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Alex Robertson flies aboard NZ95 from Auckland to Tokyo Narita.
Plane: A Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. These are the pride of the Air New Zealand fleet, capable of delivering 300-plus customers over great distances in comfort and leaving them feeling less groggy than has been possible in the past. Add to that the bonus of being more fuel-efficient and you can see their appeal. However, I was feeling a little nervous when I saw the engine cowling up before take off: these planes have hit the headlines over the past year because of safety concerns, or rather the Rolls Royce Trent 1000C Pack engines have been the subject of scrutiny with potential failure of fans a concern. These are, still, potential problems and constant maintenance should be enough to allay any fear.
Class and price: Economy, for $1573 return on a “Global Saver” fare.
Flight time: The flight schedule had it at 10 hours 55 minutes which is pretty much on the button.
Seat: 45C, about half-way down the first section of Economy on the left-hand side of the plane. Aisle seat; handy!
Passengers: Of the few passengers on board, it seems a mix of a few younger Kiwis in travel mode and some Japanese-New Zealanders, possibly visiting home.
How full: The flight was less than half full. My row was just me, so I could have slept. This was a daytime flight, so I didn’t feel the need, however.
Entertainment: The back of the seat touchscreen worked really well and was chock full of recent movies, classics and all the Hobbit/Lord of the Rings films. Also TV, shopping, music and games. I won three rounds of poker amassing a fortune (about $6000!) which, sadly, was purely virtual. I also squeezed in three films and finished my book. You’re talking nearly 11 hours of not much else to do.
Service: Lunch was served about an hour into the flight. My vegetarian option was delivered ahead of the regular service (always a good thing) but, because of the lack of fellow passengers, it didn’t make much difference. The food was really good: quinoa salad with peas and feta, ravioli with mixed beans and spinach followed by a vegan coconut cake. Dinner was equally good, but pasta again and a similar dessert… us vegos are hard to please sometimes! All can be forgiven after the Kapiti spicy apple crumble icecream tub delivered mid-afternoon. And the option to order a drink and a snack via the touchscreen is a nice touch: I had a cup of tea and a cookie about halfway through the flight.
Toilets: With so few bodies on board, the toilets were always going to be available and fairly presentable. I liked the decoration of a larger-than-life bookshelf photograph, possibly from a pilot’s house, with such curious titles as The Insider’s Guide To Nude Skiing In NZ, Will You Marry Me: I Like Your Country and Check Out, Check In, Check Out, all fictional (not fiction), of course.
Airport experience: I took the SkyBus from downtown and, with the electronic check-in and baggage drop I was standing airside in less than an hour from the start of my journey. Auckland airport has plenty of shopping, but didn’t keep me for long. My first coffee was decidedly average; the second much better, but in a paper cup. My two-hour wait chewed up about half a book.
Final word: If you’re going to Japan, I can recommend the mid-week lunchtime flight. It seems nobody else is travelling that day and you get in to Tokyo with time to find your hotel and head out for a drink or two before turning in. Air New Zealand still is The Ritz of the skies.