Shandelle Battersby flies Air New Zealand flight NZ295 from Apia to Auckland.
The plane: A 777-200, which looked enormous parked outside the gate alongside a Virgin Australia 737-800. The azure Samoan waters acting as a pretty backdrop were a startling contrast to the searing heat.
Class: We were flying on the last Saturday of the October school holidays — my friend is a teacher so our travel times are restricted. This means, however, often paying a premium for flights and so despite booking months and months ago, this meant going up to Samoa on the most basic of Virgin Australia fares and back to Auckland literally Premium — as in Premium Economy. We were looking forward to going from zeroes to heroes when our names were called over the loudspeaker. Fearing the worst, we approached the bench and were … upgraded! To Business Premier! As we sat in our very comfortable seats Up The Front, and clinked wine glasses (it was also her birthday), a little boy showed me his boarding pass, which had the same letter and number combination as mine. From there, chaos reigned as the poor Air New Zealand cabin crew realised a computer glitch had led to a double booking of several seats — some were even triple-booked. Somehow, we managed to stay put.
Price: We paid $549.15 each.
Flight time: 4hr 10m. One of the only flights I've been on that I wished was longer.
Fellow passengers: Mostly sun-kissed families on their way home from Paradise and one patient with two health professionals.
Entertainment: After the passenger fireworks calmed down I watched a bit of My Year With Helen, Gaylene Preston's Helen Clark documentary, The Grand Budapest Hotel and some Baby Driver. There were a couple of glitches with my particular system but we got there after a couple of restarts.
The service: Tip-top. The cabin crew handled the cross passengers kindly and with finesse.
Food: From the menu I chose a starter of delicate rare beef with a salad of shiitake, edamame, radish, cucumber and miso dressing, fresh rosemary sourdough which came with a tiny bottle of olive oil from The Village Press in Hawke's Bay followed by slow-cooked tender New Zealand lamb with golden kumara, creamed leeks and peas. Dessert was a superb bowl of chocolate, salted caramel and almond icecream, with caramel sauce and cookie crumbs. Yum.
Luggage: Premium Economy gets you a generous two checked bags of up to 23kg each, and two pieces of cabin baggage weighing up to 14kg total. We had about 10kg each; I didn't even check my luggage in.
The airport experience: Faleolo International Airport has been undergoing a major makeover for the past couple of years, and its design, inspired by the traditional Samoan fale, is striking. It's still early days inside — there are just two shops airside with limited stock, and only a couple of places to eat. Signage to and from the airport is non-existent; once there, we had no idea where to leave the rental car. No worries though, it's all very laid-back — until you get to Security, then it is all on. My T-shirt and jeans managed to set the x-ray machine off, then my bag was completely frisked and my carry-on checked for weight and size for the second time in 10 minutes.
Would I fly this again? My only complaint was that the flight was not longer.