NZ124. MEL-AKL SCH1115-1645. 767-204 (ZK-NBJ)
ACT1122-1649. TO1132. LDG1640. FT3:27 0:07L/0:04L 195/196 pax
SEAT10A. VID:Y AUD: Y MLS: L MENU: Y
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Photo © Glen Reid
I don’t want to start on a bad note, but check in at Melbourne was not a particularly impressive affair. Because we had a business class ticket in our travelling party (thanks to the four schedule changes and a confused reservations agent – Economy became Business, who could complain?), we went to the business desk (for priority tagging) for checkin. Air New Zealand had two desks for business class for its three flights to AKL, CHC and WLG that morning. A NZ Gold Elite member was locking up one desk for ages, effectively halving the available checkin capacity, while the earnest agent tried to do her best in securing whatever he had wanted. The other agent, a youngish woman was fairly indifferent, responding to my request to put a frequent flyer number in with a “it’s not my problem”. I tried to put the numbers through at the service desk, but the agent was unable to do so – the lady said she’d get someone to put the numbers in later (nope, didn’t happen). With Qantas being the ground handling agent for Air New Zealand, why am I not surprised. Economy Class checkin was much faster. So the first benefit of faster checkin in Business Class was a waste, and the second of priority tagging would be made redundant (however, not because of Air New Zealand).
After dawdling around MEL trying to find a decent camera and giving up, we made our way through customs into the passengers only area. I visited the Air New Zealand International Lounge, which whilst small was nicely appointed, with some good shortbread and plenty of reading material. Unfortunately there was no internet access. I had a drink and then asked the lady manning the desk whether I could change my FF number (as AN Global Rewards wasn’t of much use), to which she said no. I found this somewhat amazing, but I didn’t push it. When flying Air New Zealand and you want to change or put in your frequent flyer number – ring reservations. I did so off the Picton-Wellington ferry and it worked fine.
I tried to quickly book an Ansett flight on the net kiosk outside the lounge, but it was having problems with the secure AN site (when will kiosks operate something more modern than Netscape V2.0?), so I gave up as I needed to rush to the gate to board. I was amongst the last to board, but that meant a shorter queue.
Whilst the ground experience had been disappointing, onboard with genuine Air New Zealand service was going to turn the tables around. On boarding the ‘767 Albino’ (del 03/85) I was greeted by a friendly flight attendant. Attendants were helping pax load baggage into the overhead lockers, while scenic videos and instrumental music played in the background.
I made myself comfortable in 10A, which on ZK-NBJ (ex Britannia) was the best seat available in Economy Class. Although it was a bulkhead window seat (a cupboard was in front of the seat), it had a good deal more legroom than other seats, because there was a recess or cutout at the bottom of the wall, providing plenty of legroom, or lots of stowage space. For seat 10B, there was a small area cut out on the bulkhead, which could be used as a table (useful when needing to go to the toilet when the trays have not yet been cleared). As bulkhead seats, they had the very adjustable footrest which comes out from the front of the seat (most airlines just don’t bother with footrests, especially in bulkhead rows). The bases of NZ Y seats move forward as you recline your seat (a feature I’ve only come across on the SQ772), and quite frankly are the best economy class seats in the world – even though they were introduced 6 years ago. When I have legroom, I couldn’t care less about PTVs. On my return, something changed to 10A& B – you’ll have to read the trip report on NZ125 below to find out.
Three minutes after pushback, we had started up and were ready to taxi right down to RWY34, a 7 minute trip. After turning onto the runway, the CF6s were spooled up a bit, before accelerating to maximum thrust. The takeoff roll wasn’t bad, and we rotated just prior to the tower, climbing quite well thanks to Flap 1. According to the inflight map, we had 3:15 to go. Here are some tech details:
BRW 136,000 LDW121,000 FOB 22,000 BURN 15,000
V1/R/2: 147/150/155. VREF 135. VAPP 142
FLAP 1, TO-N1 103.9
Once we were well into the climb, the cabin crew came around serving drinks, nothing particularly exciting (nothing wrong with it – standard fare). Shortly after, lunch was served, consisting of juice, water, bread roll & butter, roasted tomato relish, minted potato salad with greens, cheese & crackers and a choice of a lamb and tomato parcel (filo pastry) or a Italian calzone filled with vegetables. The lamb was excellent, very impressive for something that was cooked in New Zealand (yes, not Australia, read on for more) hours and hours ago. Pastry was fresh, lamb definitely tasted like lamb and was tender, and the flavour was excellent. Unfortunately the serving was a tad small. The service on Air New Zealand is interesting. As soon as the carts come out to the front of the cabin, the flight attendants rip the box and foil paper open, and you can see the hot bread – forget about cold, stale economy class rolls.
Dessert was vanilla Kapiti ice cream, excellent once again. The flight attendants come around with a large “Pacific Class” box, from which you can take the ice cream. Forget about those New Zealand Natural Ice Cream stores we have in Australia, this is the best stuff. It has a very slight yellow tinge, and you can see the black specks of vanilla bean in the ice cream – that’s quality. In fact I went on a wild goose chase round New Zealand trying to find it, but vanilla was eluding me. At 5NZD (not onboard of course) for a 425ml tub, it ought to be good. Aside from tea and coffee offered after meal service, juice was offered later in the flight.
Once everyone had finished the ice cream, cabin crew came around to collect the trays and waste. Later in the flight, the cabin purser came around handing out surveys to interested passengers and checking on things. He was quite a friendly type; when I asked for a pen, he gave it to me and said “you can have that if you want”. The flight attendant who served me lunch was quite cheery and smiley (the service felt genuinely happy) and was good at explaining things. When serving ice cream, there was a nonchalant “take two if you want”. Although newspapers are for Business Class, the flight attendants gave papers to Economy Class passengers. The crew know how to joke around, they seemed quite happy and easy going, and that’s the service I like. Some carriers for instance won’t give papers to Economy Class passengers, because officially they are for Business Class. If they aren’t being read, what’s the use of them sitting in the cupboard up front gathering dust?
Inflight entertainment consisted of 10 audio channels and the movie Very Annie Mary was being screened in Economy, a film I’ve never heard of, and I didn’t bother to watch. It couldn’t’ve been too bad, well an American woman seemed to laugh like a jackass all the way into Auckland.
ZK-NBJ has a slightly different arrangement to the other 767-200s in the Air New Zealand fleet. All the toilets in the Economy Class cabin are located in the centre of the cabin, unlike the others which have two in the middle, and two down the back.
After a short snooze, I decided to visit dad in Business Class and have a chat with the cabin crew up front. They had expressed sympathy for the Ansett staff affected by the collapse, especially for the pilots who often have no qualifications to do anything else. They didn’t ever want “to see Selwyn Cushing’s face round here.” The crew were joking around refusing me entry to Business Class, but they reneged. Business Class pax had been served venison for lunch. After I saw dad, I went back to have a chat. I was once told that Air New Zealand had started to bring its own meals from New Zealand, instead of serving meals by Qantas Inflight Catering (as QF is NZ’s ground agent), as QF’s meals were not meeting NZ’s standards. Having experienced QF catering on an SQ flight from MEL, I knew they weren’t anything scintillating, but had my lingering doubts about the story. So I asked the flight attendant about this, and it was true. Little wonder I seem to only hear praise for NZ’s catering.
Air New Zealand International Flight Attendants are trained on the 767 and 747, and generally speaking don’t like the 767-200 too much, as it’s the smallest, and has small galleys, which pax often have to pass through. Domestic crews operate the 737 international services, so for them an international trip is often a treat.
We began a long descent into Auckland, flying past the city, before heading towards the airport. As per usual, the cabin crew handed out baskets of boiled sweets to kids to hand out to passengers to alleviate any ear pain from the pressure change. We carried an extra 7 knots on the approach for gusts, turning onto final for RWY23L for an ever so 767 thud onto terra firma. Once out of the gate, it was off to customs.
Customs in New Zealand is a sad affair. Although we Aussies are able to share queues with Kiwis, progress is painfully slow. Whilst some of the officers are quite friendly, there aren’t enough of them. Because of this, priority tagging is useless, because by the time you get out, all of the bags are out.
Once we had made our way through customs, exiting into the arrivals area, I noticed a good feature of AKL. The waiting area, just in front of where international arrivals exit customs has a plethora of seats arranged in a cinema like fashion, where relatives, friends and whoever can wait in some comfort. From there on it was to the Air New Zealand service desk to receive our hotel vouchers for the Grand Chancellor (a hotel that does not befit such a name).