Travelling Air New Zealand Means Flying In Style

In-flight attendant, Claire Monaghan, prepares onboard food for clients. Photo by Sean Hillen

New Zealand is a fascinating place to visit but for most people it’s a long way to go, making travelling in comfort even more of a premium.

For myself, from Ireland, it was a 45-hour door-to-door journey, a trip well worth it for the beauty of the landscapes, the warm weather, the beaches, the friendliness of the people and the innovative cuisine, particularly seafood dishes.

But if it wasn’t for Air New Zealand, the nation’s top-notch, flag carrier airline, my trip there and back would have been so much more exhausting. As it was, I arrived in Auckland, fully rested and ready to embark on my first-ever exploration of Kiwi-land.

The onboard menu by Air New Zealand is impressive. Photos by Columbia Hillen


Boarding Air New Zealand’s Boeing 777 in mid-December, I was impressed to find five friendly multi-national attendants in the business premier compartment, a blend of young and older, men and women, all under the supervision of congenial inflight service manager, David Megson (61) who joined the company in 1987. Warm smiles, welcome drinks and a range of snacks arrived immediately, the latter making me wonder how airlines decide which ones to offer among the thousands to choose from. 

Tasty, well-presented menu starters on Air New Zealand business premier class. Photo by Columbia Hillen

In the case of Air New Zealand, the complex process of snack selection reflects how methodical precision is a standard measure of its operations. Having put a call out for interested providers late last year, an overwhelming 400 suppliers nationwide responded. The airline then searched for ‘snacksperts’ or taste-testers. Again an overwhelming number responded. Nine thousand in total, eventually whittled down to five. Those five people faced a momentous task, tasting all the snacks and explaining their preferences. In the end, fourteen suppliers nationwide, from Canterbury, Nelson and Hawke’s Bay to the eastern Bay of Plenty and Waikato, emerged as winners.

Let me just say, when I understood just how meticulous Air New Zealand is about snack selection, those chocolate dipped pretzels and almonds, tangy lemon meringue coated popcorn and cinnamon glazed macadamias and other delights tasted all the better.

Tantalising combo – sweet wine with delectable dessert. Photo by Columbia Hillen

Of course, snacks were just the kick-off to my onboard dining experience on Flight NZ7. Complete with elegant cutlery, mouth-watering starters arrived at my table including seared tuna with tapenade, prosciutto with pickled zucchini and sweetcorn and saffron soup. As for the mains, they featured a ‘superfood salad’ of kale, red rice, buckwheat and feta cheese; Alaskan cod pappardelle pasta with tomato cream, chilli sauce; slow-cooked beef short rib with Asiago cheese-filled gnocchi. Being a restaurant reviewer, I know well that the quality of breads is often the litmus test for the quality of a menu, Air New Zealand didn’t disappoint – presenting a fresh selection of sweet potato and turmeric rolls, black olive bread and garlic flatbread.

This high level of quality continued over breakfast next morning when I enjoyed refreshing cold-pressed pomegranate juice (though I could have chosen a mango smoothie) followed by a fresh fruit bowl and delicious eggs Benedict on brioche buns with the classic fillings of smoked salmon, spinach and Hollandaise sauce. 

Breakfast on Air New Zealand is well worth waking up for. Photo by Columbia Hillen

Other choices included Spanish-style scrambled eggs with fried potatoes and tomatillo salsa and seared chorizo; waffles with apple and cinnamon compote, blueberry sauce, sour cream and vanilla syrup and gourmet bagel with crispy bacon, fried egg, Swiss cheese, fresh lettuce and tomato with barbecue sauce. 

A different selection of toasted breads included mixed grain and pecan-raisin, as well as croissants. The only minor disappointment was the espresso machine not working but I was informed it was being retro-fitted. The coffee served, however, was a high-quality aromatic New Zealand ground variety.

Desserts didn’t disappoint my palette either. How could it when the offer was chocolate waffle cone ice-cream with toasted almond crumb and warm dark cherry and almond tart with vanilla sauce. There was also a fine selection of cheeses served with relish and crackers. 

Eggs Benedict. Photo by Columbia Hillen

As for onboard drinks, the list was diverse, ranging from Laurent-Perrier Brut NV champagne, New Zealand wines and a variety of beers and liquors such as Cognac, port and bourbon.

I was also impressed with the airline’s respect of New Zealand’s native language and traditions. As printed on its materials, the onboard menu is known as ‘rarangi kai’ in the Maori language and is inspired by ‘manaakitanga,’ the Maori tradition of hospitality and overall celebration of Aotearoa (New Zealand).

Aside from food, it’s also worth noting the high-quality toiletries offered by Air New Zealand onboard, inspired by Maori herbal remedies. My medical herbalist wife pointed out the skin cream and soothing balm made with local herbs such as harakeke, manuka and kawakawa produced by the Great Barrier Island based company, Aotea

Comfortable beds on Air New Zealand makes sleeping easy. Photo by Columbia Hillen


Preferring book-reading to television, I don’t tend to stay long on-screen but the diversity of movies offer offered by Air New Zealand left me hooked longer than I expected. Among those chosen by my companion and I were Oscar nominee ‘Past Lives,’ an intimate, thought-provoking story about relationships;  wild ride across the cosmos with the Marvel classic ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ and the futuristic Fantastic Beasts film series. I’m also grateful for the relaxing music choices which helped guide me softly to the land of nod.   

(l to r) Claire Monaghan, David Megson and Hyewon Lee work well as a team. Photo by Sean Hillen


As said in many conversations with general managers of luxury hotels I’ve reviewed, often it’s not the silk bed-sheets, the marble pillars or the infinity pools that make an experience memorable, but the friendliness of staff.

That being the case, I observed the attendants on flight NZ7 very closely. And I found them genuinely helpful, patient and friendly.

Take, for example, Hyewon Lee, 29. Born in South Korea, Hyewon has worked for Air New Zealand for more than a year and always seemed to have a smile on her face throughout my flight. At one point, I watched as she meticulously arranged the bed for an elderly client who needed help. Later, in conversation with her, I even learned a few words of Korean.

The same could be said of another flight attendant, Claire Monaghan, whose grandfather hails from Ireland. When my time came for turn-down and being tired and confused about which buttons to press for my bed, Claire patiently came to my rescue. Once the light went out, I slept soundly in what turned out to be a comfortable bed.

Even David, with what must have been a busy onboard workload, found time for a friendly conversation with me, his daughter being Sean like myself creating a warm rapport. 

Welcome to colorful Auckland Airport, New Zealand. Photo by Columbia Hillen


The quality of service I enjoyed on Air New Zealand should not be a surprise. After all, it has a vast amount of experience to get it just right. With more than 5,000 staff, the airline flies to over 260 destinations, both domestic and international. During the period between mid-December and mid-January when I traveled, it carried more than a million customers on its domestic network alone and another 700,000 customers to international destinations.

As a footnote, while uniforms worn by all Air New Zealand staff are splendid, reflecting the company’s fashion conscious outlook, new ones are on the way later this year, designed by Auckland-born Emilia Wickstead, whose creations are born out of her successful work in Milan, London and New York. 

Sean Hillen

During an international media career spanning several decades in Europe and the US, Sean Hillen has worked for many leading publications including The Wall Street Journal, The Times London, The Daily Telegraph, Time magazine and The Irish Times Dublin, as well as at the United Nations Media Center in New York. Sean's travel writing for and has taken him across A...(Read More)

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