I decided that it would be wise to cash in my orphan UA miles to avoid any repeat of the Global Rewards saga, and with hindsight it appears to have been a wise move.
The routing on the UA points was to be SYD-CHC-AKL-PPT-RAR-AKL-SYD. I decided that 7500 NZ miles for a CHC-WLG return was also too good to resist so I booked a little 3 hr turn up to Wellington for the afternoon of my arrival into Christchurch. All pretty straightforward, or so I thought!
02/12 SYD-CHC NZ182
Today finally provided the opportunity to utilize my LH Senator (star gold) status. Business class checkin was a nice perk, and after a brief stop at the moneychangers to procure some south pacific francs I was sat in the NZ lounge enjoying breakfast. I must say that this lounge is fantastic – not only are the views of the airport superb, but the food and amenities are wonderful. I was more than pleased to see ZK-NBB roll in from AKL, as it was the only NZ 762 I had yet to fly on.
The Purser came up to the lounge and made a brief announcement to the order that if we had any questions for him he would be about for the next 15 minutes and we were more than welcome to go and see him. I thought this was a very nice touch – it immediately set him apart from the pursers who simply couldn’t be stuffed providing any customer service.
Anyway, I waited till a boarding call was made in the lounge before pottering down to the gate to board. Thankfully most people had already found their seats and it wasn’t long before we were underway.
As soon as the seatbelt sign been turned off, the crew swung into action. Firstly they came around with little tubs of orange juice. The ones that one used to routinely get before takeoff on domestic services. Then they came round with NZ landing cards and menus for the flight across the Tasman. I nearly died – a menu on a 3 hr service in economy!
I took the hot breakfast, which was a very tasty bacon and egg thing in pastry, which was washed down with apple juices obtained from the two rounds of the drinks trolley. The drinks trolley would later make a repeat appearance prior to landing.
Once in CHC I popped over to the domestic terminal to checkin for the afternoon pop up to Wellington, and then called the airport hotel to come and collect me. I then popped over there – checked in, ditched my bag and came back for my flight to WLG.
NZ5094 ZN-MCJ ATR72-500
Having some time to spare, I decided to avail myself of the CHC Koru club facility. It isn’t as good as some of the other NZ lounges but it is far from the worst lounge I have been in.
The flight was delayed some 10 minutes due to ATC in WLG – which turned out to be a series of medical flights, which were monopolizing the single runway. The new domestic express idea is perfect for NZ domestics. The crew comes round with a plastic coffee cup, which has a cookie, some sugar and milk in it. After a quick tea and coffee service they come round to either collect the cups or hand out little plastic bags so as that the few drops of coffee don’t dribble in your bag should you wish to keep your cup.
We had to hold over the bay for a while due to the backlog of flights waiting to get in – we were at least number 5 in the pattern, behind 2 737’s a Saab340 and another ATR. The approach wasn’t too bumpy and it wasn’t long before I was sitting in the WLG Koru club enjoying some food. The dinner offerings in the Koru club are fantastic. There was some Asian chicken with noodles, some rice thing, and a salad. I sat by the window watching the low cloud rolling in. It wasn’t long before I realized that this fog might pose a slight problem to me getting back to CHC so I quickly made my way over to the desk to see about getting myself on an earlier flight. The ladies behind the desk were working at a frantic pace to try and switch all the status/koru club members who were present and accounted for across to earlier flights, as they knew that the fog was going to pose a problem.
I was swapped onto an earlier flight – but it was the first aircraft unable to get in due to the fog – so here I was stuck in Wellington in the middle of summer in the thickest fog I have seen since my last British Winter! The Mortimer factor had struck yet again – Mr Chittock would have been proud.
After getting myself rebooked onto the first flight to CHC of the morning (the 8:30 service – they canned the two earlier ones presumably because the aircraft which were operating them had either diverted to PMR or their origin) I headed off to find some accommodation. Found a cheapish motel not far from the airport (99 bucks a night) and waited an eternity for a taxi at the airport.
After pondering my options with regards to getting back to CHC to get my bag and then getting up to AKL to get my flight to Tahiti, I thought the best course of action would be to now call Air NZ and see what the go was. Of all the people to answer the phone – it had to be my mate who works in reservations! A plan was devised that would see everything go off without a hitch if the fog cleared by 9:30ish.
Get up at 5am to get to the airport bright and early to have a look out the window and see nothing. Yes of course the fog is just as thick as it was last night. After a long search I finally get a taxi down to the airport, to realize that the two late night SYD flights (NZ and PW) had got in and were on their way out again – but nothing else had got in, so unless the fog cleared sharpish it was going to be very unlikely that I was going to get on the flight to PPT that afternoon.
Sat there wondering what was going to happen… then a complete stranger (well almost) saved my holiday. The man who had sat next to me in the Koru club the night before when it started to get busy needed to be in AKL for a meeting at 2pm, and was going to drive to Palmerston North from where NZ had booked him on a service to AKL. I promptly went and got changed onto this flight and the lady at the Koru club orgainsed for my bag to be freighted up on a CHC-AKL service so as that I could get on the PPT service leaving at 5pm.
He picked up two other people and off we went in a rented Mazda 626 up to PMR. I could hardly believe my luck really – such generosity is really humbling… after a 2-hour drive to PMR it was time to checkin.
03/12 PMR-AKL NZ8334
Once checked in I went up to the Koru Club – which was packed. It seems a few others had got the idea and also driven up. There was a Saab340 sat on the apron, which I was quite pleased with, as I had never flown on a Saab340 before. Didn’t bother with the food and drinks… it wasn’t really long before boarding was called.
I gave my little question sheet to the FA at the door and took my window seat; 7A. The express service followed and I got a transparent green coloured cup this time round, after the plastic bags had been distributed, I got cracking on reading the Dominion Post as there was only a nice cloud layer to look at. Got bored with that and started tackling the crossword. This was interrupted by the FA who said “the captain has asked you up to the cockpit, so if you would like to follow me”
I walked past the people in the people in the 6 rows before me and nobody blinked an eyelid as I walked into the cockpit. This was my first in-flight visit since May 2001, and I was in a state of shock. I shook the crews hands and then nearly passed out when the captain said, “Step forward, mind your head and pull that seat down behind you. The seatbelt is on your left.” Gee Whiz – it was my lucky day … a jumpseat landing, and I didn’t have to ask!
We were cleared via the roller-coaster (the left turn for a 4mi final to 23L takes place right over a roller-coaster) and touchdown was smack on the centerline (the FO couldn’t have missed it as he had accused the preceding Seneca of not being able to hold the centerline) and it wasn’t long before we were shutdown at the bay, and I pinched myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.
I was last off – and after thanking the crew I went to Baggage Services to see about my bag. Sure enough it was waiting for me, and I was soon at the bus stop waiting for the bus over to the international terminal.
Once there I utilized the Business Class/Star Gold checkin – which takes place in a very swish little side room. I was told by the lady before me in the queue (she was the only one in the queue) that this was the Business class checkin and not for the likes of me. After putting her in her place I was called over to the counter. A window seat with a blocked seat next to it was allocated through to PPT and I paid the departure tax using my visa card (cant miss out on those extra 20 Frequent Flyer Points now can we?!) and utilized the private entrance up through passport control to security. Basically there is a passport officer at the bottom of the escalators and at the top of the escalators is the priority access queue to the security checkpoint. I was in the lounge in no time. I decided that I was in need of a shower and a change of clothes so utilized the fantastic shower facilities – mind the strawberry smelling conditioner really doesn’t suit my style J… then had my phone charged and proceeded to get some food and drink from the buffet. This lounge was on par with the SYD and WLG examples. The Purser made an appearance in the lounge, but this time came round and personally introduced himself to all the PPT bound PAX. Nice touch.
I left the lounge a little early to go and have a potter through the duty free stores – prices were on par with SYD so didn’t buy anything as it would mean lugging it all over the south pacific. Then pottered over to the departure gate to be greeted by none other than ZK-NBB. Oh well twice in two days is better than never at all.
03/12 NZ68 AKL-PPT
Flight across to PPT was pretty uneventful, food was of the usual Air NZ standard, and the drinks service, whilst not as frequent as the SYD-CHC the day before was more frequent than the service on other airlines.
Overall not really much to report from this flight. The Terminal in Faaa is really interesting – its open air with chickens, crabs and cockroaches walking about – not really very pleasant to be honest.
Papeete was very disappointing. In fact I really didn’t like it – it is overrated and overpriced. People are rude unless you speak fairly decent French. My French is not brilliant, but it is far from non-existent and people were just plain rude to me. After flying back from Moorea I managed to work out the local transport system – which is a flat bed truck basically, and you just jump in the back and pay when you get off. Feeling quite chuffed with myself as it was one twentieth the price I decided that it would be a nice gesture to give the driver a tip. So I gave her CPF 200 rather than 130, smiled said thank you and waved as if to gesture that change wasn’t required – she just looked at me with utter distain, blew smoke in my face and drove off. Now boy was I glad I did that. Whilst that was the worst experience it wasn’t the only one.
I took the boat over to Moorea one morning, and after being told by the official tourist information office in downtown PPT that they were unable to book a 4x4 tour of Moorea and if I wanted to do one I would have to sort it out on the island, I was naturally a little annoyed when I get there – only to find out that a booking is required the day before. So I just took the public bus around the island and got off at the airport and bought a ticket for a flight back to PPT on Air Moorea.
4/12/02 VT1115 MOZ-PPT
This aircraft was in an all white livery with the registration printed on the lower half of the fuselage behind the cockpit. Naturally there isn’t a lot to report from this flight considering the total block time was a mere 7 minutes and 51 seconds.
I got to the airport rather early for this flight – like 6 hours early. My late checkout from the god-awful hotel room was 9pm and with nothing to do before the flight, which was due, to leave at 3:45am I decided that the airport was the best place to go. Well it was probably the lesser of two evils – downtown PPT is not very pleasant and the airport is slightly less so. I was glad when checkin finally opened, as I was able to ditch my bag and make my way to the Air NZ business class lounge.
The lounge was great – lots of French cheese and crackers to munch on, and a wide variety of drinks to flush them down with. It was about an hour before the airport lights came on, the fire trucks left their hanger and waited on the apron and ZK-NCL emerged out of the darkness inbound from LAX.
After a fairly quick turnaround I was on my way to the Cook Islands. Breakfast consisted of a chicken and cheese filled croissant, with the usual selection of bits and pieces. From both laps of the drinks trolley I procured some Californian orange juice. Was quite nice actually. I have a funny feeling the meals may have been loaded in LAX rather than PPT but I can’t be sure about that.
It wasn’t long before we were on decent to RAR just as it was getting light. Well it certainly did look very scenic from the air. It is basically a shield volcano covered in jungle, in the middle of the ocean surrounded by reefs.
I must say that I really did enjoy the Cook Islands – it was a third of the price of PPT, the people were so much friendlier and it was far more scenic. I think my point about the friendliness of the people can be summed up when I was looking for this internet café – I knew it was close but wasn’t quite sure exactly where it was. So I stopped walked and had a look around – right out of the blue, a man up a ladder who was fixing a sign, asked if he could help me and then proceeded to give me directions. Rarotonga is just that sought of place – it has just got such a friendly and relaxed atmosphere about it. The circle island bus doesn’t run between 8 and 9 pm as the driver is having his dinner for example.
Rarotonga comes highly recommended by myself – if you are keen on going somewhere for a relaxing holiday then this is just the ticket, plus it isn’t going to cost the earth – my self contained apartment, 10 meters walk from the beach was NZD80 a night, and pizza and beer at a restaurant down on the waterfront in the center of town will set you back NZD20.
I was sad to have to leave early and in such a rush. On my second day I went on a 4x4 safari tour – which is basically a tour of the island on the back of a land rover – the tour from the top of some of the ridges is fantastic. Anyway at about 5pm I was dropped back at my accommodation and pottered over to the internet café to check the emails. As it turns out 2 helicopters spent an hour water bombing 2 of the next-door neighbours properties. So I quickly checked the schedules to see if there was a flight out that night – and there was … so hurried back to the room to call Air NZ and see if I could get on it – being the cook islands they closed at 4:30 – so I decided that the best course of action would be to pack my stuff up and get down to the airport and see what I could do.
So at 10 to 6 I was standing waiting for the circle Island bus to take me to the airport. It rolled up at about a quarter to 7 – and I was at the airport just before 8. The lady at the ticketing counter was really good – she swapped my X class ticket paid for using UA miles without any quibble; I was expecting to have to pay a substantial amount to get home that evening – but after a few minutes of tapping away on the computer she had put me on that evenings flight to AKL via NAN and the first flight of the day out of AKL the next morning.
After an hour sitting in the Air NZ lounge I popped my head out the door to see that ZK-NGF had handed. It was in the new express config – which meant no C class and a tight pitch. Well supposedly … there was no C class, but the pitch was far from tight – in fact it was possibly the best Y class pitch I have ever had on a 737. It had to have been at least 33 inches possibly 34, which is more than most airlines have on their longhaul aircraft. The flight was 3 and a half hours long – so the generous seat pitch and the fact that I had 3 seats to myself made it rather comfortable.
The crew were really good on this flight – I got a shock when one of the F/A’s came up to me and asked if I was on a flight to Christchurch last week – it’s a small world – she was working on that flight and remembered me! Plus she said I was the only status member on the flight – and they don’t usually get many LH*Golds on Air NZ anyway. The choice of meal wasn’t the usual chicken or beef option – but chicken or lamb. I took the lamb and it was a damn good choice. 3 lamb fillets stuffed with stuffing covered in gravy, together with beans and potato wedges. This was by far and away the best airline meal I have ever had on any carrier in any class of service. It was washed down with a couple of apple juices and a New Zealand red wine.
I didn’t bother with the movie (Goldmember) as I’m not really a fan of such humour, so instead read the in-flight magazine, which had a couple of somewhat interesting articles in it, together with its fair share of ads.
Eventually we got to NAN and I was one of 3 transit PAX continuing onto AKL. I made a beeline for the NZ lounge, which was better than the RAR one, and on par with the PPT one. Before boarding I indulged in a spot of duty free – a t-shirt for my brother and made my way back to seat 4F. I had two seat-mates this time – a NZ couple who were keen to see the back of me when the Purser moved me up to 1F so as that I would have a little bit more room.
The meal choice this time was a vegetable curry or a chicken thing. I took the chicken, and it was a little bit fatty to be honest. I just picked at the vegetables and the salad and dessert. The movie was XXX – my kind of movie really … plenty of action. I missed the last half hour or so as I was far too tired to concentrate and had dozed off. When I came too again, the Purser asked me if I could fill out a survey form, being one of their most frequent customers management would really appreciate my feedback, was the way in which she phrased it. I was and am only too happy to give my opinion regarding airline service. I wish more airlines would distribute such forms. There were 20 or so pages, ranging from everything to do the crew address me by name, to how important I thought personal televisions in every seat were. There was also a section where they asked me to compare NZ to another carrier, which I have flown recently. Space was provided at the end for other comments I may have, and I stated that the extra amenities available to PAX, such as the menus and extra rounds of drinks, whilst they must be costly for the airline are very much appreciated from the PAX point of view. I also mentioned that I would love to see fares to LHR offered ex SYD and that I would gladly pay extra to connect in either AKL or LAX en route to LHR in order to fly on NZ.
We were a good half hour early into AKL, which was good as I had a connection to make and it gave me time to have a shower in the lounge. On my way to the lounge I noticed that ZK-NBB was sitting at the gate waiting to operate the morning service to Sydney. 3 times in a week – this must be the Mortimer factor at work again.
I waited till the boarding was announced in the lounge – which meant that most were on board by the time I got there. I fell asleep moments after we pushed back and woke some 30 minutes later as we were thundering down 23L.
Menus and landing cards were distributed – the hot option was an egg and mushroom tart, with some muesli, yoghurt, fruit and juice. All washed down with 2 apple juices obtained from subsequent laps of the cart.
The movie was Goldmember again – gave that a miss again, and instead caught up on some sleep. They came around with jugs of water and juice at least twice after the meals had been cleared away – which was a nice touch.
The smoke was quite thick about 100mi off the coast, so my thoughts immediately turned to getting home asap – and how I was going to manage that – my family had no idea I was on my way back, and as far as I knew most of the roads were closed to local traffic only, which would mean negotiating with a police officer if I caught a cab.
Anyway – nice smooth landing on 34L and it wasn’t long before we were at the terminal. After nearly dying at the price of chocolate in the duty free store (Woolworths is cheaper!) I passed through immigration and my bag was third off courtesy of the priority tag. It wasn’t long before I was on the train…
Well if you have got this far, thanks for your interest.