to my age-expanded girth I would have shrugged and gone “mea culpa” but it wasn’t . And my legs are no longer than they were during a more streamlined youth.

    Customer service on board

    The crew were in the middle of the spectrum: pleasant enough but nothing to write home about. If they were cognizant of the discomfort they were putting some of their passengers through, they didn’t show it.

    Catering

    QantasLInk flight from hell
    Bickies and glass of juice on a tray table that hit the top of my legs and refused to go down further. Photo: Steve Creedy.

    It’s a 90-minute flight and these days you don’t expect much, which was probably just as well.

    It was orange juice for me and a small packet of bite-sized biscuits. I didn’t attempt the hot tea or coffee because of the previously mentioned problems with the tray table and a desire not to arrive in Brisbane speaking in a falsetto voice.

    The only place that seemed to be available to park rubbish was the floor, which a few people used.

    Inflight entertainment

    The aircraft had Q Streaming, the Qantas streaming entertainment service that delivers entertainment to people’s devices. A strap on the back of the seat appeared to be designed to hold tablets.

    I had assumed I had the appropriate Qantas app but apparently I didn’t, despite the kangaroo icon.

    This meant I wasn’t able to access the movies and TV shows on the flight. If there was a way of downloading the right app during the flight, it wasn’t intuitively obvious and the Qantas website suggests there wasn’t.

    There were some beyondblue relaxation exercises that may have been accessible but by half-way through the flight, I was well beyond beyondblue. Maybe it would have helped the guy in the middle seat.

    An attempt to read a newspaper made it quickly obvious that I should have chosen a tabloid rather a broadsheet. However, that’s probably true for all standard economy seats.

    Extra information

    It would need a dire emergency to coax me back on a QantasLink 717 without a guarantee of an exit row seat.

    The problem I now have with Qantas is that it uses these planes on trunk routes and that leaves open the possibility of a last-minute equipment switch.

    This could conceivably deliver me once more into perdition and that’s hardly a prospect to relish.

    John Walton

    Cabin: Regional Business
    Route: Hong Kong-Osaka Kansai
    Aircraft: Boeing 777-300

    6/10

    cathay regional business
    Photo: John Walton.

    Cathay Pacific’s current regional business class is basically a spruced up international premium economy but with enough room to slip past the passenger next to you if they aren’t reclining and if they’re relatively short.

    Seat and Amenities

    ctahy regional business
    The seat is fine for a short flight. Image: John Walton

    On this Boeing 777-300, the layout is 2-3-2 (one seat fewer in each row than premium economy), and the seats have surprisingly held their comfort level quite well, particularly in the Z-position when reclining.

    Unusually for your 6’3” reporter, the legrest supported my legs properly rather than hitting me either behind the knees or in the Achilles tendon, and I enjoyed relaxing with a movie.

    I was, however, struck by the necessity for airlines not to build hard product choices around any one period of personal entertainment devices: not only was the round iPod eXport socket still present (alongside a low-powered USB outlet), the centrally located mobile phone holders were far too small for modern devices, looking like they could just about hold an iPhone 5, but not much more.

    It really surprised me how out of date a cabin without mood-lighting feels these days, though. The beige cabin lighting felt truly ancient, as if I was living through a sepia filter.

    Customer service on board

    The crew on board were very pleasant but were stretched by the size of the cabin, particularly around offering drinks refills during the dinner service.

    As Cathay rethinks its dining concept, it needs to figure out how to solve that: is it by dedicating specific crew to a drinks run? Larger or supplementary pours?

    And in general, there’s this weird thing with Cathay Pacific service where every time I board one of their flights the crew seem to be very numerous yet frantically active moving things around the galley or dashing between cabins without paying attention to passengers on the way who might like their coat hung up or a welcome drink.

    I don’t seem to be the only one who notices this, and I’m not sure why it is, but it also represents an area for improvement by the airline.

    Catering

    Cathay regional business
    I was very much not impressed by the chicken. Photo: John Walton

    Cathay’s inflight meal was disappointing.

    The highlight was the chilled seafood starter and the soba noodles, but the main course was very poor. Not only did all but one option run out, the remaining doggy-dish western chicken was cold by the time it reached my seat in the last row, and even the fresh-from-the-oven one the crew brought after I mentioned it was deeply boring.

    Having launched its new long-haul dining programme, Cathay needs to figure out how to bring its medium-haul service up to snuff.

    Highlights, however, were the availability of non-alcoholic beverages on the flight, with the Cathay Delight kiwi mocktail making a welcome appearance alongside the option of coconut water, a trendy but particularly delicious choice in the air.

    Inflight entertainment

    I was surprised at how sprightly the aging IFE system felt. Photo: John Walton.

    Cathay has done some upgrading work on the inflight entertainment product, notably with what was a very quickly reacting Panasonic eX2 IFE system, branded by the airline as StudioCX, although the screen quality wasn’t superb.

    As usual, it was mostly the general Hollywood fare, and I enjoyed Crazy Rich Asians with dinner.

    But Cathay needs to figure out what kind of airline it is when it comes to the incessant shilling of duty-free. On the IFE, an advert adjacent to the “next” button impeded use, the pre-show ads were excessive.

    An ad was also handed out with the landing card like junk mail, crew wandered through the cabin waving physical signs and calling out “ duty-free”, and my movie was so frequently interrupted with trilingual English-Cantonese-Japanese spruiks for inflight shopping that I missed entire scenes.

    Unfortunately, no inflight Internet was available.

    Extra information

    The airline is supposedly well advanced in its search for its next-generation regional business class seat, but this product will be sticking around for a while.

    I think the question for most passengers is: if there’s a better-timed flight for a short leg, should I take this or take an inconvenient flight on one of the “strategically underutilized” long-haul aircraft.

    In my view, for this flight blocked at 3h30, it was just about fine. Much longer than that, though, or at a time of day when I really fancied a few hours’ sleep in a flatbed, and I’d pick the better seats.

    John Walton was a guest of Cathay Pacific, but as ever all editorial observations are his own.

     

    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

    John Walton

    Cabin: Business
    Route: Helsinki-Tokyo
    Aircraft: Airbus A350

    8/10

    Finnair review shines
    Finnair’s A350. Photo: Finnair

    It used to be that when I flew Finnair you felt that the airline was a little-known hidden gem;  an efficient, elegant, above-average option for connecting from Europe to Asia, particularly to the secondary cities in northern and western Europe.

    Anyone passing through Helsinki Airport, which is in a constant state of expansion, will have been disillusioned with the “little-known” part of that feeling, particularly at the rush-hour bank times. These are primarily in the mid to late afternoon as the long haul aircraft come and go and the infrastructure is creaking at the edges.

    This is obvious at every point in the connecting passenger experience, but particularly at the lounge — which is, in fairness, under reconstruction until May, but is so overcrowded as to be unusable — and boarding gate areas. Top tip: the Schengen zone lounge is much less crowded, though you’ll have to go through EU immigration.

    Leaving the lounge aside as a relatively temporary problem, it struck me that the airport has gone too far in the direction of providing shops and restaurants, and not far enough in providing passenger movement spaces and especially enough space for a passenger load of widebodies at the gate. The packed lounge situation had me seeking refuge by the gate well in advance of boarding, and even on a relatively well-organized flight to Tokyo Narita the whole space was a bit of a scrum.

    Finnair either needs to sit down for a sternly worded talk with the airport operator to free up space or needs to deploy staff to manage the hubbub.

    On the Airbus A350, by contrast, I was welcomed by calm and smiling flight attendants and directed to my seat, one of the Zodiac Cirrus outward-facing herringbone seats in the forward of two business class cabins. (This is definitely the place to sit: the rear cabin has the entire plane walking past you as you try to settle in.)

     

     

    Seat and Amenities

     

    Finnair review shines
    Zodiac’s Cirrus is a fine product and gives direct aisle access to all. Interior photos: John Walton.

    This Zodiac product is fine: very much nothing to write home about, and the lack of storage, in particular, is a frustration, but the bones of the first outward-facing herringbone have always been good and this implementation on the relatively wide A350 fuselage is certainly comfortable enough for the relatively short overnight to Asia.

    The A350’s lower cabin altitude — like the Boeing 787, it’s 6000 feet rather than the 8000 feet of previous generation aircraft — makes a remarkable difference on an overnight flight.

    I turned in shortly after dinner for a few hours’ snooze with the decent pillow and blanket on this nine-hour flight.

    Customer service on board

    You might think it’s difficult as a journalist to tell whether a note in your file has meant you get extra service and attention from on board, but my strategically chosen seat towards the rear of the cabin meant I could observe this mixed Helsinki- and Narita-based crew introducing themselves to each customer, addressing passengers by name, having little chats, recommending Finnish delights and being particularly friendly to everyone, not just me.
    There’s a stereotype of brusque Finns, but this crew were cheerful, highly efficient and couldn’t have impressed me more.

    Catering

    Finnair review shines
    The superb braisedreindeer with grains and mushroom purée might not look amazing but was absolutely divine.

    Finnair’s food was exemplary: every mouthful was delicious, even if the main course — heated in its own little dish — focussed more on heartiness than presentation. A winter stew like this is always tricky to show well, but fresh herbs and a lack of baked-on sauce would be a start. Surprisingly excellent Finnish cheeses and a huge slab of moreish chocolate cake set me up for a good night’s sleep.

    The wine list, too, was intriguing enough for this adventurous Western palate yet suited to the sweeter tastes in Japan. Alongside the Joseph Perrier Champagne was an aromatic German Riesling, a buttery Californian Chardonnay, a fresh French rosé, a rather tight Margaux, a robust Montepulciano, and an earthy German Pinot Noir, plus an American ice wine and a ruby Port from Graham’s.

    I was  woken by the scent of strong Finnish coffee and a robust breakfast that, so soon after a big dinner, I only picked at.

    The rösti boat was crisp and savory, though, and the eggs with salmon a nice touch. I practically inhaled the light, fresh, semi-sweet blueberry juice Finnair serves, though — so refreshing and unusual.

    Finnair review shines
    If I’d crashed hard before dinner I’d have been grateful for this hearty breakfast

     

    Inflight entertainment

    Finnair review shines
    The IFE was a decent size, given the swing-out mechanism, and high-def

    The inflight entertainment screen swings out and works gate-to-gate, although as ever the amount of trilingual (Finnish, Japanese, English) announcements is not ideal as a viewing experience. I know there are options for displaying non-essential announcements (welcome on board, please buy our duty-free, here’s our charity collection, thank you for flying with us) on the screen, so this too is an area to examine. So is the selection of shorter content: there’s not a huge range of the “snackable” videos that make a lot of sense for the airline context.

    Wifi on board was provided by Panasonic over the Ku-band, with business class passengers getting a free hour. In truth, its performance was slow and jittery, understandable given that I learned from the crew that a full two-thirds of the plane was connected, but really only suitable for emails and very, very light browsing.

    Finnair shines review

    Extra information

    All in all, the actual flying on Finnair was superb. The only problem, I’m surprised to conclude, is Helsinki airport, which needs a good hard look at its passenger experience. So much of the Finnair differentiation has been around the previously heavenly HEL experience, especially compared with Heathrow, Frankfurt or Charles de Gaulle, that the hectic squeeze feels like a missed opportunity.

    John Walton was a guest of Finnair, but all editorial opinions are his own.

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