Hotel Review – Hilton Burlingame San Francisco Airport Bayfront

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 29-Aug-2014 08:52

I’ve stayed at a few different hotels near San Francisco airport in recent years, but I’d never stayed at the Hilton. As I have Gold Status with hhonors, Hilton’s loyalty program, I thought I’d check it out.

The hotel is located only a few miles from San Francisco airport and has plenty of parking both at the hotel, and at an airport long term parking lot which is located next door. As I was flying in and out of San Francisco International Airport, I took advantage of their free hotel shuttle which runs from the airport. The market for accommodation near the airport is a very competitive one, with free shuttles the norm for all hotels. These shuttles are all run by private transportation companies rather than the hotels themselves, and as most of the big hotel chains feature several of their hotel brands near the airport, the shuttle will typically serve a number of hotels. Shuttle pickup areas are outside each of the four terminals at SFO. I waited for around 15 minutes for the shuttle to arrive, a timeframe that’s fairly typical of other recent experiences.

Upon arrival at the hotel I was greeted at the front desk by a super friendly staff member and check-in was a very quick process. Due to my hhonors Gold status I was upgraded to a room on the Executive Floors, and a request to change to a room with an airport runway view was quickly processed after discussing with another staff member what free rooms would have the best view. The hotel was very busy with a number of people checking in, and a function that was also on at the same time.







The room was a nice size, with a King size bed, great desk space, good size TV with all channels being digital. Nothing annoys me more in a hotel that a TV system with analogue content, often with video that’s not even in the correct aspect ratio. WiFi coverage and performance was good, and as a hhonors Gold member I receive free internet at all Hilton hotels. Hilton take pride in their bathroom products, and it’s safe to say I do have a nice collection now! :-) The room also featured a window that could be opened.


And the view out my room window of the the threshold of runway 28L and 28R at SFO.

Executive floor rooms at any Hilton location include access to the Hilton Executive Lounge. This lounge offers a good place to work with access to PCs, newspapers, and food and drinks throughout the day. Breakfast is served in the morning and canapés and drinks (with a cash bar) in the evening. At other times of the day soft drinks, water, and light snacks and cookies are available.





I stopped by briefly to snack on the canapés before heading out to enjoy the beautiful evening. The selection was fairly typical of a US platter, with a great vege selection, fruit, cheeses and bread. If you were simply after a light dinner, it could easily fill the spot.


The hotel features a well equipped gymnasium and indoor poor, and a bar area and restaurant on the ground floor. The bar was quite busy when I stopped by with a number of airline crews (there seemed to be a lot staying at this hotel) eating at the restaurant.

The executive floor rooms feature a turndown service which is still something I really love in a hotel. Coming back to find nice chocolates by my bed at night is always going to win a chocoholic such as myself over!

The bed was a very comfortable Hilton bed, with great sheeting and pillows. The hotel doesn’t appear to offer a pillow menu, but with the number on offer on the bed there was no need. Noise from the airport wasn’t an issue, but traffic noise from the nearby freeway could be faintly heard, but was certainly nowhere near loud enough to cause any issues. My only real complaint about the room was the air conditioning and ventilation system. A loud extractor fan in the bathroom that couldn’t be switched off meant I had to sleep with the bathroom door shut. Likewise the air conditioning system in the room itself was so noisy that sleeping with it on would be virtually impossible. Luckily the room wasn’t hot, so there was no need for this to be on.

I woke up feeling refreshed and after a great shower with good water pressure I headed to the Executive Lounge to check out the breakfast options. While it’s no substitute for a full buffet breakfast, the food selection on offer was great with cereal, yoghurt, fruit, break, pastries, eggs and sausages on offer. It was enough to leave me feeling very content.


I checked out of the hotel after breakfast and left my bags there for the day to head into San Francisco for the day before my evening flight back to New Zealand. Access to public transport from the hotel is a little tricky due to it’s location. The easiest access to the BART subway system is from the airport (which you can get to via the free shuttle), or from Milbrae station which is a short taxi ride away. Closest access to the Caltrain is from Burlingame station which can be accessed by a free shuttle bus that runs between several nearby hotels and downtown Burlingame throughout the day, or once again via taxi or rideshare service such as Uber (which is cheaper than a taxi).

Overall staying at the hotel was a great experience, and the front desk and bell staff were all very pleasant to deal with. I’ve grown fond of Hilton in recent years, and this experience has certainly added to my positive experiences with the brand.

Do Jetstar employ PR people who don’t understand graphs?

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 27-Aug-2014 10:36

The people over at Jetstar posted a graph on their Twitter account his morning. Clearly the intention was to show that they’re better than Air New Zealand when it comes to on-time performance. I’m not quite sure if it really does show that.

jq ontime

It’s no secret that Air New Zealand have had terrible on-time performance across their main trunk routes in recent times. These problems have existed for a number of reasons, not but least

A) The move from 737 to A320 aircraft with 38 more seats. Meeting 30 minute turnaround times for some domestic flights has been a challenge. But Jetstar operate A320 aircraft as well you may say – but the key being Air NZ average passenger loadings on their flights are significantly higher than Jetstar. While not the sole cause, in conjunction with the following it’s lead to major problems in recent months.

B) Jetstar operate strict timeframes for gate closure – be on the plane 15 minutes before your flight or you’ll miss it. Air New Zealand aren’t quite so strict, something that customers may like, but ultimately it can cause delays.

C) Koru Lounges. Jetstar don’t have airport lounges in New Zealand. This means passengers are waiting at the gate rather than in the lounge. With many travellers preferring to wait in the lounge until the last minute, it ultimately has the ability to cause delays.

D) Delays at Wellington airport due to screening. Due to no centralised screening for jet services at Wellington airport many passengers waiting in the lounge until the last minute and all scramble to be screened, which can cause delays.

E) Air New Zealand operate significantly more services than Jetstar.

So the graph shows what everybody already knows. Air NZ lead the way in on-time performance but slipped. A lot of work in recent months is clearly shown in these results, and it shows that on-time performance from Air New Zealand is back to where it was. I’m no PR person, but releasing information showing the massive improvements your competitor is making seems a little strange. It’s great of Jetstar to point that out to the industry.

Flight Review NZ7

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 27-Aug-2014 08:52

Anybody out there who loves planes knows that the 747 has truly earned the title of Queen of the skies. The plane that revolutionised long haul travel has been a mainstay of global airline fleets for over three decades, but with increasing fuel costs it’s becoming increasingly less common at airports around the world as it’s being replaced by  newer, more fuel efficient aircraft.

Over the past few years Air New Zealand have retired most of their 747-400 fleet, and has a single 747-400 still flying. This aircraft is scheduled to fly it’s last flight as NZ7 from San Francisco to Auckland on September 10th. With this in mind I purposely booked my flight home from San Francisco so I could have possibly my last flight in what I still regard as the coolest plane in the skies.


I arrived at the airport a little earlier than usual, and was greeted by ZK-NBV as I departed the BART station at the airport. Check-in at San Francisco (SFO) was a  very smooth process with only a single person in front of my in the premium queue. TSA queues at US airports are often a nightmare, but I was through this in around 10 minutes and a few minutes later arrived at the Singapore Airlines lounge which is used by Air New Zealand in the absence of their own Koru lounge.



Food and beverage selections were typical for an airline lounge at a US airport – which is quite different to what people would normally expect from a regular Koru lounge. A selection of salads, cheese, vege platter, potato crisps, a pretzel mix and cookies made up the selection, with some filled rolls on the side. The liquor selection was also fairly average, but at least featured Tiger beer which is a little more exciting than drinking Bud Lite. Bathrooms are at each end of the lounge and two of these feature showers, with the only downside being that these are both shared with bathrooms so take these out of action while in use. The lounge became quite busy, but still had seating available. The lounge itself closes at 2045, 30 minutes before the scheduled departure time of NZ7 of 2115. It’s only a short walk from the lounge to the gate normally used by Air New Zealand.

Boarding commenced a few minutes late, but as I had left the lounge earlier I was near the front of the queue to board.

As this would possibly be my last 747 flight I decided I had to make a final flight on the upper deck, so flew Premium Economy in seat 22A (which coincidently is the same same seat I flew on last year in my NZ8 review). Row 22 is an exit row featuring unlimited legroom, but does torment anybody sitting here with a great view of the lie flat Business Premier seats!




There are many similarities between Premium Economy and Business Premier on Air New Zealand. Both receive noise cancelling headphones (which are significantly better than regular headphones, but pale in comparison to my Bose QC15s), an amenity kit, and similar food and wine menus. The most significant difference being that Premium Economy meals are served in regular airline food trays, whereas Business Premier meals are fully plated up.

After we’d reached cruise altitude menus and hot towels were distributed around the cabin.



To begin – a salad of crab and smoked salmon, washed down with a glass of Mumm Champagne.


Followed by seared miso glazed cod (and another glass of Mumm!). Desert was a strawberry and ginger mousse. All three courses were delicious. Flying in premium cabins means premium alcohol offerings, and the crew seemed very happy keeping peoples glasses full.

After dinner I decided to check out the in flight entertainment system, and that’s when things started to go astray. Due to the age of this aircraft it still has a rather ancient non touch screen Rockwell Collins system which only features a 4:3 aspect ratio rather than 16:9 widescreen. On this particular plane it was certainly showing it’s age. I’d heard from other friends who had flown on this aircraft in recent weeks that the system was experiencing problems, and it’s safe to say that was an understatement. A full system reboot didn’t fix the problems which include skipping and loss of video and audio sync, and the system was pretty much unusable as a result. Lucky I had content on my laptop to watch instead.


The IFE if it had been working – a good selection of movies, music, radio channels and games. The same Rockwell Collins system is present on Air New Zealand’s fleet of 777-200 aircraft, but these are currently in the process of being refitted with new seats and a new Panasonic eXlite IFE system.

After a good sleep I woke up not long before the breakfast service commenced. Being a little peckish I checked out the snack bar which is available throughout the flight for Premium Economy and Business Premier customers. This featured grapes, apples, vege crisps, Whittakers chocolate bars, muesli bars, Cookie Time chocolate chip cookies and bottled water.




Breakfast was a bit of a mixed bag. The fruit was nice, but the croissant was a little squashed and not flaky. The quesadilla tasted great, but to be honest was a little too greasy for a meal at 0400 in the morning.

Our arrival into Auckland was smooth and there were no delays with priority bags which were starting to appear just as I arrived at the baggage carousel. Within a few minutes I’d checked my bags at the domestic transfer desk and was on my way to the domestic terminal to wait for my flight to Wellington.

Overall the flight was a good one, however it’s very clear that this is one plane that’s well and truly served it’s time and is due for replacement. The same crews that crew the 747 also crew the other long haul 777-300 and 777-200 aircraft so the level of service is the same, however the fit out of a newer 777-300 aircraft is superior in every way, and the Panasonic IFE system on the newer 777-300 aircraft is so superior it’s like comparing night and day.




October 1998 – September 2014

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Air New Zealand announces gate to gate use of electronic devices

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 4-Jul-2014 11:42

I've never simply posted a press release on my blog before - but this is very exciting news. From the 16th July customer on selected Air New Zealand services will be able to use electronic devices that are switched to flight mode from gate to gate - there will be no requirement to power off these devices during takeoff and landing as is required at present.

All we need now is Air NZ inflight WiFi - which is something that has been rumored for some time with the launch last year of coverage in the South Pacific and the installation of a ground uplink station in Adelaide by Panasonic Aviation who provide Air NZ's Inflight Entertainment (IFE) system on their new aircraft.

Air New Zealand customers will be some of the first in the Asia Pacific region to be able to use their handheld portable electronic devices in non-transmitting mode for the entire duration of their flights following approval from the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority. From 16 July the airline will allow the use of handheld portable electronic devices including tablets, smartphones, e-readers and mp3 players during all phases of flight provided the devices are in flight mode.  Previously customers could not use their devices during the taxi, take-off and landing phases of flight.

Initially this option will be available to customers travelling on domestic and international services operated by Airbus A320 and Boeing 787-9, 777-200 and 777-300 aircraft with plans to include Air New Zealand’s regional turbo prop and Boeing 767-300 fleets over time, subject to regulatory approval.

Air New Zealand’s General Manager Customer Experience Carrie Hurihanganui says extending the use of electronic devices to all phases of flight will further enhance the customer journey.
“We are living in a digital age where the majority of our customers use electronic devices while travelling.  Today’s announcement will give customers further freedom to use their handheld devices to take photos, listen to music or watch pre-loaded movies gate to gate.

“Air New Zealand prides itself on being a leader in innovation and technology and continues to actively explore what can be done to make the travel experience easier and more enjoyable for our customers.”
Last year the US Federal Aviation Administration published guidance allowing for the expanded use of portable electronic devices following analysis by experts from airlines, aircraft manufacturers, pilots associations, cabin crew and mobile technology manufacturers.

Flight Review – Air New Zealand NZ90 and NZ99

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 13-Jun-2014 20:34

I flew to Japan for a holiday for a couple of weeks late March and early April to see the cherry blossom bloom. I’d been meaning to post my Air New Zealand flight review for some time, but later is better than never! :-)

Air New Zealand fly two types of aircraft on the Auckland to Tokyo route, the 777-200ER (77E) and the 767-300ER (763). At the time of writing this the vast majority of flights are flown by the 767. The product offering between both aircraft varies quite significantly which is something that I’ll briefly discuss. I flew business class both ways on the 767.

The 767 offers two classes of travel – economy and business. The economy offering is a 7 abreast 2-3-2 configuration with most seats offering either 31” or 32” pitch as standard. Business class is a very dated product by modern standards consisting of old style non lie flat seats in a 6 abreast 2-2-2 configuration with 50” pitch. The seats are narrow and if you’re used to flying in business class with fully lie flat seats it’s safe to say you’ll be extremely disappointed. For day flights it’s an acceptable offering, but for long duration night flights it’s a pretty sub par offering for an airline in this day in age. The 763 features a Panasonic EFX inflight entertainment (IFE) system with 16:9 aspect ratio touch screens in every seat.

The 77E offers three classes of travel – economy, premium economy and business premier. The economy offering is a 9 abreast 3-3-3 configuration with between 31” and 33” pitch as standard on most seats. Premium economy is also a 9 abreast 3-3-3 configuration with significantly increased 41” seat pitch, better recline and upgraded food and drink offerings. The premium economy seats however are not significantly different that those in economy, you’re simply paying extra for more space and better dining. Business premier is a fully lie flat bed in a 4 abreast 1-2-1 configuration with each seat having aisle access. The 77E features a much older Rockwell Collins IFE system with 4:3 aspect ratio non touch screens.

Air New Zealand are currently in the process of upgrading it’s 77E fleet with the first aircraft due for completion in July, and the remainder by mid 2015. This will see brand new seats fitted throughout and a move to 10 abreast 3-4-3 economy (you’ll know what a sardine in a can feels like), an improved premium economy offering with better seats and new business premier seating still in the existing 1-2-1 configuration. The aircraft will also have the latest Panasonic eXLite IFE fitted.

Air New Zealand will be introducing their new new 787-900 Dreamliners onto the route as they progressively arrive from late 2014 to replace the 767 fleet which is being retired.

NZ90 Auckland to Tokyo Narita

NZ90 is a daytime flight from Auckland to Tokyo. I was seated in seat 4J for this leg. Row 4 is the last row in business class with a bulkhead behind it separating business and economy class. Having sat in this row a few times before I’m convinced that the recline in these seats is slightly less than other rows due to the bulkhead. Bassinette fitting are also at the very front of the economy cabin, so you do face some risk of noise from babies in this area.

On boarding I was welcomed by the crew and offered a pre-flight drink of orange juice or champagne. Being a champagne fan I felt it would have been rude to turn the offer down, especially as Air New Zealand serve Mumm which is a favourite of mine. Noise cancelling headsets, a bottle of water, and menus were also present on my seat. I’m not a huge fan on the noise cancelling headsets Air New Zealand offers (as I have my own headphones which are vastly superior) but they are certainly a step up from the regular headphones used throughput the plane for economy seats.



amenity kit  

After takeoff hot towels were handed out and another round of drinks handed out. Once again I felt it would have been rude to turn down another glass of Mumm. Tablecloths were then laid out in preparation for the breakfast service.

nz99 breakfast 001

I opted for the smoothie, fresh fruit, muesli and yoghurt to start with, all washed down by another glass of Mumm. :-)


This was followed by hotcakes with a rhubarb compote and cream which was very yummy.


After the breakfast service was over it was time to relax for a few hours. There is a great selection of music, movies and games on the IFE system that will cater to most people. There is a lot to see out the window during the flight with many island and atolls on the way.



And of course crossing the Equator – something I always like to celebrate. I was a little tired of Mumm by then so opted for a Gin & Tonic. :-)


An afternoon tea service commenced around this time. I opted for a raspberry lamington and sandwich. I did feel however that the food loadings for this service could have been better, my seat was at the end of the service and the pickings were a little slim.


With just over 2 hours to go before out arrival into Tokyo the table cloths were again laid out and the dinner service commenced.

nz99 dinner 001

The prawn starter is a favourite for Air New Zealand that I’ve had a number of times and it always goes down well, especially with yet another Mumm! A selection of warm bread is also on offer.


I opted for chicken for the main course, washed down with a nice Pinot Noir. I love Japanese food so loved the ingredients, however the chicken was possibly just a little on the dry side.


Which was nicely finished off with a green panna cotta which was absolutely  delicious.


Throughout the flight a snack bar is also available, featuring fruit, bottled water, Whittakers chocolate bars, muesli bars, pretzels and vegetable crisps.

NZ99 Tokyo Narita to Auckland

NZ99 is a night time flight from Tokyo Narita to Auckland. I was seated in seat 1A  for this leg. Row 1 offers slightly  less legroom due to the aircraft bulkhead, but I have no complaints with this and find row 1 the best seats on the plane as you’re not trapped in your seat unlike other window seats when the seat in front is fully  reclined and the IFE monitor in use.



It wasn’t long after we’d departed that the tablecloths came out again and the tough decision (it really  is a big #firstworldproblem) of deciding what to eat from such a delicious looking menu.

nz90 dinner 001

To begin we had a Japanese style starter. This tasted delicious, however if you don’t like Japanese food you may  have second thoughts, however having visited Japan several times now I’ve become a huge fan of the food so it really hit the spot.


And then the tough decision on what to have as a main. Yes you can eat a burger anyway, but the novelty of having a burger on a plane was just too tempting. Air New Zealand deserve a lot of credit for getting this right – the bun was perfect and the burger patty tasted amazing. It was very interesting to see how popular the burger was, I’d pick probably 50% of the cabin had it for dinner.


And after finishing the burger and another nice glass of New Zealand Pinot Noir it was time for desert. Unfortunately  the gateau had already gone so I opted for the ice cream.


It was then time to try and get some sleep being an overnight flight, but I struggled to get more than an hour or so, finding the seats quite uncomfortable. I instead opted to watch a few movies and spent a while chatting to the crew who had very little to do when most of the cabin was asleep. The usual snack bar was present so a couple of Whittakers chocolate bars really hit the spot.

A few hours out from Auckland the breakfast service commenced.

nz90 breakfast 001

First up was the smoothie, followed by fresh fruit, muesli and fruit yogurt accompanied by a croissant with strawberry jam.


Followed by a delicious tasting poached eggs with perfectly crispy bacon.


Business class isn’t just about sitting at the front of the plane with better seats – it’s also about delivering an in flight fine dining experience!

Overall both flights were very pleasant ones, however the service wasn’t without fault and to me the 767 crew (who only  fly on the 767 aircraft) didn’t seem quite as “polished” as long haul crews I’ve had on previous 777 and 747 flights. While we all accept that New Zealander’s can be very informal at times I felt both crews just seemed to lack a little in the way of professionalism that visitors to New Zealand who may not have flown business class on Air New Zealand may not be used to. Overall the food was fantastic, and the only area that is really  lacking is the aircraft – I was fully  aware I was flying on the 767, but I’m certainly aware of passengers on this route who have expressed shock at having such an old school business class offering and no lie flat seats for such a long flight.

Flight Review - NZ9

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 8-Jun-2014 16:26

I haven’t had a lot of time for blogging in recent months but a 10 day holiday in Hawaii has given me some motivation to get a little closer to finishing some longer posts I’d started writing. What better way to get back into things than a flight review - I love to travel, and to me getting to or from your destination is a major part of the fun!

At present Air New Zealand are operating 767-300 aircraft on the Honolulu sector. While I love flying on the 767 it’s safe to say these aircraft have seen better days and are starting to look pretty tired. Air New Zealand’s remaining 767 aircraft are all being replaced by 787 Dreamliner’s that start to arrive in the coming months, and all 767s will be retired from the fleet over the next 18 months. The 767 offers an old style Business Class offering (no lie flat) and Economy class. It does not feature any Premium Economy seating. Having flown Business Class on the 767 on a number of occasions it’s safe to say it’s a very tired offering by modern standards, particularly for night flights as it doesn’t offer lie flat seats. You do however get the great Business Class food and drink options. If you’ve got Airpoints Dollars to burn on an upgrade it’s worth it, but if you’re paying full price you’d have to question whether it’s worth it.

Check-in at Honolulu airport was a breeze. There was a separate Premium check-in queue but just over 2 hours out from the flight as there were very few people around. Once check-in was completed it was a quick walk to the TSA security screening. Anybody who flies in or to the US regularly knows how bad this can be. As a HVC with Air New Zealand (Airpoints Gold) I was able to use the Gold priority queue. From joining the queue to being screened was around 15 minutes, I’d estimate it’d probably be another 10-15 minutes for those not in the Gold queue.

Air New Zealand don’t have a Koru lounge at Honolulu airport so they share the JAL Sakura Lounge which is also used by American Airlines and all other OneWorld airlines. This is by no means the world’s best lounge, but it serves it’s purpose. It also does mean you don’t have to wait in the non air conditioned airport (which is all open air) as access to the air conditioned  gate lounge is only available once the arriving NZ10 flight has landed and all passengers offloaded which is roughly 1hr before departure. It can be quite uncomfortable sitting around in the airport in the evening if it’s humid.


The design and styling of the lounge is nothing amazing but there is plenty of seating as there are very other flights at this time of the evening. Being a JAL lounge it’s pretty basic, as are many Japanese airport lounges. The biggest downside of the lounge for many travellers is the lack of any shower facilities, so make sure you don’t come to the airport after a day at the beach looking for one before your flight. Toilets are also not located in the lounge, but in the hallway just outside the lounge entrance.







If you’ve come to the JAL lounge expecting a gourmet meal you’ve got the wrong lounge – but the offering is fine if you’ve just after pre flight snacks. An assortment of sandwiches, cut fruit, a vegetable platter, soup, bread, snack mix and cheese & crackers were on offer offer. You can wash this down with the usual range of juice, soft drinks, liquor and beer, with Steinlager Pure being offered in the lounge for Air New Zealand flights.

Pre-boarding was announced and it was about a 5 minute walk to the gate. I’ve flown from Honolulu several times and announcements have always been made before actual boarding has started, so you don’t necessarily need to rush off immediately.


I was located in seat in the front of the economy cabin in 13B. The 767 features Business Class and Economy product but like other short haul Pacific flights offers the Seats to Suit options – meaning you can buy a Seat only, Seat+Bag, Works (seat+bag+meal) or Works Deluxe which also guarantees a neighbour free policy. As the 767 Economy has a 2-3-2 seat plan Works Deluxe customers are located in the middle of the forward economy cabin with the middle seat remaining free. The outer seats in this cabin are Frequent Flyer seats available to high value customers with Koru, Gold or Gold Elite status. Seats 10AB are ideal in this cabin as they offer more leg room due to the pilot rest area located in front of the cabin. Leg room is no different however to the remainder of the Economy cabin.



The 767 features seat back IFE in every seat with a selection of music and movies. On the Seats to Suit flights movies are not available to passengers who purchase seat only fares (but can be purchased in flight if you have a credit card). The Panasonic IFE system on both the 767 and shorthaul Airbus A320 is a very unreliable system that’s prone to issues. In probably 20 flights on 767 and A320 aircraft in the past 18 months I’ve experienced at least 4 or 5 full system reboots midflight performed by the crew to resolve issues, and it’s very common for crew to have to reboot individual seats due to issues. If you experience IFE problems make sure you let the crew know as a reboot will typically fix this.

Pushback was a couple of minutes past our scheduled departure time. Our departure was runway 8R which is known locally as the reef runway. This is a long taxi (around 15 minutes) from the gate but offers fantastic views of Waikiki from the left side of the plane.

Once we had reached cruise the service began



On offer for dinner was the chicken or the beef. Neither were particularly inspiring. I had the chicken pasta and didn’t finish it because (I’m being brutally honest here!) it just tasted terrible. The salad was nice, as was the melon ice cream. A bread roll would have been nice. Followed just behind was the drinks trolley offering the usual selection of drinks. It was interesting to see Air New Zealand now offering Moa Beer on flights but with an $8 per bottle surcharge. You’d have to be pretty stupid to pay this for a very average beer (I wouldn’t drink a Moa even if you paid me $8).


Breakfast was scrambled egg with chicken sausage, tomato, potato wedges and a muffin. Not a bad offering.

For customers who haven’t chosen to purchase a meal a number of snacks are available for purchase. Coffee, tea and water are complementary.

Our arrival into Auckland was on time however there was a delay with bags, something that be common early morning with a number of flights from the US, China and Perth all arriving around the same time. Overall the flight was a good one with good crew with good service.

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Vodafone up the ante in the mobile market with new roaming deals

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 28-May-2014 12:07

NZers love to travel.. almost as much as they love their phones. As somebody who loves both things I've donated many thousands of dollars over the years to both BellSouth and Vodafone as I've travelled around the world and used global roaming.

Global roaming prices have been a pet hate for users for many years and there is no disputing that prices have been sky high, but this has quickly changed in the last couple of years with many mobile networks around the world slashing prices and allowing users to take phones with them, and not having to sorry about acquiring a foreign SIM card to avoid ending up with a mobile bill that costs more than the airfare!

In the last year or so Vodafone Group have moved to daily roaming rates across many of their networks allowing users to pay a small fixed daily charge and then all data, voice calls and SMS messages are deducted from the user's monthly plan allowance. Vodafone New Zealand are one of the last networks to launch this, but launched this today offering a $5 charge to 17 commonly visited countries.

So what does this mean?

It means you'll pay $5 every day you use your phone abroad in Australia, United Kingdom, USA, France, Germany, Netherlands, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Hungary, Malta, Ghana, Romania, Czech Republic and India. Any SMS messages, data usage, inbound voice calls from New Zealand, or outbound voice calls to New Zealand or the country you're in will then be deducted from your monthly plan allowance. This will mean many users who roam will see massive reductions in their roaming costs - the old rates of 80c per SMS message, $1 per minute to answer a phone call, and from $1 to $6 per minute to make a phone call which abroad are now a thing of the past. You'll be able to use your phone in exactly the same as you do in NZ and pay no more than $5 for the convenience. It'll also mean significantly cheaper data - I have 3GB of data on my plan and can now use this while I'm travelling for what I consider to be a bargain price.

This offering gives Vodafone a massive advantage over Telecom or 2degrees, both of whom have roaming offers now very much pale in comparison to what Vodafone has on offer.

Fly Buys – Where security is an afterthought

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 20-Jan-2014 22:04

In late 2012 Fly Buys launched an interactive advertising campaign with advertising company Adshel. Bus stops signs, and a much larger display that was located in Wellington Airport for some time offered customers the chance to swipe their Fly Buys card and receive a free gum ball. You can see photos of these, and read more about the campaign here.

I’d never actually seen one of these in real life, but after seeing comments on Twitter on Friday about one of these not accepting an Air NZ Airpoints card (which it is supposed to do according to both the display and a Fly Buys rep on Twitter), I thought I’d have a look at one of these machines which is currently running in an Adshel bus stop in Manners St in Wellington with a few other Geekzoners.

The machine was broken and wouldn’t give us a gum ball, no matter what card we tried.


The Adshel sign welcomes me to swipe my Fly Buys card or my Airpoints card and receive a free gum ball. Innocent enough – until you consider the security implications of this.

A basic Fly Buys card has your 16 digit number printed on it, and the magnetic stripe on your Fly Buys card contains this number. The format of your Fly Buys number is identical to a credit card and uses the LUN10 algorithm – the initial 6 digits are a BIN range 6014 35 (unique to Fly Buys) followed by 9 digits which make up your Fly Buys number, and the last digit which is a check digit. The number is also present  on a barcode on the back of your Fly Buys card in an EAN13 format. EAN barcodes normally start with the GS1 member country code, which you can see on goods manufactured in New Zealand which will typically start with a barcode in the range of 940-949. The 264 range is not allocated specifically to Fly Buys, but is one they’re permitted to use. After the 264 your Fly Buys number is shown, and the last digit as with all EAN13 barcodes is a check digit.

If you swipe your Fly Buys card through this mag stripe reader in the hope of getting a free gum ball, the risks are minimal. If somebody has maliciously tampered with the mag stripe reader and replaced this with a skimming device to capture card numbers your Fly Buys number isn’t going to be of any real use to a fraudster. Your Airpoints card however is another matter entirely.

Air New Zealand partnered with Fly Buys several years ago allowing Air New Zealand Airpoints members to accrue Fly Buys points directly to their Airpoints account. Not long after this Air New Zealand launched a new Airpoints card that used the Rev platform to offer a prepaid Mastercard Debit card capable of storing multiple foreign currencies, your regular Airpoints card, and Fly Buys card. The card is EMV compliant and supports Mastercard PayPass NFC technology as well as a chip , and can also be used at NFC capable Air New Zealand kiosks and gates to identify the card holder. Because the magnetic strip on the card has to be used for the Mastercard component, the Fly Buys number barcode has to be scanned at retailers, it can’t be swiped through a mag stripe reader like a regular Fly Buys card.


airpoints card

By now you’re probably starting to realise the security implications of swiping your Airpoints card through a random mag stripe reader attached to a bus stop. Rather than simply giving your 16 digit Fly Buys number away, you’re giving away your 16 digit credit card number, your name, and your Airpoints number. Anybody who decides to maliciously tamper with the mag stripe reader and replace it with a skimming device now has access to a constant stream of credit card numbers from unsuspecting people. Of course not everybody who swipes their card will have their OneSmart card activated, or have money in their account, but the security aspect is exceptionally scary.

With the number of recent cases of ATM tampering where skimming devices have been attached to machines, Air New Zealand and BNZ (who provide the OneSmart Mastercard product) should be terrified that Fly Buys is encouraging their customers to willingly swipe their card in a public place in a mag stripe reader that would require absolutely no skills to tamper with and replace with a skimming device. It really does makes a mockery of all the security messages that banks try and send to their customers about protecting their cards.



I had to dig out my mag stripe gear to show the data on the Airpoints/OneSmart card. I’ve PAN masked some of my personal data including my Airpoints number, expiry dates and OneSmart credit card numbers with a *.


It was also pointed out to me that the billboard will not work with a Kiwibank Airpoints Card by somebody who had attempted to use one in the past thinking that the reference to “Airpoints card” would include this card. I wonder what Kiwibank think of their customers swiping their credit cards through a mag stripe reader in a public area attached to a bus stop that could so easily be tampered with?

Boundary Road Brewery. Average beer, terrible spelling.

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 23-Oct-2013 08:58

Anybody who knows where the town of Plzen is located is probably a bit of a beer geek. Plzen translates to Pilsen in German, and is the home of Pilsner beer. First brewed in 1842, the Pilsner style was a clear, slightly hoppy style beer that was very different to the much darker Ale that had been commonplace across Europe for centuries beforehand.  If you’re a true beer fan you’ve possibly visited Plzen and been to the Pilsner Urquell factory – if you haven’t, it’s something that should be on the bucket list of every true beer geek as the factory tour is a fantastic experience.

Boundary Road is a brand of Independent Liquor, a company created by New Zealander Michael Erceg in 1987. Erceg was a true genius, who was sadly killed in a helicopter crash in 2005. Erceg pretty much created the ready to drink (RTD) market in New Zealand and in the late 90’s and early 2000’s Independent Liquor tightly controlled this highly profitable market with other players struggling to gain any traction in the market. In the early 2000’s beer became a growth area of the business as supermarket beer sales quickly took market share from traditional bottle stores that were at the time owned by industry giants DB and Lion Breweries. This allowed Independent Liquor jumped at the chance to gain traction in the beer market by aggressively pushing product in supermarkets, as they had previously been unable to do this in bottle stores owned by their much larger competitors. Some of this beer was terrible (Ranfurly anybody?) but as with the RTD market, they targeted price conscious consumers and quickly gained market share in the off premise market. The addition of some large imported brands such as Grolsch and Carlsberg gave them a portfolio of products that allowed them to compete head-on with DB and Lion offerings in the marketplace.

After Erceg was sadly killed in a helicoper crash with Grolsch executive Guus Klatte in 2005, Independant Liquor was ultimately sold to a private equity companies Unitas Capital and Pacific Equity Partners. It was then sold to Japanese company Asahi in 2011. In recent years they have continued with a strategy of flooding the market with products and hoping that large supermarket end displays and multiple facings of cheap beer would drive growth, and to some extent this has strategy has paid off. Whether the significant amount of money that would have been spent on Public Relations companies to drive this strategy was money well spent is a hot topic of debate, as attempting to grow the Ranfurly Brand failed miserably with what must rank as one of New Zealand’s worst ever advertising campaign. As to whether their beer is any good is also a hot topic of discussion – Boundary Road have numerous “craft” beer brands and consider themselves a “craft” brewer however many of their products are anything but unique. There is a significant market of price conscious customers who aren’t worried about the quality of their beer, and they are doing well in this category.

All of this leads to the horrible revelation that Independent Breweries don’t actually know how to spell Plzen. I was given a dozen Boundary Road Bouncing Czech beer a few weeks ago and yesterday decided to drink one while engaging in the great Kiwi tradition of cooking food on the BBQ. The beer was very average for a Pilsner style, but what was worse was the spelling. Where in the world is Pizen? One can assume that they actually mean Plzen (note the l rather than an i). Considering that the Pilsner style beer has only been brewed since 1842 their reference to the world “centuries” also seems a little strange.


I think a certain company is in need of not only a better Pilsner recipe, but also a history lesson and spelling lesson as well.

Flight Review – NZ8

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 11-Oct-2013 13:40

My blog has always traditionally revolved around technology because it’s something I love. What I do love even more however is travel, and with this in mind instead of writing yet another blog post with a technology focus I thought I’d write about travel since I am currently on holiday in the US at Astricon (ironically a tech conference!).

Air New Zealand have two remaining 747-400 aircraft in their fleet, both of which are used almost exclusively on the NZ7/8 route to and from San Francisco. To me the 747 is still the most amazing plane to grace the world’s sky and it is a shame that due to their age these planes are rapidly disappearing from airline fleets around the world. Both remaining Air New Zealand planes are due to be scrapped by October 2014. In all my previous 747 flights I’d never flown upper deck on a 747, so chose to head to the US via SFO in Premium Economy just so I could make possibly my final 747 flight and tick an upper deck seat off my bucket list.

20131004_184013 ZK-NBV  at Auckland airport

NZ8  - 04/10/2013 - Seat 22A Premium Economy

My seat was an exit row window at the front of the upper deck Premium Economy area. I consider this one of the best Premium Economy seats due to the extra legroom, but others may disagree due to the proximity to the door which can be a colder area to sit. The upper deck is shared between Business Premier and Premium Economy, with 23 Premium Economy seats in a 3-2 configuration and 10 Business Premier seats in a 1-1 configuration. Another 16 Premium Economy seats are located on the main deck in a 2-2 configuration which offers a much cosier feel. These seats offer a seat pitch of between 38” and 40”.

Not being on the main deck gives this area a very different feel, which is clearly the appeal of sitting up there. Boarding for the service was a little late and the 7:15pm departure was a little late with pushback occurring at around 7:30pm. While boarding was underway the PA announcement apologising for the “jams in the aisle” were slightly amusing to me as the only “jam” was the crew delivering pre flight champagne to Business Premier customers.


The view from the top of the stairs of the upper deck showing the Premium Economy and Business Premier seats.


My Seat


Looking forward to Business Premier from my seat.

Pre dinner drinks were served, with the same beverage selection being shared between Business Premier and Premium Economy. This means glass bottles of wine served in real glass, unlike the plastic bottles served in Economy. Wines and spirits are also of a much higher quality, and my glass of Mumm champagne (my favourite!) went down very well. Not long after this the meal service commenced consisting of an entree of prawns with wasabi mayonnaise, green tea noodle salad, nori and watercress. The flavours in this were great, with the wasabi managing to not overpower the other ingredients.


The Premium Economy menu.

20131004_204017  For my main I opted for the sage rolled chicken with white bean cassoulet, zucchini, fried chorizo and rocket. 


Desert was a chocolate delice with blackberry creme fraiche.

The main is described as “being served with rocket” on the menu but no fresh rocket was served with this meal. Having had this main previously (with rocket) flying Business class to Honolulu in May I definitely feel the course did lack a little zing without the rocket. No bread roll was served in Premium Economy, which was strange as the tray contained a serve of butter. My assumption is that the crew simply forgot, as the bread roll basket had plenty of rolls in it after being delivered to Business Premier customers and sat on the wine storage area between Business Premier and Premium Economy during the service. The desert was delicious and washed with with a couple of glasses of Pinot noir served by a crew who were very generous with after dinner drinks.  Not long after the meal trays were collected the main cabin lighting was dimmed. What is nice is a a range of snacks including Whitakers Chocolate, fresh fruit, muesli bars, vege chips and beverages are available from a self service area throughout the flight.

Breakfast was fresh fruit salad and yoghurt with optional cereal, and a croissant with a selection of preserves.  I opted for the lemon scented brioche French toast with apricots, honey cream, toasted almonds and vanilla syrup as the hot option and found this to be amazing, and would have happily opted for more if it was on offer!



Despite the late departure time we were pretty much right on schedule landing in San Francisco. Clearing immigration at SFO seems to be a lot better than many of the horror stories I’ve heard at Los Angeles lately, and I had cleared immigration and collected my bags within 30 minutes of leaving the plane.

Premium Economy on Air New Zealand is a great offering, with the food and beverage selection being very similar to the Business Premier offering. Seating differs significantly between the different aircraft on the fleet, with both Boeing 747 –400 and 777-200 aircraft opting for a more traditional seat (which is slightly wider on the 747-400), whereas the Boeing 777-300 offers the newer Air New Zealand designed Spaceseat. Having not flown Premium Economy in the 777-300 I don’t have a view on this seat, but do know plenty of people who prefer the 747-400 seat over the Spaceseat.

Service is also a huge step up from regular Economy, however I do feel that the upper deck service may be slightly less attentive than my previous 777-200 Premium Economy flights. I put this down to the focus of the two crew on the Business Premier customers, however no matter how you look at it, the experience is a significant step up from Economy!

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sbiddle's profile

Steve Biddle
New Zealand

I'm an engineer who loves building solutions to solve problems.

My interests and skillset include:

*VoIP (Voice over IP). I work with various brands of hardware and PBX's on a daily basis
  -Asterisk (incl trixbox, PiaF, FreePBX, Elastix and AsteriskNOW)

  -xDSL deployments

*Structured cabling
  -Home/office cabling
  -Phone & Data

*Computer networking
  -Mikrotik hardware
  -WAN/LAN solutions

*Wireless solutions
  -Motel/Hotel hotspot deployments
  -Outdoor wireless deployments, both small and large scale
  -Temporary wireless deployments
*CCTV solutions
  -Analogue and IP

I'm an #avgeek who loves to travel the world (preferably in seat 1A) and stay in nice hotels.

+My views do no represent my employer. I'm sure they'll be happy to give their own if you ask them.

You can contact me here or by email at [email protected]

Located in NZ and after a cheap way to call friends or family in Australia?

Faktortel VoIP offers plans from $0 per month that offer you the convenience of being able to call landline numbers anywhere in Australia from A$ 10c per call (yes *per call*, not per minute!). An optional Australian DDI number also lets friends and family call you and they will only pay the cost of a local call. Interested? Check out Faktortel for more details.