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.
Other related posts:
Why a 24hr parking limit won’t fix the Wellington airport parking issue.
CCTV exposed. Why understanding network security is so important.
Anker make some of the best USB chargers and powerbanks available. Now you can get their products shipped directly to New Zealand
Comment by freitasm, on 9-Jan-2015 19:07
Comment by johnr, on 9-Jan-2015 21:17
3-3-3 to 3-4-3 is such a bad idea and I bet the complaints will come into AIRNZ about this seating config
Comment by xlinknz, on 11-Jan-2015 21:35
In Sept we flew to Brisbane from Wgtn via Sydney on Qantas. This ticket was one booking all the way through
The 1 hr 40 min stopover i.e. scheduled arrival at 8.25 and flight leaving for Brisbane at 10.05 was inadequate
It is my view that 1 hr 40 min would work if a] the flight departed Wgtn on time b] I had no checked in luggage c] one had e-passports [the later not possible with children] and then one might get the connection
I would seem Qantas time allowances for connecting flights were in this case very optimistic
This resulted in a 3 hour delay for us. Next time direct flights even if we have to pay more
Comment by sonyxperiageek, on 12-Jan-2015 20:40
When you booked your flights, was it one booking all the way through? Or did you manually input each stopover?
Comment by jonb, on 13-Jan-2015 12:30
I flew transtasman on Qantas and Air NZ recently - overall the service was much better on the Qantas leg as an economy passenger, whilst Air NZ had more legroom but worse service and having to pay extra for meal and moves. Would go Qantas next time..