Fifth-Freedom Fun: Air New Zealand’s 777 Biz From London to LAX
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To The Point
Air New Zealand’s 777-300ER offers a unique ride between the West Coast and Europe. Pros: great award redemption, solid catering, friendly and accommodating crew, comfortable bed. Cons: no Wi-Fi, sluggish meal service, dated seat design, terrible headphones.
Years ago, TPG flew Air New Zealand’s then new(ish) business class between the West Coast and Auckland, NZ (which Eric Rosen reviewed way back in 2011). TPG… didn’t love it. In fact, it seems like he disliked it enough to actively avoid flying that particular 777-300ER in the future.
But at 6-foot-7, Brian’s a big guy — I’m of average height, at 5’9″. Would I find ANZ biz more appealing than TPG?
I wouldn’t be flying Air New Zealand to the carrier’s namesake country, though — instead, I had opportunity to experience the carrier’s 777 business class on an exciting fifth-freedom flight, from London Heathrow (LHR) to Los Angeles (LAX).
I booked my ticket through United MileagePlus for 70,000 miles plus $122 in taxes. Beginning my itinerary in Italy saved me from paying the UK’s ridiculous Air Passenger Duty — roughly $210 for this premium-cabin flight.
If you don’t have enough United miles in your account, you can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points instantly at a 1:1 ratio, earned with cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. Alternatively, you can transfer your Amex Membership Rewards points, earned with cards like The Business Platinum Card® from American Express, to Aeroplan and book this flight for 55,000 miles there. A one-way cash fare on this route will run you roughly $4,000 and up, offering a return of at least 5.6 cents per mile when booking your award through United.
Airport and Lounge
Since I was connecting from Frankfurt, I passed through a very speedy security screening before making my way to the Air New Zealand transfer desk for a printed boarding pass.
Like other Star Alliance carriers, Air New Zealand operates out of Heathrow’s new Terminal 2.
Most of the long-haul flights depart from a remote pier — you’ll need to walk through a long tunnel to get there, so expect that journey to add about 10 minutes to your Heathrow adventure. Airlines seem to require a minimum connection time of 60 minutes if connecting within the same LHR terminal — that’s more than enough for Terminal 2, from my experience.
After my underground trek I headed directly to my favorite United Club in the world, which I could access both as a Air New Zealand business passenger and as a Star Alliance Gold elite flying a member airline.
The ANZ rep actually suggested the Singapore lounge instead, but having visited both I actually prefer the United Club at LHR.
This isn’t your ordinary UA spread — there’s a mix of hot and cold items, with the most robust selection I’ve seen outside of a Polaris Lounge.
Cold items included a salad bar and a mix of finger sandwiches, along with meat and cheese.
The hot items weren’t quite as appealing, but I wasn’t hungry at that point, having had breakfast and lunch on my Lufthansa flights.
This space will soon be rebranded as a Polaris Lounge, but it shouldn’t require a complete overhaul — the current design esthetic is fairly similar.
The showers are pretty spiffy, for example — easily some of the nicest I’ve come across at an airport.
After a quick shower, I quickly made my way to the departure gate just down the hall.
Business-class passengers were welcomed to board around 3:30pm, some 45 minutes before the scheduled departure time.
Cabin and Seat
Air New Zealand’s current business class has been flying since 2011 — while the herringbone design was innovative at launch, a new “reverse-herringbone” design has since become a much more appealing alternative.
ANZ offers a total of 44 biz seats on this plane, arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration. There are 28 seats in the larger forward cabin.
A walk-up bar separates the two business-class sections.
Then there are another four rows of 16 seats behind Door 2.
The 44 biz-class passengers have access to three lavatories — two between the cabins and one behind the cockpit.
The lavs were small and basic, but I did like the fun wall art.
The forward lavatory even had a funky chandelier decal. What a way to help you forget you’re in a tiny airplane lav!
Since I was first to board, I also managed to snag a quick glance at the very large premium-economy cabin, which offers 54 seats in a 2-4-2 arrangement.
Coach is a tight squeeze, however, with 244 seats in a 3-4-3 config. I’d hate to be seated back there on this London leg plus the connecting flight to Auckland (AKL)!
I chose a seat in the very last row of business class, since I figured that would offer the most privacy. While 12A is marked as “yellow” on SeatGuru, I didn’t have to deal with any crying babies from the large premium-economy section behind.
Storage was fairly limited — the main compartment could hold my camera and phone, and maybe a small laptop, but not much else.
The seat design was a bit unusual, too — I can see why TPG wasn’t a huge fan. I liked having the fixed ottoman, so I could put my feet up right away, but there isn’t as much privacy as a reverse-herringbone design.
One cool feature is that the ottoman includes a seatbelt, so you can actually dine with another passenger if you’d like.
A touchscreen display was built into the side of the seat, and extends to rest in a variety of positions — but at 12.1 inches it was definitely on the small side.
My seat was also beginning to show its wear, and it wasn’t meticulously cleaned by any stretch of the imagination.
The seat controls were quite basic, since there really wasn’t much to adjust.
This is the extent of the recline, for example — it really wasn’t much at all.
The seat does lie completely flat, but a flight attendant is required to make that adjustment, and once you’re flat you can’t move the seat on your own at all.
I was also bummed to see that there weren’t any overhead vents, but at least the cabin was kept pretty cool throughout the flight.
Amenities and In-Flight Entertainment
There was an amenity kit waiting at my seat, loaded with the usual suspects, like socks, an eye mask, ear plugs, dental kit, mouthwash, creams and a mint.
ANZ offers a mattress cover, pillows and blankets, which I found to be comfortable.
While small, the 12.1 inch screen can be moved very close to the seat, which helps improve the experience a bit.
The headphones were worthless, though. I only used them for a minute or two before pulling out my Bose set, instead.
Although this seat has been flying for the better part of seven years, the entertainment system was responsive and still felt up-to-date.
There was a large selection of new releases and older films, which I’m sure was a huge relief to the passengers traveling all the way from London to Auckland.
There was also some interesting New Zealand-specific content, like a tutorial on navigating the country’s roads.
Since there wasn’t any Wi-Fi (major bummer), I often checked in on our progress using the moving map.
Just before departure, I caught ANZ’s current pre-flight video, titled the “World’s Coolest Safety Video” (a play on the weather in Antarctica).
You can watch the full vid here:
Food and Beverage
After boarding, a member of the UK-based crew offered a choice of beverage. I requested a glass of Champagne, which was served after a noticeable delay. ANZ serves either Billecart-Salmon or Laurent-Perrier Champagne. To be honest, I never saw the bottle and I neglected to ask which I was served, since I didn’t ask for a refill after takeoff, but I’m generally a fan of both bubbly options.
A while after takeoff I was offered another beverage, and opted for a glass of wine. There wasn’t a list in the menu, and the only one the flight attendant knew was on board was the special of the month — an Auntsfield Single Vineyard Pinot Noir from Marlborough, New Zealand — so that’s what I had. I enjoyed it very much and devoured the mixed nuts, given that I was very hungry at that point.
Even though I was seated in the last row, I was surprised by how much time passed before the meal service began — it was at least an hour after takeoff before I saw the first bit of food.
There were two starters available: smoked salmon with olives or a chilled duck confit. The flight attendant thought they might be out of the duck but she was able to find one elsewhere in the cabin. It was decent, but I quickly wished I had selected the salmon instead.
The entree was fantastic though. My chicken breast was cooked perfectly, and the beans, kale and mascarpone cream sauce were perfect accompaniments. Other options included a cheeseburger, roast cod with curry sauce or ricotta gnudi (like gnocchi but made with cheese instead of potato).
For desert I had the ginger pudding with butterscotch sauce. It was super buttery and delicious.
A small second meal was served about an hour out of Los Angeles. I began with fresh fruit and a cup of peppermint tea.
I was offered a choice of a panini — salami with mozzarella or feta with tomatoes and peppers. It was tasty but a fairly small portion given the length of the flight.
Finally, a flight attendant came through the cabin with a box of donuts (!) — just as Singapore used to do on the nonstops from Newark. I had a choice of dark cherry or custard (or both). The cherry donut really hit the spot and helped end the flight on a high note.
While there are definitely some areas of the service that could use improvement — that hour-long delay to kick off the meal service was a bit excessive, for example — I very much enjoyed my flight to LA.
I’ve only flown United on this particular route, otherwise, but there’s no question that Air New Zealand’s 777 product is a step up from the 2-2-2 business class on United’s 787-9 Dreamliner. While the cabin could clearly benefit from a refresh — and a new seat — I wouldn’t hesitate to fly ANZ’s business class between London and LA again.
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