July 7, 2001
Thai Airways TG991
Photo © Frank Schaefer
From Sydney I continued to Auckland. TG 991 was chosen purely because of the equipment, this was my first flight on a Boeing 777-300. I stayed at the airport Hilton and took the 5 AM shuttle to make it on time for my 7:25 departure. Check-in was handled by Qantas and a rather unfriendly lady even wanted to check the weight of my cabin baggage - it was almost two pounds too heavy!! So I had no choice but to check it in. Window seat 73K from the very back was given to me. I went through immigration and made my way to gate 60 to witness HS-TKC just arriving from Bangkok.
After that I walked around a bit and used the rest of my Australian money. An Air New Zealand B747-400 was sitting next to my Thai plane, bound for LAX as NZ14. I took a seat at gate 60 and saw my crew arriving - it was quite a sight. We didn't start boarding until around 7:30 and the passengers in transit from Bangkok boarded first. After them I walked onboard and took my seat located in the very back of the plane. Two very pleasant flight attendants were greeting the passengers. We were 100% full, not a single empty seat. The seats were comfortable with adjustable headrests and adequate legroom. The lack of PTVs on a 777 was a bit odd though.
We were pushed back at 07:50, 25 minutes late. A safety video was shown and we taxied via Alpha and entered runway 34L via Alpha 6. At 08:03 the thrust levers were pushed forward and we left the Australian soil 40 seconds later. A wonderful view of downtown Sydney could be seen on the right hand side. I snapped a couple of pictures, including the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. Soon the seatbelt signs went off and we headed towards the Tasman Sea and climbed up to FL340.
The breakfast service was soon started - it was a choice of an Omelet or Chicken in Satay sauce. Unfortunately they only had the Omelets available as I was in the last row. It came with grilled chicken, potatoes and peas. We also got fresh fruits, youghurt, a roll, a croissant and a Danish pastry. Needless to say, the breakfast was simply huge, but everything was absolutely delicious! I also had a couple of glasses of the excellent orange juice that Thai serves. The F/As served OJ maybe 4 or 5 times during the meal.
I didn't watch the movie on this flight, so I just browsed through the inflight magazine and listened to some pop hits until we started our descent into Auckland. Soon I could see the coast of New Zealand and the beautiful countryside. We landed at 12:45PM, amazingly 15 minutes early even though we departed 25 minutes late from Sydney. I noticed two Virgin 747-400s and a bunch of Air New Zealand planes. I asked to see the cockpit after the flight but it wasn't possible. I have never been able to visit the cockpit on Thai. So I made my way to the terminal, cleared the immigration, picked up my bag and headed to the city.
This was another wonderful flight with Thai, they are definitely one of the best airlines I have flown. Generally I found the 777 even a little more comfortable than the A340 I flew earlier with LH.
July 8, 2001
Air New Zealand NZ445
Boeing 737-204 Advanced
Photo © Frank Schaefer
I took the bus to the airport for my Sunday evening trip to Wellington. The Air New Zealand domestic terminal was packed but the lines for check-in weren't too long. I checked in maybe ten minutes later and got a single boarding pass for the two flights (the return flight as well). I went to the viewing deck to witness Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific takeoffs and took pics of some NZ link turboprops. I then headed to the gate area which was packed as well, and all flights were delayed because a 737 had suffered some damage from excessive amounts of sand on the tarmac. Boarding for NZ445 to WLG and CHC was delayed by 40 minutes from 3:10 PM to 3:50. So I went to do some more spotting. Two Qantas 747s landed, one -400 and one -200B. Also one of their 767-300s came in.
Finally at 3:50 I boarded ZK-NAI, a B737-200 that would take me to Wellington. I made my way to seat 8C, no window this time. The plane was in very good shape and the seats were comfortable with an acceptable legroom. We were pushed back at around 4:10 and the crew made the safety demo. We then taxied past the international terminal to the runway and took off 50 minutes behind schedule. The climb was smooth and I absolutely loved the noise of the old Pratt and Whitneys. Flight time today was 48 minutes, so I wasn't expecting an awful lot mealwise.
Soon the crew started the service and instead a pack of peanuts or three cookies (I had to add this one ) they served us a huge cold sandwich with a müsli bar for dessert. A very nice meal on such a short hop. The crew was very professional and friendly. As I was finishing my meal, we started our descent into Wellington International airport. A very beautiful approach over the city was made and those mountains looked gorgeous too. We touched down smoothly at 5:08 and the old bird stopped at gate exactly two minutes later. It was rather quiet at WLG at that point, I only noticed two NZ link turboprops, an NZ 733 and one Origin Pacific Metro III. As we were disembarking, a very good looking girl was struggling with her carry-on bags, so I had the pleasure of helping her . I then proceeded immediately to catch the flyer bus to the city for a quick visit.
July 8, 2001
Air New Zealand NZ476
Boeing 737-204 Advanced
Photo © Frank Schaefer
I arrived at the airport at quarter to eight for my 8:30 departure (NZ478). There was no information about my flight on the screens yet, so walked around a bit, bought a CD and spotted two QF 737s, VH-TAW and TAJ to be more exact. Soon I noticed that my flight was due to leave at 9:55PM instead of the scheduled 8:30. I literally ran to the NZ counters to check whether they had any seats available on NZ476, now scheduled to depart at 8:30. The nice agent handed me a new boarding pass, seat 16C on NZ476, another aisle seat but oh well, still better than a 90-minute wait. My original flight was to be operated by a 737-300 but I was happy to see that NZ476 would be another 737-200, ZK-NAB this time.
We boarded at 8:15 and were ready for pushback at exactly 8:30 (quite heavily delayed I think). I heard that beautiful sound of those engines again and we were airborne at 8:40. I decided to ask for a cockpit visit this time knowing there's not much chance on this 45 minute dinner flight though. Yes, they really served dinner on this short hop! The meal was extremely nicely presented, and even contained a menu!
"Boulcott Street Bistro"
New Zealand Mineral Water
Chicken Thigh wrapped in Prosciutto
Balsamic Vinegar Dressing
Crépe with Saffron Cream and Orange Anglaise
Everything was absolutely mouth-watering, and they even served the chicken directly from the cart to your plate!! We had already started our descent as the trays were collected. I thanked the nice flight attendant for the meal and pointed out the difference between NZ service and the "so-called service" we get in Europe and especially in the U.S.
We landed at AKL at 9:25 PM, but couldn't get to the gate as they were cleaning the tarmac after that sand storm that had even damaged one of the beautiful NZ Boeing 737s. We also stopped the engines on the taxiway and were towed to the gate twenty minutes later. Is this a common practice at AKL or just because of the sand thing? Anyway, the delay didn't bother me at all, I arrived when I was supposed to, on a different flight though. I later took the last Airbus to the city.
July 9, 2001
Air New Zealand NZ10
Photo © Raymond Rowe
I went to the Air New Zealand Travelcentre in the morning to check whether they still sold ANZ shirts and stuff there but they didn't. Fortunately I bought a shirt last year. I went back to my hotel and thought I'd still rest a little bit before my flight at 1:40PM (that's what I remembered). Anyway I wanted to double check the departure time and what did I see? "NZ0010 Auckland Honolulu 11:50AM" Ok, my plans changed immediately and I rushed out of the hotel as quickly as possible and catched the next bus to the airport. That thing kept touring around the city before finally heading out maybe half an hour later. At that point I was 100% sure that I'd miss my flight. We arrived at the international terminal at 11:15 and I ran to the check-in area. All I could see were Sydney, Sydney, Sydney… So I just walked to one of the NZ counters and noticed from a screen that NZ10 was boarding by now! Anyway I handed the agent my ticket and was very delighted when she asked if I'd like a window or aisle! By now I also noticed that the screen over this desk said "NZ10 Honolulu"! The lady was very friendly and helpful, and handed me my boarding pass and baggage tags and wished a pleasant flight.
Next I headed upstairs to pay the 22 dollar airport improvement fee. That was done quickly and immigration was very quick too, using the express line. I made it to gate 9 at 11:35 and boarded my aircraft immediately after checking the registration - ZK-NCO, Air New Zealand's newest 767. I finally took my seat, 36K, at 11:40. The aircraft was in perfect shape, and the seats were excellent - adjustable headrests, footrests and very good legroom. We were pushed back at noon and were very light, maybe about 80-100 empty seats. A safety video was shown, followed by a quick taxi. We took off at 12:05 and headed to the north. I couldn't help taking pictures of the beautiful New Zealand countryside. The seatbelt sign was switched off quickly and the service began.
The crew on this flight was again outstanding and the NZ uniform is very beautiful too. We were served pretzels and drinks first, followed by a delicious lunch. It was a choice of either turkey or lasagna, I chose the lasagna. It was absolutely excellent and came with a salad and very tasty blueberry tart as dessert. I had some white wine with my meal. I chatted a bit with the flight attendants as they were collecting the trays and they said a cockpit visit would be no problem. Anyway, the duty free was next and I had to buy the Air New Zealand 747-400 model. Very nice actually, 1:250 scale.
After they had completed the duty free sales, I was invited to the cockpit. It was 2:30PM and we were flying over Tonga at the moment. I chatted with the pilots for half an hour up there and enjoyed the magnificent view of the Tonga islands. The only other plane anywhere near us was an Air Canada 767-300 operating from Sydney to Honolulu. He wasn't really close either, but would eventually fly on the same path into HNL. We were cruising at 10700m and would later climb up to 11300m. Anyway, I thanked the crew and went back to my seat. I just continued staring out of the window and listened to the audio channels. After a while we flew over Samoa and I could see the islands again.
I then watched some of the short subjects they were showing and browsed through the inflight mag which was a copy of the Ansett one, just named Air New Zealand Panorama. It was Sunday evening again (Didn't I fly to WLG on Sunday evening??) and it started getting dark outside. I was expecting a snack before landing but soon the purser announced that they were ready to serve dinner - a choice of chicken or pasta. This time they started from the back of the plane, so the people who missed their choice earlier could now choose what they want.
I went for the chicken, it was a huge meal again but not as tasty as the lasagna I had for lunch. Again we also got a salad and chocolate cake as dessert. Diet Coke accompanied my meal this time, served immediately after I got my meal, not 30 minutes later like on BA once. By the time they collected the trays, we were only about an hour out of the Hawaiian Islands. They showed a film about US customs/immigration formalities, I didn't bother watching it.
After that we started our approach and soon I had the lights of Waikiki in sight. We made a steep right turn and smoothly touched down at 10:17PM on runway 04. We taxied to gate 31 and parked there at 10:26, four minutes early. I saw an ATA TriStar, two DL 767-400s, three UA 767-300s and an American 757 as we were taxiing. I was really impressed with the service on this flight as well as with the domestic runs. The service was very efficient, friendly and warm - The World's Warmest Welcome as they like to call it.
I deplaned quickly and noticed the huge difference in the weather. In Auckland it was about +12 degrees celsius while HNL was +25!! I boarded the Wiki-Wiki shuttle to customs and baggage claim. At immigration I was again greeted by a very unfriendly woman who asked all the questions I had once answered by filling the visa waiver form. Oh well, at least the customs didn't stop me this time! I took a cab to my hotel only to meet my pleasant crew again at the hotel check in! They noticed me immediately and we chatted a little bit. As I made my way to my room, I also saw a Qantas crew, heading to the airport. Also Japan Airlines stayed at the Renaissance. The hotel was very nice and Hawaii really is a true paradise!! I went to the beach (It was great to watch all the 747s going to Japan when swimming in the Pacific!) as well as to Honolulu downtown and last but not least, to the airport during my two days there. I also met some of my crewmembers again the next day, they were staying two days too, heading home on NZ003 on Tuesday.
I'd love to hear your comments! The next part will be "The United Experience", and I can tell you it's going to be a little different from this one!