Sarah Wale flies from Auckland to Cairns (and return) on Air New Zealand.
When we first booked, it was to be an A320. This subsequently changed to a 777-200. When we boarded, it had changed again to a 787 Dreamliner, which was a bonus.
Class: Premium Economy — not available on the original A320.
Price: Our booking replaced an earlier journey, which had to be cancelled due to my health problems; Air New Zealand staff were very helpful in crediting the cost against this flight. Normal price is around $600 one-way.
Seats: 25 J & K. Very comfortable, with lots of personal adjustments using the controller in the armrest.
On time? Yes, but there were delays on arrival at Cairns while the Captain tried to line the door up with the non-flexible air-bridge; in the end they had to get a tractor to jiggle us into place so we were about 30 minutes late disembarking. Also see "luggage" below.
Fellow passengers: Mostly Kiwis going on holiday and Aussies returning home. Very relaxed and civilised.
How full? Very, but the crew coped well.
Entertainment was OK and the screens worked fine, but the selection was not great as there were few of the latest movies and shows.
Service: Excellent. I have mobility difficulties and travelled with crutches in the cabin. The crew anticipated my needs and were pro-active in making the flight as comfortable and hassle-free as possible.
Food and drink: Good and plentiful, as expected in Premium Economy where the meal service is akin to Business Class.
Toilets: Clean and well-stocked. Checked regularly.
Airport experience: Luggage handling in Auckland was excellent. As I use a lightweight mobility scooter* we checked in early in case it had to be folded and stowed but I was able to ride it to the door of the aircraft where it was taken and stowed in "the cage", fully assembled, with the children's strollers. It was waiting at the door when we disembarked in Cairns, which made life very easy. At Cairns there was a long hiatus as a soft bag got caught in the mechanism of the luggage carousel and it took them an inordinate amount of time to decide to use another carousel. They finally released the offending item and re-started the original belt, upon which all the "priority" baggage (including ours) had been stuck for another 30 minutes.
The airport experience in Auckland was extremely good and the special assistance staff members were very helpful. The most important thing is to be clear about your needs, check and double-check if in any doubt about arrangements. We did some pretty heavy-duty research and communicated with Air New Zealand well in advance of the flight and are sure this paid off on the day as we were expected and everything was smooth and stress-free. There were a couple of "left hand/right hand" moments when communication between staff members could have been better but nothing serious. We were told by ground staff in Auckland that an "ambulift" had been ordered for me in Cairns, both for the outward and return journeys, as the stairs would be too steep for me to manage.
When we mentioned this to the cabin crew there was much hilarity, as Cairns has had air-bridges for many years!
Would I fly this again? Most definitely I would, especially if it was on a Dreamliner. The return journey was on an extremely noisy A320, which was perfectly adequate for a 4½ hour flight, though they don't have Premium Economy. We travelled in "Worksdeluxe" with three seats for the two of us, surprisingly edible food and all we wanted to drink, so we didn't suffer too much … but a Dreamliner it ain't!
A major point was that although I could take the scooter to the door of the plane, on boarding I had to remove the battery and carry it with me in the cabin while the scooter was put in the hold. Any lithium ion battery that powers a scooter could not, under air transport safety rules, be rated at more than 300kw hours (mine is 274.4), and I was asked several times to reconfirm this rating even though I provided a certificate from the manufacture to this effect.