Hi everyone and welcome to my 6th trip report.
My previous trip reports can be found following the links below: Grabbing A Seat With Air NZ Part 1/2: AKL-ZQN-AKL (by NZ107 Dec 1 2008 in Trip Reports) Grabbing A Seat With Air NZ Part 2/2: AKL-NPE-AKL (by NZ107 Dec 22 2008 in Trip Reports) Air New Zealand: NZ105 AKL-SYD Economy (by NZ107 Feb 6 2009 in Trip Reports) A Whale Of A Time: Emirates A380 Inaugural SYD-AKL (by NZ107 Feb 15 2009 in Trip Reports) NZ Domestic Competition: Part 1 Air NZ AKL-WLG-AKL (by NZ107 Jun 24 2009 in Trip Reports)
This is the sequel to the previous trip report – the link can be found above.
Clicking on the images themselves will bring up a better quality picture than what is given on this page.
The New Zealand domestic scene is hotting up with the recent arrival of Jetstar (replacing Qantas, who in New Zealand were flying under the name of Jetconnect) on the main trunk routes (Between AKL, WLG, CHC, ZQN), sharing the market with Air New Zealand and Pacific Blue. I thought it was about time to check these LCCs out on a short hop to Wellington and back and compare the flights with Air New Zealand.
Today’s trip report is on the 2 other players in the New Zealand domestic market – Jetstar and Pacific Blue. Their services/schedules are very small in comparison to Air New Zealand’s – a fact that keeps a lot of businesspeople away from these two carriers. A comparison will be made at the end between all three airlines.
The websites of JQ and DJ are relatively easy to use. Jetstar added on another $2 for a credit card booking fee which made me think that their sale price was misleading. The good thing about Jetstar is that you can reserve your seat whereas on Pacific Blue, you aren’t given that opportunity until you come to checking in online or at the airport. Jetstar for some reason does not email you the itinerary straight away (this one took quite a while) but to my surprise instead sent me tonnes of confirmation emails that I had successfully subscribed to their email and text message services. Since then, I have received itineraries much quicker. These above points are reasons why full fare airlines like Air New Zealand benefit. Both no extra costs and the ability to choose your own seat straight away appeal to me. Although the LCC websites are easy to use, the things they either add or omit can really frustrate some. All of this makes Air New Zealand’s booking experience a much easier way to start the journey with the airline.
In April, Jetstar made changes to their schedule. Luckily it wasn’t late enough to disrupt my schedule and I’d still have plenty of time to explore Wellington’s terminal. And then a couple of weeks before the flight, the decided to change the schedule yet again, this time a little bit earlier than the first change. They are having some rather frustrating teething problems which should have been sorted out a long time ago.
On the day, I knew I had to get to the airport early or face missing my flight. Jetstar closes its check-in counters for flights 30 minutes prior to the scheduled departure. I checked online to see if my flight was to be delayed (I had expected delays) and sure enough it was. After my friends’ ordeal the day before mine (which included something like a 7 hour delay and a technical delay on another flight), I surely couldn’t expect much worse from them. I got to the airport with an hour remaining before the scheduled departure. I could have checked in online for the outbound flight too – I did just that with my Pacific Blue flight because I was afraid that this delay could end up making my time in Wellington much worse than I had hoped.
The Jetstar/Pacific Blue domestic terminal was once a freestanding building which housed Ansett New Zealand, Origin Pacific and Qantas/Qantas New Zealand over its lifetime. It was fused to the Air New Zealand domestic building a year or so ago and shops were opened in between, outside where the security checkpoint exists for the Air New Zealand jet gates. This end of the terminal only has 2 jetbridges at present.
Upon arriving at the terminal, I was straight onto the self-service check-in booths to check myself in for the flight. It gives you a range of options to identify yourself with – scanning the barcode, using your credit card/FF card, entering your FF number/flight number and name/booking reference. Being the aviation enthusiast I am, I went ahead and plugged my FF number in without needing to get anything out and away I was. The process is simple but it doesn’t give you an option to change your seat – once you’ve selected it online at an earlier time, it’s final. It wouldn’t help if you found people you knew at the airport who were flying on the same flight. Because I knew of this rather lengthy delay, I went outside to the carpark to do a little bit of spotting.
JQ Self Check-in Counters (sorry about the glare)
DJ’s Self Check-in Counters
Domestic Jet FIDS
DJ/JQ Baggage Claim
JQ A320: Hasn’t Found The Pot Of Gold In The New Zealand Market
NZ 733 I Flew On The Previous TR
Another NZ 733
EK A345 As EK 406 From Melbourne/Dubai
CX A343 as CX 108 Back To HKG
The weather got the better of me in the end so I ventured back inside the terminal and through security before my plane had arrived. The departure lounge is no where near big enough to cater for 2 departing flights. Pacific Blue had a 737-800 departing and our plane (A320) was late which clogged up the entire area. Because check in closed so early and the plane was so delayed, everyone who was on the Jetstar flight was outside the gate waiting for a very long time. Quite a few people were sitting on the floor and leaning against the walls. I’ve never seen that area so packed before. The position of the security doesn’t exactly help things either. Disembarking looked like a real shambles too as those getting off the plane had to somehow clamber through the mess to get out of the departure lounge. Fortunately, both planes arrived and departed at slightly scattered times, meaning 200 odd people didn’t rush through the 200 odd who were standing around waiting for their planes. I could imagine the absolute hectic nature of that area!
Way Overcrowded Departure Lounge
So the Pacific Blue 738 came and had been loaded up by the time my Jetstar A320 pulled up to the gate some two and a half hours late. People eventually started coming off the plane which had just arrived from Queenstown including the Melbourne Victory soccer team. Finally, at around 2:45, boarding commenced. I didn’t get onboard for another 10 minutes either.
The Very Late Plane
PAX Load Sheets
29 June 2009
Routing: Auckland to Wellington (AKL-WLG)
Airline: Jetstar Airlines (Codeshared with Qantas, its parent company)
Scheduled Time of Departure: 1340
Actual Time of Departure: 1514 (pushback), 1524 (rotate)
Scheduled Time Of Arrival: 1445
Flight Time: 58 min
Aircraft: Airbus A320-232
Jetstar operates both A320s and A321s. Its New Zealand-based fleet comprises of 3 A320s. VH-VQS is an IAE V2500 powered Airbus A320-200, which was registered with JQ as new on 1 September 2005. The seating onboard this Jetstar A320 is all Economy with seating capacity for 177 passengers.
Photo © Lee Moore
Photo © Colin Hunter
When onboard, I handed my boarding pass to the purser to which he replied: “Window seat on the right”. Impersonal, but I didn’t really expect more from them considering they were so delayed and this was a LCC I was on. The seat itself is quite comfortable and the legroom is sufficient, especially for short haul flights like my one to Wellington. Legroom of 30 inches is more than what Air New Zealand provide on their 733s. The difference was definitely noticed when I went to sit down. Once I was seated, I had a look at what was surrounding me – a completely shabby interior. For a plane which is barely 4 years old, I’d have expected it to be maintained much more thoroughly than it had been. I’m pretty sure the windows were dirty. I felt like I was in a kindergarten even though I was on the plane. Someone had drawn on the wall below the window with a crayon – not cleaned. Someone had scribbled with a ballpoint pen on the seatback once the tray table was folded down – not cleaned. Chewing gum – not cleaned. A crack on the tray table itself – ok it can’t be cleaned.. But that itself shouldn’t be happening! Who chooses such flimsy materials for use as a tray table? So my first impression of the airline didn’t go down too well. Surely you’d even expect the most budget of airlines to clean the plane up properly! Obviously not. The tray table lock also felt rather tacky – I’d prefer it if they had just stuck to the normal plastic ones like everyone else! As this was my first LCC experience, I was really wondering what to expect later on in the day with my return Pacific Blue flight.
Legroom – Not Bad
Crack Which Looks Better In The Pic Than In Real Life
Pushback occurred some 1.5 hours after scheduled. As Jetstar’s A320s have no TV screens at all, they play an automated audio file for the flight attendants to do the safety demo along with. The pilots were quick to apologise and blamed the delay on a technical fault in the cockpit in Queenstown – something that could be true or something just said to cover themselves for the lack of RNP technology which allows those planes with the technology to land with less visibility than usual. 10 minutes later, we were lined up on runway 05R for our takeoff towards the east – could be the first time I’ve departed to the east. And away we went. I had forgotten how quiet the A320 was from the inside in comparison to the 737 as my previous and only A320 flight was 5 years ago. It could have something to do with where I was seated too. Off we went, heading towards a cruising altitude of 30,000 feet. It wasn’t long before we cleared the clouds and were winging it towards Wellington.
Finally Leaving The Terminal
NZ Dash 8-Q300 Departing
Lining Up Runway 05R
Take Off Roll
International Terminal – LA A343, DJ 738, NZ 763, NZ A320, QF 744, EK A345
Turning Over South Auckland
Ardmore Airport In Center Screen As We Pass Through The Clouds
New Zealand Is Called The Land Of The Long White Cloud For A Reason
The plane itself was about 70% full. Luckily there happened to be an empty seat between me and the person sitting on the aisle. It wasn’t too long before the FAs came around with the buy on board items. They didn’t seem to be wanting to increase the airline’s profit much because they didn’t ask everyone whether they wanted anything to eat or drink. I could have been a willing customer and bought items which were marked up by over 150% but they didn’t even ask if I wanted anything. I bet their bosses won’t be too happy if they find out they’re not doing as much as they can to maximise their revenue! As the FAs did two runs virtually simultaneously (the sales and the clean up), I had no time to head to the rear of the aircraft to take pictures. I checked out the front toilet which was rather cramped. Just as I got up, the seatbelt sign was switched on, followed by the purser touching the control and on came a pre-recorded message about starting descent. I believe it’s rather impersonal and lazy of the airline. It must get boring if you fly with them all the time! They have these messages for everything, probably to save them time. I thought I’d better go straight back to my seat instead of wander around for another couple of minutes. In fact, we were still over 20 minutes out of Wellington and I don’t believe there was much need in turning the seatbelt sign on so early.
Touch Screen Control Panel – So Many Pre-Recorded Announcements On The Right!
Nevertheless, the rather uneventful flight started descending into Wellington from the north, buffeted by gale-force southerlies. I was hoping for a rougher flight but the A320 handled it quite well. The weather was rather similar to Auckland’s – cold and dreary, laced with rain. We touched down with nearly a 1.5 hour delay. A couple of minutes was spent taxiing to gate 22 and it was there where we encountered more problems. A couple of minutes after coming to a halt at the gate, the pilots announced over the PA that the airbridge wasn’t working and that they had contacted WIAL’s operations to get the problem solved. Of course, this wasn’t Jetstar’s fault but the experience some people had on the flight would have left them wondering why on earth they had chosen Jetstar to fly to Wellington that day. There were no interesting movements out the window and I couldn’t really do much in my seat. A mere 16 minutes later, the airbridge was finally attached to the plane and we finally disembarked. It’s one experience I hope doesn’t repeat itself again.
Crossing Over Land – Titahi Bay Below
Lower Hutt In The Background
The Roundabout With The Wind Sculpture – Quite Strong Today!
Touchdown! Northern Pier At WLG, Rather Empty
Heaps Of Air NZ Planes
Vacating The Runway
I’m Lead To Believe That Most Of These Are Swing Gates – International+Domestic
I See The Airbridge!
Company A320 Departing
Passengers Eager To Disembark But The Door Still Isn’t Open
International/Domestic Segregation I Believe
I Wonder How Long They’ve Been Waiting There For..
Wellington Airport is nice and roomy, much more welcoming than Auckland’s domestic airport. Their free wireless internet is a bonus and of course I was on A.Net for the time I was on the internet. It houses quite a few cafes and eateries but I decided not to get anything. I had already checked in online at home so there was no need to do anything else but show up at the gate. I took another look around the airport before heading to security and waiting for my plane.
You Can’t Miss This!
WLG Airport’s Plan
They Expect 77Ws?? That’s Extremely Ambitious..
DJ/JQ/QF Check-In Area
The Plane I Was Just On Back To Auckland
Airliners.Net On Free Wifi Watching The Non-Existent Traffic
My DJ Flight Home
Now Onto The Return Leg
Pacific Blue’s boarding passes from the self check-in look like supermarket dockets. The handheld scanner they use to check you in is much more convenient than Jetstar’s “rip the stub” method and Air New Zealand’s “place the boarding pass on the scanner” method. Boarding began in front of schedule at 5:50. It wasn’t long before I was on the plane and greeted by name by the Pacific Blue FAs. Unfortunately for Pacific Blue, the flight I was on seemed like it was less than half full.
29 June 2009
Routing: Wellington to Auckland (WLG-AKL)
Airline: Pacific Blue Airlines
Scheduled Time of Departure: 1815
Actual Time of Departure: 1811 (pushback), 1819 (rotate)
Scheduled Time Of Arrival: 1915
Flight Time: 1 hr 4 min
Aircraft: Boeing 737-8FE
Photo © Colin Hunter
Photo © Bob Leask
Photo © Chris Wheatley
Photo © Ian Knight
Pacific Blue operate a fleet of 737-800s with winglets, acquired from their parent company, Virgin Blue. This one, ZK-PBA, was the first 737-800 to be registered by Pacific Blue in January 2004 for their initial services out of Christchurch. It was initially registered in September 2003 as VH-VOO when flying with Virgin Blue. These planes do both New Zealand domestic and international sectors. Virgin Blue uses a configuration with a capacity of 180 over its 30 rows and a seat pitch of between 31 and 33 inches.
Not A Vibrantly Coloured Airbridge
As the flight was rather empty, I had the row to myself once again. The seats on board this 737 were a bit harder than Jetstar’s seats but still definitely comfortable enough for a 1 hour flight and the legroom was more than sufficient after many flights on Air New Zealand’s 737s. Pacific Blue’s seats also had more recline than Jetstar’s seats. The light load meant that we were able to push back from Gate 23 ahead of schedule as well. Pacific Blue’s 738s don’t have any TV screens at all and everything was done in a similar fashion to Jetstar’s safety announcement.
Spacious Legroom For A LCC
Taxiing To The Runway
Takeoff towards the south was quick into the stiff wind and we rocketed towards our cruising altitude of 29,000 feet. Apologies for the lack of pictures as it was simply too dark to take them. The CFMs on the 738 are quite a bit louder than the engines on the A320. There were 3 FAs, one for every 10 rows. It wasn’t long before they came around with the buy on board menu and this was also done as per their block of seats. The friendly FA approached me and asked if I wanted anything.
“Do you happen to have any Solo onboard?”
“I’ll have a look.. [rummages in the bottom most drawer of the trolley] Oh here’s one! Sometimes we have leftovers from the trans-Tasman runs”
It was a great surprise to me that they had some Solo on board and I was quick to buy it as it’s not available in New Zealand and they also deserved my money more than JQ did. The only bad thing I found with the seats was that the tray table kept on sliding towards me and it wouldn’t stay pushed in. This caused the ice inside the cup I got alongside the can of soft drink to topple and the ice went all over me. Luckily it didn’t have any drink inside it and I hadn’t opened my can by then. The cheerful FAs eventually came around to clean up and after they made their way to the back, I was up to take a few pics around the cabin.
My Solo – Nearly Good Enough To Buy A Spare To Have At Home
While all of this was happening, the cabin lights remained dimmed, from before takeoff to after arrival, which I found strange. The other two airlines don’t keep the lights dimmed for the entire flight and it meant turning on the reading light. I guess it does allow for a more peaceful sleep if people wished to do that. The toilet onboard was around the same size as the JQ A320 one. Soon enough, it was time to descend into Auckland. It was a really smooth landing on 05R and we shortly rocked up to Gate 21 on time.
Toilet – About The Same Size As JQ
First Time I’ve Noticed The Plate
Overall, my experience with Pacific Blue was much better than my experience with Jetstar. They were on time, their flight attendants were much friendlier and the interior of the aircraft was well maintained. (Not to mention I enjoyed flying on the 738 for the first time!) The strange dimming of the lights for the entire flight made everyone keep their personal lights on – something that will definitely be improved when planes start receiving the mood lighting.
Air New Zealand offers a great service. Their fares come “all inclusive” of a bag, taxes, levies, surcharges etc. This idea has been recently displayed in their TV ads in New Zealand showing that “they have nothing to hide”. Air New Zealand’s product is great, no doubt about that. The only downside is the lack of seat pitch in comparison to both Jetstar and Pacific Blue. If you are eligible for Space+ or you’re small enough to cope with the 28” seat pitch, you can’t go wrong with Air New Zealand.
I didn’t try to scorn Jetstar at all but the product which was put in front of me left me with no other choice. The shabby interior summed up the experience – even the inside of the aircraft can’t be cleaned properly. At least the engines weren’t falling off and we reached the destination. Their uniforms don’t look great either. The lack of RNP will undoubtedly affect their OTP over the next year and a half – there are many factors which JQ should have considered and also had the time to consider. As a typical LCC, it’s not bad for getting point to point for $10 excluding luggage but expect delays.
Pacific Blue, if they could increase their schedules, has the opportunity right now to cement the second most important domestic carrier position. The product they provide is far superior to Jetstar’s. They only fall behind Air New Zealand in categories such as advanced seat booking, the complimentary tea/coffee, extra baggage costs, and surcharges - rather petty issues if you fly with hand luggage only. Their FAs do what’s required and a bit more – it was a really nice touch for them to personally greet passengers.
It’s quite funny how both JQ and DJ’s final PA mimicked each other: “We acknowledge that there is a selection of airlines out there today and thank you for flying ....”.
Out of all this negative publicity, Jetstar have released statements and promises which include a NZ$50 Jetstar voucher for anyone who arrives at their destination more than an hour late. Too bad they didn’t have that when I flew or the voucher itself would have been worth more than how much I actually paid for my flight.
I wouldn’t mind flying Pacific Blue again – they make great competition for Air New Zealand. All they really need now is to boost their timetable to be able to compete more closely with Air New Zealand and stop them running away with the pie. Jetstar on the other hand has a lot of work to do to even compete with the other two airlines because I feel that their product is that much more inferior in all aspects from what I experienced on my journey. Air New Zealand is the way to go and its fleet is probably the only thing which needs upgrading. Flight attendants on both Air New Zealand and Pacific Blue take pride in their job and provide a very satisfying inflight service which is friendly and helpful.
Globetraveller for the inspiring report on airline comparisons within Europe
Thanks for reading! I know it was long..