It said ‘premium economy’ on my ticket, but frankly it felt more like business class.
I was flying with Air New Zealand from London to Auckland and from the get-go it was plain to see why the airline’s premium economy cabin has frequently nabbed the top spot at the Skytrax World Airline Awards. It slipped to second place in 2018.
After nestling into my large armchair-style seat, the 24-hour flight suddenly didn’t seem quite so daunting…
THE LONG-HAUL PREMIUM ECONOMY EXPERIENCE
MailOnline Travel’s Sadie Whitelocks journeyed from London to Auckland with Air New Zealand in premium economy. Sadie said the headphones were pretty sturdy in premium economy (above left) and in the wide seats, she was able to curl up sideways to get some rest (right)
Sadie said there was enough room to stretch her legs in premium economy, even with her bag on the floor in front, above left. Right, Sadie was given an amenity kit that contained socks, a toothbrush, ear plugs, an eye mask, a pen and a good-sized tube of ‘intensive’ lip balm by Ashley & Co
I started my epic trip around the world on a Boeing 777-300ER from Heathrow on a Thursday at 3:30pm.
The 24-hour trip would be broken up with a stop in Los Angeles, which would hopefully prevent the deep vein thrombosis from setting in.
It wasn’t too busy in the 54-seat premium economy cabin and I had a window seat with a free spot next to me.
Before take-off the cabin was already reaping the benefits of premium service with glasses of sparkling wine and orange juice being offered around. I indulged in a glass of bubbles but the pour was pretty sharp in taste and I couldn’t finish it. Not off to a flying start, then.
I also discovered a bottle of water and (unbranded) amenity kit on my 19.3 inch-wide armchair complete with socks, a toothbrush, ear plugs, eye mask, a pen and a good-sized tube of ‘intensive’ lip balm by Ashley & Co.
Shortly after take-off we were treated to dinner – and the meal service was swift and efficient. And what’s more, the food was served on proper crockery.
A friendly attendant presented me with a tray stacked with a smoked halibut, egg and apple salad.
I was then offered some bread, with the divine-smelling selection including wholemeal, sunflower, sourdough and some very pungent slices of garlic baguette.
In Air New Zealand’s premium economy cabin, the seats have almost 50 per cent more recline than in economy. Other perks include generous armrests, leg rests and foot supports
Air New Zealand’s premium economy cabin (pictured) has frequently nabbed the top spot at the Skytrax World Airline Awards
PREMIUM ECONOMY VS ECONOMY WITH AIR NEW ZEALAND
Premium economy seats have a:
- 41 inch pitch
- 9-inch recline
- Width of 19.3 inches
- 5-inch wide armrest
- 11-inch wide touchscreen TV
Economy seats have a:
- 31-33 inch pitch
- 5-inch recline
- Width of 17.2 inches
- 9-inch wide touchscreen TV
The set-up also included a small bottle of deliciously buttery extra virgin olive oil sourced from Hawke’s Bay on New Zealand’s North Island.
After the starter plates were cleared, we could choose from three mains off the menu.
There was beef cheek, Dijon mustard-baked chicken and roast cod dressed in a rather fancy-sounding ‘rose harissa saffron sauce’.
I opted for the beef, which came with roast carrots and turnips. The meat melted in my mouth, and I enjoyed the medley much more than expected.
The meal was rounded out with some cheddar cheese, crackers and a wedge of spiced maple pear cheesecake.
I washed everything down with some Johnnie Walker Red Label whiskey – my secret to sleeping on flights – but noted the impressive selection of New Zealand wine on offer.
Feeling well watered and fed, I settled in to watch a few films.
The entertainment offering with Air Zealand on long haul is the same from economy through to business class and there’s an impressive selection of films, TV shows and music.
After watching a couple of new releases, I nipped to the loo before settling in for a sleep.
For dinner in premium economy, Sadie opted for beef cheek with roast carrots and turnips as her main course (left). Thick slices of bread were also served with small bottles of extra virgin olive oil (right)
Before touching down in Los Angeles, the smell of breakfast roused Sadie from slumber. She had a fresh fruit salad, left, followed by creamy scrambled eggs on top of a toasted muffin with corned beef hash cakes on the side (right)
The premium economy section has dedicated toilets, which are pretty roomy and decked out with bookshelf print wallpaper, giving it a bit of a quirky edge.
However, there was no nice hand lotion or air scent, which other airlines generally offer in the premium cabins.
On venturing back to my seat, I found the premium chair was wide enough for me to curl up in a foetal position in. It also reclined by nine inches.
I found it pretty easy to snuggle in and fall asleep and I managed to rest well until we touched down in Los Angeles.
It was the scent of breakfast that roused me – fruit salad followed by creamy scrambled eggs on top of a toasted muffin with corned beef hash cakes on the side.
It’s not a traditional morning snack, but we were also offered doughnuts filled with roasted peach and coconut custard and they proved too tempting to resist.
Sadie said she was impressed by the large porcelain mugs in premium economy (left) and the doughnuts that were offered around proved too yummy-looking to resist (right)
After a pretty frantic transit through Bradley International airport (which helped to work off the doughnuts), I boarded the next flight to Auckland, which would take 12 hours and 30 minutes.
This flight followed much the same format as my first flight, but this time I gave the vegetarian menu a whirl.
The food was as tasty as on the first leg, but the ingredients weren’t on the menu. And when I asked the stewardess what I was eating she wasn’t very helpful.
‘It looks like spinach and beans. You’ve asked me to be facetious,’ she replied. I didn’t really appreciate this response and I’m sure people with serious dietary requirements would want to know what they’re about to consume.
Anyway, thanks to the comfy seat, I managed to pack in a good amount of rest before landing in Auckland at 8:25am. The friend that met me even commented on how fresh I looked!
IN THE ECONOMY CABIN TRAVELLING LONG-HAUL
In a bid to test out Air New Zealand’s economy offering on long haul, I switched cabins on my return journey from Los Angeles to London.
I nabbed a central aisle seat and luckily the chair next to me was free.
Immediately I was aware of the downgrade. Sparkling wine on offer? No. Water and amenity kit waiting for me in the seat? Nope.
From LA to London Sadie switched cabins to basic economy. Left, Sadie wearing flimsier headphones and right, a shot showing the legroom
On the food front, Sadie said there were no printed menus in the basic economy cabin and she was given a simple choice of ‘chicken or beef’ after take-off. Sadie plumped for the beef dish, with the hot dinner served in a plastic container
The pillows were also less plump and I could no longer comfortably snuggle up sideways.
On the food front, there were no printed menus and we were given a simple choice of ‘chicken or beef’ after take-off.
With more seats to serve – a total of 244 in a three-four-three configuration – the service was slower than in premium.
The basic economy food was still tasty but less refined and more akin to school dinners than restaurant-standard.
The coffee mugs in the basic economy cabin were plastic (left), and Sadie said the food was more akin to school dinners than restaurant standard. The breakfast consisted of eggs, a tomato and fried potato nuggets (right)
There was a total of 244 seats in the basic economy cabin in a three-four-three configuration
Sadie tossed and turned in economy, but said she was impressed by the number of movies on offer
Instead of silverware there was plastic cutlery and foil/plastic dishes in lieu of porcelain crockery.
The coffee mugs were also plastic while the ones in premium were china with proper handles and very large by plane standards.
When it came to the entertainment systems, the TV, film and music selection was exactly the same, but we were given flimsier headphones and the screens were slightly smaller.
There was a plug socket point in the back of the seat in front of me under the USB slot and headphone port, though – which was extremely handy for charging my laptop.
After watching a few films I found it much harder to sleep – even after a couple of whiskies! – as the chair proved to be pretty rigid and it had less than half the recline than in premium economy at five inches.
After tossing and turning for around five hours I landed at London Heathrow feeling a little bleary-eyed and cranky.
Air New Zealand flies daily from London Heathrow to New Zealand via Los Angeles. The airline also operates via alternate gateways in conjunction with its partner airlines
The standout pros in the premium economy cabin included the plush seat and the fine fodder. However, Air New Zealand lost a few brownie points for the slightly off service on the second leg of my journey and the not-so-quaffable sparkling wine.
While the economy seats caused me to toss and turn, there were some pros. The basic cabin I travelled in had a very impressive selection of films and the service was top-notch.
So, is it worth upgrading for a long journey?
From the experiences outlined here, even though it’s more than triple the money, I would say an upgrade could well be worth the money. Especially with a jaunt to the other side of the world!
Sadie was a guest of Air New Zealand, which flies daily from London Heathrow to New Zealand via Los Angeles. The airline also operates via alternate gateways in conjunction with its partner airlines.
Return fares from London to Auckland from £762 in Economy and £2,288 in Premium Economy.
Rating key: one star – poor; two stars – ok; three stars – good; four stars – very good; five stars – exceptional.
To use lounge facilities during extended stopovers PriorityPass offers access.
For travellers aged 18 to 35 wanting to explore New Zealand, adventure company Wild Kiwi offers small group tours. Trips start from £620 per person, which includes the tour, accommodation, a professional local guide, and breakfast each day. Optional activities are available at an additional cost.