Imagine an airline that served its economy class passengers fruit salad and hot fresh scones with jam and cream for afternoon tea? Or an airline that serves passengers a warm bread roll with their meal rather than a dry crumbly oblong thing that somewhat resembles that of a bread roll? Welcome to Air New Zealand’s Economy Class.
In the last of my three part review series I travel Perth-Auckland return on a Boeing 777-200ER. As enjoyable as it has been to review the faultless Business and Premium Economy classes, Economy Class is where most people travel and was to be my most important assessment yet – could they get it right in all three classes?
Seats and cabin
The seats in the 777-200ER are among the most generous in size and very comfortable. With a 32-33 inch seat pitch and 17.8 inch seat width (the same width as in Premium Economy) the economy passenger “sore back and numb bum” syndrome wasn’t going to present itself this time. On every seat was a headphone set, pillow and large thick blanket. In my opinion, Singapore airlines are the leaders in Economy Class blankets, but they now have a competitor in Air New Zealand. As this is a 6-7 hour medium rather than long haul flight, earplugs and eye shades are available from the crew upon request. Long haul flights have amenity kits on every seat.
Seat recline is one of the most hotly debated topics in an Economy Cabin and I was unlucky (or perhaps lucky) to experience both sides of the argument. It’s a general unspoken etiquette that on both day and evening flights you don’t recline your seat until after the meal service. The flight to Auckland was an evening flight and immediately after take-off, back went the seat in front of me. Air New Zealand has a very generous six inch seat recline which as the passenger in the reclined seat is extremely comfortable but it’s not so pleasant when you are sitting behind the seat. Wanting to abide by the unspoken rule of an evening flight I kept my seat upright and endured a good 90 minutes of no personal space while the gentleman in front had a great old relax and snore! I was overjoyed to learn that Air New Zealand insists all passengers put their seats in the upright position for meal times and that gave me a good 30 minute reprieve. It was then time for everyone to put their seats back and I too enjoyed the comfort of this seat with its generous recline. Interestingly on Air New Zealand’s new 787 Dreamliner, the seats in Economy are set back one inch so passengers will already feel more comfortable and may just put off reclining their seat until later in the flight – here’s hoping.
The lights were set low for the dinner service and then completely dimmed until just before landing. Seats on the 777-200ER do not have in seat power but on the 777-300ER used on longer haul routes this is available at every seat. The 777-300ER also features the unique Skycouch [read more about the skycouch and 777-300ER here]
Food and beverages
Straight after take-off the cabin crew come through the cabin with glasses of water. Announcements are made just before the meal service advising passengers of the meal choices. It is important to remember here that Air New Zealand offer four different types of Economy fares; Seat Only and Seat Plus Bag passengers need to buy snacks and light meals off a menu. Tea coffee and water is provided complimentary. The Works and the Works Deluxe passengers receive the traditional full meal and beverage service. Dinner was a choice of beef with mashed potato and peas or a chicken and pasta. Coming back the lunch menu was a beef dish or chicken curry with rice. As with every international flight the meal coming into Perth was much better than the meal leaving. The beef dinner was fatty and tough but the chicken curry was delicious! On both flights the salad starter was arguably the best salad I have had in economy and I love the warm soft fresh bread rolls they serve. Dessert consisted of a three tier chocolate mousse to Auckland and a pineapple cake with guava syrup on the way home. Apart from the “not so great” beef dish the rest of the food was fantastic and serving sizes large. The drinks trolley with a selection of wines, beer, softdrinks and juices comes behind the food cart which allows for a quick and efficient service and ensures your meal is still hot when you receive it. If passengers are peckish at any time after the meal service chips and biscuits are available.
Now for the real highlight. On the flight from Auckland, just over an hour before landing, the cabin fills with the smell of hot scones and freshly brewed coffee. There was a resounding “ohh yum” from the cabin when the announcement of scones with jam and cream for afternoon tea was made. Now I had had this in Business Class and Premium Economy but did not expect it in Economy. A fresh fruit salad accompanied the warm fresh, delicious scones and there was plenty of jam and cream, the crew even found me some butter at my request. This was unquestionably the best “light meal or snack” service I had ever received in an Economy Class.
I unfortunately didn’t have a great run here on the flight home. The handset didn’t work properly so I was unable to really flick through channels. It took me a good 10 minutes to get to a movie I wanted to see and then after half an hour the TVs in our row of three switched off. The crew kindly rebooted the system for us but there was no way I was going to fight with that handset again. I had the option to move seat but instead chose to listen to my iPod. Whilst frustrating, things like this do happen and it’s how it’s handled and how a solution is sought that I look out for and in this case it was handled quickly, with an apology and most importantly they had a suitable solution for me if I wished. The “TV power box” that sits under the seats is small and doesn’t take up a lot of leg room which is especially important on a long haul flights. Passengers on a seat or seat plus bag fare can pay to watch the movies otherwise games, TV shows and music are complimentary.
The service at Perth was very welcoming with a “Hi and welcome to Air New Zealand” when you arrive at the check in desk. Onboard the cabin crew were efficient and friendly. You don’t get that famous personalised Air New Zealand hospitality that you get in Business and Premium Economy because you simply can’t. The crew do their job and do it to a high standard. I had no real need to interact with the crew but kept a close eye on those that did just near me and they really were more than happy to help and did so with a smile. One thing I was especially impressed with was the speed at which call bells were responded to. At Auckland there is self check in facilities but plenty of staff around to help you should you need.
Air New Zealand are the leaders in innovation and this is evident in their Economy Class. Instead of creating a low cost carrier to meet the new world demands of aviation, Air New Zealand simply filled up the planes they had by creating options for Economy passengers with Seat, Seat Plus Bag, The Works and Works Deluxe. Economy passengers also have the option at checkin to pay $100 and have the seat next to them kept free on a long haul flight that is not full (includes Auckland-Perth and Auckland-Honolulu flights). Given the wide choice of movies and excellent on board catering, it is definitely worth purchasing a Works airfare but for those that want to limit what they spend you can still enjoy in flight entertainment, a very comfortable seat, blanket and pillow at a competitive price with the option to order snacks and non included drinks on board.
Would I recommend and fly Air New Zealand Economy? Is it as good as the highly regarded likes of Emirates, Qantas and Singapore Airlines? Absolutely. With options galore and a high quality full service product you can truly sit back, relax and enjoy your flight no matter how long it is.
Sharon flew as a guest of Air New Zealand on July 30th and August 1st 2014