Since I was a kid I have loved airplanes and flying. Not that I can fly myself – just that I have enjoyed the experience of jetting between countries inside of some of the greatest engineering feats human beings have achieved. My father worked for Air New Zealand for many years and I collect memorabilia of our national carrier. I’m what you may describe as an airplane geek.

So when it came to booking tickets for a trip to London recently, it was a no brainer to ensure that I would book part of the trip with Air New Zealand. I would be flying on a plane I had never been in before – the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner – and visiting an airport in a country I had never been before – Shanghai, China. These two things were as exciting to me as the prospect of spending time in London and catching up with family and friends.

Air New Zealand has always done well in international reviews for customer service and the overall experience it offers those that fly with it. I used to love the hot hand towels and the glasses of fresh orange juice that would be offered when you got onboard. The food has always been relatively good, the service kind and attentive. Overall if I were to choose to fly any airline it would be Air New Zealand. I’ve travelled thousands of miles with them since I was five years old. After the experience of my latest trip with them and comparison with another carrier, I’m not so sure I will make our national airline a choice in future.

“However, this was the first time I have been on an airplane where I felt that the passengers were an annoyance to the crew.”

Personally, the attention to passenger experience on my flight was completely lacking – made even worse by the robotic and cold attitude of the cabin crew. I understand the years of the magic of travel have dissipated. I fully comprehend that certain levels of service are not cost-effective. I also appreciate that cabin crew, like all of us, can have off days. However, this was the first time I have been on an airplane where I felt that the passengers were an annoyance to the crew. Without sounding like a customer is always right type, I do think it’s reasonable to expect a certain level of politeness to requests that are totally fair.

I’ve never complained about airline food – perhaps because my father was a chef who worked for Air New Zealand for many years, and I worked in the flight kitchens for a few summers when I was at university. I know how much work and attention to detail goes into preparing meals. Airline food is generally fantastic and breaks up the tedium of many hours sitting in rather uncomfortable seats that make sleep challenging, if not impossible. I had no issues with the food I was served but I could not believe what was offered up to my daughter as vegetarian food. It was unappealing, unappetising, badly considered and prepared. I was shocked that it had actually been served up at all. I looked at the the on-screen option to order food and drinks. It was unavailable for the whole 12 hours we were in the air.

“Their cabin crew behaved as if they loved what they did and nothing was too much for the passengers they served.”

All of this would not have been quite so bad if I hadn’t had something to compare it to so soon after. The leg from Shanghai to London was with Virgin Atlantic. I had never flown them before and they were absolutely amazing. Their cabin crew performed their duties as if they loved what they did and nothing was too much for the passengers they served. Their meals were incredible – what my daughter was served as vegetarian options were stunning. She was so happy to finally have something good to eat after her experience with Air New Zealand. I would not hesitate to fly with them again and I would recommend them unreservedly to anyone.

I think it’s sad to see a company slip in ways that are so simple to remedy. From my experience on this trip, Air New Zealand is just another average airline that did nothing special and offered no point of difference. In fact, it was Virgin Atlantic that did all of that, in spades – orange juice, sandwiches – even hot towels! Brand loyalty works only as long as the brand maintains the things that it does that made it a choice in the first place. I have been a fan of Air New Zealand for over 40 years and it is no longer a brand that I feel any particular loyalty to. I will be using their services on the trip back from Shanghai to Auckland. Maybe my experience was an aberration, I hope so, but I doubt it.