Aircraft: 767-200, ZK-NBA
Departure time: 1400
Departure gate: 4
Sector: AKL SYD
Check-in at Auckland Airport was swift. Air New Zealand operate a separate, glassed-in facility for First and Business Class passengers, with a private departures clearance to security screening. The agent on duty, a fairly youngish male, was polite but a bit taciturn as he processed the necessary documentation and tagged my bags with a Star Alliance priority label.
The departure gate today was 4, and he sent me on my way with a pleasant but barely audible goodbye.
Previously, the Air New Zealand agent would complete passport control at check-in, and then departures access, at the end corner of the facility, would be controlled by electronic gates opened by inserting your boarding pass. This time, these gates were walled up with portable boards, presumably as a result of tightened security. The far check-in desk has now been converted into a Passport Control station with a New Zealand Customs officer on duty. After formalities are completed, there is a glass door which takes you up an escalator to between the normal passport control and security checkpoint.
Two of the three security checkpoints were open, with minimal queuing.
Gate 1: Cathay Pacific A340-300 B-HXE (with new First and Business class cabin I believe) to Hong Kong as CX108
Gate 2: Malaysian Airlines 747-400 9M-MPE to Brisbane and Kuala Lumpur as MH136 (strangely enough I saw this exact same aircraft at Sydney on the way back!)
Gate 3: Air New Zealand 767-300 ZK-NCO (aircraft I would get on my return journey)
Gate 4: Air New Zealand 767-200 ZK-NBA to Sydney as NZ105
Gate 5: Singapore Airlines 747-400 9V-SMI to Singapore as SQ286
Gate 7: Thai Airways 747-300 to Sydney and Bangkok
Gate 10: United Airlines 777-200
The Air New Zealand lounge is spacious with good views over the airport tarmac. The agent on reception is pleasant and addresses me by name after she processes the boarding pass through the lounge machine.
Refreshments on offer consist of sandwiches, scones, muffins, cold cuts, and hot cream of pumpkin soup, with bread rolls available. There is a wide selection of beverages available.
Technology wise, this lounge is very poor. Seating is either in groups of four or two, and most groups have a telephone available. However, there are only two computers and only one has Internet access.
The lounge is bright and airy in the section where there are windows, but in my impression rather dark and gloomy in the main area. The toilets are clean and equipped with towels etc. but seem to be a very small size considering the capacity of the lounge and in my opinion Air New Zealand’s Sydney lounge is far better than the one in Auckland (more on that later!)
Two boarding announcements are made for each flight – Air New Zealand shares the lounge with its Star Alliance partners. Music is piped over the lounge speakers.
The call for NZ105 comes at 1335 and off I trot to departure gate 4 where most passengers have already boarded.
The agents on duty are pleasant, nothing remarkable about them! I am greeted by the door by Cabin Services Director Rehe who directs me to my seat.
My allocated seat today is 1J, with a completely full flight. Air New Zealand business class on the 767 is 2-2-2 with a 2-3-2 arrangement in Pacific (economy) class.
Seat pitch according to the Air NZ timetable is 50 inches in Business, 33 inches in Pacific.
Flight attendants come around shortly after with trays of drinks – water with lemon, champagne or juice. Unlike Qantas, who shove a tray at you and get you to take a glass, Air NZ attendants ask you for your preference and then proceed to place it onto your centre armrest. Marks above Qantas, already.
The seat on the 767-200 has a very soft and baggy seat cushion, and during the flight I found that I kept slipping down the seat. The headrests are not ‘winged’ like on the international services but I found the seat width to be slightly more generous than that on the -300ER series. The footrest on the -200 was also slightly less comfortable than on the -300 counterpart but was still operational.
Each seat was already provided with a decent-sized pillow and headrest. Blankets are available in the overhead lockers, plenty for everyone, and very warm too! The seat pockets are filled with an airsick bag, the Air NZ magazine, entertainment guide and Skyshop brochure.
Pushback is on time, if anything, a little early. Flight attendants begin a cabin clear-up before take-off towards Manukau.
The safety demonstration is broadcast, the emergency exits pointed out, and the cabin secured for departure. The Captain comes on to the PA system, introduces himself and his First Officer, who today is flying, advises us of the flight time and conditions of the flight ahead. Flying time is close on 3 hours and 30 minutes.
After take-off, crew come around with menu cards – the cards are themed ‘Flavours of New Zealand’ and the illustration depicts olives (I thought they were feijoas at first!) and crew take orders for after-departure drinks.
The menu (appropriately with green colouring):
Chargrilled vegetable salad
on marinated potatoes, garlic and herbs
Seared chilli king prawns
on egg fettucine with parmesan and parsley sauce
Warmed ham and brie croissant
with asparagus and slow-roasted tomato
Chilled smoked turkey breast*
with watermelon, ginger and mint salsa and parsnip remoulade
Vanilla king and espresso coffee
ice cream with dark chocolate sauce
Cheese and fruit
Fine regional cheese and preserved fruit
Freshly brewed or decaffeinated coffee, tea, herbal tea and hot chocolate
Artificial sweetener is available
* Light choice – an easily digestible, lower fat alternative
A wine and beverages list is given on the back of the menu card, as well as a brief introduction on the front of the card about Air New Zealand’s catering standards and a info preface on the olive.
From the menu alone, I am impressed as Qantas standards continue to slip. However, Air New Zealand staff did their airline proud as the meal service began.
Drinks were delivered promptly, with a side of cassava crisps, and the inflight entertainment programme started. Mainscreens were available, but Sony Video walkmans, usually reserved for international First Class customers, were handed out with a wide variety of tapes. The walkman has a little video screen and can also be stopped, fast-forwarded, and rewound at will. Headphones plug into the set and were a very attractive alternative to the normal PTV programming on Air NZ’s 767-300s.
The meal service began about an hour into the flight, with the laying of Pacific blue cotton tablecloths, followed by the appearance of the meal tray. The appetiser is already on the tray, presented on an attractive frosted blue glass plate. The cheese and fruit are in a white china dish covered with a plastic lid, and the dinner napkin holding the cutlery is attractively tied up with a coloured ribbon. Flight attendants offer wine or water, as well as a hot bread basket featuring a choice between either garlic bread or a bread roll.
Water and wine are continuously topped up during the flight.
Air NZ is racking up points by the minute – contrast this with Qantas business class on the same route. They throw a tray onto your table (no tablecloth), with a leafy green salad presented in a dish. On this tray is cheese and fruit, and a single chocolate. There is one type of bread roll: cold, hard and completely inedible. Water is offered, if you’re lucky, once.
Back to the meal, the bread basket was offered again later. Flight attendants then came by and took your order for the main meal. From what I could see, most people went for the full hot meal – the prawns.
The mains were presented in a white ceramic round dish. The shape of the dish means that they can’t be handled with the standard ‘gripping tongs’; instead, staff have to use napkins to handle the hot dish. Nevertheless, the service was impressive – dishes were served straight from the galley, about four at a time.
The prawns were succulent and the creamy pasta accompaniment delicious. Salt and pepper, available in separate glass containers with lids, were a welcome addition to the meal, and a welcome change from Qantas’ flimsy plastic container with a single plastic peel-off cover!
Considering the number of people aboard, crew were reasonably efficient in clearing up dirty dishes and the continuous topping-up of water is to be commended.
The ice cream came round on the trolleys a little later, with two scoops presented in an attractive blue frosted glass bowl. Spoons were provided, as was more water. Again, Air NZ has gone the extra step and tried to make the presentation of their meal attractive and pleasing – unlike Qantas which seem content to leave everything in their original container (last time I had about half a scoop of ice cream in a small plastic container) – and it is definitely appreciated by this passenger!
The ice cream is very nice and the tea and coffee rounds are made, again on a trolley, along with dessert wine. Chocolate mints are offered by the crew.
Final clear up of napkins and tablecloths are perhaps a little on the slow side, but this could be to allow for passengers who wish to slowly drink their tea or coffee. Still, the tray table is easily folded in half so it is not too obtrusive and of course there is nothing stopping a passenger from going to the galley to hand them in themselves.
The toilet is clean but not what I would expect from an international business class product (although this was better on the way back), and considering the short duration of the flight is definitely acceptable.
The remaining hour and a half or so is taken up by watching a movie on the walkman, and crew come by every 15 minutes or so with water top-ups. The First Officer comes on about 30 minutes out of Sydney, advises that the aircraft will need to complete at least one lap of the holding pattern, and give us information about weather and times in Sydney (getting the time wrong as well!) However he was quick to correct his mistake.
The popular landing sweets seem to have been a casualty of the airline’s financial woes and this is a shame, as the younger passengers are usually picked by the crew to hand them round and they enjoy it.
Due to the holding pattern, we touch down at Sydney about ten minutes behind schedule and taxi across to Terminal South, where NZ105 halts at gate 54, next to a Singapore Airlines 747-400 at gate 56 and a Korean Air 747-400 at gate 63. The Thai Airways 747-300 from Auckland is at gate 51, awaiting the continuation of its flight to Bangkok, having beat us to Sydney by a mere matter of 20 minutes.
Crew wish us a pleasant goodbye at the door and Qantas ground agents are on hand to assist with any enquiries.
Passport control is empty and clearance is quick with the pre-clearance of some arrival data through the Express arrival card link.
Baggage reclaim is 2, and there is about a 5-10 minute wait for the bags to begin coming off. Priority baggage is off first, as one would hope, and then it’s to enter the chaos of quarantine inspection.
Terminal South at Sydney consists of 11 fixed-link gates and a few remote stands. The Quarantine area is spacious, with plenty of inspection tables for declarations, and seven X-Ray machines, three in operation. Roughly, Terminal South handles about the same number of aircraft as Auckland Airport (perhaps even a little less considering the chaos of peak hour at AKL) yet it manages to put the same quarantine area at Auckland to shame.
Nothing eventful happens as my bags are toted through the X-ray machine by the extremely pleasant officer who insists on placing my bag on the machine and my having nothing to do with it and I emerge into Arrivals Hall C/D which conveniently places me right in front of the rental car agencies for me to pick up my rental!
So in summary…
Air New Zealand has improved – or Qantas has severely declined. Air NZ’s trans-Tasman Business class is really good, especially in the area of catering and service, where it has Qantas beat by about a thousand points. The only downside to Air NZ is perhaps the seat – not as good as Qantas’ Dreamtime but still very comfortable, particularly on the -300 series. I would definitely recommend Air NZ for short-haul flights, especially trans-Tasman, and also perhaps for North American routes in Economy. I however would not fly Air New Zealand on any Asian route – they operate the 767-300 on many (excepting Tokyo) and the standard of Business Class falls far short of say Cathay Pacific’s new cabin, or even Singapore Airline’s Ultimo Raffles Class seats. I hope that Air NZ do consider an upgrade of business class, as it is falling far short of major competitors and this is a shame as Air NZ is definitely up near the top when it comes to service!
Watch for the return journey - coming soon, with yet again really good service that puts other competitor on trans-Tasman Qantas to shame!