Air New Zealand Business Class from London to Los Angeles (A Cranky Travelogue)

After spending a groggy morning in London, I hopped on the Piccadilly line to head back toward Heathrow for the last leg home. I know that’s not the fastest way to go, but I had the time, so… why not? As we made our way west, I started thinking about the flight ahead. I hadn’t flown Air New Zealand in nearly a decade, and back then the 747s were still plying the skies. I was looking forward to trying the airline once again.

I arrived at the tube stop for Terminals 1/2/3 (even though 1 no longer exists) and began the subterranean walk over to Terminal 2. At this point, I was downright exhausted. My old carry-on bag was now full of whisky and had to be checked. My backpack was empty before, but now it was bulging full of clothes that wouldn’t fit with the whisky in the other bag. At Terminal 2, I took the maze of escalators up to the departure level. The signs really try to push you to take the elevators, but there was a very long line, and I wasn’t interested in standing there.

I like the design up at the top of the escalators. It’s outdoors with this giant sculpture of… something. I went inside and thought the natural lighting was welcoming as the sun peeked through the clouds.

Dragging my bags, I made my way toward the Air New Zealand counter at the back of the hall. After a quick questioning from security personnel, I was checked in. I said goodbye to my bag and hoped it wouldn’t be soaking wet with whisky when it arrived in LA.

Upon receiving my boarding pass, my heart sank. I was given the dreaded SSSS meaning extra screening would be required. The notation made it look like it was because I had an ANA frequent flier number (from using ANA miles). Go figure. At least I had plenty of time.

Now feeling like a weight had been lifted — because a weight HAD been lifted — I went over to security and made it through instantly. There was no line at all. On the other side, I was back where I had enjoyed a beer just a few days earlier on my way to Scotland. This time, I knew my way around the terminal quite well. I dodged all the shopping options and made my way toward the B satellite gates.

Air New Zealand uses the Singapore Airlines lounge at Heathrow, so that was a nice surprise. I don’t understand why there isn’t a Star Alliance lounge in what is effectively the Star Alliance terminal, but so be it.

The lounge had a really pleasing smell of curry as I walked in, but there was no Singaporean dish to be found, at least that’s what my cursory glance suggested. I wasn’t hungry anyway; trying to reset my body clock to Pacific time meant waiting to eat until onboard.

Once the gate was announced, I went straight there since I knew I’d have to go through extra screening. The agents brought me and a couple others in to a secondary screening area behind the counter as I prepared to be annoyed. To my surprise, the agent who handled me was nice, quick, and thorough. In just a couple of minutes, I was done. I had been told to go through a side door back to the gate area where I still had quite some time to wait. I could have gone back to the lounge, but I didn’t think there was enough time to bother. Instead, I found a window seat and watched the world go by.

Air New Zealand has a sleek regular livery, but I was lucky enough to be flying on the “All Blacks’ airplane, one of my favorite liveries ever. When the sunlight came down through the cracks in the clouds, it glimmered off the dark body of this beast, and I couldn’t stop staring at it… that is, until boarding began.

April 24, 2019
Air New Zealand 1 Lv London/Heathrow 415p Arr Los Angeles 740p
London/Heathrow (LHR): Gate B33, Runway 27L, Depart 14m Late, Return to Gate 45m Late, Depart Again 1h30m Late
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 153, Runway 24R, Arrive 1h4m Late
ZK-OKQ, Boeing 777-319ER, All Blacks colors, ~70% Full
Seat 11K, Business
Flight Time 10h17m

I was immediately greeted with “Kia Ora,” a traditional Maori welcome that gets used as frequently in New Zealand as “Aloha” in Hawai’i. It triggered some memory in me that made me want to go to New Zealand straight away.

Air New Zealand has had the same herringbone seats for many years, certainly since I last flew them. They’ve been refreshed, but the design shows its age. Sitting with your back away from the window is less than ideal, having your feet in the aisle gives a much less private feeling than the reverse herringbone seats. I knew I’d have a crick in my neck from craning to stare out the window all flight. But these are minor complaints. It was still an good seat. It just doesn’t compare as favorably when considering what I had on Air Canada coming out.

The flight attendants came by with champagne, orange juice, or water options, and I just went with water. But I did ask when the bar would open and what they had in the single malt variety. This trip wasn’t over until I landed, so I was going to make the most of the flight home. (It turns out they had nothing from Islay, but Glenlivet would do just fine.)

Air New Zealand has a crew base with over 100 people in London who apparently exclusively fly between London and Los Angeles. My primary flight attendant was David from Spain. Hearing his accent, I immediately decided it would be a good opportunity to practice my Spanish. In fact, we spoke mostly in Spanish the entire flight. I appreciated his willingness to oblige my best efforts. We had a casual and playful back and forth. For example, I jokingly asked him why he didn’t just go work for Vueling closer to home. The exaggerated look of disgust on his face was priceless.

Menus were distributed and orders were taken, but we still weren’t moving. The captain came on doing his best impression of a confident skygod and explained that because it was going to be a short flight time, we were going to sit on the gate for a bit so we didn’t arrive LA too early. That’s the best possible reason for a delay.

We eventually made our way to the runway, started rolling, and then rolled right off on to a taxiway. The captain said that they had heard something and thought there might be loose cargo. He emphasized that safety was the priority, so we would be going back to the gate to have it checked out. He hoped we’d only be on the gate for 20 minutes.

To nobody’s surprise, we waited longer than 20 minutes, and I nervously asked the crew how long they had before they timed out. The pilots had another couple hours, so I was told not to worry. But I was already thinking about the sparse alternative flight options that late in the day.

The captain eventually came back on and announced that they believed the noise was coming from strollers rattling around. The ground crew had secured those, but we had to wait until Heathrow gave us a departure slot before we could leave. An hour and a half after scheduled departure, we were on our way again.

There were some clouds around London, but we climbed up through the chop quickly. There were some nice views of storm clouds as we headed north, but the air smoothed out nicely and stayed that way for most of the flight.

Finally in the air, I could have my first whisky. My strategy was to have a few early and then be sober enough by the end of the flight to drive home. After a couple drinks, it was time for dinner… or brunch in Los Angeles.

I was apparently feeling fishy, because I had the halibut salad appetizer which was quite nice. Then I had an outstanding cod for the main course. It was cooked perfectly. Well, I say that, but I was also three whiskies in at this point, so don’t trust me.

For dessert, I had the sundae, but David said I should also try the bread pudding, and who was I to turn him down? He brought both out for me, and both were delicious.

I had already watched a lot on the screens, including the terrible Table 19 that finished entirely on the ground while we waited. With dinner done, I doubled-down and fired up another movie. It was daytime back home, and I didn’t want to sleep. David, however, seeing the two seats across from me being empty, made them up into full beds so anyone could use them instead of flipping their own seats into beds. (The Air New Zealand seats don’t recline into beds, they have to be flipped.) It was tempting, but I resisted.

It wasn’t long before I discovered wifi onboard. Air New Zealand not only had quick wifi but it was also free. Trying desperately to stay awake, I dove in and spent a few hours working and writing up notes from the trip. It made the time pass quickly and it kept me awake for a while longer.

Most people went into sleep mode and the shades were all drawn, but I powered through. I went for a walk and saw a pretty comfortable back cabin with people sprawled out across empty seats. This was a fairly light load.

I came up to the snack bar and grabbed a cookie, and then I came back to my seat and turned on another movie. This time, I hit a wall. I slipped into a nap. It didn’t last all that long, but when I woke up, I was feeling completely sober and very tired.

About an hour and a half out from LA, David came through with the second meal. There was a really tasty sandwich along with some not-so-tasty donuts. Still, I ate them and had some tea.

At this point, I just wanted to be off the airplane. I had developed a minor headache along with sinus pain. I was done. We glided past Las Vegas as the sun was setting and then descended into LAX as the faint remaining sunlight disappeared. After a short taxi, we were at our gate and David wished me a kind goodbye.

As usual, immigration was buzzing, but I went through quickly using Global Entry. The bottleneck really is customs, however, which had an absurdly long line stretching hundreds of people deep. Once again, Global Entry came to the rescue. There was only one person in front of me on that side. I headed home, basking in the glow of what had been a very successful trip.

Two months after I actually took the trip, my travelogue is done. If you missed any of the entries, scroll to the top and you’ll see links to every post. I hope you enjoyed following along with me on this adventure.

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