With four airlines offering business class service between Brisbane and Auckland – Qantas, Virgin Australia, China Airlines and Air New Zealand – there's fierce competition on this trans-Tasman trek, both in fare prices and in the experience offered to business class passengers.
Air New Zealand puts its best foot forward by running true international-grade Boeing 777s on selected flights across the ditch – the same as you'd expect to find on longer routes to the USA, for example – offering fully-flat beds, direct aisle access and three-course, tray-free meals in its Business Premier cabin.
Australian Business Traveller took to the skies to brings you this review.
- Frequent flyer program: Air New Zealand Airpoints, Star Alliance. Virgin Australia Velocity points can no longer be earned on AirNZ flights, but you do have other options like Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer or United MileagePlus, too.
- Carry-on baggage allowance: Two bags at up to 14kg combined total weight with a maximum of 10kg in a single piece, plus one small personal item.
- Checked baggage allowance: 3x23kg bags for all passengers, regardless of frequent flyer status.
- Airport services: Priority check-in, Express Path security and immigration in Australia, priority boarding and priority baggage delivery. However, in Brisbane, there was only one staffed priority check-in counter in use and the queue to obtain a simple boarding pass took around 20 minutes, when kiosks weren't available.
On the brighter side, Air New Zealand's mobile app handily provides boarding alerts straight to your phone, and advises if your journey will have inflight WiFi available:
Air New Zealand operates its own lounge at Brisbane Airport, located after security and immigration. There's plenty of natural light with views towards the Brisbane CBD...
... joined by machine-made espresso coffee, buffet dining, colourful furniture and high ceilings in much of the space:
AusBT review: Air New Zealand, Star Alliance lounge: Brisbane Airport
Under Star Alliance rules, AirNZ Business Premier passengers also have access to the nearby Singapore Airlines SilverKris lounge, but with serviceable WiFi and that all-important natural light ahead of my late morning departure, I remained in the AirNZ lounge – as I also did recently when flying Air Canada from Brisbane to Vancouver with a similar departure time.
Over in Auckland, passengers flying back to Brisbane or onward to other destinations can similarly visit the Air New Zealand lounge, with a comparable look and feel bolstered by barista coffee, a cocktail bar, food specials prepared to order, and an 'indoor/outdoor' terrace space.
Photo tour: Air New Zealand's flagship Auckland lounge
With a journey time of 3hrs 10min, NZ136 departs Brisbane daily at 11:15am, reaching Auckland at 5:25pm local time: well-suited for onward connections to points across the United States and other destinations, or simply for those arriving into New Zealand the day before an important meeting.
The aircraft that serves NZ136 flies over to Brisbane as NZ135, which is wheels-up in Auckland at 9am, touching down at 9:35am in the Queensland capital after a slightly longer voyage of 3hrs 35min.
However, while Air New Zealand runs up to three flights per day between Brisbane and Auckland, only NZ135/136 offer business class: the other flights are served by all-economy jets, including the airline's new Airbus A321neo.
If those other departures are a better fit for your schedule, the closest thing to business class is the Works Deluxe experience – similar to the 'EuroBusiness' concept where you sit at the front of the plane in a regular economy seat, but with a guaranteed spare seat beside you.
If you're intent on flying business class from Brisbane or anywhere else in Australia, a handy trick to remember is that Air New Zealand flight numbers beginning with '1' offer a business class cabin, but those beginning with '7' do not.
For example, NZ136 from Brisbane to Auckland – the flight reviewed here – offers business class, while NZ730, NZ732 and NZ734 top out at Works Deluxe.
Business Premier aboard AirNZ's Boeing 777-300ERs comes in a standard 1-2-1 layout, split across a larger cabin of seven rows at the front, and a smaller cabin of four rows further back, behind the second aircraft door.
With the 'A' and 'K' seats by the windows and the 'B' and 'J' seats in the middle, all passengers are angled to face towards the aisle:
While this arrangement does provide every passenger with direct and uninterrupted aisle access, it doesn't do much in the way of privacy. Sitting in 9A, here's the view looking forward, directly from my seat: if there were passengers flying in 9B and 10B, I'd be staring straight at them:
Being angled towards the aisle also makes it very difficult to enjoy the view at the window seats, as you need to loosen your seat belt and turn yourself right around just to look outside:
There's a better sense of privacy between passengers of the same seat letter – 9A and 10A, for example – where the seat's fixed shell remains in place whether you're sitting upright or stretching out in bed:
Speaking of bed, yours is made by folding the seat forwards, although on trans-Tasman flights as shown below, AirNZ doesn't carry mattress pads and the like – just a pillow:
Here's what the full bed looks like if you're jetting further afield, such as to the USA:
With the seatback folding forward, the fixed footrest in front of you doubles as the tail end of that bed...
... but when your chair is upright, this can also be used as a seat for a second passenger to join you, such as for a meal – there's even an extra seatbelt here, so they won't have to vacate if there's turbulence:
While I was travelling solo on this AirNZ flight, I've previously put that to the test in Virgin Atlantic Upper Class which features the same basic seat, and found the tray table large enough to accommodate two meal plates (pictured below), but the legroom on the cosier side when doing so, making it a better-fit for couples rather than colleagues.
That table is deployed by pressing the apt-looking table button, with the seat's other controls nearby. The arrows control the angle of your seat and help turn it into a bed, while the other options adjust the lumbar support to your liking:
In terms of storage, there's space inside the armrest – after you pull out and don the supplied headphones...
... with room for laptops, cables and the like down in the side pocket...
... which is also where you'll find a dual-pin headphone outlet and an international-type AC power port:
On the window- or centre-side of your seat, the shelf behind your armrest also houses a water bottle holder and can be a good place to keep headphones and other light items out of the way...
... and when your inflight entertainment screen is open (more on that below), its usual home transforms into an extra shelf that's handy for beverages:
A fold-down drink table is right beside, but as it's easy to bump with your elbow, I'll generally keep it closed during the flight and keep everything in that other space above, where it's much less likely to be disturbed.
An adjustable reading light sits atop the beverage shelf, joining the standard light above your head.
The journey begins with a choice of drinks before take-off and follows with bar service in the sky, where Laurent-Perrier Champagne was an easy choice, joined by warmed nuts:
With a late morning departure from Brisbane and a late afternoon arrival into Auckland, this flight offers a three-course lunch, beginning with a choice from the following starters:
- Char siu pork fillet with chilli, pickled shiitake, wok-fried gai lan and hoisin mayonnaise
- Moroccan spiced chicken with butternut squash, coconut, radicchio, feta and harissa yoghurt
I went for the pork with garlic bread from the basket – both were fresh and tasty, and went well with a glass of New Zealand red – but with no printed wine list, you'll need to make your decision when the crew come by.
For the main meal:
- Red wine-braised beef cheek with colcannon mash, rosemary carrots and green beans, with horseradish cream
- Smoked salmon with bulgur wheat, cranberry and orange salad, toasted almonds and garlic aioli
- Paprika chicken breast with creamed cauliflower, garden peas, macadamia nuts and mustard pickle
Keeping my glass of red, I went for the best match – the beef – which was nice and tender, although the presentation of the food was very 'airline meal', given it's plated on the ground rather than in the air:
- Fig and honey ice cream with blackberry sauce and toasted almonds
- Salted caramel swirl cheesecake with dark chocolate sauce and chocolate crumbs
- Fine New Zealand cheese served with quince paste and crackers
I selected the ice cream and was happy with the presentation and portion size – not too big, but not too small, either – and at the crew's suggestion, indulged in a Sutton Forest Estate dessert wine alongside it:
To conclude, I ordered a simple white coffee (no espresso, unfortunately), which came delivered in an interesting mug and with a chocolate on the side:
Entertainment & Service
Each Business Premier passenger gets an 11-inch inflight entertainment screen, which begins its journey mounted to the shell next to you...
... but can be folded out after take-off – leaving that space to your side for extra storage, shown earlier – to offer a reasonable selection of movies, TV shows, games and music, among other features:
Over-ear headphones are provided, but I didn't find these to be noise-cancelling, so quickly reverted to my own pair: and if you take the same approach, you won't need to pack your airline adaptor, as standard 3.5mm audio cables can be plugged-in directly below the screen, which is also where you'll find a USB charging port:
Inflight WiFi is also available on selected Air New Zealand aircraft: charges apply.
On today's flight, cabin crew were friendly and cheerful, and their announcements were a pleasing detour from the normal boilerplate script adopted by most full-service airlines, such as "skipper here" when the captain made an address, and the crew being introduced as "fresh from the Maroochydore Macarena competition last night", which got a few chuckles.
Being a three-hour journey, I didn't have a need to use the call bell as the crew were never far away, but without them being intrusive or bothersome.
All things considered, a very pleasant way to travel between Australia and New Zealand, given you don't have to step past anybody to access the aisle – or give way to other passengers who are doing so – as you would on Boeing 737 flights operated by Qantas and Virgin Australia on the same route.
The lack of bedding equipment on such a short flight also wasn't a problem: if not taking photos, I wouldn't have wanted to fold the bed down anyway (and the star rating given to the seat reflects trans-Tasman travel), although on longer routes, the limited privacy afforded by the seat's design compared to the business class experiences of many other airlines wouldn't be as ideal.
Chris Chamberlin travelled to Auckland as a guest of Air New Zealand.