Stewart Germann flies from Auckland to Chicago aboard flight NZ26
A Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner — the pride of Air New Zealand's fleet. It was immaculate and looked almost brand new.
Class : Premium Economy seat 26A, right near the engine, which made it a bit noisy but the push-button window shades are excellent.
How full : Not a spare seat in Business Premier, Premium Economy or Economy. The overhead lockers are big and roomy.
Flight time : We left for Chicago 45 minutes late because of a technical issue with a flight time of 14hr, 50m but landed at Chicago 30 minutes late. I had 100 minutes to clear Customs, get the luggage, get rid of bags on the United baggage conveyor belt and change terminals before my flight to Washington DC on United to attend a legal conference.
The toilets : There were two up the front and they were clean and never had a long queue.
Entertainment : I struggled to find movies I had not seen and ended up watching Daffodils, which I really enjoyed. It's a New Zealand Film Commission-backed production and set in Hamilton with good story and music. The Flight Plan did not work on my screen, which was annoying.
Fellow passengers : No problems, mainly mature couples — very quiet and considerate.
Food and drink : Excellent all round. The lamb shank main was superb and a delicious raspberry dessert with a great sauvignon blanc from Marlborough.
The service : Very friendly, efficient and lovely staff.
Airport experience : The Air New Zealand Koru lounge was too busy with so many flights going to the USA and Vancouver within a 90-minute period but I got a seat. The walk from the lounge to gate 16 took forever and then you are greeted by airport officials who ask you 20 questions including why are you going to the USA, where are you staying, for how long and heaps more.
Final word : The Auckland-to-Chicago flight is the longest by Air New Zealand, but when you're heading to the East Coast it makes a second flight much shorter than arriving at LAX or San Francisco.