Emirates extends four of its Dubai-Australia flights to New Zealand, making it the "flying in style" choice for many savvy business travellers heading across the Tasman.
Sydney-Auckland passengers see A380 (which we've reviewed previously), while the other flights -- Brisbane-Auckland, Melbourne-Auckland and Sydney-Christchurch -- use the Boeing 777-300ER.
In general, these flights are useful morning departures for NZ: not what I call "stupid o'clock" 3am wakeup calls for a 6am or 7am flight, but arriving early enough to squeeze in a meeting on the day you travel.
I arrived at about 8am (since I wanted to check out the lounge, so didn't cut it particularly fine) for my 1015 flight.
Emirates' check-in at Sydney is clearly separated into first, business and economy classes. A slightly bored but efficient check-in agent dealt with my hold baggage and handed me a boarding pass, Express Path departures card, immigration exit card and directions to the lounge.
Express Path lived up to its name, although at just after 8am there wasn't an enormous queue.
(I observed, once again, that the supposedly "random" trial explosive swab screening and patdown in Australian airports was focussed disproportionately on passengers heading through the Express Path side of security. Funnily enough, that's the closer side to the location of the trial screening station. Who would have thought?)
After wending my way through two (two!) of Sydney Airport's awful unavoidable duty free mazes (and nearly getting knocked over by people milling around in the shop with too much hand luggage), I made it over to the "not Qantas" section of the international terminal, by gates 50-63.
After spending some time in the truly excellent lounge -- read my review of what I reckon is the best lounge for business class passengers in Australia -- boarding was called and I headed a short distance to the gate.
Emirates' boarding process splits off premium passengers from Economy, and first class even gets its very own jetway down to the plane.
Since the flight was by no means full, there wasn't much of a queue once I was on the jetway, and was swiftly turning left to my seat at 6A, in the smaller forward business class cabin. (Picking a seat on this plane? Check out our best seats guide for Emirates' 777-300ER business class to find the spots with extra legroom and a quieter ride.)
With helpful trans-Tasman Roaring Forties winds and no traffic at Sydney or Christchurch, the flight took just 2h50. For all that the winds speeded up our journey, it was a remarkably smooth flight -- frequent travellers to New Zealand will know that turbulence is not uncommon across the ditch, but the seatbelt sign stayed off for the full cruise period of the flight.
Before arrival in Christchurch, fast-track arrival cards were distributed, although with business class the first off the plane (the door behind row 7 was used) I didn't need to use it. My priority-tagged bag was third on the carousel -- top marks for priority baggage that actually worked.
All Emirates' 777 flights to Australia and NZ use an international-standard angled flat seat in a 2-3-2 configuration.
It's a big step above just about anything else on the Tasman run -- apart from Emirates' own A380 fully flat beds in their own little mini-suites -- and more than comfortable to have a bite to eat, get some work done or just put your feet up and relax.
However, it's a little narrow at the shoulders when in seat mode: the downside to what's otherwise a decently private business class seat is that it can feel a little cramped.
A large table folds out from the side, and a smaller drinks ledge also folds down. (The design here is a little fiddly: it's hard to fold the table away when the drinks ledge is down, oddly enough.)
Cupholders (which, as you see, I found most useful for my phone) are also in the centre armrest.
Basic seat controls will set you to chair, recliner or bed mode, while the touchscreen handheld controller by your elbow has more finely grained controls, which lets you put the legrest part up without reclining, for example.
(Top tip: you may find that the touchscreen controller is right at elbow point, meaning that it's all to easy to inadvertently change the channel or recline your seat. Since it's got more than enough battery power, I recommend leaving it on your table or popping it in the literature pocket.)
Emirates has the best food and wine across the Tasman, hands down -- as you'd expect from an airline offering its long-haul international service on what's otherwise a short regional flight.
At boarding I was offered champagne (Moët), juice or water, and my post-takeoff drinks order also taken. A good large bottle (600ml) of mineral water is loaded at each seat too.
Since Christchurch is two hours ahead of Sydney at this time of year, I went with a glass of Moët -- to adjust to the timezone difference, of course. This was presented with a top-notch dish of warmed nuts: pistachios, cashews, almonds and macadamias.
Menus are provided in your literature pocket for you to peruse, with three main course and two dessert options.
After covering the table with linen, lunch was presented on a tray -- unusual for Emirates, which usually does a dish-by-dish service, although with only a 2h50 flight time it makes sense.
Top marks for the classy new Robert Welch flatware, which lends a real premium touch to the meal service.
The seared tuna loin starter with wakamewas delicious, and my choice of lamb fillet (other options were snapper or chicken) was tasty, if a little dry.
I heard the people behind me raving about the profiteroles as I tucked into my cheeseboard and fruit for afters.
Coffee was also in plentiful supply -- as were tasty Godiva chocolates.
The wine list (two French, a NZ Sav and a McLaren Vale Shiraz Grenache) was impressive too, with Moët champagne and a delicious tawny port too.
Entertainment & Service
Emirates' excellent "ice digital widescreen" entertainment system is a real draw, although on eastbound trans-Tasman flights don't expect to get through a full movie.
It's a kick to watch takeoff and landing via the nose camera (tail camera on the A380), which you select through the "information" part of ice, next to the moving map.
As something of a music fan, I had trouble choosing between the impressive selection of things to listen to, and eventually went for a mixture of several different albums.
There's a bit of a paucity of interesting documentaries -- something that Air New Zealand has down pat on its trans-Tasman flights, since these shorter flights are perfect for hour-long entertainment rather than the 2-3 hour block for a movie.
On the other hand, there's an impressive selection of TV drama and comedy, so you're unlikely to be stuck for something to entertain you.
There are two control panels: one regular airline style handheld remote (the sort you'll find on most other airlines) next to the jack for the noise-cancelling headphones, and one detachable battery-powered touchscreen device.
That touchscreen device alone is larger than the entertainment screens on most trans-Tasman flights, with your choice displayed on a big widescreen in front of you.
A full universal power point and two USB charging sockets are tucked away in the little cubbyhole by your elbow. (This is an odd position for them, frankly.)
In terms of service, I'd last flown Emirates across the Tasman nearly a year ago and had been underwhelmed by the crew.
Not this time: the service was impeccable from start to finish, with Emirates' international crew taking providing efficient, swift and cheerful service. The cabin manager came through for a chat while passing out the NZ landing cards.
It's hard to fault this flight across the Tasman, although on the long 14+ hour flight to Dubai I wouldn't be keen on the angled-flat seat.
Emirates has really upped its game in the last year since we reviewed its 777 flights, and if your schedule and the airline's routes coincide, it's the most comfortable way to get across the Tasman.
The airline provided a complimentary upgrade to our reporter's paid economy class ticket to enable this review.