Air New Zealand
Departs: 6:20pm (actual: 6:30pm)
Arrives: 11:35pm (actual: 11:40pm)
Flight time: 2 hours 50 minutes
Load Factor: 100%
Equip: Airbus A320
Photo © French Frogs Aircraft Pictures
Departs: 6:35am (actual: 6:35am)
Arrives: 8:10 am (actual 7:50am)
Flight Time: 3 hours
Load Factor: 95%
Equip: Airbus A320
Photo © Ryan Hothersall
Tuesday January 1st
Getting to the Airport
After spending New Years Eve among the crowds at the Sydney Opera House to watch the best fireworks show in the world, my friend and I headed to the beach after checking out of our hotel. We went to Cronulla Beach which is just south of the Airport in Sydney. After a day enjoying the sun, it was time to wash the sand off and head to the airport.
We drove our rental car and parked at the Hertz section. A man immediately came up to us to take our car. After that it was time to turn in finalize the bill. It was remarkably different this time from when I was last in the airport. The mornings are a disastrous time at SYD. There are so many people in the arrivals hall that it is virtually impossible to move around.
At the Airport in Sydney
Since we had plenty of time to go before our departure that evening, my friend and I headed to the bathroom to change our clothes. I did not want to be wearing board shorts all the way to Christchurch that evening. I was amazed to find a shower in the bathroom in the arrivals area. I proceeded to have a shower and wash all the sand off. There weren’t towels or soap, but other than that, it was about the same type of bathroom with a shower that you find in many international lounges in airports across the world. My friend though did not know that I would be in there so long, so was a bit worried after I was in there for twenty minutes. Fortunately no one else even walked in the room and it was completely quiet.
After showering and changing into some dryer clothes, it was time to head upstairs to check in. We found the Air New Zealand check in desks. We were in economy for this flight. I am only Premier on United now, so I lost Star Alliance Gold Status. I guess I flew on too many reward trips and did not pay enough in order to get the miles. The line took about twenty minutes. Air New Zealand was doing check in for three flights. The flights to Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch all leave at about the same time in the evening.
The check in was efficient, and our bags were under the max weight. However the agent did rip off a few priority tags that my bag has acquired. I usually leave the fluorescent priority tags on there since it helps make my bag more visible. I doubt people on Air New Zealand would pay attention to an Aeroflot and a Singapore Airlines priority tag, but none the less, he ripped them off. My bag is now just a boring green.
We got our departure cards and headed to grab a bite to eat. Being that we are both Americans, we instinctively assumed that there would be no dinner on the flight. I had a chicken wrap which was decent, but spicy. At that point I looked at the ticket and it said boarding was at 5:20pm, which was an hour before the scheduled departure time of 6:20. It was 5:10, so we headed over to immigration and security. When I saw a TV monitor while walking to the gates, I noticed that it said the flight was departing at 5:50pm. How did I get the departure time wrong? So I hoping for no lines, and was fortunately blessed. We walked right up to the immigration man and he was friendly. He asked why we were off to New Zealand and told us to enjoy the country.
After immigration is security. We walked up to it via the priority lane, but were told we had to walk all the way around. I noticed all of three people waiting, but regardless we walked all the way around to go in the normal folk’s line instead of the priority lane. Security was easy compared to US standards and we were off into the international departure area. There was a ton of duty free as expected in any airport that is not in the United States of America. We went to the gate and noticed there were few people there and the plane was deboarding. I took this opportunity to pick up a bottle of Australian wine for my cousin who would let me stay at her house and pick me up from the airport.
On the Plane
There was a warning saying that we would be boarding in 10 minutes. We eventually boarded at 6pm, which makes me wonder why the departure sign said the flight was leaving earlier. The boarding area did not look too crowded, so hopefully the flight would not be full.
I gave my boarding pass up and walked down the jetway. As always on Air New Zealand, the flight attendant checked my boarding pass again. I made my way into seat 10B. I let my friend have the aisle seat on this leg of the journey. Eventually a man came and sat next me. He was not overweight or anything, but I noticed a stench. The man looked like he had not shaved or bathed in about a week. I guess there was too much partying in Sydney from the night before. There were definitely a good number of people nursing hangovers still at 6pm.
Photo © Andrew Bennison
The captain came over the PA and said that they could not find a group of 25 people for our flight. They said that they would wait and try to find them. So we waited for about 10 minutes and eventually a group of people speaking what I believe was Korean fill the rest of the seats on the airplane. As soon as they are on board, the door is shut and we push back. The flight attendants stand in the aisle while the safety demonstration is played over the video screens.
The taxi at Sydney was ridiculously long. We went to the far corner of the airport. We followed a QF 767. Eventually we line up on the runway. The engines spooled up and we were off. The takeoff was so much faster than on my previous flight which was on a UA 744 from SFO. The A320 is ok at takeoff performance, but beats a 747 with 14 hours of fuel in a heartbeat. We were soon off the runway and climbed quickly in the late evening sunshine.
Photo © Torin Wilson
At around 10,000ft the seatbelt sign went out as we continued our climb. We passed through a few clouds. At this point the flight hit a turning point. The man next to me took off his jacket and his shoes. The stench quickly angered my nose. It was rather annoying, so I decided to nod off and get some sleep.
After the sleep didn’t work very well, I got up and began watching a horrible movie. It was about a little girl finding her father who was a football quarterback and destroying his life. It was good for an airplane since it did not demand much attention to be understood.
Meal and In Flight
A flight attendant came over the PA and said that the dinner options would be a fried fish or a chicken risotto. I was surprised to hear about there being a hot dinner in economy. I was not hungry, but thought I would get a bite to eat regardless. When they came to our row, I had the chicken. It turned out to be a pile of risotto with some tomato. I could not taste any chicken whatsoever. It also came with water. Next a flight attendant came by with drinks. I saw a lot of people getting wine and it did not appear that the flight attendant was collecting money. So I ordered a white wine. I was given a choice of Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc. I had the Sauvignon Blanc which was served in a 177 mL bottle. It was actually quite a nice wine. This beverage service was above what you get in first class in the United States. The choice is usually red or white. It was nice to get a choice. I thoroughly enjoyed the wine and ate it with the chicken.
The beverage cart came around. I was still watching the movie and was considering sleep. So I decided to have another little bottle of wine. It was still free. I could definitely get used to economy with hot meals and free drinks. If you read one of my other trip reports, you will notice that US Airways does not serve meals in first class on flights of 3 hours like this one. The second bottle of wine helped me pass out and sleep after the movie. It was dark outside by this point. The man next to me still smelled and was spilling over into my seat. I was ready to get off of that plane. Worst of all, it was unusually hot. The air vent was not helping. If it was a Boeing plane, I knew the pilot could cool it off, but I did not know if that can be done on an Airbus, so I just dealt with the heat and did not comment to the flight attendants.
The flight got a bit more turbulent as we approached New Zealand. It still was no where near as bad as it was on the international flight across the Pacific. The flight attendants did not seem to come down the aisle much during the flight. Apart from the meal service, there was only one beverage service offered. It would have been nice to see some water runs, but overall the service was very good. There were four flight attendants on this flight. This is good since there are only three required on such a flight since the passenger capacity is fewer than 150. Or at least that is what I think, but laws may be different in Australia and New Zealand.
I was keeping an eye on my watch and we began descending at 11:10pm New Zealand time. I was looking forward to getting on the ground. The leather seats were very comfortable, but got a bit sticky since everyone was a bit sweaty. The descent was much steeper than what I am used to. I realized that this is because the airspace near us was probably completely empty. We could descend as late as we wanted to. I was pretty certain that we descended at idle power all the way to about three or five thousand feet. My friend noticed that her ears were hurting a bit more than normal. I told her that it is normal and more fuel efficient to descend like that.
We made only a single turn when we were on approach. There was a turn to the left as we lined up for landing at Christchurch. Overall a flight like this in a remote part of the world can have very direct routings unlike the United States or Europe where the airspace is rather crowded.
Photo © George Canciani
I barely noticed how low we were until we touched down. It was a rather smooth landing to what I believe was the North in Christchurch which means we went opposite of normal. The landing was a pretty long one. I could not tell if reverse thrust was used although the thrust reversers were deployed. We taxied slowly to the international terminal. I was glad the flight was over, but overall Air New Zealand was pretty good. For a 3 hour flight, they had very good service: everything that you could expect out of an airline. Also the seat pitch was pretty good.
Photo © Helmut Bierbaum
Once we got to the terminal, I remained seated until people around me were leaving. My friend and I stood up and proceeded into the terminal. It was rather late at night. We headed into the terminal. There was a duty free shop before immigration and then was the first set of lines. We were in the first half of the people off the plane, so it did not take too long. Being Americans, we were in to slow line of course. Most of the people around us were European citizens. The agent needed to see verification of our departing flight. New Zealand always seems to require this. It took a few minutes for me to find it, but it was not too much trouble.
Our baggage was ready once we got out of immigration. We collected it and then headed to customs. My friend thought it would be a good idea to bring some sand with her from Australia, so we had to go through the slow lane. Eventually we were let through after our baggage was x-rayed. We then entered the terminal where my cousin, whose wedding I was there for, met us. We went to the parking garage and headed out. It is a bit weird since you have to exit from the second floor, but anyways we were off into the night.
Air New Zealand offers a great product across the Tasman. I hear that they still are below the standard of Emirates, but I was still happy. Widebodies are nice, but the A320 is not a bad plane. I wish I could have flown the A345, but there were only business class seats available, so Emirates was not an option.
The meal service is nice. The risotto was a bit weird, but the free tasty wine made up for it. I recommend Air New Zealand to everyone. I have flown them on long and short haul flights and they are always good on international flights.
RETURN FLIGHT ON JETSTAR
Departs: 6:35am (actual: 6:35am)
Arrives: 8:10 am (actual 7:50am)
Flight Time: 3 hours
Load Factor: 95%
Equip: Airbus A320
After five days in New Zealand and partying for a wedding, it was time to go back to the States. Unfortunately since we had flown on United through Sydney, we needed to go back to Sydney on the way back to catch our flight. The flights leaving Christchurch leave either early in the morning or in the afternoon. The result was a long connection time in Sydney and an early morning wake up.
To the airport
We got up at 4am to get to the airport. We were at the Peppers Clearwater hotel and resort. It is a very nice place and fortunately close to the airport. We were on the road by 4:30am. I returned the hertz rental car. There were no counters open, so I just dropped the key in the box and got in the queue for the morning JetStar flight to Sydney. The line to Brisbane was longer, but both lines were pretty long. We got up to the counter and the agent said that she could not check our bags to the States since JetStar has no agreement with United. She had to look that up though. The result was that we needed to pass through immigration and enter the country of Australia rather than stay in transit when we got to Sydney.
After checkin and our bags went through, we went to the bank to pay the departure tax. This is one point where I think the country of New Zealand it backwards. I wish they just collected the fee as part of the ticket. Regardless we paid that and were off to the next queue. The line was shrinking for immigration. We had our documents inspected and then off to another line. We waited for the immigration person. He said it was a short trip and that we should come back.
The departure hall was rather crowded. There were two Air New Zealand flights, a PacificBlue flight and two JetStar flights. It is good that the international terminal has newly been expanded. It was actually a nice departure hall. All the flights seemed to be leaving in a short window. Everyone looked tired and unpleasant. It was not nice being awake that early.
Eventually our flight did start boarding. JetStar boards by color. There is preboarding which is blue, then the back half of the plane is orange. The front half is silver. They were rather strict about making people board in the correct order. When we were called, we went up. I noticed a flight attendant helping out with the boarding pass collection. I thought that was rather unusual. In the United States, flight attendants have to be on board when passengers are on board.
Photo © Benjamin Freer
The boarding door was closed right on time and we were eventually pushed back. The safety demonstration was done manually since JetStar does not have LCD monitors. As I settled into my aisle seat for this part of the journey, I noticed how bad the seat pitch on JetStar is. When we booked the tickets, there were only a few seats available on any airline, so JetStar was our best option, but it definitely appeared to be low cost. The seats were jammed in. 177 on an A320 is higher than normal, but still not as bad as it could get. Rarely do my knees touch the seat in front, but they did on this flight.
It was getting light out as we taxied to the runway. We headed to the north end of the airport. We turned on to the runway. We were followed by an Air New Zealand A320 which would be headed to Brisbane.
Photo © Bob Logan - PrestwickAviationPhotography
The takeoff was again rather fast and we pulled up off the runway with a bit of a jerk. I saw a few plains and then we were into some clouds. There was not much to see out the window. I usually like window seats as you cannot see anything in the aisle. I pulled out some earplugs and a blindfold. I attempted to recline my seat, but I do not think that it went down much if at all.
Photo © Torin Wilson
There is not much that happened during this flight. The flight attendants came through with food and drink for sale. Everything other than water is charged for on JetStar. This is completely different from Air New Zealand. But if you pay less for your fare, then I guess you can be expected to pay for food or drinks on board. I however will not pay for a coke on a plane. I do not want to do that.
The lights were left on for the entire flight. I do not think that the flight was particularly enjoyable. The leather seats were ok, but there were no winged headrests for extra comfort. It was rather difficult to sleep on the flight. I along with my friend was very tired, but it did not help. I dozed in and out.
After what felt like was about four or five hours, we started our descent into Sydney. It was much more gradual than the descent by Air New Zealand into Christchurch. We made a few turns as the flight attendants made there preparations. The crew was rather young, but did not seem to be the most caring. They could not really hide in the galleys either since there is no bulkhead in front of the row 1 seats ABC.
The captain welcomed us to Sydney as we made our final approach. I was glad to be back towards Sydney. It is a nice city, but unfortunately I would only be there for seven hours. It was rather cool and rainy outside.
We touched down and had a relatively short taxi. While taxiing, I noticed the Airbus A380 operated by Singapore Airlines at a gate. The terminal was rather crowded with departing flights. We eventually made it off the plane. The lines at immigration were rather short, which was nice. We waited a bit for our luggage. After it came, my friend had to go through the slow land because she was declaring sand. I went with her and told that I was in the wrong line. She asked them to let me stay with her, so I did, but I did get scowled at by Australian customs.
We made it into the terminal which again was very crowded. We had a while to spend here. I wanted to go walk outside, but it was cool and damp, so it was not particularly nice. We went up stairs and stopped by the observation deck. It was pretty cool going up there. I watched the SQ A380 push back and taxi for departure. It had a nice slow departure. The observation deck is quite nice in Sydney as it is quite high in the air. I have a good appreciation of the airport. It is very nice. It is truly world class unlike the American airports that we should be seeing shortly.
We grabbed a bite to eat at a restaurant, used some free internet and eventually checked in for the UA flight back to the states. Fortunately that part of the journey is in business class, so it is a bit nicer. Keep an eye out for that section of the trip report to SEA via LAX.
JetStar is definitely a low cost carrier. The airline is no where near as nice as Air New Zealand. The food and drinks are not complimentary.
However for what they are, the service was not that bad. Check in was ok. In flight service was ok. Boarding and departure were ok. We got there safely. It just was not as desirable as better carriers.
*Pictures in this trip report were from the A.net database. I may try to post some of my own later.
Check out some of my other trip reports. If you liked this one, then go ahead and read some of the other trips that I have written about.
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Comments are always appreciated. I apologize for spelling and grammar errors. This report is 7 single spaced pages.
[Edited 2008-01-11 17:03:40]