Wellington - Auckland
737-300 ZK NGM
Friday 11 June 2004
After a week in a cold, wet and windy Masterton, it was time to head off to LA for a long overdue reunion with family in Southern California. Since Masterton (Pop:25,000) does not have an airport we journeyed down to Wellington to commence our travels, arriving at WLG just after 10am.
The check in area was a swarm of people. I have never seen it so crowded! Then I had it figured out. Polynesian Airlines flight to Apia, Western Samoa was departing at 11.40am that morning. Why is it that when Pacific Islanders travel, 1000 relatives of their relatives must descend on the airport to wish them a safe passage. I mean to say, its only a 4 hour flight and Apia is not deepest darkest Africa for heavens sake!. I noticed the check in staff were being extremely vigilent with hand luggage.
We were checked in by a very pleasant check in agent who even grumbled that the airport was 'mayhem' this morning. The nice thing was she placed priority stickers on out luggage, despite us flying Y.
After a browse around the bookshop and a coffee, we made our way to Gate 17. At 11.10 boarding commenced. Todays flight would have been in my estimation, a 90% load. Pre domestic express days, this would have had 60%.
We departed on schedule for a fairly uneventful 45 min flight. Cloud cover all the way to Auckland.
Auckland - Los Angeles
747 - 400 ZK NBS
Friday 11 June 2004
Pacific Class Seat 59H
This was my first Long Haul Air New Zealand flight since 2000 and I was interested to see what had changed in the intervening years. While I travel Trans Tasman frequently it will be interesting to compare the two products: Long Haul & Short Haul.
Caught the shuttle bus over to the international terminal. The terminal was surprisingly quiet - don't know why as on previous occasions at this time of the day it is a seething mass of humanity.
Made our way to the top level of the terminal to my favourite bar in New Zealand: the ‘Spinnaker Bar’ To my utter horror & amazement it was closed for renovations and would not be open for another 3 months I was told. It was certainly in need of a reno as it was beginning to look both dated and tired. Too many boozy farewells I reckon. Still, I loved that jukebox they used to have.
Rather than hang around landside headed straight through immigration and browsed through duty free then down to the concourse for a coffee - Mum had a coffee while I had a Marlborough Sav Blanc. The concourse was much like the check in area - surprisingly quiet despite 11 departures over the next 3 hours.
Gate 5 NZ175 to Perth 763 Depart 1.00pm
Gate 8 TN102 to Papeete A340 Depart 2.05pm
Gate 6 SQ286 to Singapore 744 Depart 2.15pm
Gate 10 QF155 to Los Angeles 744 Depart 2.40pm
Gate 1 NZ105 to Sydney 762 Depart 3.45pm
Gate 9 SJ817 to Brisbane 733 Depart 3.30pm
Gate 8 QF120 to Sydney 763 Depart 3.40pm
Gate 2 EK405 to Melbourne 772 Depart 4.00pm
Gate 3 NZ125 to Melbourne A320 Depart 4.00pm
Gate 5 NZ54 to Rarotonga 763 Depart 4.10pm
Gate 6 NZ6 to Los Angeles 744 Depart 4.15pm
Afternoons are peak departure times for AKL. The 10 gates are woefully inadequate for 2004 passenger volumes. Interesting to see 4 new stands being built off Gate 1 to cater specifically for 744s and the new A380 -when they eventually arrive!. I noticed as each aircraft left its gate another aircraft was in the vista ready to be towed into the just vacated gate. Our assigned gate for NZ6 was Gate 6, which was occupied by a SQ 744. No sooner had it left the gate and engines started then our 744 ZK NBS was towed to Gate 6. It was glistening after its recent paint job in Portland, Oregon. I wonder why paint jobs aren't done in New Zealand? There must be a valid reason I am sure.
We finally headed to the Gate and being US bound underwent a further security check by an extremely friendly group of security guards. Incidentally this was out third security check of the day! No sooner had we passed through security then boarding announcements were made by rows and we were heading down the airbridge to ZK NBS. I must say the Y cabins are clean but looking dated and tired. The refit of cabins won't come soon enough I reckon. The cabin filled up fairly quickly and we were off at 4.30. Departed to the east and a cloudy northern NZ.
The first drinks service commenced by a friendly and very professional crew - as you would expect with Air New Zealand.
I didn't interact with this crew like I normally do as I could see they were very busy.
I grizzled about the IFE in Business Class SYD AKL but this was even more so. Since we were right down the back the screen seemed at least a mile away. Not that it mattered as the movies being screened were:Peter Pan, Miracle, 50 First Dates and Welcome to Moosport all of which are Hollywood drivel at its worst. I can't believe Air New Zealand is still showing 'Calendar Girls' which is a fine movie but they were showing it when I last flew them in February!.My saving grace was the audio entertainment, which is always very good.
Isn't it terrible they only serve wine in Y by the glass on Long Haul instead of those dinky miniatures like they do across the Tasman? I was almost tempted to pop into Woolies and purchase a few miniatures and secrete them in my bag but didn't. Most airlines take a very dim view of passengers consuming their own carry-on booze! At least the FAs can exercise some control - to a point - how much a passenger drinks. 767er would never be so declasse as getting paralytic in the air - he saves that for the ground!
The catering on this flight was excellent. Airline food can be so variable whether it be economy or business class. I have had some truly sublime airline meals - not many I grant you - and some true gastronomic horrors - way too many. With Air New Zealand I have certainly experienced the high lows of catering. Some pretty woeful meals and other 'just nice' with the exception of my last SYD AKL in J which was just top class. For dinner I chose the Chicken which was very tasty -, as were the vegetables. Mum had the lamb and said it was very good. I'm afraid the breakfast was a true Y horror. I foolishly chose the scambled egg dish and it was virtually uneatable but wasn't bothered, as I was not feeling hungry anyway.
Fresh green mesclun salad with French dressing
Braised New Zealand lamb with potato mash, buttered beans, carrots and Rosemary jus
Ham and cheese chicken cordon bleu with fried parmentier potatoes and golden brown onions, and minted buttered peas
Chocolate brownie with orange custard sauce
Fine New Zealand Kapiti Egmont cheese and harvest wheat crackers
A range of beers and spirits is offered in addition to our quality New Zealand and Australian wines.
Continental selection of muesli, milk, yoghurt, spiced fruit roll and butter
Scrambled eggs with mornay sauce, breakfast pork sausages and grilled tomato
Cinnamon French toast with bacon, peach and maple syrup.
We commenced our descent over a decidedly cloudy Los Angeles and landed just after 9am. Wisely Mum had pre-requested wheelchair assistance at LAX and am pleased we did. Chirpy Filipino women - not employed by NZ greeted us at the Airbridge - who hightailed us down to Immigration. Since a Northwest flight from NRT had arrived just prior to ours and we about the last to disembark, the lines were fairly long - though I have seen them much worse. Luckily we were taken to a special line next to the aircrew line where a NW crew were waiting. Oh my god - has anyone seen NW FA uniforms? Talk about cheap looking! I am sure they were designed by the Uniform Apparel Division, US Prison Service. A couple of the NW FA's were so old they reminded me of the Queen Mother.... okay then Princess Margaret.... and were probably born in the same decade. In comparison, the Air New Zealand female FAs looked like Jackie Kennedy in her hey day.
Immigration took all of a one min. Next stop the luggage carousel. Since our bags had been tagged Priority at WLG, they were already circling around the carousel. Customs took all of two mins and we were out the door. I thanked the Filipino and asked what an appropriate tip would be."Whatever god wants you to give' was her response. I just reached in my wallet and gave her $10. Quite frankly, it was money well spent. From the time we disembarked to meeting our family, the total time was approximately 15 mins. Well done LAX!!!
Air New Zealand offers an excellant Long Haul product indeed and there have been no significant changes since when I last flew LH in 2000.
However, NZ is lagging in 'product enhancements' that other airlines deliver in Y. Namely:
PTVs in Y - this will be addressed in 2005
'Snack Packs' between meals.
Regular drink patrols.
I won't bother doing my usual PR spiel about Air New Zealand but is still remains in my eyes a top class airline.