Air New Zealand’s premium economy is the most luxurious coach ticket on earth.
For many Americans, flying to Australia or New Zealand is daunting. You’ll either have to pay close to $10,000 for a business class ticket or suffer in misery for approximately 20 hours of air travel in a coach cabin. Thankfully, Air New Zealand offers a middle ground: A Premium Economy ticket that’s a serious step above coach, without the debt-inducing prices of a business class ticket.
I recently flew from Houston to Sydney with a layover in Auckland and it was a seriously enjoyable trans-Pacific flight.
The Cabin and Seats
There are three separate cabins on all Air New Zealand flights: Business Class, with lie-flat seats arranged in a herringbone pattern for maximum privacy, Premium Economy arranged in a 2-3-2 or 2-4-2 row, and economy arranged in a 3-3-3 or 3-4-3 row.
On Air New Zealand, Premium Economy means more than just a bit more legroom. The wide leather seats feel more like a US domestic first-class cabin, with a 42-inch pitch, an 8.5-inch recline (50% more than regular economy!), an adjustable headrest, and a footrest that pops out from the bottom of the seat. With the recline, the width, and the footrest, it’s actually quite easy to get a good night’s sleep.
Service & Amenities
I have never been to New Zealand but based on my interactions with the flight attendants on Air New Zealand, I now assume that everyone in New Zealand is nice in a no-nonsense way that doesn’t feel fake or phony. Cabin crew are not nice to you because it’s their job to be nice to you, they’re just nice to you because they’re good people. One thing that stood out to me (and even brought tears to my eyes, if we’re being honest but DON’T JUDGE ME BECAUSE I CRY VERY EASILY ON PLANES) is the respect and admiration for Maori culture that’s just an everyday part of life in New Zealand and aboard Air New Zealand flights. The first words you hear when you board the plane are “Kia Ora,” which means “Hello” in Maori. There are various Maori influences everywhere on board, from the safety video to the menu.
INSIDER TIPBesides being nice as heck, the flight attendants are also dressed to the nines in an outfit that is unlike any other uniform in the industry. Keep an eye out for the psychedelic pink, green, and blue floral designs which will sadly be replaced in 2021.
In Business Class and Premium Economy, passengers are given hot pink and grey amenity kits that come with an eye mask, earplugs, socks, lip balm by Ashley & Co., and a bamboo toothbrush that’s part of an effort to curb single-use plastic consumption on flights. After 12 months of the initiative, the airline will have reduced its plastic footprint by 260,000 plastic toothbrushes, 3,000 straws, 7.1 million stirrers, and 260,000 eye mask wrappers. Plus, the toothbrush and lip balm are cool enough to make it into your permanent travel kit.
The seatback touchscreens in Premium Economy are big (11 inches wide) and easy to use. The movie and TV selection was great. I watched Crazy Rich Asians for the 14th time since it came out because it is my film equivalent of comfort food and it always gets me excited for a trip. There were also international films, subtitled films, classics, and more. On the way home, I realized that the entire first season of the My Brilliant Friend HBO adaptation was available, and that’s how I spent 9 hours of my flight. (PS. I highly recommend it if you’re already a fan of the books.)
In Premium Economy, Air New Zealand provides a set of comfortable, quality headphones that go over the ear. If you’re bringing your own, make sure to bring an adaptor–there’s a two-prong outlet. There are also in-seat power and USB outlets for charging your electronics. There’s free WiFi onboard, but only when it’s available. Both of my long-haul flights from the US to Auckland and back did not have WiFi.
INSIDER TIPI had to watch the Air New Zealand in-flight safety video four times on my trip and it did NOT make me want to claw my eyeballs out. It was actually quite cute (and stars Khal Moro and supermodel Rachel Hunter, among other famous Kiwis).
Food & Wine
Food is without a doubt the worst part of any flight, even if you’re in Business Class. It’s just physically impossible to prepare a clever meal for 300 in a tiny kitchen equipped only with a microwave.
But alongside chef Peter Gordon, Air New Zealand has figured out a hack to make airplane food taste almost like restaurant food: Garnishes! Each of the meals is topped with a garnish, making it feel like it was freshly prepared, like the smoked trout topped with edamame and saffron aioli or the chicken tikka with spicy raita.
Even though I’m not a huge fan of red meat, I had a “when in Rome” moment and ordered the lamb with polenta–it was one of the best airplane meals I’ve ever had. Simple is always better when you’re in the air, and the star of the meal this time was the simplest thing on the menu: fresh bread served with Hawkes Bay extra virgin olive oil. (I ordered second helpings and I was not the only one on board to do so.) Breakfast on board is lavish, with hot croissants, fruit salad, creamy scrambled eggs with a smoked cheddar croquette, and a side of beans.
The best part? Everything is served on actual plates with real silverware, making it taste 100x more delicious.
New Zealand is famous for wine, so naturally, Air New Zealand serves the good stuff on board–and in Premium Economy, you get to drink out of a real wine glass. The onboard wine selection is curated by John Belsham and Jim Harre, both internationally-recognized wine judges. The wine isn’t always the same on every flight, but the flight attendants can always recommend a good choice for you–I went with a Syrah with my lamb and it was perfect.
Flying economy all the way to Australia or New Zealand can leave you feeling grumpy and cramped, and flying business class can break the bank. Fortunately, there’s an in-between option: Air New Zealand’s Premium Economy.
With an extra-wide leather seat, tons of leg room, a built-in footrest, and an extreme recline, Air New Zealand is by far the best Premium Economy option flying anywhere. Lucky for you, Air New Zealand doesn’t just fly to Auckland–this is the best, most comfortable, and most luxurious way to get to Australia and the Pacific without spending a fortune on a Business Class ticket.