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When it comes to travelling as a family with a son with a disability, the flight is probably the most crucial element for us to get right. BJ finds the time it takes, the confined space and lack of activity difficult.

We tend to be loyal customers to Qantas because we’ve always found their crews go out of their way to assist where possible and I guess we’ve always been nervous to venture beyond, just in case we don’t get the same level of service and consideration. But, our Have Wheelchair Will Travel community has always been positive in their comments about Air New Zealand and the assistance offered when travelling with a disability, so we decided to give it a go.


Air New Zealand


Booking our trip to New Zealand in peak season and not a long time in advance, we found Air New Zealand was the cheapest option for the days and times we were looking to travel. With a flying time of just over 3 hours we figured it wouldn’t be a disaster even if it wasn’t as good as we’d experienced in the past with other airlines. And let’s face it, when it comes to travel, any money saved is a bonus.


After three flights with Air New Zealand, we can’t rate them highly enough. It was an absolute pleasure flying with them and their staff are outstanding. We particularly appreciated the fact the staff were happy to go with our suggestions. They were accommodating as to what would be the most comfortable for us and despite it being the opposite to ‘normal’, they ran with it. For example, we prefer to board last or towards the end so BJ isn’t on the plane any longer than necessary. That wasn’t a problem.

That’s the short version of the review but for those wanting the nitty gritty, read on to find out why we loved our Air New Zealand experience.


It was obvious before we flew that we were in trouble with the usual luggage allowance of one 23kg bag of luggage per person. With equipment, repair kits, all manner of clothing for the variety of weather we expected, we knew we needed an additional bag. I phoned Air New Zealand and explained one bag would contain medical equipment (namely our portable toilet) and was there any way we could have an additional bag added to our allowance without charge. They needed further information regarding the equipment of course but once it was cleared by the medical team, we were good to go with the additional bag. This was a relief.


Self-check-in kiosks are not my friend. I understand they are efficient for the majority of the population but with additional needs and circumstances the kiosks just don’t beat a human for service. The kiosk wanted to charge us for the additional bag, but staff soon stepped in and everything was sorted. We then took the opportunity to chat about our seating needs. Due to BJ’s additional movement caused by his cerebral palsy we asked if the seat in front of him could be blocked (dependent on availability). This isn’t always possible but if it can happen it makes it more comfortable for him as it means no-one can recline which makes the already limited space around him even more confined. I’m sure it also assists in the comfort of passengers as it avoids BJ accidentally knocking their seat or pushing harder than usual on the in-flight entertainment screen. Air New Zealand happily blocked the row in front of us and moved us further forward on the flight, putting us in the second row. We were immediately happy travellers and new fans of the airline.


Air New Zealand access

At Queenstown Airport and Auckland Airport we were happy to test the Air New Zealand Ambilift. We’ve never been in one before and they are genius. So much more comfortable than the cherry picker lift.

Air New Zealand access

An additional benefit of the Ambilift is its size, which makes it more efficient being able to load multiple passengers with a mobility restriction at one time. In poor weather it also offers a dry experience compared to the open cherry picker.

Air New Zealand access

The Ambilift uses the door on the opposite side of the aircraft to where the passengers are loading via the stairs.


Air New Zealand access

We weren’t as fond of the loading process at Sydney Airport where we boarded a bus to transfer across the tarmac to be loaded via cherry picker on to the flight. The bus is wheelchair accessible and staff were amazing but it’s just another process added to the travel day and I’m all about streamlining and speed.

Sydney Airport ground staff somehow messed up and we were delayed on the tarmac with no cherry picker available for BJ. Given BJ can walk with assistance we chose not to delay the flight and walked him up the stairs. When we arrived in Queenstown the pilot came out to apologise for the situation in Sydney. We thought this was lovely because it was not the airline’s fault, it was the ground staff who had left us hanging.


Crew on board couldn’t have been more helpful, checking in with us during the flight (but not over the top), friendly and appropriate with their interactions with BJ.

Air New Zealand

The safety briefing is the best I’ve seen with a vibrant and funny approach which made me watch it on all three flights.  Not only was it amusing but it also included wheelchair users in an active way in one scene.

Food was good but be aware it isn’t automatically included in your fare. Check when booking if you’d like it included as “the works”. If you don’t have food included and wish to purchase food on the flight, cash isn’t accepted. You can order from the menu using the in-flight entertainment system and with your credit card. Hubby recommends the chicken and brie sandwich.

I’m not usually a fan of airline food but Air New Zealand had good food. Be aware if you are putting in a meal request for a child who is a vegetarian, request a vegetarian meal, not a child’s meal. We overheard one family’s issue when their child received a child’s meal which wasn’t vegetarian. See, being nosey can be informative!


Air New Zealand

We were lucky to score bulk-head seats on the return trip to Sydney. For us, this is the dream seating. These seats can only be used by a person with a disability if they are NOT in an exit row. Our general tip is to always check-in for your flight a minimum of three hours in advance for an international flight. This will give you the best chance of changing seating and putting in special requests.


Air New Zealand

While on board I took the opportunity to check out the Skycouch seats. The crew happily took the time to give me a demonstration of how the seats work. Air New Zealand continue to win awards for this design, and I can imagine it may help make travel more comfortable for many.

The seats are regular economy seats with a footrest which locks into place making a solid base. Each seat operates individually so as an example, if you are travelling with a child who needs to lie down, they could lie across two of the seats with the footrest locked into position but you could remain seated as normal. Or, you could have the whole row and lie together across the seats. Take a look at the Air New Zealand site for photos of people using them to get a good idea of how they work.


New Zealand access

One of the biggest concerns with air travel is whether the wheelchair will be at the plane door to meet us, avoiding the dreaded airline chairs and will it be damaged in any way. I can report BJ’s wheelchair met us at the door on each flight in a timely manner and there was no damage.


Eagle Lifter

Air New Zealand offers the Eagle 2 lifting service for domestic and international jet services only, from Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin airports. With suitable advance notice they will do all possible to access an Eagle lift from ground handlers in Sydney and Melbourne.

Due to the layout of the Business Premier cabin the Eagle 2 is not able to be used, however on flights to/from the US Air New Zealand staff are able to perform a transfer using specially designed slide board, slide belts and a slide sheet. You can read more about this service here.

Torso harness

All Air New Zealand aircraft are equipped with a special torso harness to provide additional support and restraint in the aircraft seat. This needs to be requested at the time of booking and on board the aircraft. Due to FAA regulations passengers requiring a torso harness for support are unable to be accommodated in Business Premier or in Premium Economy Spaceseats due to the harness interfering with the in-seat airbag. You can read more about it here.

Travel with a wheelchair

Air New Zealand prefer written instructions regarding your wheelchair as they understand they are uniquely designed. They want to ensure they can pack, stow and reassemble your wheelchair as quickly as possible. You can read more about travelling with a wheelchair on Air New Zealand here.


We would definitely fly with Air New Zealand again. If they had A380 aircraft with the larger accessible toilet we would also use them for long-haul flights. Until then, we won’t hesitate to use them on shorter flights.

This is not a sponsored post, we paid in full for our flights and at no time did the airline, crew or reservations staff know we have a website. Air New Zealand just offer awesome service!

We’d love to hear your positive airline experiences if you’ve had one.



  1. I had a wonderful experience flying home from NZ on Air New Zealand. They had the thing that I’ve been dreaming about for years – an adjustable height aisle chair!
    We landed and waited, as usual, till everyone else had disembarked and then came the time I dread on every flight, transferring upwards from my seat to a higher aisle chair, then transferring upwards again from the aisle chair to my higher-than-usual wheelchair. This process is usually exhausting and embarrassing, but the staff that arrived with the aisle chair saw me starting to struggle and, to my surprise and delight, asked me if I’d like them to lower it so that I could transfer downwards. When we got to my wheelchair, they simply pumped it up higher using a foot pedal, allowing me to transfer downwards to my wheelchair.
    Why is this not the standard for all aisle chairs on every airline? If it was, I’d fly far more than I do now!

    • That’s so good to hear Phil and I agree, it doesn’t seem hard if the chair is available with one airline, why not others?

      Thanks for sharing your experience.


  2. Ros and I had a miscarriage between Sydney and Auckland on an LA flight. Air New Zealand were our carrier. The response from in flight and on ground crew was phenomenal . Timely, sensitive, incredibly helpful. This was a long time ago. A recent flight to Christchurch left me with the same feeling. I would have absolutely no hesitation in recommending air New Zealand

  3. We flew with Air New Zealand last month to LA via Auckland. Exceptional service by all the staff they were very accommodating of our needs for our seven year old with CP but I agree the small size of there bathrooms will become a issue for us as he gets older and bigger.

  4. i’m a 60’y/o kiwi with athetoid cp, and i also use a wheelchair.
    i live in invercargill (at the bottom of the south island) and fly with air nz (DOMESTIC) 3-5 times a year, mostly for meetings in wellington.
    fling into wellington airport isn’t always an easy landing, as it’s often windy – That’s when the TORSO-harness comes in extremely hardy.
    I’ve always found Air NZ staff extremely PROFESSIONAL, friendly and always go the extra mile for disabled TRAVELERS.

    the Only issue i have is air nz only uses the smaller atr’s out of invercargill airport now – so not as much room to board on their isale chairs, plus the seats are far more cramped, than the larger q300’s that they only use in the more populated cities.

    • Hi Tim

      Air NZ doesn’t have an accessible toilet. I have come across a larger toilet on some Virgin Australia international fights and on the Qantas A380 flights.


  5. Thanks so much for sharing, this post was incredibly reassuring and very helpful. I know it’s an older post but I am planning on flying with air New Zealand San Fran to Auckland in May, and it will be my first time traveling Internationally and my first time traveling with my wheelchair as it’s a very new addition to my life. I feel much less anxious to fly with air New Zealand and more confident in asking for assistance as needed after reading through this post so thank you!


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