It was a dull winter’s day in Buenos Aires province as we yet again made the two hour road journey to Ezeiza with Ricardo our ever reliable driver. He was proudly displaying his new toy on the dashboard - a Garmin satellite navigation system which helped to explain the hike in his fare charges. Considering he must have driven the same route to the airport hundreds of times before quite why he needed it on was beyond me. I pretended to look amazed when he showed us the full repertoire of all of its functions wishing he would concentrate on the driving instead. After displaying to us how it could direct the user to the nearest ATM, supermarket, police station, airport and God knows how many other useless points of interest he thankfully put his two hands back on the wheel.
Not taking any chances after our last experience of getting to Ezeiza I decided to give ourselves plenty of time to catch the flight and so I had allowed an extra hour in case of any mishaps along the way. It was Saturday so the traffic was light and we made good time.
With over three hours to spare we unloaded our bags and leisurely walked to check-in. Somebody was already being attended to at the business line so the first class agent beckoned us over and we were quickly processed. Bags were only checked through to SYD as we would arrive too late to make the last QF flight of the following day to AKL forcing us to overnight at the SYD Holiday Inn.
Usually I am in a rush to clear security and immigration as quickly as possible but this time after paying the airport departure tax and with time on our side I surprised my wife by agreeing to her request of taking a look at the landside shops. I surprised her even more by telling her to buy a necklace that she liked. This shocked her so much that she declined to buy it in the end. I can never understand women.
After clearing security we entered the immigration area and whilst I have seen it busier there was still quite a lengthy queue. I spied the diplomatic channel and saw that it was free so said to my wife “fancy giving it a go”? My wife just happens to be an Honorary Vice Consul and although definitely not the holder of a diplomatic passport does have official ID which allows special privileges for carrying out some of her duties.
Surprisingly, she was up for giving it a go and off she went to chance her luck whilst I watched on from a distance. No sooner had she got there she waved me over. She explained that the very nice lady officer had told her that she wasn’t really entitled to use the fast channel but seen as she had nothing else to do she would do it as a one off. One example of why living in Argentina is so much fun – officials bend the rules sometimes just to be nice. Truth be told we probably didn’t save much time but it was fun to do anyway.
The usual forced walk through duty free was welcome as I was going to purchase a couple of cartons of Philip Morris. After searching I couldn’t find them so asked one of the girls who was just as confused as I was as to there whereabouts. She asked one of the other staff members who told her there weren’t any. What? “The best selling brand in Argentina and you don’t have any” I said in disbelief. I just had to make do with the more expensive Dunhill instead. Serves me right for not getting them before we left for the airport, as the cigarettes are not any more expensive in the local shops. A fact my wife constantly reminded me of as we made our way to the lounge.
Just like British Airways, Qantas use the Admirals Club at Ezeiza which is okay. At least it has a view to the apron although there wasn’t a lot to see today. I saw it had started to rain. I poured myself some Argentine “Champagne” and nibbled some cheese.
I also made good use of the nearby smoking lounge before our departure time much to my wife’s annoyance, she hates when I do these regular disappearing acts. We wandered down to the gate where a large crowd had gathered and stood about for a while before boarding was announced. The 747 in Qantas livery was at the gate waiting for us to board.
Our seats of 12H/K were on the upper deck and not long after arriving we were offered some pre-departure drinks, amenity kits, menus and pyjamas.
A cheery FA came over and introduced himself to us informing us that he would be looking after us. I told him that BA were usually our number one carrier for our travels and that this was our first flight with Qantas and that we were looking forward to the experience as I had heard good reports about QF………..he seemed a bit nervous on hearing that and kind of stuttered a reply.
We left the gate bang on time and were soon airborne. Now I was hoping that we would fly over our town but low cloud obscured any view of the ground as we headed south in fact almost the whole flight was spent above cloud.
Our routing would take us south into Argentine Patagonia passing over Rio Gallegos then west crossing into Chile at Punta Arenas and then across the Pacific skirting Antarctica. We would be following the sun so it would not get dark until just before landing in Sydney.
A senior female member of the cabin crew came round and had a chat with us. Probably because of my Scots accent she assumed we were Australian residents and asked us how we had enjoyed our holiday in Argentina. She was rather taken aback to hear that we were going on holiday rather than coming back from one. She stayed chatting for a while asking us about life in Argentina and what we had planned to see and do on our trip.
A drinks round was made along with the usual newspaper and hot towel round followed by the first meal service. Starter was a Salad of grilled beef and tomato salsa.
I had expected a steak dish - usually a safe bet on a flight originating from EZE and always good quality. Much to my surprise there wasn’t one so I opted for the chicken dish instead whilst my wife asked for the pork.
Starter was fine but the chicken was bland and none too hot. My wife’s pork was tough as old boots and she had a hell of a job cutting it with the plastic knife. We would come across this knife problem again when flying with BA.
Seen as the main was pretty tasteless I decided to have the cheese which was served with either a choice of port or Muscat. I meant to ask for the port but asked for the sweet Muscat instead but it was a very nice drop indeed. So my first Qantas meal was over and I have to say it was none too memorable and not what I expected.
The upper deck cabin was full except for one empty seat at the back from what I could see on a trip to the lav. The seat does not go flat – the cabin seat that is not the toilet seat - and as airline seats go was okay but viewing the IFE properly as one reclines can be a bit tricky at times.
Given the opportunity I usually wear the pyjamas on such long flights but as I wanted to take a wander I never got round to putting them on. Most of the other passengers in the upper deck seemed not to be wearing them either.
Nearing Antarctica I decided to go for that walk downstairs and take a look out the exit window but cloud was all I saw. One of the FAs came over to see if I was taking a picture of something interesting and seemed disappointed when he saw I was only taking the 747s engines.
There is a snack bar downstairs with some drinks and nibbles although it was pretty bare looking when I arrived. After helping myself to some sweet biscuits I went back upstairs. Qantas do have a snack service. If you ask for it they will make up a sandwich of your choice although I never saw anyone take them up on the offer.
The IFE was fine with plenty of choice to keep one busy. I watched some documentary type stuff which passed the time on this 14 hour flight although I seemed to miss a lot as I kept nodding off. My wife had fully reclined her seat and got some good sleep.
Two hours out and the next meal service was served. This was to be another chicken dish. Argentine Style Chicken with blue cheese and bacon in a mushroom sauce. Again nothing too memorable and similarly to the first dish was none too hot for some reason.
Before too long we were starting our descent and landed at Sydney earlier than anticipated only to be held up at the gate as a passenger wasn’t feeling too good and the quarantine people had to come on board to make sure it wasn’t a case of swine flu. Fifteen minutes later the call was made that the quarantine people were happy and we could finally disembark.
The airport was very quiet and although we had been issued with Express cards for immigration the area was quiet. After a short wait for the luggage to come out we collected it and were on our way. Pretty good I thought as all in all it only took us about thirty minutes top. One big advantage of arriving when we did was the fact that it must be a quiet time of day for International arrivals as we saw no other arriving passengers.
So what did I think of my first Qantas experience? The two male FAs who looked after us were very pleasant, the food was just okay and the hard product I would class no better than KLM, AF or LH to be honest. Don’t get me wrong there was nothing bad about it. Still we had arrived safely - always a good end and were looking forward to experiencing our flight to AKL the next day.
We had a room booked at the Sydney airport Holiday Inn and I knew they had a shuttle bus running from the airport but we had a job finding the stop. I asked a couple of lads who were waiting for a bus if they knew where the hotel bus stop was. They told us just to jump on the local bus that goes into town and which ran past the hotel. All we had to do was cross the road to get to the hotel door. Soon the bus arrived but the female driver wasn’t aware of where the Holiday Inn was till the two lads put her right and away we went for half the price the hotel shuttle was charging.
Many twists and turns later we were dropped off with a friendly goodbye from the boys and the driver. It's always a great feeling when arriving in a new country to find strangers willing to help you.
Cross the road and we were soon checked-in, tired and looking forward to a nights sleep.
After a sound sleep I took a peek out the curtain to find a cloudy but dry day. The airport could be seen in the distance and a SQ A380 was being towed from a remote area.
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Our hotel stay didn’t include breakfast so we decided to leave the hotel earlier than needed to get to the airport and have breakfast in the lounge. We took the 09.00 shuttle bus to the International terminal and were soon checked in. We were given express passes to get through security and immigration so it wasn’t long till we headed up the escalator on our way to the lounge passing the entrance to the First lounge - we would be visiting there the following week. On the way my wife stopped and had a look at the Ugg boot stand ……….she hummed and hawed before deciding not to buy them………..thank God for that as they are horrible looking things.
It was pretty busy inside the lounge with all the good seats at the windows already taken but we had no trouble finding a place in the entrance area.
We helped ourselves to what was on show although no hot food was available,maybe it had already gone?
Free WIFI was to be had - thumbs up for that - so after breakfast we Skyped the mother in law back in Argentina after figuring out what the time of day it would be there. The breakfast stuff was cleared away and out came some cheese and cold meats so we had another snack, more tea and coffee as well as some sparkling wine.
After an enjoyable time spent in the lounge it was time to make a move to the gate where our 767 was waiting. Come to think about it this was to be my first flight on a 767.
Priority boarding was announced and we were welcomed on board and pointed to our seats. Seats were great with plenty of leg room. I was interested to see what the service would be like as we were coming back to SYD in six days time flying with Emirates so comparing the two J products would be interesting. A pre-departure choice of drink was offered and I chose the Champagne to go along with my olives. Hot towels, newspapers and menus were distributed and we were soon leaving the gate on time. The business cabin was about half full with a few off duty flight crew on board.
Not too long after departure the meal service started. Lunch was a choice of Soy braised chicken/Roast Pork with red cabbage and garlic mash or Salad of tuna. I chose the chicken option and very nice it was as well.
Ice cream followed for dessert and some of the lovely Muscat to accompany it. Coffee and chocolate completed the meal. All very nice I have to say for a three hour flight. I always enjoy my food more on these short flights compared to the long hauls for some reason.
Not long after we were soon making our approach into Auckland passing over the city as we went. Some splendid countryside and beach views were had as we headed in for a smooth landing. It was all so very much like the west of Scotland and just as beautiful.
A good flight I have to say with a competent and friendly experienced crew who said their goodbyes to us as we left. We were soon through the usual immigration and baggage reclaim procedures and out of the terminal and were met with a chilly wind, certainly a good few degrees cooler than when we left Sydney.
We chose to get into the city using one of the taxi shuttle vans as it was half the price of a normal cab and as the Crowne Plaza was the first drop off point just as quick for us. It was good to have finally reached New Zealand a country my wife and I had been wishing to visit for many years.
Next report – Three domestic flights with NZ including Rotorua and Milford Sound then back to Sydney in J on a Emirates 777-300.