I'm attending with a media pass so will have access to some behind the scenes stuff that the general public don't. My plan is to hopefully have a blog post up each night with some of the best things I've seen that day.
Since there are a lot of you here who will never get the opportunity to go, I'm keen to help out others. If there is a product or company you'd like to know more about, post a question or suggestion in the thread http://www.geekzone.co.nz/forums.asp?forumid=48&topicid=189462 or post a comment here. I'll see what I can do (no promises).
Stuff today reported what was almost an obituary for Snapper. While it may have come as a surprise to some, it was hardly news. The real story is the one behind the scenes.
Before we look into the bigger issue, lets take a look at the history of Snapper. Infratil subsidiary NZ Bus own and operate bus services in Wellington, Lower Hutt and Upper Hutt under the Go Wellington, Valley Flyer and Runciman’s brands under contract. By 2006 their existing card based ticketing solution was horrible and cash fares were a nightmare to deal with. They needed a solution, and that solution was a contactless smartcard. Infratil also had just the man to launch a product, and with that, Snapper was born. The company was headed up by Charles Monheim. Monheim, who had headed up Tfl (Transport for London’s) Oyster Card ticketing system from 2001 to 2006 had the perfect skillset required to launch a new ticketing system.
Snapper opted for a system based on the Korean T-money platform, with the actual Snapper “card” bring a JCOP (Java Card Open Plaform) application that resides on the card. This platform had been in use in Korea for a number of years and had a number of advantages over other solutions, particularly competing MIFARE based solutions at the time that were dealing with ongoing issues with the encryption on cards being broken rendering the cards open to being compromised.
Snapper hit the ground running in July 2008 – literally. Problems arose with buses that didn’t yet have readers, and the accuracy of billing for some journeys was a nightmare that took quite some time to solve. Over the coming months however the issues were sorted, and as we now look at the product 7 1/2 years on from the launch it’s safe to say it’s fulfilled it’s purpose of delivering a solid contactless solution for Wellington bus customers.
Within months of it’s launch in 2008 it was clear Snapper were out to play hardball. Attempts to convince both Mana and Newlands bus companies to offer the product failed – in part because both took issue with the link between Snapper’s owner Infratil, and NZ Bus. As Snapper would have access to full details of passenger numbers and routes the fear was they would then provide this to NZ Bus who could potentially then tender against Newlands or Mana to operate services. This lead to the GWRC (Greater Wellington Regional Council) also privately having concerns about expansion of Snapper – what would happen if NZ Bus lost the tender for bus services but controlled all the ticketing? What conflicts of interest are there when both share the same parent? They’re all issues that have plagued Snapper since the launch, and to an extent still plague it today.
2008 also marked the announcement by ARTA (Auckland Regional Transport Authority) of it’s plans for a new integrated ticketing solution for Auckland across all buses, trains, and ferries. NZ Bus owned several bus companies in Auckland so took the initiative to launch Snapper into the Auckland market, promising that they could deliver a full solution and have it in place before the 2011 Rugby World Cup at a fraction of the cost of other suppliers. Unfortunately for Snapper several key members of the ARTA had some well known personal grievances with NZ Bus, which in turn meant Snapper was on the out, before it was even in.
It was around this time that the NZTA (New Zealand Transport Agency) stepped into play pledging to help fund integrated ticketing in Auckland, providing they had a say in the solution and day to day running. Their plan was to build a system for Auckland that in time could then be rolled out to other cities in New Zealand achieving economies of scale that would somehow “save” money. Snapper dug their heels in – they had a system in place and were gaining traction with micropayments but the NZTA wanted none of this. A deal was done with French giant Thales to provide the bulk of the backend systems for the ticketing solution and terminals for trains and ferries. Terminals for buses would be available from two vendors, with Snapper pledging their system could be made compatible meaning their terminals would stay.
I don’t need to write about the disaster that evolved over the next year or so. Thales struggled to deliver on time, the AIFS (Auckland Integrated Fare System) which was key to the actual billing of journeys was a joke, and Snapper along with the other bus terminal vendor (who’s name completely escapes me right now) had trouble making their terminals compatible because they had a) nothing to test against because AIFS wasn’t built, and b) because the specifications kept changing. We all now know the outcome – Snapper pulled out of Auckland, Thales took over all bus terminals, and in 2012 HOP was launched with the cost blowing out to somewhere in the vicinity of $100 million. Since that day it’s either been plagued by problems or the best solution to ever hit the market - depending solely on the side of the fence you want to sit on. Needless to say both parties believed in some very different things – Thales, NZTA and ARTA were very much about building closed, proprietary systems. Snapper were all about building open systems. It really is no wonder heads clashed with such differing views.
The involvement of the NZTA in Auckland was critical. Their involvement resulted in the creation of NITIS (national integrated ticketing interoperability standard) along with the concept of a centralised system for overall management, but with individual clearing houses for each city or town that wanted to jump onboard. This clearing house concept is quite important here – unless fundamental changes are made to the clearing house model you will not be able to use an Auckland issued HOP card in any other region, or use (say) a Wellington HOP card in Auckland. The NZTA also don’t want their solution used for anything but public transport. Both approaches differ significantly to what Snapper believed in, with Snapper pushing it’s use in taxis and parking along with micropayments.
While it wasn’t clear to many at the time, the future for Snapper became a little less uncertain after HOP went live. With the NZTA committing to funding integrated ticketing outside Auckland on the condition integrated ticketing solutions were fully compliant with the NITIS specifications (something Snapper wasn’t) . Here in Wellington our slightly backwards GWRC still saw no need for integrated ticketing across all buses and trains and saw it as a solution looking for a problem, despite the fact the advantages of integrated ticketing across buses and trains are just … logical.
Move on to 2015 and integrated ticketing is finally on the cards at GWRC, with plans to have a solution in place towards the end of the decade. GWRC really only have one option for a solution, and that’s piggybacking on top of HOP. Deploying Snapper across the rest of the trains and buses in Wellington would cost a fraction of the cost of jumping onboard NZTA’s solution, and no doubt start raising all sorts of questions all over again about why HOP cost so much money not just on a solution, but a backwards solution.
10 years ago the concept of a piece of plastic to pay for public transport was a great one. It replaced cash and was reloadable. As we enter an era of smart devices and contactless payments in the form of Visa’s Paywave, Mastercard’s Paypass, Apple Pay and Samsung Pay the game has changed. Carrying around another piece of plastic to pay for a public transport journey feels backwards. Oyster card usage in London has plummeted this year with the adoption of Paywave, Paypass and Apple Pay to pay for all public transport journeys. Passengers no longer need to worry about carrying around an extra card and topping it up, and for tourists it makes using public transport incredibly simple.
The sad aspect of such advances is that the NZTA don’t believe in such things. Their concept of a closed model means HOP users are unlikely to see solutions such as this anytime soon. It’s highly likely you’ll see a mobile phone app but that’s hardly groundbreaking stuff – Snapper did that 3 years ago with their touch2pay solution which was the first of it’s kind in the world. Simply tagging your smartwatch against the reader to tag on and tag off may be the way of the future in some countries, but New Zealand won’t be one.
All of this poses one big question. With all of the talent we have in New Zealand, how did we end up with the NZTA spending $100 million to build a solution based on French technology that doesn’t fully meet the needs of public transport users? The hardware isn’t the complex part, it’s the software that is. The clearing house and interchange model used by HOP is very inefficient, and issues such as online top-ups taking 3 days show the downsides of the current solutions.
Is it time to for Wellington to simply tell the NZTA were to stick HOP and build our own open standards solution for public transport ticketing?
Anybody who knows me will know I’m a bit of a travel junkie - I love planes, and I love travel. I have flown around 50 plane flights per year over the past few years, with at least 2-3 trips to the United States every year, and typically flights to Australia every few months. All of this means a lot of time spent on planes, and in particular a lot of it spent on Air New Zealand planes. Despite their many failings including a very flawed Airpoints loyalty program and the extreme cost cutting attitude of the current executive team, I am still a very loyal customer.
Unless you’re flying on a low cost carrier, the expectation of most people flying on a plane these days if some form of in-flight entertainment (IFE) system, whether this be the more common seat back screen, or the airline supplying tablets to customers. Onboard WiFi is becoming increasingly common and is the way of the future, but until bandwidth issues between planes and the ground are eliminated this is still a few years away from becoming the norm - the seat back screen isn’t going anywhere fast.
Airlines both love and hate seat back screens. With the exception of newer generation systems launched in the last year or so which have made huge advances, IFE systems are typically expensive, power hungry, heavy, bulky (ever noticed the big boxes sitting under your economy seat taking up all your leg room?) and 300+ screens emit a huge amount of heat in the cabin that needs to be cooled. Without an IFE system however, passengers would baulk at flying on a plane for 12+ hours with absolutely nothing to do.
All of this brings me to my recent flights with Air New Zealand. Out of my last five long haul flights I’ve had the IFE system for my seat fully functioning on only one of those five flights. The other four flights have ranged from minor issues right through to a totally non functioning screen on my flight back from Vancouver last week. If I was to look back even further I’d estimate that system issues requiring seat reboots for my seat or individual seats around me where I’ve heard customers reporting issues, or full mid-flight system reboots occur on probably 30% of all flights. All of this poses one big question – why are these expensive systems so bad? If a TV manufacturer launched a TV that simply decided not to work some days, required reboots half way through your favourite TV show, randomly become non responsive, or suffered loss of audio sync, there would be outrage. People would be demanding their money back.
Air New Zealand use Panasonic Avionics as their IFE vendor. Across their fleet Air New Zealand operate three different IFE platforms – older generation Panasonic eFX systems on it’s A320 and 767-300 fleet, newer generation Panasonic eX2 systems on it’s 777-300 fleet, and the latest generation Panasonic eX3 systems on it’s 787-9 Dreamliner and 777-200 fleet (of which all aircraft flying have been newly refitted at the time of writing this from an older Thales system). The architecture of these individual systems varies greatly due to massive technology advances in the 10 years since the EFX system was new, and the launch of the eX3 system has seen Panasonic move from Linux to Android as it’s core operating system powering the IFE system. Tales of instability issues on the eX3 platform are well known – Air New Zealand had Panasonic engineers flying on 787 Dreamliner flights at one point so they could fix things when they broke.
Earlier this year Air New Zealand deployed new software updates to the eX2 systems on the 777-300 fleet to deliver a similar user interface (UI) as that used on the newer eX3 systems. As the eX2 screens aren’t multi point capacitive they can’t support swiping unlike the eX3 screens, but the look and feel is now similar. This software update immediately caused the in-flight maps to break and caused general instability issues across the fleet. As aircraft couldn’t easily be taken out of service to work on the issue many of these planes simply flew around broken for weeks. I flew through to London in June via Los Angeles in Business Premier and had pretty much an unusable IFE system on both flights on two individual planes. While the in-flight service managers (IFM) on both flights were extremely apologetic, I got the feeling from both that they were increasingly frustrated at the faults and felt that members of the IFE team on the ground were seemingly in denial that such issues existed.
Last week I flew to Vancouver for a quick week long holiday and got to experience the new eX3 system on a new 777-200 refit. On the way over the system worked flawlessly. On the way back the system was totally broken for both my seat and a number of other seats in the plane. Multiple seat reboots and help from the engineering on the ground was unable to solve the issue. Short of a full system reboot that would take down the entire aircraft for around 15 minutes (something crews will only do as a last resort due to the massive inconvenience it causes to all passengers) there was nothing that could be done. I sat there for 13 hours with no IFE and unable to use my laptop due to the incredibly crammed seats in economy class. While I managed to cope (and a generous Glenmorangie from the super friendly IFM at least helped me sleep!) the passenger behind me showed the level of expectation that many passengers have for an IFE system – he wanted (or should I say expected) to be upgraded to a seat that worked in Premium Economy or Business Premier. Needless to say that didn’t happen.
All of this poses a few big questions. Why are Air New Zealand’s IFE platforms so poor? Who is at fault? Panasonic for building poor quality products or Air New Zealand for poor implementations? More importantly why do flight crews believe that ground staff aren’t listening to their complaints and fault reports?
Am I just the unluckiest customer ever when it comes to issues? Or do other people see the same problems? I’d be interested in your comments.
Anybody who knows me and has read my numerous blog posts about Uber will know I’m a fan. I’ve used Uber in a number of countries and love both the concept of the product, and the product itself.
In the last month I’ve used Uber to get from my office in Wellington to Wellington airport. Both times I’ve been charged $25, and on both occasions the fare estimate was significantly less than this. After spending a bit of time looking into this it seems that Uber charge a flat $25 rate to get from Wellington Airport <-> Wellington CBD according to the Uber website, but make no mention of this anywhere in the app. For areas in the city (such as my office) where the estimated fare is in the $16 - $21 price range depending on the time of the day, you’re automatically charged $25 for the journey. As much as I like Uber, I don’t like being ripped off, and Uber have ripped me off. Twice.
Lets have a look a few random locations around Wellington
And the Uber website
I asked @uber_nz about this on Twitter, but it seems they’re not the most prompt when it comes to engaging on social media.
In the meantime you may want to be wary of being overcharged. There are a number of taxi companies that only charge $20 flat rate to get from the CBD to the airport.
I love flying. I also love Air New Zealand. As a HVC (high value customer) I fairly regularly get customer surveys and I normally take time to fill these in. Over the last year or so the line of questioning in these surveys has become incredibly bad, and it really worries me that business decisions are probably being based on data from surveys where the questions are so poor that any such data probably has no meaningful real world value.
The most recent survey sent out on Tuesday night takes things to a whole new level. This survey attempts to look at regional flight offerings, grabaseat and people’s feelings towards Jetstar. A couple of spelling/grammar mistakes in the survey can be overlooked, but the actual questions posed by the survey make me seriously wonder whether anybody from Air New Zealand or TNS (who conduct the survey) bothered to actually ask themselves whether any of their questioning made sense.
Multiple questions refer to grabaseat being an airline. Multiple questions also seem to ignore the fact grabaseat is not a standalone booking site and merely uses the main Air New Zealand booking site for all flights. Every flight listed on the grabaseat site is also shown on the main Air New Zealand site, as this is what is used for the actual booking.
Since when did Grabaseat become an airline?
Once again Grabaseat is referred to an airline (if you excuse the grammar). I’m not quite sure how you’re supposed to answer any of these questions in the context they’re posed!
I hope nobody said they searched for flights on a mobile phone that isn’t a smartphone!
Any Air New Zealand HVC knows that the recent slash & burn cost cutting across the airline has delivered great profits while cutting many customer benefits and services. It also looks like it’s resulted in the culling of staff who understand how to write a customer survey.
It’s very clear that Air New Zealand face some very significant challenges from Jetstar in their home market over the next year. After bleeding money for the last few years Qantas are profitable again, and have declared war on Air New Zealand for meddling in the Australian market with their stake in Virgin Australia, something that has resulted in a fairly significant financial hit for Qantas on their home turf. They’ve decided to take revenge in the best way possible - deploying additional Jetstar resources into the New Zealand market in an attempt to hurt Air New Zealand on their home turf. I wrote about this a few months ago and still believe Jetstar have left this far too late, but it’s clear this will still have an impact on Air New Zealand. Qantas don’t care if Jetstar is never profitable in New Zealand (and it probably never will be) – if they can hurt Air NZ they’ll consider that a win.
Air New Zealand should focus on what they’re good at. Writing customer surveys clearly isn’t one of those things. If you want feedback from your HVCs then creating more focus groups and engaging with customers in real life is the way to get the feedback you’re after. I know I’d be more than happy to give plenty of feedback and comments as to how Air NZ could improve many of it’s products, services and brand if you were to only ask. I’m sure plenty of my friends who fly far more than my lowly 40-50 plane flights per year would also be more than happy to offer their services also!
Spark yesterday announced it was planning to shut down it’s nationwide paging network at the end of March 2017. Unlike usual telco announcements this doesn’t seem to have attracted a single mainstream media story, any significant social media discussion, or even the creation of a thread here on Geekzone. A few people of whom I mentioned it to responded with “we didn’t even realise it was still going!”.
The paging network was launched by Telecom New Zealand in 1988 using POCSAG technology on a single 157Mhz VHF frequency. A second channel was launched not long after this to cope with demand for the service, and in the late ‘90s the service was also upgraded to support FLEX technology which delivered significantly faster throughput. I remember in the mid ‘90s that a Minicall prepay pager was the hip gadget to have – you had an 026 number that people paid to call (99c from memory) and the messaging centre transcribed this and sent this to your pager. The entire market for such a service died pretty quickly however once mobile phone popularity increased and SMS became mainstream.
While many see pagers as a relic from the ‘90s that is now obsolete, the real world reality is that they still play a very important role for many industries, with emergency services in particular still relying heavily on the technology. Despite advances in mobile technology and SMS, the reality is that there is not, and it’s unlikely there will ever be a replacement for paging that offers all of the benefits that paging does today.
The biggest user of paging right now is the New Zealand Fire Service. Paging is the primary method of turnout for every fire appliance in the country, with over 8000 volunteer fire fighters and 1700 permanent staff across the country relying on a combination of both Spark paging, and in areas that are so remote that coverage doesn’t exist, local in-fill transmitters (typically on a fire station or a local hill) relaying pager messages via satellite to a local paging transmitter that rebroadcasts the messages. Paging is also used as the a means of turnout for every ambulance in the country.
There are other users of the paging network such as hospitals who could easily deploy their own internal paging systems to replace the Spark network, but the NZFS finds itself in the unique situation of needing to have a nationwide solution.
Over the last few years the NZFS have looked at alternatives, and SMS based solutions have formed the basis of this. It was only a few years ago that Gen-i (who handle the NZFS technology solutions) proposed giving every volunteer in the country a new mobile phone to carry around to replace their pager. Such a backwards solution shows the problem of trying to replace old with new. It really was the world’s dumbest idea expecting every person to carry around another phone just to replace their pager. Such a solution also relies on SMS, which is a significant downfall.
Unlike a mobile phone a pager has a battery life of upwards of a month. Coverage is also a lot better indoors due to the much lower frequency in the 155MHz band (vs 700,800,900,1800,2100 or 2600 used by your mobile phone), and more importantly the pager network is rock solid - outages are so rare they basically don’t happen. Lastly, but most importantly, the paging network doesn’t get flooded with messages that can cause delays, or suffer issues with cross network connectivity. When was the last time you saw delays with SMS messages? Despite the best efforts of carriers, issues with the SMS service (and mobile networks in general) are something that has happened on a fairly frequent basis. As the service is best effort, no guarantees can be placed in delivery times, and as a result at times of busy network loading delays can occur. If phones were to replace pagers, a delay of a minute could well be the difference between life and death. We also know what happens to mobile network during a natural disaster such as the recent Christchurch or Wellington earthquakes – the networks grind to a halt due to overloading. Technology to give certain phones priority in such instances can work well in the TDMA world, but struggles in the world of WCDMA and LTE networks where the noise floor becomes critical and air interfaces can easily be overloaded. In the UK a system known as Mobile Telecommunication Privileged Access Scheme (MTPAS) exists – but is designed primarily for voice calls.
There have also been attempts over the years to build app based solutions that would actually offer benefits – a notification of a call that would allow the end user to reply saying whether they are responding or not responding and would allow a brigade to know exactly how many crew were responding to a call. Solutions such as this rely on the mobile network which is the weak point. Many benefits exist with SMS, and SMS has replaced pagers for a huge number of users, but for time critical messaging the reality is we don’t have a modern solution that can replace the paging network. When time is critical, nothing beats the distinctive tone of the pager to let you know that an immediate response to the station is necessary.
The only downside of paging is a complete lack of security – messages can easily be intercepted by anybody with a radio scanner and software running on a PC.
All of this poses the question of what solution the NZFS will adopt, and what this will mean for the 8000+ volunteers who rely on the current paging network. Whatever solution is adopted, it’s safe to say it will not have the reliability and performance the current paging network offers. It’s very much a case of something new not being able to replace 30yr old technology.
In the meantime does anybody want to put in an offer for my pager collection that has been used for parts and reprogramming over the years? :-)
Update: I’ve been told that the NZFS are looking to deploy an expansion of their current infill paging and expand this nationwide. RSM shows a lot of licences in the 160MHz band that have been recently been allocated to them.
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!