Flight Review Air New Zealand Business Premier NZ6 and NZ2 Auckland (AKL) to London (LHR) via Los Angeles (LAX)
I’ve just recently got back from a three week holiday in Europe for my birthday. Having not flown Business class all the way from New Zealand to London before I decided it was a must do to treat myself.
Air New Zealand fly their 777-300 (77W) aircraft from Auckland through to London Heathrow (LHR) via Los Angeles (LAX). Their flagship NZ2 (from Auckland to London) and NZ1 (from London to Auckland) operate via LAX with a stopover of approximately 2 hours at LAX. Rather than fly direct on NZ2 from Auckland I opted to fly on NZ6 to LAX, leaving Auckland a few hours before NZ2, and then connect with NZ2 to LHR. This gave me around 4 1/2 hours stopover – just the right amount of time to leave the airport to stretch my legs and partake in some plane spotting near the airport.
After flying from Wellington to Auckland I walked the quick 10 minute walk across to the international terminal (free buses are also available) before heading through security. If you’re a status customer with Air New Zealand (Koru, Gold, Elite or EP1) or flying in Premium Economy or Business Premier you’re entitled to use express lane from the Premium check-in area. A lift in in this area takes you up to a dedicated customs area and a fast-track line to the front of security screening. Whether or not this saves time really depends on the time of day that you are flying.
After enjoying a quick snack in the Koru lounge I headed down to the gate and settled myself into seat 2A to for my flight. I was welcomed with a welcome drink offering of water, orange juice or sparkling wine. Due to tax/duty reasons Air New Zealand typically don’t serve proper champagne until after takeoff. Orders were also taken for a drinks service immediately after takeoff.
Air New Zealand Business Premier is a 1-2-1 true lie flat seat , with the 1-2-1 configuration meaning every passenger has direct aisle access. While others may finally be catching up with this, it’s still pretty common to find other airlines with seats that are not truly lie flat, or seats in a 2-2-2 configuration meaning you have to climb over the passenger next to you if you have a window seat. The 77W Business cabin is split into two with a galley in the middle which is also a very convenient location for a basic self service in-flight bar featuring in-flight snacks and drinks mid flight.
Unfortunately in some of the photos Air New Zealand’s LED mood lighting has given most of my photos a nice pink tinge!
In my seat was a menu, bottle of water, amenity kit and noise cancelling headphones. The headphones are better than your average airline headphones but are pretty much rubbish compared to my Bose QC15’s. In case you’re wondering I’m not really a Sir, but Air New Zealand allow you to customise the welcome name on the screen and I like the ring. :)
Included in the amenity kit is a pair or socks, eye mask, ear plugs, pen, toothbrush, lip balm and moisturiser. The new amenity kit (launched in January 2015) bag doubles as a convenient case for a tablet, but I’m not sure how smart it was to have an internal pocket with zip as I can imagine this would very quickly scratch a tablet.
Not long after takeoff a hot towel service occurred, followed by delivery of my glass of Champagne and cashew nuts. At the time of writing this Air New Zealand are serving Charles Heidseck Reserve. This was followed not long after by a visit from the In-flight Service Manager introducing himself to all passengers and handing me arrival documentation for the USA.
Crews soon set up tables and tablecloths before delivering the starter to my seat. This was an incredibly nice tasting starter of seared venison with kumara crisps, picked red onion, smoked chilli and micro herbs. This was followed by a selection of breads including garlic bread which always goes down well.
This was followed by the main course – seared hapuka in miso coconut broth with steamed shitake rice, gai lan and fresh coriander salsa.
Unlike many other airlines who continue with carts in the cabin for meal service Air New Zealand offers all meals plated up onboard, and personally delivered to the seat by the crew.
Dinner was followed by white chocolate and rosewater panna cotta with pistachio cream for desert, and as I was feeling a little greedy I also opted for the cheese platter just to finish things off.
The cheese platter was washed down nicely by a couple of glasses of Glenmorange 10yr whisky.
After dinner I settled down to watch some content on the In-Flight Entertainment System. On Air New Zealand’s 77W fleet they use a Panasonic eX2 system with a 12.1” touch screen. Around April this year the system underwent a major software upgrade to offer new features and functionality and align the system with the new Panasonic eX3 system on the 787-900 and 777-200 fleet. This resulted in the maps being broken for weeks, and despite these now being fixed the system was basically a disaster. It’s incredibly sluggish and after navigating around the menus and listening to some music I found lag in the system getting up to 1-2 mins (yes minutes) before key presses were registered. A full reboot of my seat resolved the issue and sped it back again, temporarily, but the lag eventually returned. Even without the lag returned the system is by no means snappy. There was also functionality such as the Tripadvisor application that simply didn’t work at all on any seats on the plane. The movie, music and radio content is fantastic, but when the user experience is so poor, it pretty much negates the whole experience.
After listening to some music and podcasts on my phone for a few hours I decided it was time to get my bed made and try and catch some sleep. The crew are super efficient at doing this so don’t even bother trying to do this yourself - the seat folds back to form a 2 metre bed complete with memory foam mattress, duvet and 2 pillows. It really is super comfy.
If you’re somebody who sleeps on their side (like I do) you may have a preference for a seat in A/J or B/K seats due to the way the herringbone layout works and whether you want to face the side wall of your seat or the open space of your screen while you sleep.
After a great 5hr sleep I woke up and started to think about breakfast. It wasn’t too long before my hunger pains were satisfied.
Breakfast was the standard Air New Zealand Business offering of a mix of cereals with fresh fruit, yoghurt, a selection of bakery items featuring croissants, toast or fruit toast, followed by a hot option. I opted for the waffles with mixed spice sugar, black doris plum compote and greek yoghust. While very tasty the waffle didn’t taste that fresh which was a bit of a disappointment.
As the cabin was prepared for out arrival into LAX the in-flight service manager visited each customer for a quick chat. It’s a great personal touch and something I love about Air New Zealand. Not long after this we were on the ground at LAX.
Arrival into LAX airport was a pretty painless process. I’ve flown through this airport many times in the past, and every time it’s been terrible. As of December 2014 Air New Zealand have moved to the recently upgraded Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT) which is an amazing terminal and a complete contrast to previous experiences inside Terminal 2.
If you’ve entered the USA since 2008 on your current passport and ESTA you’re eligible to use a kiosk to speed up the CBP process. After inserting your passport and answering a few brief questions the kiosk takes your photo and fingerprints, a process that is normally done manually by CBP staff. After you’ve completed this it issues a printout which you then hand to CBP staff along with your passport to complete the process. Within about 35 minutes of arriving I had cleared CBP, picked up my bags, cleared customs, dropped my bag off at the transit counter, and was standing outside the terminal enjoying the sunshine.
If you’re flying straight through to London on NZ2 you will not have to collect your bags – these remain on the aircraft. You will however need to clear CBP, and once this is done can then proceed through security screening and have full access to the terminal and (if eligible) the Star Alliance lounge. This is a vast improvement on the process in the old terminal where passengers in transit only had access to a transit lounge.
As it was such a beautiful day I walked to the world famous In-N-Out burger which is around 25 mins walk away and right under the runway threshold for runway 24R. Not only do In-N-Out have the worlds best burgers (Anthony Bourdain even agrees with me!), the park opposite is an amazing place for plane spotters.
After 45 minutes or so of awesomeness I walked back to the terminal. Screening was amazingly efficient for a US airport, and I was back inside the terminal within about 10 minutes. Having flown through many US airports in recent years all this efficiency seemed too good to be true!
I now headed off to check out the new Star Alliance lounge inside TBIT that is actually managed by Air New Zealand for all Star Alliance airlines. Unfortunately it was around this time that my phone troubles started with my phone refusing to recognise the camera. My only snap was a picture of the very cool outside bar and dining area. It was empty mid afternoon, but I’m told it’s very popular on warm evenings.
There are plenty of reviews of the lounge online if you want to see it in more detail, but overall it was a very impressive lounge. I took a shower and had a bite to eat and drink before walking to the gate for my next flight.
Onboard NZ2 I had another champagne. I feel it’s rude to say no when it is offered to you..
This was followed by a starter of grilled prawns with chorizo and sun blushed tomatoes, micro basil and paprika aioli along with a selection of bread.
This was followed by a main of roast chicken on kumara miso mash with edamame beans and wilted spinach with chilli picked shitake mushrooms and red dates.
And followed by brownies ala mode and pecan ice cream with salted caramel sauce.
And washed down with another Glenmorangie..just because it was on offer!
As it began to get dark I figured I’d try and get some sleep so had my bed made up for me.
After a few hours sleep it was time for breakfast. I started with a raspberry and pomegranate smoothie.
This was followed by granola, fresh fruit and yoghurt, fruit toast, and herb scrambled eggs with chicken and apple sausage, sautéed potatoes and tomato relish.
Not long after clearing this away and preparing the cabin we started our descent into LHR, and as is pretty typical entered a holding pattern for a brief period before landing. Business Class customers are given priority passes for clearing UK customs, and while the queues were not too bad around lunchtime when NZ2 lands this probably saved around 10-15 mins in a queue.
Overall both flights were awesome. NZ2 was crewed by a UK based crew rather than the NZ based crew on NZ6. This means the crew are typically European rather than NZers and does mean the service levels are actually quite different. Unlike NZ6 the In-Flight Service manager didn’t personally introduce himself to all passengers or say goodbye to them before we landed. Crew on NZ2 also seemed to be lacking in generosity when it came to alcohol as well. While these matters are small, they are very obvious and shows a lack of consistency, particularly when you’re flying two flights in a row on the same airline. I’ve had some very differing experiences on Air New Zealand international services over the last few years which does show up a lack of consistency of the product offering.
I just wanted to add a little bit more here about Air New Zealand’s IFE system because in my view right now this system is a total disaster. As I sit writing this review I’m on a Lufthansa flight on my way from Munich to Japan, and while the content isn’t as good as Air New Zealand, every aspect of the system from touch screen performance to speed is vastly superior.
The Air New Zealand IFE has a pretty extensive selection of content from movies to documentaries, TV shows and music. It also has a rather cool chat function if you want to chat to others on the plane. It doesn’t look like you can select the pilots though! :)
Playing music, along with recommended suggestions.
Browsing some of the web style content on the plane – it’s clear this hasn’t been updated for a long time as Clarins products are no longer in the amenity kit, and the 777-200 fleet upgrade is not going to be complete until the end of 2015.
I required full seat reboots on both my flights due to the massive lag and pretty much gave up using the IFE system. It’s definitely an area Air New Zealand need to put some serious work into – and questions obviously need to be raised about their software testing processes before updates are deployed to aircraft, and onboard once updates have been deployed. I’m aware of numerous problems with the new Panasonic systems on the 787 and 777 refit as well, which really should be ringing alarm bells inside the company as to why these problems are occurring, and how they can be resolved.
In summary apart from IFE issues both flights were fantastic, and something I look forward to doing again at some point in the future!
“Air NZ shares down10% on rival’s bombshell” screamed the NBR headline this afternoon after Jetstar announced plans to deploy Q300 turboprop aircraft on regional routes in New Zealand. Up until now Jetstar has only focussed on main trunk routes using Airbus A320 jets.
If there was a word I would use to describe Jetstar’s announcement it’s not bombshell. It’s more like predictable. Any share market analyst or shareholder surprised by today’s announcement should really be looking seriously at their analysis and/or where they seek advice from.
In 2013 Jetstar poached former Air Nelson General Manager Grant Kerr to head up Jetstar operations in New Zealand. Despite the court ruling against Air New Zealand in a restraint of trade restriction in Kerr’s employment contract, the reasons for employing him were very clear – his intricate inside knowledge of Air New Zealand’s regional operations were just what Jetstar needed if they were going to successfully launch an offering.
Fast forward to 2014 and lots of rumours of Jetstar bring Q300 or Q400 aircraft across the Tasman to launch operations in New Zealand started. Rumours at the time where that that Jetstar were having a lot of trouble building a profitable business case for this, and at a time when parent Qantas was bleeding massive amount of money, it seems the project was put on hold because they weren’t willing to invest in something that wasn’t necessarily going to be profitable. If true, delaying the launch may ultimately turn into a bad thing for Jetstar.
Many people out there think Air New Zealand are a cash cow. Right now they are – but that’s not to say every aspect of the airline is. Under the current CEO Christopher Luxon and the current executive team the focus has been on cost cutting, with absolutely no part of the supply chain being immune from a goal to ensure the airline is as lean as it can be. Many (including myself as a high value customer) believe that this profit at all costs mentality has been taken too far, and that some aspects of the airline operations are now far too heavily focussed on profitability rather than customer satisfaction. Whatever you view, it’s safe to say that right now Air New Zealand are in a better position than ever to fend off competitors.
The rumoured delay has given Air New Zealand time to completely restructure it’s regional operations, which according to CEO Luxon saw many smaller regional destinations losing millions of dollars. In recent months we’ve seen the scaling back of the extremely inefficient and costly Eagle Air B1900 fleet before these aircraft are ultimately withdrawn, upsizing from B1900 to Q300 aircraft on some sectors (per ASK on a Q300 is significantly better than a B1900) which has seen pricing fall to fill seats, and the withdrawal of services from some regional routes where bigger aircraft such as the Q300 would have been unsustainable.
The delay has given Air New Zealand time to completely refocus and restructure, something that’s very bad for a competitor trying to launch services on routes. As many regional routes are marginal due to due to the much higher cost of flying passengers on a smaller plane versus a jet, it’ll be very interesting to see how Jetstar price their seats and to see the response from Air New Zealand.
During a recent weekend visit to Sydney in March I took to the opportunity to book an IHG reward night at one of Sydney’s newest hotels – the Intercontinental Double Bay.
The Intercontinental Double Bay opened in late 2014 after an extensive refurbishment of a building that for many years was one of Sydney’s most prestigious hotels. Opened in 1991 as the Ritz Carlton it was a popular haunt for celebrities and wannabe celebrities alike, in a suburb that is well known for it’s affluence. It’s also the hotel where former INXS lead singer Michael Hutchence tragically ended his life.
Double Bay is located around 4km from the Sydney CBD. There are plenty of transport options to get there, but the nearest train station to the hotel is around a 10 minute walk which is all downhill if you’re coming from the station, or uphill if you’re leaving the hotel. An Uber or taxi is going to be the quickest option.
Upon entering the hotel through the ground floor I was greeted by bell staff who directed me to reception on the 1st floor. If you’ve got bags you’ll probably head to the lift, otherwise you’ll enjoy the views from the grand staircase.
Once on the 1st floor you’ll find plenty of open space leading to reception. Staff were friendly, and the check-in process was quick was nearly painless – the staff member who I dealt with was (I’m picking) French, and did struggle to understand a couple of my questions and I had to repeat myself. Staff recognised my IHG Platinum Elite status and welcomed me to the hotel.
Once checked in I headed up to the room, noticing on the way that maintenance for such a new building did leave a little to be desired. Around a number of lifts and public areas damage from trolleys was already evident. This wasn’t a great look for such a newly renovated property.
The room was a “Village view” overlooking the Double Bay village area. Walking into the room showed off the automation systems present in the room, with the TV turning on and curtains opening.
Hidden behind the mirrored doors was the mini bar, something that was up to usual Intercontinental standards if you wanted to indulge in the luxuries of life and not have to even pick up the phone to order champagne!
I headed into the bathroom and was suitably impressed. If you don’t like granite however, this probably isn’t the hotel for you!
The room featured a modern IPTV system for all free to air and pay TV channels, with picture quality being superb.
Also located next to the TV were USB ports and inputs for the TV. I had a play with these, but struggled to actually get them to work correctly. If you wanted to charge your USB devices, the ports will allow you to do this, but like 99% of USB ports that are located in public areas they won’t correctly charge most modern phones or tablets at full speed unless you have your own adapter to short the data pins, meaning you’ll be limited to a slow 450mA charge rate. Mounted inside the TV cabinet was a Ruckus dual band 2.4GHz/5GHz access point for in-room WiFi. Internet access is free for IHG rewards members such as myself, however you’ll be stuck paying the usual hotel prices if you’re not a member.
The room featured a nice clock radio (which was a little bright for my liking), cordless DECT phone and a rather cool remote control next to the bed for curtains and all lighting.
I headed up to the rooftop to check out the lap pool and bar. Rather than being your regular hotel pool, I get the feeling this was clearly a place to be seen rather than being a practical pool area. The bar was great, but pricing was very much on the high side. I got the impression from a few people nearby quietly drinking their cocktails that the kids playing in the pool were a rather big annoyance, and I guess that’s the problem you face when you’re trying to develop a concept such as this.
I had a great nights sleep with bedding and pillows bring fantastic. The bed was a little hard for my liking, but it’s hard to really blame a hotel for that when so many people have such differing views of what defines a comfortable bed. While the room was quiet, I was however awoken during the night by loud cars racing down the street outside.
I didn’t get a chance to eat at the hotel, however the dining options looked great, and if you’re a gin fan the bar featured a huge selection. You’ll be spoilt for dining options nearby with a huge number of restaurants in the area.
Overall while I enjoyed my stay, I’d question whether I would go back. It’s a fantastic refit of the building that has maintained much of the old character, and while there the hotel and facilities were fantastic, I felt the hotel quite simply lacked atmosphere. I wrote a review of my stay the night before at the Hilton Sydney, and to be completely honest I much preferred my stay at the Hilton over the Intercontinental.
I visited Sydney for the weekend in March so took the opportunity to stay at a couple of Sydney’s more upmarket hotels – the Hilton Sydney on a Friday night, and the new Intercontinental Double Bay on the Saturday night.
The Hilton Sydney is one of my favourite hotels in Sydney. It’s CBD location on Pitt St is only a few minutes walk from Pitt St Mall, and it’s only a few minutes walk to Town Hall and Museum stations for public transport connections including Sydney airport.
I’ve stayed at the Hilton here on a few occasions, and on every visit it’s impressed me. I’ve heard of a few complaints about wait times at reception in the past, but at 6pm on a Friday night there were no delays. I was checked in within a couple of minutes by an incredibly friendly staff member, and was on my way to the room having had all the benefits of the hotel and my status explained to me.
Those of you a Hilton Hhonors Gold members are treated to the full package of benefits at this hotel – upgraded rooms, Executive lounge access, and a free breakfast. Unlike customers simply purchasing Execute floor rooms who are only entitled to breakfast in the Execute lounge, Hhonors Gold lets you enjoy the buffet breakfast at Glass restaurant, something you’d be crazy not to take up.
I made my way to the 28th floor room. While I wouldn’t describe the rooms as large, they’re a good size and the space is well utilised. Bathrooms feature the usual high quality Peter-Thomas Roth toiletries, along with a separate shower and bath. Two complementary bottles of water are on offer for Hhonors Gold members.
The TV system is a full IPTV (Internet Protocol Television) based system integrated into the hotel PMS (Property Management System) backend system. Picture quality was great and all channels were in the correct aspect ratio. I did however manage to crash the system a few times while watching TV, and this required physically turning the TV off and on again at the wall to get it going again. The room also features a Cisco VoIP phone that also offers some XML based interactive menus. This may have been somebody’s gimmicky idea when the hotel was opened (and as a VoIP engineer myself it’s probably something I would do myself!), but I can imagine it’s something very few people use as it doesn’t work very well at all, with some options no longer even working.
Controls for lighting and the blinds are located next to the bed. My only complaint about the system is that you have to hold the button for a long time to move the blinds fully up or fully down – there is no option to simply fully open or close them.
The room features a fully stocked pressure sensitive mini-bar, so don’t go touching things unless you want to pay for them!
After spending a few minutes in the room it was time to check out the evening drinks and canapés in the 36th floor Executive lounge. This lounge is available for use throughout the day for all customers located on Executive floors, with drinks and snacks available outside the breakfast and evening service times.
For evening canapés beer, wine and spirits are complementary along with a great selection of food and desert options. While clearly targeted as a pre-dinner dining option, there is certainly enough food on offer to turn this into a dinner meal should you desire.
You can probably call me a Hilton fanboy, but I love the beds that many Hilton hotels offer. The bed, pillow selection and sheets were all perfect, and is something Hilton have perfected. After a great night’s sleep I woke up ready to attack the buffet breakfast at Glass restaurant. This buffet breakfast is an amazing offering with an amazing selection of food, and certainly ranks up there as amongst the best buffet breakfast offerings I’ve come across anywhere in the world. If you’re not a Hhonors Gold member the full price of breakfast is a rather hefty A$42 per person, but it is worth it for what is an amazing food offering.
Overall there isn’t much to really fault about the hotel, which is why it’s one of my favourites in Sydney. Check-in and check-out where both quick with super friendly staff at both reception and the bell desk where I stored my bag for the day. I’ll certainly be back!
If you’re a frequent flyer you’ll be used to the benefits that some with status with an airline such as lounge access, priority boarding, preferred seating and so on. Qantas are clearly keen to target New Zealand based frequent flyers by offering a status match to Qantas Gold for New Zealand residents who have Gold or higher status with any other airline.
With somewhere in the vicinity of 50,000 Air New Zealand customers who are Airpoints Gold or Gold Elite, it’s certainly a great way of targeting Air New Zealand customers, many of whom are unhappy after significant changes to the Airpoints program in 2014 that slashed status point earning rates.
This offer is currently only valid until the 9th March 2015, so you’d better get in quick.
For full details check the Qantas website - http://qantasgold.qantas.com/
As a travel junkie I travel to Australia pretty frequently - often half a dozen times per year or more. While looking at flights this afternoon I noticed Air New Zealand now charge more to book a return flight to Australia on a single ticket than they do to book two one way airfares on separate tickets. The difference is only small, but the mere fact there is a difference is surprising.
What’s the logic behind that? As somebody who travels a lot and thinks they know a reasonable amount about airline booking systems, I can conclude there is no obvious reason for it – it looks like a simple case of Air New Zealand deciding they can make a few extra dollars profit as most people will be totally unaware of this.
Historically booking a one way flight from Australia to New Zealand redirected the customer to the Air New Zealand Australian booking site and quoted prices in A$ – around a year or so ago this was changed allowing customers in New Zealand to book one way fares from Australia on the New Zealand site using NZ$.
Lets look at a few examples:
(I have not included the pricing component for airfares from Wellington to Australia, as these do not differ)
If you book a one way fare from Melbourne to Auckland on the 21st June you’ll pay $277, $346 or $512 for those flights.
Book this as part of a return ticket including travel to Australia and you’ll pay $286, $356 or $521.
Want a book a trip from Wellington? Booking a one way fare from Melbourne to Wellington will set you back $275 for a direct flight, or $379 or $384 for non direct flights via Auckland and Christchurch.
Book this as part of a return ticket including travel to Australia and you’ll pay $284, $406 or $411
Want a book a trip from Christchurch? Booking a one way fare from Melbourne to Christchurch will set you back $299 for a direct flight, or $382 or $384 for non direct flights via Auckland.
Book this as part of a return ticket including travel to Australia and you’ll pay $311, $409 or $411
It is worth noting that if you are booking a single flight from Australia to New Zealand that specials may not be available as the screenshots above show. This is to stop Australian customers booking flights in reverse while New Zealand based promotions are on. While I chose the date above at random as a comparison, this issue isn’t restricted to this date or just to Melbourne, it also occurs on flights to other destinations. It’s also interesting to note that you’re paying even more when the flight is not direct.
It’s also interesting to note the differences in the Works Deluxe fares – with some being cheaper as part of a return ticket than a one way ticket, despite these being the same booking class.
There are no logical reason why this should occur – security and airport taxes are a fixed variable at $45.46 to leave Christchurch or Wellington, or $50.64 to leave Auckland. Security and airport taxes to leave Melbourne is $98.15, and a total of $143.15 ($45.46 + $98.13) is charged when booking a return airfare ex Christchurch or Wellington, and $159.90 ($50.64 + $98.13) ex Auckland. The appropriate charge is applied correctly for both one way and return flights.
So what’s the story Air New Zealand? Do you have a logical explanation for this? Or is this a simple case of profiteering because you think nobody will notice?
With oil prices dropping we’ve seen many media in recent days ask why airfare prices aren’t dropping. Clearly they’re not smart enough to check the Air NZ annual report to see the current status of Air NZ’s fuel hedging so I’ve done this for you.
Most (but not all) airlines hedge fuel. With Air NZ’s hedging dropping to 50% it looks like somebody there took a gamble that has paid off! :)
Flight Review – Air New Zealand NZ412, Air New Zealand NZ119, Virgin Australia VA860 (AKA a guide of how to get from Wellington to Melbourne via Auckland and Sydney because it’s boring flying direct)
Anybody who knows me realises I love flying. Rather than flying direct from Wellington to Melbourne to spend a week over the Christmas holidays, I decided to fly from Wellington to Melbourne via Auckland and Sydney for a change. Why you might ask? Quite simply because I could. :-) The cost was minimal over flying direct and gave me the opportunity to use a recognition upgrade to upgrade to Business Premier between Auckland and Sydney as A320 aircraft from Wellington lack a Business class offering.
Turning up at Wellington airport at 7am on Boxing Day was a strange experience – I’ve never been at the airport at this time of the morning before and seen it so quiet. I checked in at the Air New Zealand kiosk and received by boarding passes for my 3 flights and a bag tag for my bag that was checked right through to Melbourne. Air New Zealand has a partnership with Virgin Australia for both Trans-Tasman and Australian domestic flights with airline status benefits such as lounge access available across both airlines. The check-in process was super painless and took all of a few minutes, and after dropping my bag I headed to the Air New Zealand Koru lounge to wait for my flight.
If you haven’t been to the Koru lounge in Wellington before, you’re really missing out on what is truly a great lounge. Yes there are aspects of the lounge which are getting a little tired, and yes we could argue about points such as catering, but the lounge is big, has multiple different areas for work as well as a few quiet zones, has a fantastic view of both the airport apron and runway, it’s own barista for coffee, plenty of showers, and in all my experiences, amazing staff.
Breakfast consisted of a range of cereals, fruit, yoghurt, muffins, cookies, toast, scrambled egg, beans and sausages. I love the bircher muesli and highly recommend this. Air New Zealand also has a brilliant new system for ordering coffee from the barista – you order using a tablet (shown in the phone above) or from the Air New Zealand app on your phone. If you order it on your phone a push notification will appear when it is ready.
After enjoying a nice breakfast I headed down to the gate for my flight. It takes about 30 seconds to get from the lounge to the gates used by Air New Zealand jet services via an escalator, but it can take another few minutes of walking to reach the gates used by non jet services. Wellington airport lacks centralised screening, so each gate still has it’s own screening point with x-ray and metal detectors. This creates a large bottleneck at busy times as people leave it until the last minute to leave the lounge and proceed to the gate, and is something that will be resolved as the airport begins expansion of the pier that Air New Zealand operates from and moves to centralised screening before the lounge and gate, as is the norm at other airports.
The flight to Auckland was on an Airbus A320. Air New Zealand operate a fleet of A320-200 and Boeing 737-300 aircraft for domestic services, with the last of the Boeing 737-300 aircraft being planned for retirement towards the end of 2015 once the remainder of the new A320 aircraft arrive. Our departure time was delayed by around 10 minutes due to minor maintenance work. Onboard all domestic flights Air New Zealand serve complimentary tea, coffee and snacks consisting of vege chips or a Cookie Time chocolate chip cookie. On regular business days, ‘'Koru Hour flights” in the morning also serve a light snack of a muffin, and in the evening beer, wine cheese & crackers are also available.
On arrival in Auckland I had a few hours to spare before my flight to Sydney so decided to sit outside and enjoy some sun for a little while. Auckland Domestic and International terminals are in two separate buildings, and it’s around an 8-10 minute walk between both terminals with much (but not all) of this walkway now under cover. Free buses are also available to take passengers between terminals.
International departures can get incredibly busy at certain times of the day, but was very quiet when I went through immigration and security. Departures are on the upper level of the airport, however if you’re a Premium customer flying on Air New Zealand you can fast track immigration and security from a lift in the Premium check-in area which takes you to a dedicated immigration area and priority queue for security screening. Whether there are any benefits of this will depend on the time of day that you’re travelling.
Air New Zealand’s International Koru lounge is located on the upper floor of the international terminal. While it’s by no means a bad lounge, I’ve had some very mixed experiences in there over the past year. The lounge can get very crowded at certain times of the day, and a lot of the furniture is now getting quite tired. The lounge also lacks any real views of the airport due to it’s location. The good news is that Air New Zealand are building a completely new lounge that due to be completed later in 2015.
A good selection of snack food and sandwiches were available, with hot options for lunch appearing just before I left the lounge for my flight.
My flight to Sydney was on a 777-200ER. Air New Zealand operate 8 of these aircraft, and are currently in the process of refitting these with new seats and upgraded In-flight Entertainment (IFE). While Business Premier and Premium Economy customers will benefit from this upgrade, economy customer will find themselves with much less space as the seating configuration moves from a 9 abreast 3-3-3 to a 10 abreast 3-4-3 configuration. My flight was on a non refit aircraft. Boarding started a little late and the gate staff seemed a little flustered over something, but once it was underway things seemed to run smoothly. I boarded and walked left to me seat, 2A, which is right at the front of the cabin (no 1A exists due to the way the seats are numbered).
Air NZ use a Virgin Atlantic designed fully lie flat seat across it’s 777 fleet (both 200 and 300) and it’s 787 Dreamliners, the later of which use the same newer generation seat that is being fitted as part of the 777 refit. The layout is a 4 abreast 1-2-1 herringbone layout that gives every passenger direct aisle access.
Seats include an ottoman / footrest that can also be used as a seat for another passenger during meals. Each seat also features a 10.4” screen and power socket. One tip for these aircraft is to be wary of booking seats 1K or 1J – these feature the ottoman near the curtain (as shown above) which is prone to being knocked by passengers going to the bathroom, or crew when moving around trolley carts.
All Business seats come with a bottle of water and “premium” noise cancelling headphones. While the headphones are a step up from regular economy headsets, they pale in comparison to my Bose QC15’s. No amenity kit and bedding (memory foam mattress, pillow and duvet) are available on these short haul flights – these are only available for long haul flights.
I sat down and was offered a pre flight bubbly or juice. While Air New Zealand serve champagne in Business Premier, this is typically not served on the ground. Orders were also taken for a drink to the delivered once airborne.
Once airborne the crew delivered hot towels and menus followed by drinks and a nut mix. I opted for the Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve Champagne.
Not long after this the meal service began. The crew set up the tray table with a tablecloth before delivering the starter. I opted for the Proscuitto which was washed down nicely by another top up of the Charles Heidsieck. The crew followed behind with bread with several options available. It’s great to see Air New Zealand haven’t followed some other airlines who now don’t have plates for bread.
After enjoying the delicious starter it was time to decide on the main course. I opted for the chicken which was an absolutely sensational meal and incredibly tasty – the photo doesn’t really it justice. This was all washed down with another glass of Champagne.
To finish off was ice cream was served for dessert. New Zealand makes some fantastic ice cream so it’s good to see this on offer. Crew also distributed Express Passes for arrival into Australia to Premium Customers.
For the rest of the journey I relaxed and caught up on a few podcasts on my phone. The ancient Rockwell Collins IFE system in my seat was totally unusable with dropouts and stuttering which meant it was impossible to listen to or watch anything on the IFE system. The Airshow system was also unwatchable, displaying noise that looked like a badly tuned RF feed on a TV (in real life it was far worse than the picture).
Aside from the poor IFE, the aircraft was certainly showing it’s age. Air New Zealand delayed the refit of these aircraft so the cabins are now around 7-8 years old, and this really shows. The leather seats are well worn with a lot of scuff marks both on and around the seats, and right in front of me I had the insulation between the hulk head hanging down. The 2J seat sign on the overhead bin was written on with a marker pen which looked very tacky.
Cutbacks on aircraft cleaning have become really evident across the Air New Zealand fleet recently, and I’ve encountered some pretty disgusting aircraft flying around with interior cabins with dirty, greasy handprint marks (presumably from maintenance), clogged dust vents in bathrooms and sidewalls and crumbs on seats. While the odd crumb isn’t the end of the world, dust and dirty handprints are simply inexcusable in my view.
Overall the flight was a great one. The crew were sensational – they were super friendly and had constant drink refills on offer. Empty plates and cutlery were promptly cleared, and I was asked on several occasions if I needed anything.
Arrival into Sydney was amazingly quick due to the time of the day – the flight was the only international one at that time so the customs area and baggage hall was completely deserted. From the time I left the plane I was through the Smart Gate machine, collected my bags and entered the Virgin transfer area, all within about 10 minutes.
Sydney Airport Domestic and International terminals are on different sides of the airport, meaning that passengers need to transit between the two either by bus or train. I checked my bag at the Virgin transfer counter and received a pass to use for the terminal transfer bus which turned up about 5 minutes later.
As I had no bags to check at the Domestic terminal I headed straight for the Virgin lounge. This is accessible via a Premium entry area from the kerbside with it’s own dedicated security screening for eligible premium customers, or via the terminal for all other customers.
As I didn’t have long to spend in the Virgin lounge I opted for a quick snack and a beer (Fat Yak is one of my favourite Australian beers). There was a good selection of salads, sandwiches on offer along with numerous snack options. The lounge features a good selection of beers and wine, with staff on hand to serve these. The lounge was well laid out, and had a few themed areas along with work and quiet zones.
The only disappointing aspect for me was the lack of any real view out the windows. I’m sure I’m not the only person who could quite happily sit in an airport lounge all day just to watch the planes outside!
It was about a 5 minute walk from the Virgin lounge to my gate. Boarding commenced not long after and as it was a fairly quiet day for flying the Boeing 737-800 was only around half full and pushback was right on time. In-flight service consisted of a petite sized sandwich along with a choice of coffee, tea, water or juice and a complementary view of the baron, dry, Australian landscape.
Arrival into Melbourne airport was smooth, with my checked-in bag appearing pretty promptly despite the airport being fairly busy.
Overall all 3 flights were great – Air New Zealand’s business class product is great in terms of service and food, but the plane was looking a little tired, and the IFE was quite simply just atrocious. The Trans-Tasman alliance between Air New Zealand and Virgin makes transfers between both airlines pretty seamless, and makes the combination of flights all the more enjoyable. It’s certainly something I’d do again if time was no obstacle.
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PLEASE NOTE: Unless you have very good reason for wanting to move away from the hardware your ISP supplies you should always use it. Using non ISP supplied hardware does break the terms & conditions of some ISPs and I am not responsible if they come chasing after you. You should never expect to receive any support at all from your ISP if you are planning to use non approved hardware. I will not provide support or help if you can’t get this working – I suggest you post in the Geekzone Forums if you need help and somebody may be able to help you.
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Here in New Zealand the number of UFB connections is currently increasing rapidly as the network rollout focus moves from high priority schools and business users towards residential users. While many people signing up for UFB are happy to use the router or residential gateway (RGW) supplied by their ISP, some may want to use their own hardware. There are a few obstacles to overcome to do this which I’ll explain below.
Most ISPs by default will require a 802.1Q VLAN tag of 10 to be set on the WAN interface of your router. The vast majority of Ethernet routers available on the market do not support the ability to set a VLAN on the WAN port, but this is changing quickly as vendors realise this has become the default standard on fibre networks around the world. In the fibre world this is known as a tagged UNI port.
So why does a VLAN have to be set?
To understand that requires a a basic understanding of networking. Traffic over your UFB connection is split into two categories – low priority, and high priority. The 30Mbps, 50Mbps, 100Mbps or 200Mbps headline speeds that are available with current UFB connections are known as an Excess Information Rate (EIR) and fall into the low priority category. This speed is best effort, with absolutely no guarantee of performance or throughput. There is certainly no guarantee this headline speed will be available 24/7, and a user should not have an expectation that this will be the case.
Your UFB connection also has a Committed Information Rate (CIR) component which falls into the high priority category. The CIR value ranges from 2.5Mbps to 10Mbps on most plans and is guaranteed bandwidth for both upstream and downstream (which may have different CIR figures in each direction). You should expect be able to obtain this guaranteed bandwidth 24/7 between your router and your ISP.
The catch with the CIR is that it’s only accessible with the correct 802.1p tag on your traffic. The 802.1p tag is a value between 0 and 7 inside the 802.1Q section of an Ethernet header that specifies the priority of individual packets. By default all Ethernet traffic will typically have a 802.1q value of 0 and will be placed in the low priority EIR queue. To access the CIR component of your connection you need to tag traffic with an 802.1p value of 4 or 5 (depending on your connection type) on a UFB connection here in New Zealand.
So what use is the CIR? The High Priority CIR component is especially suited to voice or video applications where guaranteed bandwidth and low latency is important. If your ISP offers VoIP services they are most likely using this CIR component to guarantee the quality of their VoIP service as traffic in the low priority and high priority queues have different network performance targets for common network measurements such as jitter and packet loss. If you’re using your own router with VoIP it’s best practice to create QoS or firewall rules to tag voice traffic to use the CIR. As usual with any CIR you need to ensure that you have local policies in place to manage this bandwidth to handle traffic that may be generated in excess of the CIR.
It’s worth mentioning now that Chorus along with the other Local Fibre Companies (LFCs) responsible for the UFB rollout support untagged UNI ports and this is something that some ISPs do offer. An untagged UNI port means there is no requirement for a VLAN10 tag, but it also means you will have no high priority CIR component on your connection as a 802.1p tag can only be set inside a 802.1Q VLAN header.
So what solutions are there for somebody wanting to use a device that doesn’t support VLAN tagging? There are two that are simple – a switch capable of VLAN tagging that you can use to add the VLAN 10 tag to your traffic, or a Mikrotik Routerboard which can also do the same thing. I’ll describe how to do this with a Mikrotik Routerboard.
You will need to be aware with either approach that you will be unable to set any 802.1p tagging in your router with this approach as traffic leaving your router will not have a 802.1Q header. If you are using a Mikrotik it is possible to create mangle firewall rules inside your Mikrotik to set the priority of traffic inside the bridge, but this is outside the scope of this guide.
Something such as a Mikrotik RB750 device makes the perfect solution to tag your traffic. While any Mikrotik device out there with multiple Ethernet ports can be used, the RB750 is a nice low cost device that will achieve this. One thing to note is that the RB750 only supports 10/100 Fast Ethernet ports, if you have a UFB connection with a faster speed you’ll need something such as a RB750GL that supports Gigabit Ethernet ports.
The basic principle of this setup is to create a VLAN10 tag on an interface, and create a bridge to bridge together VLAN10 with another Ethernet port that you can plug your router into. The example below will create VLAN10 on Ethernet port 1, and bridge this to Ethernet port 2. You would then run a cable from Ethernet port 1 to your ONT, and plug your router into Ethernet port 2.
There are multiple ways to log into a Mikrotik router (SSH, telnet, Winbox or web browser) so I’ll leave that option up to the end user. This is not a guide to using Mikrotik hardware or RouterOS (which does have a steep learning curve) so please don’t ask me questions on this.
Once logged in ensure you delete all existing configuration in the device and either add an IP address to a port you will not be using, or use Winbox MAC address discovery to log into the Mikrotik.
From the terminal enter the following commands:
add interface=ether1 l2mtu=1522 name=vlan10 vlan-id=10
/interface bridge port
add bridge=UFB_Bridge interface=vlan10
add bridge=UFB_Bridge interface=ether2
Or if you want to create this from Winbox via a GUI the following screenshots will help
1) Add a VLAN with a VLAN ID of 10 to the interface you wish to use as your WAN port (in this case I’ve used ether1)
2) Create a Bridge – you can call this whatever you like.
3) Add VLAN10 and the Ethernet port you wish to plug your router into to the Bridge
You should now connect an Ethernet cable from Ether1 (or the port you selected) of your Mikrotik device to your ONT, and plug your router into Ether2 (or the port you selected). Assuming your router is configured with the correct PPPoE or DHCP settings for your ISP, you should now be connected. Some ISPs may tie DHCP leases to a specific MAC address in which case you’ll need to clone the MAC address of your ISP supplied router into your router.
On Radio NZ National this morning Kathryn Ryan interviewed Roger Heale, the Executuve Director of the New Zealand Taxi Federation. It’s well known the Taxi federation have a strong dislike for Uber, and have been spreading plenty of FUD about Uber since their launch in New Zealand. It wasn’t long ago that they were telling drivers who belong to the Taxi Federation that Uber was operating illegally in NZ and that drivers were unlicenced - both of which are untrue.
You can listen to this interview here http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/ninetonoon/audio/20155699/nz-taxi-drivers-call-for-level-playing-field-with-uber
Heale claimed that Uber does not charge GST and that explains an instant 15% difference in the rates. The problem is once again the Taxi federation have been caught telling blatant lies. Uber does charge GST.
Here’s a copy of a recent Uber invoice from a ride in Auckland.
A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post asking why Taxis in NZ aren’t interested in competing with Uber (which you can read here). If the Taxi Federation stopped spinning lies and FUD and focussed on bringing member companies and drivers together to deliver the products and service that consumers want, rather than delivering in some cases sub par experiences and hefty electronic card surcharges they’d probably find themselves in a much better place right now. I’ve got no time for companies and organisation that focus their entire resources on trying to spread negative publicity about their competitors rather than trying to make their own product better.