Air New Zealand versus Cathay Pacific – our experience

Travelling to London via Hong Kong and then back from Rome to Auckland via Hong Kong gave us the ability to compare the Premium Economy class offerings on the two airlines. And although it’s called the same name, the reality is that the offering is quite different.

Air New Zealand were one of the first airlines to offer this “better than economy but not business” class when they phased out first class and promoted business class to lie flat beds.

The general Premium Economy offering is simple – greater legroom and wider seats in a separated cabin area with a range of added comforts – a dedicated check in, better food and drink, amenities packs, welcome drinks – all which vary by airline.

With Jean and I being tall, the key benefit is the added legroom. This is even more important given the distance we travel and the time we spend onboard.

Until this trip we have been dedicated Air New Zealand customers and have seen their Premium Economy offering evolve over the years from a basic “greater legroom” product through to the specially designed seat pods that they introduced about 4 years ago.

But two years ago Air New Zealand made changes to their Airpoints programme which removed any advantage for us booking and paying for their Premium Economy seats. So this trip we threw ourselves on the open market and simply went for the best deal we could find – which turned out to be Cathay Pacific.

We discovered our trip was, in fact, a codeshare between Cathay Pacific and Air New Zealand so our trips between Auckland and Hong Kong were on Air New Zealand metal and the legs between Hong Kong and London/Rome were on Cathay – the same Premium Economy class but very different experiences.

In terms of legroom and seat comfort there was not much in it. Cathay had 8 seats across the cabin, Air New Zealand had nine – but the Air New Zealand seats felt wider. Legroom was expansive on both.

The cabin ambience was better on Cathay mainly because the plane (an Airbus 350) was new versus Air New Zealand’s 777 which was in need of a refit or replacement with one of their new Dreamliners.

The service was much better on Air New Zealand. Meals were better quality and served on china, not plastic, and there were cabin staff dedicated to the premium economy section. If you wanted something, it was there, immediately.

Cathay Pacific, on the other hand served standard economy food on plastic plates – and wine from plastic glasses. The cabin staff served both premium and economy cabins, but they still managed to answer our calls quickly and efficiently but did slip a couple of times.

Because of the comparative ages of the planes, Cathay’s entertainment offering was more comprehensive and higher quality with touch screens and excellent screen clarity. Air New Zealand struggled to compete but, talking to staff, things are looking up with upgrades to the 777 fleet just around the corner and the first Dreamliners already operating across the Tasman.

So who wins? Air New Zealand by a small margin – but when they are flying with better planes it won’t be a contest. They just know how to do things well, and to make passengers who have paid extra for a little comfort feel it’s money well spent.




Flying High

Our original plan for flying to London was with Air New Zealand via Hong Kong on 14 April. We had paid for economy seats and were planning to upgrade to Premium Economy seats using our accumulated airports.

Thanks to the airline playing around with upgrade availability we couldn’t upgrade our original flights and had to move dates and route. Our new travel date was April 6 and travel was via Los Angeles.

Somewhere over Greenland

Those of you who have done this trip know of the horrible wait in LA where transit passengers are confined to a sealed room for about two hours with nothing more than a coffee machine and packets of potato chips.

But every cloud, as they say, has a silver lining. We got to experience the new Air New Zealand Premium Economy class. New seats, entertainment system, cabin ambience, etc. For those of us used to the old setup it was quite a change. Instead of rows of 3 – 3 – 3 there were rows of 2 – 2 – 2. And each seat is enclosed in a “cocoon” providing privacy from the passenger next door.

This means that you sit facing slightly sideways which is a tad disconcerting and the outer rows face slightly towards the windows. Once you get used to it, however, the improvements are great.

Slightly blurry new Premium Economy - must be the cognac.

The cocoon seat means that reclining happens within the shell – so no chance of the passenger in front reclining their seat back into your lap. The downside of this is that reclining cribs a little legroom but this is a small price to pay as, even then, the legroom remains generous.

Food and beverages are good however we did miss the welcome aboard drink. But the biggest surprise was that the toilet had doubled in size. Finally there is room to brush you teeth without having to balance over the toilet bowl. True progress!