The Boeing 767-300 is a trusted Air New Zealand workhorse and this one was slightly older than most I've been on recently. That said, everything worked beautifully and it had the feel of a reliable old friend.
Class: Economy, but being the inaugural flight we were treated as though we were flying Premium Economy -\- lots of champagne and very attentive flight attendants.
Price: Air New Zealand's seasonal non-stop service from Auckland to Ho Chi Minh City runs three times a week from June to October. Economy one way starts at $764.
On time: We left bang on time and despite hitting a spectacular thunderstorm as we approached Vietnam, we still landed right on time after a 12.5-hour trip.
My seat: 10A - an unusual side bulkhead seat. Unlike most bulkhead seats, this one had a little cubby hole at the bottom where you could stretch your legs out - bliss.
Fellow passengers: An excited mix of media, politicians, airline management and lucky, cheap-fare recipients.
How full: When you're on the inaugural flight and have only paid $599, you make sure you don't miss the flight - every seat was full.
Entertainment: I did my usual trick of spending every minute catching up on movies I've missed at the cinema. Watched Mahana (excellent), Spotlight (brilliant), Point Break (awful) and The Revenant (much better than expected).
The service: Extremely friendly and efficient - more business class than cattle. Kudos to the attendant who always gave me two of every drink I ordered.
Food and drink: I went for the Vietnamese-style chicken for the first meal, followed by the Vietnamese-style beef for the second - both were delicious. The cheese after the meal was tasty but slightly melted. The Kapiti icecream halfway through was a nice touch.
Luggage: There was plenty of room overhead for carry-on luggage and our checked bags were already there when we arrived at the carousel - surely the holy grail of luggage handling.
The airport experience: Exceptional. As this was the inaugural flight there was a specially cordoned off area for our flight in the Air New Zealand Lounge with champagne and delicious Vietnamese-style spring rolls and duck in mini-hamburgers. For our arrival in Ho Chi Minh City there was a Maori powhiri, which certainly went down well with the locals.
Would I fly this again?
I reckon Air New Zealand deserves a big thumbs-up for continuing to expand their Pacific Rim routes. This is their sixth new direct destination since the beginning of last year and there'll be another one before the year is out. If they can keep those fares down, I'll be back for sure.