Sandy Kilgour travels aboard NZ52, the inaugural Air New Zealand 787-9 flight to Fiji.

The plane:

The 787-9 is one of Air New Zealand's new Dreamliners, the superb high-tech planes gradually being added to its fleet, and this is the first one to service the Pacific Islands.

The aircraft will contribute an 11 per cent increase in capacity to Fiji, and its daily services will be shared between the 787-9, the 777 and the Airbus A320. There's a second service on Sundays, and during the peak holiday period, from mid-December to mid-January, there'll be an extra daily service on Fridays.

My seat: 25F, in the Premium Economy section of the plane. There are just 21 seats in the Premium Economy cabin, and each has a decent leg-rest, and plenty of room to spread out. On our seats were bottles of water, pillows and a better pair of headphones than you get down the back.

Advertisement

Price: Return Premium Economy fares from Auckland start from $1192.

On time? We pushed back as scheduled and arrived in paradise 10 minutes early after only 2hrs 40min.

How full? The inaugural flight was scheduled for the first day of Labour Weekend and was absolutely chocka.

Fellow passengers: A mix of families and couples heading off for some sunshine. We left Auckland in dreary rain and everyone turned their attention to the inflight entertainment.

As Fiji's turquoise water and many islands came into view and we began our [rather steep due to a passing plane taking too long] descent, passengers focused instead on the 787-9's larger windows, admiring the pretty views below.

Entertainment: Even the cabin crew boogied to the Men in Black safety video - all the more relevant as the semifinal against South Africa was on early the next morning. Air New Zealand's inflight movie, TV and music range is extensive, and I quickly got stuck into Magic Mike XXL (excellent eye-candy to pass the time), followed by a fascinating documentary, Voices of the Land, featuring Richard Nunns playing music with Maori instruments.

Food and drink: As the launch of this flight was a special occasion, and marked the start of a long weekend, bubbles were compulsory. Premium Economy's food and beverage service is excellent, and comes with linen napkins, proper cutlery, and several courses. Breakfast options were cinnamon hotcakes or smoked cheese potato croquettes with grain mustard scrambled eggs. The lunch service on the way back was even better: Thai roasted chicken with salad, followed by a slow-cooked lamb shank, smoked seafood pie or chicken salad and a divine Belgian chocolate marquise. The airline develops its menu with one of Auckland's best chefs, Peter Gordon, so you can't go wrong with any choice.

Service: The friendly cabin crew seemed excited to be flying this route, and one stewardess came around and thanked everyone personally. Captain Ian Mackie was excited too, and he impressed us with his sexy voice and fun banter.

Advertisement

Luggage: The new overhead lockers are bigger, look slicker and are easier to use, even for someone who's 5ft 3in. Checked luggage is 23kg.

Toilets: The one behind the Premium Economy cabin - were we the first people to use these loos? - had a feature wall of cloud wallpaper. The airline uses the Antipodes range of handwash and we liked the posh hand cloths. There was a bit of a queue at times in our section of the plane because it only had a toilet on one side.

Airport experience: The new Koru Lounge is a delight, with its fresh decor, increased capacity and great range of food. The fast and efficient barista coffee service is a winner, and make sure you check out the conservatory-style area with its living wall, gas fire and views of the departure gates. At the other end, Nadi Airport is undergoing extensive renovations but the airport process is smooth and relaxed.

The Fiji Village Choir perform at Nadi Airport to welcome the first Air New Zealand Dreamliner to land in Fiji. Photo / Shandelle Battersby
The Fiji Village Choir perform at Nadi Airport to welcome the first Air New Zealand Dreamliner to land in Fiji. Photo / Shandelle Battersby

As part of the inaugural flight celebrations we were greeted with a performance by the Fijian Village Choir from Sabeto and given a sulu (skirt). Our airport transfer was with Pacific Destinations, who met us with fragrant floral leis, a terracotta necklace, bottles of cold water and cool minted towels, before whisking us into their air-conditioned shuttle and driving us the 20 minutes to the Sofitel on Denarau Island.

Would I fly this again? Absolutely. Though only a short flight, the improvement in air quality was noticeable, meaning you feel fresher on arrival. I'd love to try the Dreamliner on a long-haul journey.

The writer travelled courtesy of Tourism Fiji.