For the largest leg of the trip, Auckland to Bangkok return, I managed to get a great deal on Qantas by booking six months early – only 1150 NZD for a round trip. This was cheaper than flying with Jetstar or Air Asia X, and had the added bonuses of both a SYD stopover and a chance to do the first Trans-Tasman leg on codeshare partner LAN Chile. This was a great opportunity to try this South American airline, which sells fifth-freedom tickets on the AKL-SYD leg.
The Qantas option was also attractive because the flights from Sydney to Bangkok were to be operated on a B747. I have not had the opportunity to fly on a 747 since 2004, mainly because they are dying out in the regions I usually fly in. So that offered a great opportunity and with such a good price, I eagerly booked the Qantas ticket.
This left the flights to Kolkata and Phnom Penh. Using Bangkok as the base for these destinations was most logical and so I booked the BKK-CCU flights on Thai Air Asia and the BKK-PNH route with Bangkok Airways. The trip would therefore consist of four airlines (LA, QF, PG and FD), all of which were new for me with the exception of FD.
My overall itinerary (to be done in three weeks!) was:
A few weeks after booking, Qantas emailed me to inform me that there had been an equipment change. The B747 had been downgraded to a A330 . This was a great shame as I have flown the A330 many times and was looking forward to the 747.
23 June 2012
Qantas 322 operated by LAN 801
Auckland (AKL) – Sydney (SYD)
Airbus A340, CC-CQA
Scheduled: 0605-0745 (3h 40m)
The 6 AM departure meant catching the airport bus from Auckland Central at the painful time of 3 AM. It would have been impossible for me to get any decent sleep with this schedule, so I stayed up all night waiting for 3AM to come.
Hanging around on Queen Street at 3 AM on a Saturday morning is an interesting experience, as the street is full of drunks having finished their night out in town and looking for a way home. The result was that my scheduled airport bus shared the display board with some Nightrider buses, which are destined to get such people home safely.
Thankfully my airport bus appeared quickly and whisked me off to the airport. At $26 return it is not cheap, but is the fastest and most convenient way to get to the airport. I was there in just 40 minutes, arriving at 3.45 which gave me more than enough time to catch my flight.
I immediately approached the Qantas desks, as my tickets were booked with Qantas. The terminal was very empty.
The agent looked at my papers and then said “Oh, your flight is with LAN, you need to check in with them”, gesturing to the check in desks on the right.
A few minutes later I was at the correct desk. I asked the agent for window seats on the SYD-BKK leg, as these could only be booked online with an exorbitant 20 AUD fee. However it appears she forgot my request as I was given aisle seat 39D .
There was more bad news too – the LAN flight was delayed by an hour. My itinerary predicted a 5-hour layover in Sydney, so I planned to take the airport train into Circular Quay and grab some breakfast with a friend. However this unexpected shortening of my transit left me with too little time to make the trip. So I reluctantly had to send my Australian friend a text message and cancel our appointment
The delay also meant that I had three hours to kill in AKL before leaving. I had truly arrived too early. The immigration gate was not even open yet.
So I went up to the viewing deck to try to catch any action. In the daytime this area is a great place, but tonight there was nothing to see. The deck used to have an interesting photo gallery displaying the historic aircraft that have visited AKL, but this has now been replaced with a much more general timeline of AKL’s history.
At 0500 I could finally head airside. The Smartgate system works well – insert your ePassport into a machine to get a ticket, and then insert the ticket into a machine which takes your photo and opens the gates for you.
Immediately after security you are bombarded with duty free. Nothing of interest to me.
Saw a sign advertising a ‘Journey to India’… ironic as that is where I am ultimately headed.
I settled down with some breakfast at Burger King. Chose the bacon and cheese croissant – don’t know how anyone could gulp down a Whopper at this time of day!
The airport wants me to relax… don’t worry about the fact that you are missing your Circular Quay breakfast!
The A340 finally landed from Santiago and pulled into the gate. The plane was CC-CQA, first delivered to LAN in the year 2000.
Photo © Helmut Schnichels
Photo © Francisco Muro
It was finally time to board at 6.40. I was welcomed on board with a friendly buenos dias! and was struck with the fresh and modern appearance of the cabin, despite its age.
The PTVs were large in size and legroom was good considering my height. The flight would turn out to be very comfortable!
It was only just breaking dawn as we pulled out of the gate. Load was about 80%. The safety video was shown by the Chilean cabin crew and soon enough we had an unexceptional A340 take-off from runway 05R. We flew over Manukau city before ascending above the clouds to the sight of a spectacular sunrise.
The crew on the flight were friendly and very polite. It was also very strange to be addressed as senor on a flight from NZ to Australia! The IFE proved to be very diverse with a great variety of films, TV series and music on offer.
Soon a light breakfast was distributed: another croissant! The meal was tasty but not very large, but I was not very hungry so this was fine.
I started to watch ‘Man on a Ledge’ but soon nodded off. The sleepless night was catching up with me. I didn’t awake until soon before landing.
We had a beautiful approach into Sydney on what was I clear sunny day. The pilots took us over the central city and the airport before realigning for landing.
We exited the runway quickly after landing. I love how the airport is so close to the CBD
I also love the irony of how the Qantas B737s that are used on Trans-Tasman runs are registered in New Zealand (ZK-XXX) and fly the NZ flag. This is because these flights are operated by JetConnect, a NZ-based company. There is a really funny video which describes the situation which can be seen on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=68f_JdPmvlM
Soon enough, this truly unique flight was over. I switched on my phone and was relieved to hear that my Sydney friend had received the message that I sent him from Auckland. We had arrived over an hour late.
As I passed a FA on the way out I asked her how much further they had to fly today. She said she was heading back to AKL and then on to Santiago tomorrow. Must be quite a difficult career.
After exiting the terminal the long corridors of SYD greeted me. I tried to walk quickly to get ahead of the immigration queue. There is always interesting aircraft to see here, the first being this 330 from Vietnam:
I had the option of going through transit security and heading straight up to the departures area, or going landside. I had 4 hours to go so decided to do the latter, if anything it gives me 2 more passport stamps!
Immigration didn’t take too long and I had no luggage to collect as my suitcase was checked through. The area always reminds me of the ‘border security’ TV programme that is filmed about people that get caught trying to smuggle things into Australia.
With little to do airside I decided to check out the observation deck. It offered good views of the runway and some parked A380s but doesn’t show the main gate area.
I got a drink at Hungry Jack’s but was feeling pretty tired at this point. The check-in area at SYD is huge but there isn’t a great deal to do. So I headed airside again. Immigration and security were quick and soon I was once again bombarded with duty free.
SYD has some great spotting locations! I ended up buying a cheeseburger at McDonalds and taking a seat that faces a wide window. Some interesting traffic went by.
After a while I saw my LAN A340 take to the skies, headed back to Auckland.
23 June 2012
Qantas flight 23
Sydney (SYD) – Bangkok (BKK)
Airbus A330, VH-QPE
Scheduled: 1215-1815 (9h 35m)
At about 11 AM I headed to gate 32 as boarding was meant to commence at 11.30. There was little activity happening initially, but more action outside the window, with 2 SQ A380s passing each other!
The aircraft which docked at the gate was VH-QPE, as predicted an A330 The aircraft is named ‘Port Lincoln’ and was delivered new to Qantas in 2004.
Photo © Sam Chui
Photo © Sunandan Subramaniam
Boarding was delayed but there was no reason given. It was about 1200 before we could get onboard. I was given a friendly welcome by the crew. As expected I had an aisle seat, a shame as this was a daytime flight so there was a lot to see out the window. The seat was comfortable, but legroom a bit smaller than LAN’s. There was also a large IFE box which made sitting less comfortable. PTVs were smaller than LAN’s.
The safety video featured Australian Olympic athletes and was a bit cheesy (something like “we have to prepare for a gold medal, you have to prepare for an emergency!). We then took off over the Bay after about 3 other Qantas aircraft. This ended my interesting stopover in SYD.
I found Qantas’ IFE system to be very good, as there was a large amount of TV shows and movies on offer. I particularly liked how they had several episodes of each TV series. I ended up watching ‘Man on a Ledge’ without nodding off, as well as plenty of TV episodes. ‘Adele Live at the Royal Albert Hall’ was also a great watch.
Soon the meals came round, offered by the friendly and efficient FAs. The main choices were :
Slow Cooked Beef and Barley Casserole with Mashed Potatoes and Peas
Steamed Fish in Five Willows Sauce, Fragrant Rice and Greens.
I chose the beef which was very tasty. It was quite strange for me to eat a full meal on an airline, as I have become so accustomed to LCCs!
The crew were enthusiastically handing out wine bottles, which my seat mate frequently availed. Snacks were constantly distributed throughout the flight, which included apples and hot chocolate.
Soon the cabin descended into darkness as the window shades were closed and lights turned off. I was too cramped in to be able to sleep so kept watching the PTV, eating snacks and taking walks down the cabin.
Several hours later it was time for the second ‘refreshment’. Grilled Vegetable Pizza with chocolate and a hot drink. This meal wasn’t particularly filling or tasty, but the snacks served previously made up for it.
Our route took us over Darwin, Borneo, Ho Chi Minh City and Phnom Penh. Eventually the captain announced out descent into Bangkok. I managed to get one photo out of the window.
We had to circle once before landing in Bangkok, perhaps due to our late arrival. Our aircraft was parked in area G. After thanking the crew and leaving the aircraft, I commenced what was a very long walk to immigration. It appears that they have tried to add some colour to the corridors of BKK by adding flowers and seat covers. The airport used to look very grey and sanitized.
There was a bit of a queue for immigration – as there always is – but it helps to know that there are two immigration areas. If one appears to have large queues, walking to the next immigration area as it may be less busy.
Bags arrived quickly and soon enough I was on my way to the beach! It sure felt hot in Bangkok when compared to the wintry winds of New Zealand!
This was overall a very enjoyable trip, particularly because I was able to try two new airlines and do a lot of good spotting in Sydney.
The LAN flight was worth the early morning departure (I could have taken a later QF flight) as it was fascinating to fly fifth-freedom on an airline from another continent. The crew were friendly and seat comfortable. I would definitely take LAN again on this route, much better than being crammed into an A320 or B737!
Qantas was also very good. There were some setbacks such as the poor quality second meal as well as the narrow legroom, but the crew were friendly and generous in giving out food. The IFE was also more than sufficient for this flight.
That is the end of this trip report; I will cover my Bangkok Airways flight BKK-PNH-BKK next.
Thanks for Reading! Comments welcome.