So I was really looking forward to this trip in Business Premier with Air New Zealand. I have flown on NZ many times before. The last time was in 2003 in first class. Since then the first class has been removed and replaced with the Virgin Atlantic style suites. Ever since seeing the new design, I wanted to experience it. For this trip I was going to New Zealand to visit family and celebrate my mother's 50th birthday with her friends and family down there from when she grew up. So what this meant was that I would be traveling in a group of five including me, my parents, my sister and her boyfriend. It is weird to go as a big group with my family, but we all converged on Seattle for Christmas (I live in the Midwest and my sister lives in Las Vegas). We were going to Christchurch for family and Queenstown for fun. We originally were going to fly SEA-LAX-CHC, but after talking to fellow anetters including NZ1, we found out that we would be in an unrefurbished 747, which is not desirable. So we changed our bookings and decided to go SEA-SFO-AKL-CHC. A little longer, but hopefully it would be more comfortable.
December 25th, 2005
Flight Time: 1hr 51min
First Class Seat 3A
Load Factor: 100% (overbooked economy, complimentary upgrade)
Photo © Anne Deus
We got to the airport at about 10:45am on Christmas morning. We had etickets from SEA to SFO on UA as we booked that separately and used a consolidator to get paper business class tickets at $5,600 per person from SFO to New Zealand. We went to the Premier/Premier Executive/1K/Business Class/First Class line. After about two minutes we were called up and gave our package of tickets. There were two agents working the eticket machines for all of the premium passengers. We handed over our paper tickets to an agent wearing a read sweater vest with the Shuttle by United logo on it and she started working. It took her a long time to get everything processed. Since Air New Zealand limits cabin baggage to only 7kgs maximum, we all had a piece of luggage to check in. The agent was able to print all boarding passes for us and tag our bags to CHC even though we would have to collect them for customs formalities in AKL.
After about 10 minutes we were all done and had our tickets. We were all seated in economy since we just bought discount tickets for this leg since it is so short. My parents are 1Ks with my father being a million mile flyer. I am Premier Executive and my sister and her boyfriend had just recently enrolled in mileage plus (they live in Las Vegas). We went through the express security lane. We had about 30 minutes before boarding time, so I suggested that we got to the new central terminal area to grab a bite to eat. We went to a Mexican restaurant there which is awesome. I am still amazed at how beautiful it is, but it cost way too much money to build. Oh well, at least it is nice to spend time in.
My father felt the need to go to the red carpet club, so we walked off over there. We spend about five minutes there before proceeding up to the gate. As soon as we got to the gate, three of us were called up to the counter. The agent then tells us that because economy is overbooked, they will be upgrading the three of us elite flyers to first class for free. That was very nice. I have only had that happen to me once before. We didn't even request upgrades, but UA gave them to us. I was happy about that. But when the agent tried to print out boarding passes he realized that our passport numbers were not properly entered. So we had to wait for that process to happen again and ended up being the last to board. But that was ok since we had checked luggage and didn¡¦t have any rollaboard carryons like normal.
The A320 was nice and clean. I took my seat which was 3A. I sat back and read a book. This was a pretty generic flight. The door was closed and the crew prepared us for departure. I was reading Raising Atlantis and sat back as we pushed back. The safety demonstration was played over the monitors, but as usual no one in first class was watching it. It was a pretty quiet Christmas morning and we had no delay on our taxi to the north end of the field. There were a couple little decorations on the plane, but nothing special.
We made it to the north end of the airport and departed on runway 16L. It was a nice forceful run. We rotated adjacent to the north satellite into a cloudy sky. Weather wasn't bad, which was good for us. But we did have a 5hr 30min layover in SFO just in case. There was a later flight from SEA that would have given us enough of a connection time, but we didn¡¦t want to chance it.
I listened into channel 9 and we were cleared up to 15,000ft and then 23,000ft and finally to our cruising altitude of 36,000ft. The purser asked me for a beverage choice and I asked for ginger ale. This was a pretty short flight, so there would be no food service. Not even the fruit and cheese plate that UA likes serving on short flights nowadays. I remember the days when AS advertised low fares, full service and offered a warm meal on flights between the bay area and Seattle in economy. That was only about 10 years ago. Aviation has certainly changed. But I also remember flying Malaysia a few months ago and getting a warm meal in economy on a flight that was half the length of this one. Anyways I got my drink and the snack mix. The snack mix sucks since it is pretzels, corn chips and soybeans - certainly not good tasting things at all. Oh well. The purser who was a younger gentleman announced that he could not find the short subject video for this flight, so he was going to put in a movie. He played the Polar Express. I hadn't seen it and since it was Christmas, I decided to watch. [complaing]I am actually glad he couldn't find the short subject programming because it sucks. It completely sucks beyond words. It consists of some stupid attempt at an entertainment show that essentially is one huge advertisement for NBC shows and people that need to boost their careers. And on top of that there are all of these commercials for gadgets and services that are supposed to appeal to business customers. You are lucky if you can see a single episode of a show like Joey or Will and Grace. UA, please improve your short subject shows. It sucks and is not worth watching. [/complaining] Ok rant over. The movie was good enough.
Before I knew it we began our decent into SFO. It was cloudy, so there was no view outside. The movie just finished up as the seat belt sign came on. The flight attendants prepared the cabin for arrival. They all seemed cheery enough for working on Christmas day. They seemed a lot better than the AA crowd that I experienced when flying SEA-DFW-CUN last year on Christmas. I like flying on Christmas since I don't really celebrate the holiday and things tend to be less crowded
We popped out of the clouds right over OAK. I saw a nice blue WN 737 on final approach as we cruised over the bay to land in SFO. The landing was a nice enough one and we were about four minutes early. Overall good job UA. A nice reliable flight.
We taxied over to the gate and I was the third one off the plane after smiling and saying Merry Christmas to the purser. I always feel bad for people that have to work on holidays that don't want to, but this crew seemed happy enough. As I was walking up the jetway an alarm went off as someone opened the door into the terminal. It proceeded to go off as all of the passengers exited the plane. It was a horrible loud pitch noise and no one did anything to stop it. That was annoying.
After all of us met up, we went to the Red Carpet Club in the UA domestic gates. We thought we would wait there for a bit and then make our way to the international terminal. We had boarding passes, but wanted to check with the Air New Zealand representatives about frequent flyer numbers, so we decided to wait until they opened up their counters. The UA red carpet club at SFO is quite nice. It has a lot of San Francisco character. It is long and has very good airport views with plenty of seats by the window. Unfortunately there wasn¡¦t much going on outside and it was raining, so it wasn't great. But I did see some impressive 747 takeoffs and landings that would have made great shots with all of the water splashing from the wet runway.
I had a coke and watched some football as I tried to waste away five hours. Eventually my family went off to the International terminal, but I stayed back to make some phone calls and spend some time away from the family. At about two hours prior to departure time I made my way to the International terminal.
Air New Zealand
December 25th, 2005
Flight Time: 11hrs 40min
Business Premier Seat 5K
Load Factor: 22/26 in Business Premier
Photo © Colin Hunter
Photo © Jonathan Rankin
I followed the signs and it was a pretty short walk. I could see the beautiful month old 777 sitting there waiting for us surrounded by a few planes that would be on their way to Asia. I was really looking forward to this flight. I went to the counter and got my frequent flyer number entered into the system. I then cleared security. They TSA agents seemed very friendly and were wishing everyone a happy holiday.
I walked the length of the international terminal trying to find the Red Carpet Club. I eventually walked all the way back to only see that it was right next to security. The terminal was very empty and quite nice and new. There were only a few people in a bar. I went into the RCC and found it to be huge. Lots of little rooms connected to each other. Eventually after walking through the maze of quiet rooms, I found my family behind the bar drinking and arguing with each other. I guess that is the joy of family. We had about 30 minutes. I watched some CNN and declined a visit to the bar. Drinking is not the best of ideas on long hauls as you get dehydrated enough on a plane without alcohol in your system.
At 6:25pm we started walking to the gate after over four hours in SFO. That was more than enough time for my liking. I was ready to just get on a plane. We went all the way out near the end to find our 777. Just as we went down the escalator, they began boarding Business Premier. We boarded through the first jetbridge and were welcomed aboard. My first thought was of amazement. The whole cabin was lit in a soft purple and pink hue. The seats were a relaxing brown color and peaceful scenes were visible on the PTV screens. All of the passengers seemed to be amazed by the cabin. It looked nothing like what you would expect from business class; especially when compared to the old configuration of old seats with just 50 inch pitch.
I made my way to my seat and got my things in order. Each seat had its own overhead compartment which was nice. An older male FA came by and asked if I wanted anything to drink. I asked for orange juice and began to settle down and explore the seat. I then went over to the other aisle to chat with my sister and her boyfriend. Lots of people were taking pictures. My sister took some of the seats and even a movie. I will try to get them from her and upload them. Overall it was very comfortable. An FA came around and as many people were curious about the seat performed a tutorial for the entire cabin. About 10 people crowded around as the lady showed us how to recline the seat, take out the tray table, play with IFE and how to convert it into a bed and where the linens were. It was very nice of her to do that. At this point my sister realized that her seat wasn't really working. She couldn't recline the seat. Since there were only 22 of 26 seats occupied, she moved to a different seat. Upon arriving at a new seat she discovered that the tray table would not come out. The flight attendant said that there are issues with the tray table and that they are currently working on redesigning the mechanism that latches it in place since pretty much everyone had trouble using the tables and the FAs had to assist everyone. Well my sister's tray wouldn't come out, so her and her boyfriend moved across the aisle to try seat number three. Finally the seat seemed to be adequately functional. I think Air New Zealand is having some teething issues with the new planes and new seats. They are a revolutionary design, but there are some quirks. I overheard some passengers complaining and thinking that this was an old plane. When they found out that it was only a month old, they were confused as to why a new plane would be breaking. Oh well, at least my seat had no issues with it.
Next a flight attendant came by with baskets with different amenity items in them. There were toothbrushes, socks, eyeshades, ear plugs and lip balm. I took one of each in order to maximize my amenities in flight. I ended up using them all. I am glad that NZ still offers amenities to passengers. I think offering passengers to take what they want is best. SQ has eliminated amenity kits in business class and makes you ask for things, but they don¡¦t really let you know what is available. I would prefer a whole kit to myself, but I am satisfied with taking what I want.
By this time the front door was closed and boarding was being completed. The captain came over the PA and welcomed us aboard the brand new 777. Our flight time would be 11hrs 40min. There would be some turbulence for the first few hours before the flight would eventually smooth out.
The second door was shut right on time and the safety video was played over the PTVs. I looked around and people seemed to be paying attention. The crew then did their final preparations for departure as we pushed back. We made our way very slowly in the cold wet night. We eventually taxied and were ready to takeoff in an easterly direction. The takeoff was a smooth one as the beautiful engines roared to life. We rolled to the left for noise abatement before continuing our climb into the clouds. There wasn't much to see as it was overcast at about 3,000ft. The 777 definitely took its time in climb. We were slowly making our way into the sky on our way to the South Pacific.
At about 10,000ft the seatbelt sign was switched off. US airlines definitely wait a lot longer to turn off the seat belt sign. You have to almost be in cruise before you are allowed up nowadays. It was smooth and the flight attendants began scurrying to get the meal ready. It seemed like they had an awful lot of work to prepare the meal service as they were working quite hard for 10-15 minutes before they attended to the passengers. The menus were passed out. It was a simple piece of cardboard paper folded in half and wasn't in color or anything. Overall very cheap, but it still accomplished what it needed to. The in flight manager explained the services for the flight over the PA.
Ed was serving my side of the cabin for our flight. There were three flight attendants for the Business Premier passengers. This meant a ration of 7 to 1, which always means good service. Table linens were passed out. Next came a salad with scallops and I had a glass of Chardonnay to accompany it. (While enjoying the glass of wine I raised it in a toast to Anetters that wished me a good trip and especially to Door5right who was jealous of me for getting the opportunity to enjoy superior service on one of the world's best airlines). There were lots of little scallops that I didn't really care for on the salad. I ate the lettuce and passed on the scallops. I did have two helpings of garlic bread though. It wasn't freshly baked or even adequately heated, but it was ok. The meal service was being accomplished at an adequate pace. I was really glad for this because so often meals take almost two hours to be completed. During the meal service I was watching Wedding Crashers. I have been told that it is a funny movie, but I didn't really find it that great.
After the plate was collected Ed came by and asked what I would like for dinner. I chose the steak and it came in a tiny bowl. I am guessing that it was about four ounces of meat surrounded by a few vegetables. The amount of food served was tiny. My father was livid when he saw the portions given. I am a lightweight myself and found the amount of food to be adequate, but my father was so upset and asked for more. They eventually gave him an economy meal. But despite the dinner's size, I did enjoy it. The meat was moist and tasted good. I felt adequate. I had a third glass of wine which is my limit as Ed collected the bowl. Dessert came by next. Knowing that New Zealanders like bitter desserts, I had some ice cream instead of the other choice. It tasted good although it was somewhat melted. It wasn¡¦t as good as the ice cream sundaes that some airlines serve, but it was adequate.
After I was finished Ed collected everything and I passed up on more wine and cheese. I had a few glasses of wine to put me to sleep. I personally am not a big drinker, but felt the need to go to sleep. Throughout the meal service the seatbelt sign had been on as there was some light chop. It didn¡¦t feel too bad and I really needed to go to the lavatory. So I got up and quickly went to the one right behind my seat. Once I made it back to my seat I was ready to run in for bed, so I folded the seat down and turned it into bed mode. I opened up the mattress cover and blanket and got the bed ready for sleeping. It looked very comfortable.
I layed down in the bed and felt very good. I had a nice meal and was ready to go to sleep. There were about 10 hours left in the flight. I am 5'11" and fit very well into the bed. It was plenty long when including the ottoman. By the way the ottoman is a very nice feature. It is nice to have a seat if you want to talk to someone briefly, although it is uncomfortable to sit on for extended periods of time. Also it serves as a nice foot rest at a good distance from the seat. Overall the seat design was perfect from a comfort level, but mechanically has some issues that still need to be worked out. The back side of the seat that you sleep on is very soft and comfortable.
I put on my blindfold and earplugs and went to sleep in the turbulence and pretty much was out. I briefly woke up with about 6 hours left in the flight and went to the lavatory, but then went back to my seat and to sleep. I noticed that pretty much everyone was asleep. It looked like everyone else was enjoying the seats. I was out again and slept very soundly. That little bit of wine definitely knocked me out. I woke up with about 40 minutes to go in the flight. I completely slept through the breakfast service, which was good as I don't like eating right when I wake up. I am so glad that Air New Zealand flight attendants don't wake passengers up for meal services. I remember an experience when an SQ FA was pushing on my shoulder and thrusting a hot towel into my face and trying to get me to eat which royally pissed me off. I had slept for about 9hrs and 40min. I felt great. I sleep well on planes, and the amazing comfort provided by the suites just made me sleep better. My mother had some issues sleeping since she was allergic to the feathers in the pillow, but I was fine.
I made sure my immigration forms were in line and then I went to the lavatory to freshen up and brush my teeth. I came back and Ed was there. He offered me some orange juice and I folded up the seat. I noticed that the cabin was now a bluish green color. I really liked the mood lighting. It makes it more comfortable and relaxing. Also when I first saw that Air New Zealand has brown leather, I thought the plane would be ugly. But in reality it looks very good and relaxing. A+ to the Air New Zealand interiors.
I then sat back and looked at the IFE. There was announcement that they system would be shut down in about five minutes. I looked at the airshow moving map, but wasn't that happy with it. It is supposed to be the latest in technology, but I didn't think it was that good at portraying what you want to see. It didn't do a good job of showing where you are and the flight information. Overall the IFE is pretty good. It wasn't as easy and seamless to use as SQ's Krisworld, but the On Demand feature was good. I liked being able to choose what to watch and when to watch it. It really makes me get annoyed when I go back to flying UA and do not get to choose when and what to watch. AVOD is amazing.
The IFE was turned off and they showed a video about arrivals in Auckland. We were descending in the dark. It was overcast below us, but the arrival was pretty smooth. I was happy to finally be in New Zealand. I think the service was good. The crew was a little on the older side. I remember past experiences when NZ had younger crews, but that doesn't mean that they didn't provide good service. I was happy enough with what we got and need to remember that this was business class. You would think that it is first class since it is more comfortable that those old seats on Air New Zealand, but it isn't.
We made it to the runway in the dark and had a beautiful landing. We taxied to the terminal which was pretty empty since it looked like the arrivals from LAX had not made it in yet. We exited through door two and the FAs were nice enough to help the business class passengers out first. We made it into the terminal and quickly walked towards immigration. Unfortunately there was a line there, so the rushing served no purpose. But after about 20 minutes we all made our way through.
Our bags were already on the carousel for collection. We grabbed our bags and headed to customs. In New Zealand they Xray every bag regardless of what is declared. After making my way through my family heads to the Air New Zealand domestic transfer counter. There was a little line, but we made it up to the counter. My father had some issues finding his boarding pass as he was exhausted after a long flight and some whiny woman behind the counter was yelling at him. She was not friendly at all and seemed to have some stuff loaded up her behind. But anyways I found it among his stuff and she put our bags onto the belt.
Air New Zealand
December 27th, 2005
Flight Time: 1hr 10min
Boeing 737-300 Seat 4E
Load Factor: 60%
Photo © Gabriel Savit
Photo © Colin Hunter
We went outside and followed the blue line to the domestic terminal. There is a bus that runs every twenty minutes, but we felt like taking the one kilometer walk. It still confuses me how domestic carriers in New Zealand need to have their own terminals. But anyway we walked over there and then headed over to security. The security in New Zealand is far less strenuous than in the United States. It was like security was five years ago. We make it through with no problem and head to the Koru Club. I grabbed some toast and juice as my father had a shower. I relaxed a bit. I then noticed that I was assigned seat 23F while the rest of my family was in row 4 and 6. So I went up to the front desk and they printed me a new boarding pass for row 4. That was important because my family does not like waiting.
At 6:50am we went to the gate. They were about to begin boarding. They started with rows 12 and up and then two minutes later welcomed everyone aboard. It was very orderly. I was glad about that.
I boarded and found my seat. I had a nice young woman sitting next to me though seat pitch sucked. The domestic economy seats on Air New Zealand aren't good at all. Service is also poor. It wasn't long ago when they served hot meals on flights between AKL and CHC, but now you only get tea or coffee. After everyone had boarded I noticed that no one took seat 4D, so I moved over to the aisle so that I could have some more space. It seemed like the seats were assigned somewhat randomly since there were multiple empty rows, yet some rows were completely full.
We pushed back on time and the flight attendants performed the showed the safety demonstration. NZ has 733s that have the drop down LCD monitors. Usually you only see these on the 737NGs, but Air New Zealand has the last 733s produced and have some extra features. However the monitors are only used to play the safety demonstration as there is no IFE during the flight on the domestic legs.
We made our way to the runway behind a LAN jet which I believe would be headed to Australia. Take off was fast and smooth as the little jet moved into the air. The skies were light out now and it was clearing up a bit. I started reading my book since I couldn't look out the window .
The seat belt sign went out at 10,000ft. The flight attendants first passed out water and then offered coffee and tea. There is no juice or anything else offered. At least domestic US airlines have a full beverage service. I think more than tea and coffee should be offered. But it is just a short flight. I guess it would be an RJ in the US and that would mean only water.
We began our descent into CHC. I was glad to almost be there it had been a long flight. I tried to look out the window, but I couldn¡¦t see much from an aisle seat. We made a smooth but fast approach. We definitely were moving fast. The plane flared but still smashed into the runway and we bounced. It wasn't a very good landing by the crew. But we taxied towards the terminal. I was one of the first off the plane and made my way into the terminal. I met up with family members who drove us to the Clearwater Resort to stay in Christchurch for two days. We would then head to Queenstown before returning. Keep an eye out for those trip reports and I will try to get some pictures if I can.
Air New Zealand is a still a good airline although some cost cutting maneuvers are obvious. NZ use to have bad seats and interiors in its premium cabins but really good service. Nowadays service has declined due to smaller meal portions and reduced staffing. But overall Air New Zealand is still a good carrier. All flights were on time, which is always really important. I have not flown Qantas to New Zealand, but I think that the level of comfort in the new suites is better on Air New Zealand. This is a special airline. Kiwis are great friendly people that provide amazing service in all industries. It isn't like America where you only get good service if you give people tips. But NZ can still improve. Increasing the quality of the food service would help and offering more than tea and coffee on domestic legs would be nice, but I doubt it will happen.
Thanks so much for reading my trip report. I apologize for the lack of pictures, but I tried to make up for it with detail. Please leave comments about what you liked and didn't and I will try to make my return trip report better as I want to make sure you guys like it and want to read it since it takes a number of hours to write a trip report like this. Keep an eye out for it.
[Edited 2006-01-02 02:24:55]
[Edited 2006-01-02 02:28:10]