With competition heating up across the Tasman and Air New Zealand breaking its ties with Virgin Australia to go it alone on flights across the ditch, it's apt that AirNZ is now flying a brand new aircraft type on these routes: the Airbus A321neo, which comes equipped with inflight Internet.
Australian Business Traveller was aboard the plane's inaugural passenger flight from Auckland to Brisbane, and put the inflight WiFi through its paces to bring you this review.
Air New Zealand's Airbus A321neo inflight Internet: plans
Aboard these aircraft, there's only one plan available for purchase: NZD$30 (A$28) for a 'full flight pass', which is very expensive compared to many other inflight WiFi offerings around the world, particularly when you'll only be able to use the service for a couple of hours at most.
Although AirNZ offers a more affordable one-hour pass at NZD$9 (A$8.50) on longer international routes, this option isn't available across the Tasman.
On top of that, most other airlines that sell 'flight passes' actually provide 24 hours of access, which keeps you connected aboard any onward flight the same day with the same airline, but with AirNZ, that's again not the case.
If you're flying from Australia to New Zealand and continuing your journey to North America, for example, you'd pay NZD$30 for Internet access across the Tasman, plus a further NZD$40 (A$37.50) for a flight pass on your onward flight, costing you a total of NZD$70 (~A$65.50) for a day's access.
(AirNZ adopts different pricing on flights from New Zealand to North America, where a full flight pass costs NZD$40 rather than NZD$30 on trans-Tasman journeys, and the option of a one-hour pass is also given for NZD$9, which is not offered on Australia-NZ routes.)
You can pay for the pass using AirNZ Airpoints Dollars by signing into your frequent flyer account, or by credit card. All major cards are accepted, including American Express.
The pass can also be moved from one device to another during the flight at no extra charge, such as from your tablet or laptop to your smartphone.
As there's no username and password created for the WiFi during the sign-up process, this is achieved by tapping the "switch device" option on the WiFi portal page (using the device that's already connected), and making note of the six-character code that appears on your screen.
Then, fire up gadget #2, connect to the same 'AirNZ_InflightWiFi' hotspot, and when the system asks you to choose a plan, select "switch device", and key in that code:
Your original device will go offline when the connection moves across, and if you want to repeat this process, you can select "switch device" again on the WiFi portal screen:
To make things easy, keep that portal page open in your browser and surf in another tab or window, so that you can come back at any time, as needed.
Air New Zealand's Airbus A321neo inflight Internet: coverage and speeds
On these flights, inflight WiFi should normally spring into action shortly after take-off – generally, once the aircraft reaches approximately 10,000ft – running until close to landing, well after the seatbelt sign has been switched back on.
As I was travelling aboard the A321neo's inaugural passenger flight from Auckland to Brisbane, that didn't quite go to plan, as there were technicians on board the aircraft tweaking the system early in the flight to finalise its setup: but after about half an hour, the system came to life and remained working as expected for the remainder.
Once online, my connection didn't drop out at all, and using a series of speed tests routed to servers at the University of Auckland (given the connection is NZ-based), I measured download speeds of 1.2 to 4.8Mbps, and uploads of 3.2 to 5.1Mbps.
That proved more than usable – particularly those great upload speeds – and made it possible to file and publish our story about the inaugural flight before it landed in Brisbane on a Friday afternoon, including uploading high-resolution photos while flying through the air.
For most other travellers, those speeds are more than ample for emails, web browsing, social media and video streaming: YouTube isn't blocked, although generally works best on low resolution to assist with buffering and the variation in download speeds.
Overall, while Air New Zealand's inflight WiFi certainly isn't the cheapest, those who routinely rely on inflight Internet expect good reliability in the connection, with usable speeds to get things done: so if you do part with NZD$30 to get online, that's at least what AirNZ's WiFi service delivers.
That said, the cost to connect remains high, and given the amount of time you can spend online isn't the same as the 'gate to gate' times shown on your boarding pass, that's a lot to pay for what's likely two hours of Internet usage at most.
On future trans-Tasman flights, I'd be much more inclined to connect if a one-hour pass became available – such as for NZD$9, as already offered on NZ-USA flights – but unless I urgently needed to get online and couldn't wait until landing, I can't see myself routinely paying NZ$30 every time I cross the Tasman, and imagine the same would be true for many business travellers.
Chris Chamberlin travelled to Auckland as a guest of Air New Zealand.