Aircraft: Boeing 767-200, ZK-NBB
Departure time: 1800
Departure gate: 57
Sector: SYD AKL
Sydney Airport was fairly quiet as I made my way from the rental car drop-off point up to the departures level, where passengers checking in for Air New Zealand flights in zone J were next to nothing. One of the Business Class counters was just opening, and the agent cheerfully informed me that it would be just a tick before her terminal was fully operational. After that, the check-in process was painless, the agent was delightfully pleasant and after she confirmed with me that I knew my way to the lounge, I was on my way with a minimum of fuss.
The special Air New Zealand First & Business Class immigration counter was open and the Australian Customs Officer dealt with the appropriate documentation swiftly and courteously. Minor spiel about Australia (and New Zealand) arrival and departure documentation: I have never understood why it is necessary for Australian and New Zealand residents to fill out documentation every time they leave and arrive into their own country. Most countries require arrival card completion only for visitors, and the departure card is normally a counterfoil or stub which is attached to the original arrival card. I can think of nothing worse than having to stand and fill out a silly piece of paper, of which the majority of information is stored on your passport, prior to departure. Perhaps someone can enlighten me why the New Zealand Customs Service requires me to write my name, date and place of birth, and other things equally as ridiculous when it is all right there on the passport they scan into the system?
Anyway, moving right along, the security checkpoint was well staffed with two stations open to process the trickle of passengers. I noted that there were large signs up asking passengers to remove their laptop computers from their bags for screening separately. Is this because when a computer goes through an X-ray it appears as a bundle of microchips and so staff have to visually confirm it is a computer? I would be interested to know the answer, if anyone can provide it.
I made my way down the Terminal South concourse to the Air New Zealand lounge, which is located on the mezzanine level of the terminal building and the furthest walk of all the lounges. I was greeted with a smile by the agent on duty, who scanned my boarding pass and handed it back to me, informing me that a boarding call would be made when the flight was ready for boarding.
The Air NZ lounge complex in Sydney is very spacious, with a gorgeous view over the runways and a bit of the terminal buildings. A few passengers were waiting for the Lauda/Austrian call, but I managed to find a window seat. Armed with a glass of water and a roast beef roll, I settled back to enjoy the view – highlights including two BA 747-400s and the CX A340-600 taking off.
Reading material was interesting, as there were copies of Emirates and Korean Air inflight magazines available for perusal. Plasma televisions scattered across the lounge were tuned to CNN, and I counted three or four computer workstations with Internet access (which I doubt was broadband as they seemed impossibly slow). There was even a Family Room in the lounge with play equipment, which a couple of families with young children were taking advantage of. This was much appreciated by the other passengers!
A boarding call was made for the Lauda flight, and the lounge emptied out again a bit. I watched as our flight from Auckland touched down and taxied into gate 57, followed soon after by an Air NZ 737 (ZK-NGB) who landed on the cross-runway and swung practically immediately into gate 60, where it was forced to stop short of the gate for about 5 minutes. After it rolled in, it was fun watching the airbridge manoeuvre into position, as not only did it have to go lower to accommodate the 737, it also had to swing and adjust numerous times to get the position right.
NZ106 was called at about twenty-five past five, and I, along with most of the other passengers, made our way down to gate 57. The boarding call had also included a request to have our passports ready for inspection. Queues at gate 57 were non-existent, with two processing stations in play. A security officer checked our passports against our boarding passes before giving the passenger back the passport and handing the boarding pass straight to the agent who processed it through the machine.
Gate 57 is the right hand side of the fixed link ramp it shares with 55 (with arrivals for both gates down the middle). CSD Brian was on hand at the door to greet passengers and direct them to their seats as they came down the airbridge. The loads for Business Class turned out to be reasonable for Air NZ, and spacious for the passengers – a family of four took up 1ABEF (two young girls who were actually pretty well behaved), another family of four took up 2AB/3AB (again with two young girls who were again pretty well behaved), a couple in 1JK and a scattering of people in the other seats, with 2EF/3EF empty.
I was in 3J, so I had both 3K and the two seats across the aisle from me, 3EF, empty, which was very nice. It was surprising to find the international business class seats installed on NBB, as I thought that the 767-200s had the old seats.
Preflight drinks were offered by one of the flight attendants (water, orange juice, champagne) and these were brought out directly from the galley along with a paper napkin. All seats had a pillow and plenty of blankets were stored up in the overhead compartments. The seat pocket contained the usual inflight mag, skyshop guide, entertainment guide, sick bag and safety card.
Fairly light loads and efficient boarding procedures meant that NBB was able to push back fifteen minutes ahead of schedule at 1745. The safety video played, CSD Brian babbled for a few minutes about the strangest things (this is the first flight where I have been informed about the location of the toilets) and we were soon beginning our 2h 40m journey down to Auckland.
The seatbelt sign was turned off and the crew began their service, distributing menus (which had a ‘Zest’ theme) and taking drink orders. The drinks were served with a packet of cassava crisps, which were an excellent snack item and a welcome change from the traditional nuts. During this, the CSD came by with arrival documentation for New Zealand and a health notice on SARS.
The inflight entertainment cycle also commenced quite quickly, probably to fit in the longer movies. There were about five or six movies to choose from, ranging from ‘Two Weeks Notice’ to movies like ‘Lord of the Rings 2’ and ‘Analyze That’. Headphones were already provided in the inset storage compartment.
Shortly after the remnants of the crisps packets were cleared away, crew began laying tablecloths for dinner. Due to Easter, the trays all had a Cadbury’s Easter egg on it, as well as a small bag with two chocolates inside. The traditional blue napkin with a red ribbon had been replaced with a red napkin with blue ribbon; and the stainless steel cutlery was definitely appreciated in lieu of the plastic knife!
Marinated king prawns
with peppers and roasted artichokes, dill mayonnaise
Pan seared chicken thigh
with creamed mushroom sauce, wilted spinach and new parsley potatoes
Braised blue cod
with Cantonese seafood sauce, stir-fried vegetables and emerald rice
Chilled peppered venison*
served rare, with sweet potato and pumpkin salad, and radicchio lettuce and orange salad
Gourmet ice cream
Cheese and fruit
Fine regional cheese and preserved fruit
Freshly brewed or decaffeinated coffee, tea, herbal tea and hot chocolate
Artificial sweetener available
* Light choice – an easily digestible, lower fat alternative
The trays were already preplated with the cheese and fruit, and the appetiser. The hot bread basket was offered, with a choice between a herb roll and garlic bread. A small packet of Anchor spreadable butter was on the tray.
Flight attendants then came by to take orders for the dinner, which were then served direct from the galley. Air NZ serve their hot entrees in round dishes, rather than the long flat ones favoured by many airlines. As such, the gripping tongs can’t be used and flight crew serve them by holding a napkin round the edge of the dish, to prevent burning. I chose the fish, which was delicious and filling, and if any of you are wondering what emerald rice was, it appeared to be simply fried rice with peas. Water and wine were offered with the meal.
The dirty dishes were cleared away and then the dessert cart rolled out, with frosted blue bowls of ice cream, which turned out to be two generous scoops of vanilla and a fruit (kiwi/pineapple) topping. After the ice cream, the crew came by with the tea and coffee cart, and offered wrapped mint chocolates around. Once everyone had been served, the crew would sweep through the cabin every ten or fifteen minutes, picking up tablecloths and napkins.
Shortly before arrival in Auckland, a video about the region screened and one of the young girls in row 1 was picked by the flight attendant to hand the landing sweets around – a time honoured Air New Zealand tradition I’m glad to see they’re continuing. After a bit of training from the f/a hovering behind her, the little lady soon got the knack of it and by the time she returned from doing the right-hand aisle all the way down to the back of the plane, she had a large plastic bag from the f/a which was packed with leftover lollies from top to bottom. Something I’m sure the young child appreciated, but the parents might necessarily not!
The captain came on to advise of our anticipated arrival time and the weather, as we began our descent into Auckland. Due to a short flying time and our early pushback, we touched down half an hour early in wet conditions, and taxied over to a deserted international terminal. Arrival gate was 4, and as we waited for the airbridge to connect, I chatted with the crew members. The door opened, CSD Brian proudly proclaimed our early arrival to the ground staff, thanks and goodbyes were exchanged between crew and passengers, and it was into the AKL Ghost town. I frightened the duty free staff who had been taking a rest by strolling right past them (causing them to lunge immediately for their stations in the shops). Immigration was empty; the agent on duty in the Express lane looked like he was about to fall asleep. The bags came out on to the reclaim belt in a reasonable timeframe, although it seemed half the luggage from our flight was tagged with Priority labels. Quarantine was no problem. All in all, 15 minutes from gate to exit – if only AKL could be like this all the time.
Summary and Scorecard
(Scores in each category are marked out of a different total, to ensure there is more of a balanced weighting according to the experience inflight.)
Business Class Seat and Product (20)
I found the Air NZ seat very comfortable for a short haul flight. Legroom and recline were excellent, and would be satisfactory for a long haul service (although nowhere near the flatbeds). The only minor niggle is that the PTV kept falling over and whacking me on the shin if I even nudged it with my knee or hand (3K also had this problem after I moved over), and that a side-shoulder reading light would be welcome. Otherwise, the seat was superb for a 3-hour flight, surpassing many regional business class seats on other airlines.
Inflight Entertainment (20)
There were about eight or nine movies, of which about four were new releases, two were classics and the other two were the made-for-TV type. For a three hour flight, the selection was excellent and the quality of the PTV was good as well, with colour and brightness being able to be adjusted. What would have made it perfect was AVOD, but I suppose that is asking way too much for a short-haul flight!
Ground Service and Lounge (15)
Every NZ agent at Sydney (from check-in to the lounge) was wonderful, and I liked the priority counter at immigration. The Sydney lounge is well-designed, with spacious seating arrangements, gorgeous views and large bathrooms. The separate glassed off business centre and family room were welcome features. Catering was lacking a bit – cold cut rolls and sandwiches, cake and assorted cold cuts were on offer, but something warm would have been nice. Additional marks for the early departure.
Service and Cabin Attendants (25)
The flight attendants on this flight were really good. While they may not have the elegance of those on some of the Asian carriers, the service they offered to passengers was top-notch. It’s hard to describe, but the feeling I got from the flight was that they were genuinely interested in passengers, and willing to offer good service. I walked away from this flight with absolutely no complaints about crew efficiency or service, and I really think that speaks for itself. One aspect of crew I would like Air NZ to change is their uniform – especially that hat the ladies wear.
The appetiser of prawns was nice, as well as the hot bread basket. The entrée was served piping hot and was also of a decent size, meaning that one didn’t go hungry on this service. A separate dessert and tea/coffee service was appreciated, as was the effort Air NZ made to present their meal in an attractive way – little things like wrapping the napkin in a ribbon, chocolate eggs at Easter time, putting the ice cream into nice bowls and even having chocolate mints on hand to go with the tea and coffee.
This flight earns Air New Zealand a mark of 94 out of a possible 100, and was one of the best flights I have taken in a regional Business Class product for some time. Air NZ can hold its head up high in the trans-Tasman market – I firmly believe that this regional J class product is among, if not, the best that can be found anywhere.