Here's the best from the front of the plane for 2018
Best business class seat
It's Qatar Airways' Q-suite, hands down. Herald Business Traveller got a taste of this oasis of privacy on a flight from Sydney to Canberra and enjoyed every second. The airline is retrofitting its Boeing 777-200s and plans for these premium travel game-changers on the Auckland-Doha route in the first half of next year.
New route out of Auckland
The Air New Zealand flight from Auckland to Chicago was a long time coming but worth the wait. A great city to fly into and explore, it puts Kiwis in an interesting part of the US for further travelling. It's the airline's longest service and at 16 hours, the return flight can be a slog, depending where you're sitting. But it's a great forerunner to flying even further afield — New York, for example.
Way to get to Bali
Emirates offers first class to Bali on its Boeing 777 as well as business and economy. While it has scaled back on the route, first class is a radical way to get to the holiday isles.
Hawaiian Airlines upped its weekly frequency to five (although that will drop slightly during the very quiet months) and the holiday starts as soon as you step on board — staff have flowers in their hair. Hawaiian's presence on the Auckland-Honolulu route has made holidays to the islands far more affordable throughout the plane.
Premium cabin (retro)
Portuguese charter airline Hi Fly came to the rescue when Air NZ's Dreamliner issues were hitting hardest. While the aged A340s weren't up to much out the back, a Sydney-Auckland sector at the very front was a taste of old-time glamour. The 21-year-old plane (used mainly by Emirates) had a first-class cabin that was extraordinary — 2.2m between each seat. And the service was just fine.
Air New Zealand's inaugural service to Chicago was a reminder that for overall excellence, its crew is hard to beat. They're chatty with the right level of formality and it never stops — especially when you take into account the fact that staff have been immensely disrupted by Dreamliner problems
Promotion of New Zealand
Singapore Airlines leads the way in promoting NZ's growing and important craft beer industry. It has Garage Project beer on board and early in the year did a special tasting flight with the company's co-founder Jos Ruffel, to better understand the effect of altitude on the amber nectar. That's science we can all get on board with.
Travel Editor Winston Aldworth is a big fan of Singapore Airlines' lobster thermidor and Herald Business Traveller is too. You can book the meal in advance, and the one delivered two-thirds of the way through a 17-hour, 20-minute flight from Singapore to New York was a study in how to prepare and present a meal that goes the distance.
Passenger welfare programme
Qantas launched its Perth-London service in March, a flight of up to 17.5 hours that finally links the Antipodes with Britain. The airline has put a lot of work into designing menus and offering drinks that are lighter and better for helping passengers cope with the marathon flight. The airline's business-class passengers get pyjamas and there is a stretching room installed in the Perth lounge, and special light therapy shower rooms.
Airlines like them quiet, and even better, not using the facilities too often. Qantas worked with Sydney University to monitor a sample of passengers using wearable technology on the Perth-London flight, revealing one business-class customer (The Man with the Cast Iron Bladder) who didn't move for the entire flight.
Air New Zealand's ditching of Virgin Australia after seven years. It came as a surprise to the Aussie carrier, and as is common with divorces, each partner blamed the other for holding it back during the union. And on unions, Air NZ's late-year skirmish with engineers was one nobody needed.
Air New Zealand and Qantas getting cosy after years of enmity — although that had been lessening. The former foes stress that their agreement covers only codeshare on each other's domestic networks, and it does seem there is more to work to do, with some customers finding the reciprocity doesn't extend to lounges.
Qantas took the middle path with a straightforward offering out in February — its staff clearly demonstrating what needs to be demonstrated in tempting locations around the world, including featuring the rare sight of happy Wallabies supporters at Eden Park.
Auckland Airport's taken a bit of stick but its international departure lounge is now largely finished, has great new dining options, plenty of shopping and some great views. Now for a rebuild of arrivals and the real pain point, the domestic terminal.
Virgin Australia went back to basics with a cheeky campaign piggy-backing on Air New Zealand's Impossible Burger promotion. The Aussies made a big deal out of getting Kiwi meat suppliers for meals across the Tasman, gave away free burgers and flew a light plane over Air NZ's Auckland HQ trailing a sign saying how much it loved NZ beef.
Best looking new plane
Cathay Pacific took delivery of its first A350-1000 in June. At 73.8m, the aircraft is 7m longer than the earlier 900 model and the proportions are just right. An elegant plane, which Cathay Pacific could be flying here next summer.
Air Tahiti Nui's new Boeing 787-9 made Auckland its first overseas destination and has a great looking paint job. The new livery features the airline's trademark tiare flower and a giant tattoo representing the story of Tahiti.
Cathay Pacific's suite of lounges at Hong Kong Airport takes some beating. Besides regular favourites, The Pier, The Wing and The Bridge, the airline this year opened its smaller and well positioned The Deck. The airline is careful to maintain exclusivity for its lounges.