There's no question Air New Zealand is winning the branding wars in true Kiwi style, claiming the mantle of "the fun airline" for both wit and innovation. Left-of-centre ideas like their economy "skycouch" (in which three seats in coach convert to a flatbed), and the recent Tolkien-themed safety video (replete with hobbits, wizards and cameos from Elijah Wood and Peter Jackson) have scored the airline plenty of press and even more buzz on social media. Now, though, it's also making a push on the comfort and service side, especially in the pointy end of the plane.
The airline's new Business Premier class, currently on show in its Dreamliner 787-9 aircraft plying the Auckland to Perth route, has upped the stakes considerably. The leather-upholstered seats are angled diagonally down the cabin, each of them with a little footstool that can be used for an in-flight tête-à-tête with a fellow passenger. They fold fully flat, and are equipped with a memory-foam mattress and good bedding.
The menus, designed in part by expat New Zealand chef Peter Gordon, lean towards the likes of chicken with grilled pineapple, and chicory salad with a mango-yoghurt dressing. The entertainment system, meanwhile, is one of the best in the sky right now. In terms of look and feel, it's fast and responsive, and the selection is both large and smart. There are eight Batmans, eight Harry Potters, five X-Men and, bizarrely, three Blades, but also several Coen productions and plenty in the way of Gone with the Wind, Empire of the Sun and the latest seasons of True Blood, The Knick and Penny Dreadful. Oh, and naturally, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Hobbit, plus Once Were Warriors and the Footrot Flats movie. (One bum note: sections labelled Chick Flicks and Man Cave. Groan.)
The crew are a delight, right down to, on one leg, the pilot closing his landing spiel with "What a cracker of a day! We recommend you get down to the beach". They're also loving the new cabins. "Yes, we love working on the Dreamliners because our passengers are so enthusiastic about them," said Deb, the in-flight manager on our trip. Count us among them.
Air New Zealand's Dreamliner started servicing the airline's Auckland-Shanghai route this month and will start the Auckland-Tokyo route from December 2014.