Sunday, March 11, 2012

New Zealand December 2011 - Air New Zealand 8 Business Premier (AKL-SFO)

***This post is the conclusion to a full trip report. The index can be found here*** 

The gate area was already packed when I arrived. Scanning the crowd, I was relieved to be traveling in Business Premier since a majority of the passengers appeared to be vacationing families, many with infants and toddlers in tow (no offense to vacationing families with infants and toddlers!). There looked to be a large high school sports team traveling back to the States on this flight as well.

Boarding was absolute chaos, which really surprised me since it was quite orderly when I flew Air New Zealand out of LAX two weeks earlier. Perhaps due to the sheer number of families with small children, the lines quickly became a giant mosh pit of people all jostling towards the gate door. To make matters worse, announcements were haphazardly conducted, with Business Premier customers called up even before families with small children were halfway done boarding. Add to that a healthy mix of gate lice milling about, and you truly have a nightmare boarding scenario.

Air New Zealand 8
Boeing 747-400
Auckland (AKL) - San Francisco (SFO)
Saturday December 31, 2011
Departure: 7:30 PM (scheduled) / 8:04 PM (actual)
Arrival: 10:30 AM (scheduled) / 10:47 AM (actual)
Duration: 12h 00m (scheduled) / 11h 43m (actual)
Seat: 5K (Business Premier)

After finally boarding, I made a left through the aft Business Premier cabin and into the nose of our 747-400. On my previous flight to New Zealand, I sat in 5A on the port side. This time, I chose 5K, directly across the aisle. The Business Premier seats were identical to my last flight, albeit with slightly more wear and tear. I will skip the detailed photos and discussion regarding seat functions and comfort since it was covered in a previous post. Take a look at it if you are interested in knowing how the herringbone flat-beds stacked up.

Curiously, 4K next to me remained empty, and I even heard the flight attendant remark "how did that happen?" It was definitely unusual since Air New Zealand flights are almost always at 100% capacity, especially in Business Premier, and especially during the holiday season. But lucky for me, it meant I didn't have to stare at my neighbor's head during the flight.

Menus and amenity kits were already placed on the ottoman, and welcome drink orders were taken immediately. I decided to have some champagne to start. Although the flight attendant was courteous and prompt, I could immediately tell that she wasn't going to be as friendly or proactive as the amazing flight attendant from my previous experience in Business Premier. Mind you, I had no issues with her at all. She did her job perfectly well. But sometimes it's that extra "je ne sais quoi" - helpful advice you didn't even know you needed, a proactive glass of wine, a warm smile - that really separates good service from the truly extraordinary.

On my previous Business Premier flight, I had some contrast/brightness issues with the video screen. Any movie scene that had darker lighting resulted in a completely washed-out screen where nothing could be discerned. Unfortunately, I noticed the problem again on this flight, and nothing I did seemed to make it better. A reader commented in my previous post that the solution was simply pressing the 'B' button on the controller to adjust the brightness, but I'm not sure if that's really the case or not. I'll have to try next time I fly Air New Zealand!

Takeoff was a little bumpy due to the weather, but as soon as we cleared the heavy layer of clouds, it was smooth sailing. Dinner service started shortly afterwards, beginning with a small canapé and nuts along with a refill of champagne. The menu was as follows:


To Begin
  • Manuka smoked Marlborough salmon with tomato jelly and tomato remoulade with candied lemon
From the Bakery
  • Sourdough bread, dark rye with caraway seed bread and garlic bread
Main Course
  • Dukkah crusted loin of lamb with sesame and green onion potato, eggplant, green beans and lime, red onion and coriander salad
  • Snapper and brandade crushed potatoes, slow roasted peppers with lemon butter
  • Cranberry and cherry stuffed chicken thigh with orange glaze, cherry compote, butternut and green courgettes
  • Light choice of baked polenta, bell peppers, feta cheese and salsa verde (vegetarian)
To Finish
  • Gourmet dessert of spiced apple crumble ice cream and blackcurrant and blackberry ice cream
  • Citron tart with passionfruit mascarpone cream
  • A selection of fine New Zealand cheese
Hot Drinks
  • Freshly brewed or decaffeinated coffee, tea, herbal tea or hot chocolate
Self-Service Snacks
  • Help yourself from our range of snacks available for you to enjoy during your flight

The standard drinks menu was identical to my last flight, and can be found in my previous post. For the main course, I decided to go with the crusted loin of lamb. Beef and lamb can be iffy on flights, as they tend to be overcooked and dry, but the loin I had was cooked very nicely... quite tender and soft. For dessert, I selected the citron tart, which was delicious as well. I partook in wine pairings for each of the courses, including the Marisco Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc with the salmon, the Bird Wines Pinot Noir with the lamb, and the Glenmark Riesling with dessert. This was a lot more than I'm used to drinking, and I quickly had a nice buzz that lasted all the way to bedtime. After the cheese course, I was absolutely stuffed, so I got up and hung around the galley for a bit before changing into something more comfortable for sleeping.

The flat bed was just as comfortable as last time, and I quickly fell asleep soon afterwards. Unfortunately, I was awoken about two hours later by heavy turbulence that seemed to last forever. Typically, I can deal with some mild shaking, but when it starts to feel like a roller coaster, I always get extremely nervous and worried. As the bouncing around continued, I decided to just sit up in my seat and wait it out. The turbulence lasted almost an hour, but it finally subsided and I was able to get some more shut-eye. I definitely didn't wake up feeling refreshed the next morning though.

About two hours prior to landing, the lights came back on and breakfast service began. I was first offered a fresh mango smoothie as a starter while orders for the main course were taken. I also asked for some hot tea with milk. The breakfast menu was as follows: 


Fast Dine Breakfast
  • Please let your flight attendant know if you would like to sleep-in and we will wake you as late as possible and offer you a hot bacon roll and a beverage of your choice
Wake-up Drinks
  • Start your day with a fruit smoothie, your choice of juice, freshly brewed or decaffeinated coffee, tea, herbal tea or hot chocolate
Light Breakfast
  • A bowl of muesli topped with Greek style yoghurt and fresh fruit is available as a lighter option
Full Breakfast
  • Fruit and cereals will be offered followed by a hot bakery selection and your choice of a hot breakfast
  • Fresh fruit salad
  • Strawberry yoghurt or plain Greek style yoghurt
  • Toasted Muesli and Cluster Crisp Triple Berry cereal, Weet-Bix, Cornflakes
From the Bakery
  • Croissants, muffins, Vogel's, brioche or fruit toast offered with fruit conserve
From the Stove
  • Cheddar and chive scrambled egg with chicken sausage, mushroom ragout, cherry tomato and potato cake
  • Buttermilk hot cakes with apple and ginger compote and raspberry creme fraiche
  • Hot bacon roll - a warmed roll, buttered and filled with grilled bacon, offered with caramelised onion jam and barbecue sauce

I selected the full breakfast with scrambled eggs, and everything came out perfectly. I was still in a fairly groggy state from a lack of sleep, however, so most of the last hour or so before landing was a blur. I did manage to change into my normal clothes again and move the seat back up as we began our descent into San Francisco. It was a beautiful day outside, and I was able to snap a few photos before the landing. After reaching the gate, the flight attendants allowed all Business Premier passengers to disembark first. There was no wait at immigration, and thanks to the priority tag, my backpack was one of the first out of the baggage carousel.

Unfortunately, because I had declared some food items that was brought back from New Zealand, I was directed over to the U.S. Customs baggage check line. Once I got to the front, however, a friendly female agent looked at my declaration form and asked me what I had in my large backpack. I told her I had some packaged Manuka honey and some shortbread cookies, to which to responded: "That's all?? Get outta here!" I chuckled as she waived me through without even x-raying my bags. It was great to be home :)

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