You may wish to read the outbound AKL-SYD report first. Follow the link
Aircraft: 767-300, ZK-NCO
Departure time: 1200
Departure gate: 60
Sector: SYD AKL
Well, after a few beautiful sunny days in Sydney (made all the more pleasant by the news of thunderstorms back in Auckland) it was time to leave on the midday Air NZ flight from Kingsford Smith International. Having had a really good flight on the way over, I was expecting more of the same – and Air NZ lived up to my expectations.
After dropping off my rental, it was up one of the escalators to the check-in area on the first level. Air NZ check-in operates from zone J, with four designated Business class counters open. I thought this was a bit over the top, considering that the only flight currently open for check-in was the Auckland service (I believe a Christchurch 737 service was in the final throes of boarding at this time as I later saw it take off). Still, two of the J class counters closed after I checked in, including mine.
There was a wait for a counter to open for Business class, and Pacific class queues were non-existent. The time was a few minutes after ten – about two hours before departure.
The agent was an elderly lady in Air NZ uniform who was pleasant enough but nothing overwhelmingly special. I noticed her ID tag had a Qantas logo at the bottom – are these actually Qantas agents who are contracted exclusively for Air New Zealand, as I remembered the agent next to me from last time I travelled with Air NZ ex-Sydney. If anyone can enlighten me, please feel free.
Unlike arrival, Air NZ is not linked up for Express Departure card clearance, and I had to fill in one of the green forms which the agent provided with my boarding pass.
I headed over to the departures corridor and on the way took in a quick picture of the apron…
Gate 20: Qantas 767-300 VH-OGT
Gate 22: Air Vanuatu 737-300
Gate 31: LanChile A340-300 to Auckland and Santiago
Gate 32: China Southern 777-200
Gate 33: Qantas 747-300 to Auckland as QF43
Gate 34: Qantas ‘Wunala Dreaming’VH-OJB as QF127 to Hong Kong
Gate 36: China Eastern A340-300 to Shanghai and Beijing
Gate 51: Malaysian Airlines 9M-MPE to Kuala Lumpur
Gate 53: United Airlines 747-400
Gate 55: Singapore Airlines 777-300 9V-SYE
Gate 57: Emirates 777-200
Gate 58: Japan Air Lines 747-400
Gate 60: Air New Zealand 767-300, ZK-NCO as NZ104 to Auckland
Gate 56: Singapore Airlines 747-400 9V-SPN
Gate 63: Korean Air 747-400
There is a designated counter at passport control for Air NZ First and Business Class passengers but no officer was manning it, so I joined one of the other queues. Of course, as soon as I did this an officer went and opened the counter, calling over one of the people in the next queue. I backtracked and joined the line, where the officer was angrily telling other people joining the queue: “No, one at a time! This is for First and Business class!”
She obviously wasn’t too impressed when I didn’t move, so she said rather bitingly to me “Are you First or Business class, ma’am?” and nodded when I replied in the affirmative. She was okay after that – did her job without the attitude.
All security checkpoints were open and processing flowed fairly smoothly.
Terminal South underwent the same interior renovations as Terminal North for the Olympic refit – new carpet, better lighting etc. Prior to the renovations, gates 51, 53 and 55 were already fitted with the fixed link ramps for boarding (Terminal South being newer than Terminal North) and gates 51 and 53 generally remain unchanged. The end Terminal South was widened and new gates 57, 58, 59, 60, 61 and 63 created, I believe. Gate 55 now shares a fixed-link ramp with gate 57, as does gate 60 with gate 61.
The Air New Zealand lounge is located on an upper level accessible by escalator near gate lounges 56, 59-61, and offers good views over the bisecting runways.
The agent on duty is talking on the phone as I enter, but processes my boarding pass, hands it back to me with a smile, and motions towards the main lounge.
There is a coat and bag rack to my left and framed black-and-white photographs of New Zealand scenes to my right. The lounge is bright and airy, with modern lights hanging down from the roof, and plenty of natural light through the windows that stretch all the way along the far wall, which corresponds to basically from gate 57 all the way down to gate 61.
It is amusing to note that the emergency exit to the lounge is situated such that the exit route is literally right on top of the departures ramp for gate 59.
Again, seats are clumped in groups of four. There are not a lot of people in the lounge and there are about four or five Compaq computers with Internet access, and about four widescreen televisions. There is a good selection of reading material and refreshments are adequate – although not meeting the standards of Cathay Pacific, SIA or MAS at their respective home bases, it is a slight notch above Qantas’ business class lounge in Sydney (although I don’t know if catering standards have been improved after the recent Qantas Club shift).
Anyway, a decent selection of cold cuts and cheese is offered, with crackers. There are also finger sandwiches with smoked salmon and roast beef fillings (separate sandwiches, not together) and some decadent cake – vanilla, chocolate and carrot. The cake is definitely a must-have – moist and absolutely scrumptious. So much so that I indulged myself and had more than I should have!!!
The selection of beverages is fine – nothing to fault there.
Music is played over the lounge speakers and a good note is that Air New Zealand does not seem to share the lounge with any airline at this time – JAL, United and SIA all have their own lounge facility at Sydney.
The toilets are very futuristic, with sensor flushes and taps. There are plenty of towels and paper napkins available from dispensers. I peeked at one of the shower rooms which are located just outside the washrooms – very spacious and elegantly decked out. The green marble-type floor and edging looked very elegant and much better than the grey granite-type scheme used in Auckland.
A boarding call is made for the flight at 1135 despite the boarding time printed on the boarding pass to be 1100. According to agents, this is actually the latest time a passenger should proceed through immigration.
The windows are great, offering a beautiful view over the airport. As I watched, I saw VH-OGT being tugged out, the LanChile Airbus and the Qantas 747-300 taxi out for takeoff to Auckland, and Wunala Dreaming taxi for takeoff to Hong Kong. I also saw a Cathay Pacific A330-300, B-HLQ make a touchdown and taxi into gate 32. And of course, numerous Virgin Blues and Qantas domestic flights take off on the parallel runway to the lounge windows.
I make my way out of the lounge, stopping to pick out a red lolly wrapped in clearwrap from a bowl on the reception counter, and back down to departures. I note that a piece of paper has been slipped into a clearfile sleeve taped to the automatic doors, declaring that the lounge is closed until 1.30 pm and that the United Airlines lounge is located next to gate 53. Obviously no imminent Air NZ departures after NZ104.
Boarding is in full swing at gate 60, which uses the left side of the fixed-link ramp it shares with gate 61, the individual sections being separated by the common arrivals ramp for both airlines in the middle. There is one long queue which stretches out, but splits into two lines closer to the processing machines.
The Greek Qantas agent (identifiable by his nametag and a Greek flag) is positively beaming as he rips the stub off the boarding pass, enters it into the computer and hands it back to each passenger, addressing them by name. The processing machine is presumably broken, judging from the fact that the cover is open and a few wires are dangling out.
On to the departures ramp, turning left to enter the aerobridge sloping down to the aircraft. The cabin service director and another senior female attendant are on hand to greet passengers and direct them to their seats.
My designated seat today is 4B, with yet again a full flight and the Auckland Warriors returning to Auckland – all decked out in black polo shirts.
Crew are quick to offer drinks, again placing the preference onto the armrest, instead of shoving the tray in your face. There is no delay in pushback and soon the safety video is playing. Shortly after, a quick round of hot towels are made. Newspapers are also offered, with a choice between both New Zealand and Australian papers.
Crew collect the glasses well before take-off, as we rumble past Terminal North, where two British Airways aircraft have slipped into the gates vacated by LanChile and QF43 – a Whale Rider 747-400 docking at 31, and a Chatham Dockyard (Union Jack) 747-400 at 33. The last two letters of the Union Jack aircraft are reproduced on the tail – is this new BA procedure?
We are using the bisecting runway paralleling the lounge windows, and a Qantas 767-300 VH-OGP slips out in front of us as we taxi past the bustling Qantas domestic terminal and the desolated Ansett Australia terminal. We both have to wait however as a Qantas 767-200 VH-EAQ touches down on the bisecting runway.
Soon it is our turn for takeoff and the pilot gives full throttle as we rumble out of Sydney and make a turn which presumably sets us on course for Auckland.
The seatbelt sign is switched off fairly quickly and I extend the legrest. Unfortunately, the legrest seems designed for fairly short people and I imagine it could get pretty uncomfortable for taller passengers on long-haul flights. Still, it offers a reasonable degree of comfort.
The cabin services director announces the commencement of the inflight entertainment programme and flight attendants hand out arrival cards for New Zealand. The PTV is located in the centre armrest and is not the ‘standard’ PTV – it is more bulkier but does offer a clearer picture. There are about seven movies being shown on cycle 1 – including Showtime, John Q, Ice Age and others.
Crew come by shortly to take orders for post take-off drinks, and my request for a mineral water was met with a prompt response from the male flight attendant enquiring if I would like ice and lemon – good to see the flight attendants are on the ball!
The menu cards, again themed ‘Flavours of New Zealand’ are presented shortly after drink orders are taken. The highlight for this menu is honey, and to match, the colour of the menu is yellow! Again, the menu is similar to the ‘olives’ menu, the same brief introduction about Air NZ’s catering is made, and a brief overview of honey, with a beautiful photo in the top-left hand corner of the manuka flower. Definitely one of the more elegant and stylish menus out there – beats Qantas who last time didn’t even bother to offer me a menu on the same sector.
Today, Air New Zealand crew would be serving up to its 24 Business class passengers…
Chargrilled marinated vegetables
with kalamata olives, smoked pork and shaved parmesan
Pan seared New Zealand lamb
with apple and walnut confit, thyme potato rosti and wilted spinach
Warmed Italian panini bread
filled with smoked chicken and eggplant and orange relish
Chilled Thai curry scallops*
in coconut cream sauce, sweet chilli and rice noodles
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 is available on request
* Light choice – an easily digestible, lower fat alternative
On the back is the beverages list, and again, Air New Zealand have offered a comprehensive menu. It is a shame that it has switched from a second hot meal option (as in October 2001) to a more snack-orientated hot item, but nevertheless still much better than the choice on Qantas which is basically none at all in terms of hot options (and even then only if you happen to be a fan of Indian food, which I think
was what they offered me last time – a dreadful, half-cold lamb curry).
But I digress. Back to the flight, the drinks orders were filled promptly and accompanied by little packets containing assorted nuts and rice snacks. The combination was slightly weird, but did sate the hunger pangs.
Crew were fairly quick in clearing up the wrappers, and the meal service began. Blue cotton tablecloths were laid, trays handed out and glasses of water filled. The format is basically the same as the outbound journey – a dish containing cheese and the fruit, the napkin holding the cutlery bound in a ribbon, the salt and pepper containers, and the appetiser presented on a frosted blue glass plate.
The hot bread basket appeared shortly after – again a choice between garlic bread and a bread roll, and again the bread basket is offered twice.
The appetisers are cleaned away and a flight attendant comes by to enquire if you “will be having a main meal today”, and takes the orders. Dishes are served direct from the galley and the lamb seems to be a popular option, with both my seatmate and the lady across the aisle taking it.
The lamb was tasty enough, although the apple and walnut confit tended to sweeten the dish a bit, which was unnecessary. I bit into a baked apple believing it to be a potato – blech!
Crew allowed ample time for completing the main meal, the dishes being whisked away as crew saw you had finished. The ice cream trolley started when everyone had finished – goodness knows what the flavours were, but there was one scoop of white ice cream, one scoop of purply ice cream, both covered in a raspberry sauce. Very nice, but the purply ice cream contained a few seed type items impossible to chew.
The ice cream was presented in a frosted blue dish, similar to that used for the appetiser, and spoons were provided by the crew.
The hot beverages cart followed, with chocolate mints and dessert wines. Water is continuously topped up at each stage during the flight, and sometimes flight attendants just appear out of nowhere proffering a water bottle. Something I found strange was the fact that each time the flight attendant seemed to have a different brand of water bottle…
Just like on the outbound flight, crew were slow to clear up the napkins and tablecloths – which leads me to believe that this is probably Air New Zealand policy.
The washrooms are better equipped this time, with boxes of scents and four types of lotions and moisturisers available.
The captain announces our descent into Auckland and advises us of the weather and temperature – a chilly 10 degrees Celsius. He also warns us of a rough approach as apparently there is a thunderstorm cell gripping the city, and indeed as we were on final approach a few flashes of lightning were visible.
Crew began their final clear up and when the seat belt sign came on, did a quick check to secure the cabin. The CSD advised all crew to complete their duties as soon as possible and to take their seats due to the captain’s forecast for the approach.
Descent tonight took us over Manukau, and just before we crossed the runway threshold, the flight crew took us up to full power – obviously taking no chances in the adverse weather. The landing roll was long and furious, water being whipped out as thrust reversers were deployed – a very photographic sight.
Auckland Airport was busy tonight as ZK-NCO exited the runway having touched down from Sydney ten minutes early. The parking tonight was…
Gate 1: Qantas 747-300 preparing for departure to Sydney as QF44
Gate 3: Air New Zealand 767-300 to Nadi, Papeete and Los Angeles
Gate 4: Air New Zealand 767 preparing for departure to Sydney as NZ107
Gate 5: LanChile A340-300 boarding for Santiago
Gate 6: Qantas 747-400 (aircraft leased from BA in ‘Denmark’ livery) preparing for departure to Los Angeles as QF25
Gate 7: Korean Air 747-400 HL7407
Gate 8: United Airlines 777-200 to Los Angeles as UA842
Gate 9: Air New Zealand 767-300 ZK-NCO to Rarotonga as NZ48
Obviously, no rocket science is required to deduce that our flight would dock at gate 9, and park there we did. Crew wished us goodbye as they left – I felt a bit sorry for them, standing in full exposure to the chilly conditions New Zealand had presented for our arrival.
A hoard of yellow-jacketed children were swarming around the Express Immigration Clearance for Duty-free purchases (there is a reason that it’s a world first, and still is a world first, and that’s because it’s a completely stupid idea that is known in other regions as BRIBERY) but immigration down below was fairly quiet.
Baggage reclaim was 1 and considering that we were the only flight arriving, the wait of about 15 minutes or so for the bags to arrive was I thought a bit on the long side but making allowances for the weather was excusable.
Quarantine was fairly quiet, but the cramped conditions within which MAF must work really are inadequate if more than two flights arrive at the same time and Auckland Airport really needs to address this. The major problem is the queuing area – the zone is effectively a bottleneck, beginning narrow and widening out for the inspection area and that, quite frankly, is stupid when you have large volumes of people.
The MAF officers were polite and pleasant enough, helping to lift bags onto the X-ray machines and putting them back on the trolley.
So in summary…
Air NZ is really a very good airline when it comes to customer service. No major faults in trans-Tasman Business class, a few minor hiccups which of course will happen with practically every airline. Perhaps Air NZ need to address their policy of final clear-up in business class, but that’s really the only problem I found with service. Seating is another matter. If Air NZ want to attract more customers on their international routes, their business class product needs an urgent upgrade. On short flights like these, where the airline can manage to fill the plane, that’s a good sign and I hope it continues, because Air NZ deserve it. My advice to trans-Tasman travellers: fly Air New Zealand over Qantas any day, irrespective of whether you’re flying Pacific or Business class. You won’t be disappointed – I certainly wasn’t.