Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Air New Zealand, SYD - AKL, Works Deluxe

As you've been reading about on Travelin' Tuesdays the past few weeks, I recently went to Sydney, flying on Air New Zealand for the first time.  I had a very enjoyable business class flight from SFO to AKL, where I managed to really truly sleep for the first time on an overnight flight.  That bed was magic.  Then we hopped in Auckland, where I got to have a delicious second breakfast in the lounge, before boarding a 3.5 hour flight over to Sydney.  That flight was rather lackluster, but, it was real business class, so it wasn't too bad.

The return trip was a bit different.  While our long haul was still going to be business class, the flight from Sydney to Auckland, NZ704, was aboard an A320, a single class aircraft.  We obviously would have picked a business class option if there was one, but Air New Zealand only operates one aircraft with regular business class a day on that route, and the flight was earlier in the morning than Ojan wanted to fly.  So, we had to "slum it" in "Works Deluxe", a rather glorified front-of-economy experience.

While nothing was fancy, the food was shockingly good, and for a shorter flight, it really wasn't too bad.

Cabin

Empty Middle Seat.
Since our ongoing flight was business class we were given “Works Deluxe” treatment on this flight, which meant that we were seated at the front of the plane (row 1), and the middle seat was not assigned a passenger.  The seat still exists, with an immovable arm rest in the way, so our seats weren't any wider or different from the rest of the cabin in any way, just a little more elbow row. I supposed this allows the airline to reconfigure with as many rows of "Works Deluxe" as people are willing to purchase?

Waiting at our seats were bottles of water, which it turns out were going to be prized possessions, as regular economy passengers would need to wait quite a while for drink and meal service.
Entertainment Unit.
The aircraft was certainly older, with a very clunky entertainment unit, but, hey, at least there was an entertainment unit?  As Works Deluxe passengers we were given decent headphones.  I queued up a playlist of silly pop songs from the music menu and rocked out.  Ojan may or may not have caught me dancing in my seat as I blogged away.

There was a USB port, but no regular power, so I could charge my phone, but not my laptop.

Lunch

Since this was basically an economy flight, I had no hopes for the food, and didn't really plan to eat on the plane.

I began my day with a rather insane feast for breakfast at my hotel around 7am, as it was my final chance to utilize the crazy breakfast buffet at Mosiac Restaurant.  I was beyond stuffed after my breakfast.  The server even asked me if I was eating for two.  Doh.

A few hours later, at 9:30am, we were in the Air New Zealand lounge at the Sydney airport (a temporary lounge, otherwise I’d write a formal review of it).  We arrived while it was still breakfast hours, and I couldn’t resist trying the muesli and various yogurts, because I did have a disappointing last serving of my precious bircher muesli in the restaurant an hour or so before.  Sadly, the bircher muesli wasn’t good, it was just like cold soggy oatmeal with a few bites of dried apricot.  But the yogurts were actually delicious, super creamy.  One had berry compote mixed in, the other passionfruit.  I didn’t try any of the hot food (scrambled eggs, beans, roasted tomatoes, etc), nor use the automatic pancake machine, or even dive in to the famous hot dog cart.  I was still so full from hotel breakfast buffet that I managed to use restraint.

But then at 10am, the breakfast was replaced with tea time.  Out came a huge assortment of fresh baked muffins (sweet and savory) and fresh scones with whipped cream, along with finger sandwiches, soup, and cookies.  I resisted for all of about 20 minutes.  10:20am, and it was time to feast ... again.  I stayed away from the soup, sandos, and cookies, but … it was impossible for me not to try the other items.  I actually adored the cheesy savory muffin, with olives, herbs, and sundried tomatoes.  They had both regular and gluten-free versions, and the gluten-free one was truly tasty.  I also went for a couple sweet muffins, a regular banana muffin that was dry and not tasty at all, and a gluten-free pineapple muffin that I also enjoyed, with huge chunks of juicy  pineapple throughout.  Air New Zealand really rocks the gluten-free baked goods!  The scones were lackluster: served warm, but were basically just biscuits, the jam alongside was just packaged cheap strawberry jam, and the whipped cream was fluffy but not sweetened.

So yes, after a huge breakfast buffet feast at the hotel, another breakfast in the lounge, and then a huge pile of baked goods, I got on this flight where they were about to serve me economy class lunch.  I could care less.  I also planed to just eat more when we reached the Auckland lounge again, as I was impressed with the breakfast when we swung through on our way to Sydney.  Plus, I knew we'd have a long dinner service on the next flight.  We certainly weren't going to starve.

Still, I was of course curious, and a rather bored captive audience.

Meal service began the standard 1 hour into the flight.  As Works Deluxe passengers a meal was included; for those in economy basic sandwiches were available to purchase.  They didn't even have the option to purchase any real hot food!

There was no menu provided.  We had the choice of a hot meal or a cold meal, served from a cart rolled down the aisle.  Both meals came on plastic trays, with plastic silverware, and a packaged dessert.  It wasn't looking promising.
Hot Meal: Thai Chicken Curry.
Ojan opted for the hot meal, Thai chicken curry with rice.

I snuck a bite of the sauce, and it was actually kinda flavorful.  Since I don’t like chicken I didn’t try it, even though Ojan insisted that it tasted like salmon (which, I’d obviously prefer, but uh, chicken shouldn’t taste like salmon!).  It was served with rice with little cubes of not-cooked-enough squash.

Both meals also came with a roll, served hot, with a pat of butter on the side.  We didn’t touch ours.
Cold Meal: Salmon Salad with Cous Cous.
Curiosity got the better of me, so I opted for the cold option, described simply as “salmon salad with cous cous”.

I still am not sure why I ordered this.  I was beyond full.  And, given the description, I expected a mixed greens salad with a piece of overcooked dried out fishy salmon perched on top, perhaps scattered with some token cous cous.

It was totally not what I was expecting, and ... it was good!  Shockingly good.  And clearly, I wasn't just hungry and thinking anything tasted good.

The cous cous was mixed with herbs and red onion, and was super flavorful.  On top was a ton of crème fraîche, which, perhaps is what I loved.  Under the cous cous was a base of mixed lettuces, all actually still a bit crispy, not limp or wilted.  The crème fraîche mixed in really well, creating a super rich, creamy coating on the moist, slightly crunchy, cous cous.  This was a tasty little salad, just on its own.

And then the salmon.  Not the chunk of cooked salmon I expected.  Instead I found slices of beautiful smoked salmon.  The smoked salmon was actually far better than what we had in the breakfast buffets all week.  It was smoky, it was flavorful, it wasn’t fishy, it wasn’t fatty.  It too went perfectly with the crème fraîche.

I was so full, but I devoured this entire plate.  I kept saying, “ok, self, you are so full, stop!  Just one more bite!”  I told Ojan to take it away from me, and then grabbed it back.  And then it was gone.  I really can’t explain how it was so good.

Nicely done, Air New Zealand.
Coffee, Dessert.
The beverage selection was basic soft drinks, a few complimentary alcoholic drinks, and tea or coffee.  I opted for a decaf, which was instant, but not too gross.  Served in a paper cup.

The dessert included on our trays was a packaged brownie.  It was awful.  Ojan likes brownies and chocolate, but also didn’t bother with a second bite of one of these.  It was strangely moist, as in, moist since it was in a plastic wrapper and had been cold, and condensation built up inside.  It was very dry otherwise.  No chocolate chips or bits of anything to save it.  Just really, truly not good.  I managed to scrape up a few more bites of crème fraîche for “dessert” instead.
Cheese Platter.
I was shocked about 30 minutes later when cheese platters were brought to us, featuring brie and cheddar, a few red grapes, and some Arnott’s crackers.  I had zero interest in more food at this point, so I skipped it, but Ojan tried the cheeses.  He seemed unimpressed.
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