A Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner. The coolest new toy in the skies, at least until we start seeing those Airbus A350s. I was on Saturday morning's first flight in, marking a return for American Airlines to New Zealand skies after a 24-year absence. The comeback is very welcome. It's these guys — and this flight — that have really boosted competition for Kiwis heading Stateside.
Crazy to think, but as recently as November, New Zealanders had two ways of getting directly to the mainland US, both flying with Air New Zealand: one into LA and the other into San Francisco. Once United joins the game with their new San Francisco service in July, there will be five different flights with three different airlines. If you're wondering what that will do to the cost of your tickets, try booking a regional flight to an airport Jetstar doesn't fly to.
This daily service adds almost 1600 seats a week on the Auckland-LA route. This will affect the price of your next Stateside flight, whoever you book with. You've gotta love competition — I mean, look what it's done for Israel Dagg.
Class: The Business Class cabin has an interesting layout: It's configured 1-2-1 with most of the pods alternating between facing forwards and facing backwards. Well-placed dividers mean you avoid the eye-contact awkwardness of train commuters. It's a clever way for the airline to save on space and I was oddly envious of those who faced backwards.
I was in 6H. There are 28 seats in Business Class. The pods are angled, with a generous amount of space and a lie-flat bed that saw me right for seven hours of kip. There are 57 seats in Main Cabin Extra (kind of like Premium Economy) and 141 in Economy.
Price: Business return starts at $7658 and Economy at $1758.
Flight time: This is a great flight for sleeping. We took off from LA at 10.40pm on Thursday and landed in New Zealand at 6.35am on Saturday, losing a day along the way. It's a 13hr-10m haul with the main focus on sleep. (The service the other way departs at a less sleeptastic 1.20pm, arriving at 6.30am).
Fellow passengers: Some top bods from American Airlines and their partner, Qantas, who won't sing it loudly, but are quietly chuffed at any ruffling this new service is causing in Downunder skies for Air NZ.
As we were boarding, a friendly bloke wandered up and said hello. He works with my brother and recognised me simply because my bro and I look similar. Yes, American Airlines, that's how small the country is that you're flying into.
Chocka in Business and I counted around 20 empty seats further back.
Entertainment: A great selection of movies to choose from and some terrific music in the audio library. Wi-fi is available for $26.50.
Food and drink: The Malaysian duck curry was a pleasant surprise. I reckon it'd sit happily alongside the best Business Class meals I've had.
Elsewhere, the wine list was nicely done, with a Kiwi wine on each side of the red-white ledger. The beers were the same ho-hum assortment of no-taste, mass-produced lager labels you've seen on every other airline. (What's with that? Are they afraid I could storm the cockpit with stockpiled hops? Perhaps hijack the plane and head for Portland?)
Toilets: The one nearest me had a heap of spare room. Perfect for changing into your jim-jams (Business Class passengers get a complementary set).
The service: Lovely sorts, they found it charming that I called pyjamas "jim-jams".
Luggage: Business Class passengers can stow two pieces, weighing up to 32kg each. That's heaps.
Airport experience: The American Airlines Admirals Lounge at LAX has great showers — perfect if you've wombled in there musty-headed after a four-hour domestic slog (I'd come in from New Orleans). Nibbles and basic drinks are complementary. For better food and drink, you'll need to dust off your wallet — and note that they don't take cash, just cards. (Of the free drinks, the merlot, from some vineyard somewhere, wasn't too shabby).
However, as this was an inaugural flight, there was a nice buzz around the gate, which included a cool performance from Te Tini A Maui, a Maori arts group doing the tikanga proud in North America.
A welcome return into the busy Pacific aviation marketplace.