Grabbing A Seat Long Haul: NZ2- The Flagship Route
Air New Zealand has a website called grabaseat.co.nz and they post ‘ludicrously low fares’ every day. Usually these are domestic flights that are slightly discounted from their usual lowest price for a certain period but every now and then, they have very tempting flights on offer. They include $1 one way domestic fares and also some great international deals (in the past they’ve had $1 plus taxes for international flights and also NZ$13 one way all inclusive AKL-OOL which I just missed out on). Obviously, these are planned to be for the off-season of the airline and luckily, one of those times happens to be mid-late November – perfect for the university student who finishes exams in early-mid November to get away before the school holidays start and when fares rocket through the roof!
One day in October, some fares from Auckland to San Francisco popped up for some dates in the future. I thought a little about it but then decided to wait as I believed Los Angeles would pop up in the coming days. So a week later, I was proven right and some AKL-LAX flights popped up for NZ$999 return – just less than half price for an ‘on special’ fare to LAX (in fact, AKL-YVR specials popped up the week after too). Upon glancing across the few dates available for AKL-LAX, I purchased tickets for my first long haul adventure on Air New Zealand.
This report covers my flight on NZ2 from Auckland to Los Angeles on a Boeing 747-400. The flight number NZ1/2 is the number which signifies the most importance of any Air New Zealand route- the flagship route from Auckland to London via Los Angeles. It has been operated by a 747 for many years but will soon be replaced by the 777-300ER as NZ phase the jumbos out of service. I’m only going halfway this time but I do hope you enjoy this report of mine which happens to be my first long haul flight in many years.
Air New Zealand is my home airline. Their website is super easy to navigate and it’s probably too easy to purchase tickets! They allow seats to be selected immediately after you book. By the time I had come to seat selection, most of the plane was full so I settled with a window seat towards the rear of the aircraft. I kept changing seats to one where there was an empty middle seat in the block of 3 next to the window.
18 November 2010
With exams over the week before, I was super excited for the trip. The week flew past and the day finally came where I’d be jumping on my first 747 flight in 9 years. I watched the sun set as I headed for the airport.
Not long after, I arrived at the airport and headed straight for the check in counters at 8:25pm. There was a fairly large and ever growing queue of passengers with only 3 or 4 counters open. It took them 15 minutes to realise that this was insufficient and the line was moving too slowly so they suddenly doubled the number of counters. This sped the process up a lot and not long after that, I was on my way after a pleasant experience at check in and getting the seat I had requested.
Auckland Airport is gearing up for the Rugby World Cup which is happening later next year . So one of the main sponsors, Emirates, has a mini grandstand in the area just before passing through immigration!
Smartgate, the electronic system setup for passengers with Australian and New Zealand passports is now ready for use when departing the country. Initially, it was only available for arriving passengers. It was not quite available by the time I left for USA but it it's up and running now.
After saying goodbye to my parents, I was off upstairs for the usual visit to the observation deck at AKL. Being so late in the evening, there was basically no traffic apart from some Convair 580s/5800s doing freighter runs down the country. On the way to the observation deck, they had a small photography display area [this area now lies within the realm of the Emirates First and Business Class Lounge]:
And also a view on the progress of the airside.. More about it later.
The observation deck looks over the even numbered gates on the main pier (Gates 2-8). The aircraft which was happily waiting at Gate 6 was ZK-SUH and it was being prepared to take me to LAX.
Because there were few movements, it wasn’t long before I was bored so I headed airside. There was no queue at immigration and I was straight through without any problems or random explosives screening. All staff were helpful and friendly, like they should be to give people a final good impression of this country. Once through the security checkpoint, you’re airside and bombarded with the two duty free stores at AKL: DFS and JR. They’re quite nice but not quite tempting enough.
So a bit more about the revamp at AKL for the World Cup. Auckland Airport decided to expand the customs area and cut down on the landside area of the departures hall. This had led to a much larger area airside for things uniquely New Zealand with areas for things like wine tasting. There’s also a massive tree-like structure which marks the centrepiece of this new design. It was seen a few pictures earlier too but looks much more impressive from ground level. I hope it’s a bit closer to completion when I next pass through in January.
Airside FIDS is a little different to the landside one. It gives approximate boarding times, eg. “15 mins until boarding”, unlike the ones landside. The digital clock is also a nice feature!
I also came across this FIDS which was completely screwed up.. Frozen from 5 hours prior to me taking a look at it!
I refilled my bottle airside and was glad to know that I didn’t have to re-empty it before going through the second checkpoint. There was this awesome bottle refilling machine I had never seen before – you just place your bottle on the machine and it automatically fills.
I really don’t see the point of the numerous PA announcements telling everyone who is heading to North America to clear customs immediately. There is no need for immediately clearing security, even if there are 2 security screenings to be performed – one directly after customs and another just before the gate. With nothing else to do between the normal airside and US airside, I decided to pass through the next security checkpoint so I could rest and listen to my iPod while waiting for my flight.
There are 2 gates at Auckland Airport which are sealed for when flights are leaving to North America. These gates are Gates 6 and 8, both of which can hold widebodies (obviously required). Little did I realise what was actually beyond that checkpoint. There were seats around the 2 gate areas, 2 vending machines, a coffee cart and 4 toilets. Just before the flight, there was a huge queue for these toilets. I’d hate to find out what it’s like when there are 2 flights departing at the same time to North America.
A bit of relaxing at the empty and dark area around Gate 8 finally made way for a boarding call that wasn’t heard well from where I was but it started on time. A whole lot of people were just waiting back from the boarding area so I assume I only missed the J, Y+, *A Gold, Koru Club members, families and assistance required boarding call. Eventually they called for those in the last section of Economy to board and so I was onboard at 10:40pm. There was a “Thank you, Mr Young” as the stub was ripped off and the larger portion of the boarding pass was handed back to me.
18 November 2010
Routing: Auckland – Los Angeles (AKL-LAX)
Airline: Air New Zealand
Flight: NZ 2
Scheduled Time of Departure: 2300hrs (GMT+13)
Actual Departure: 2302hrs (pushback), 2315hrs (rotate) (GMT+13)
Scheduled Time of Arrival: 1400hrs (GMT-8)
Touchdown: 1331hrs (GMT-8)
Flight time: 11hr 29 min
Aircraft: Boeing 747-400 (-475)
Registration: ZK-SUH, City of Dunedin
ZK-SUH has an interesting history. It was delivered new to Varig at the end of May 1991 and served for 3 years before being taken up by ILFC and not long after was leased by Air NZ on the 8th November 1994 making it 10 days past its 16th anniversary for flying with NZ. The registration comes directly from the initials of the man in charge of ILFC back then – Steven Udvar-Hazy. SUH is destined to stay on as one of the two 744s retained beyond the 777-300ER EIS.
Only one airbridge is used – only 2 gates at AKL have dual airbridges and they’re both on the new pier for the A380 which NZ doesn’t use frequently.
I was warmly welcomed on board, not by name though, and politely asked to take the far aisle.
So I reached my seat. Row 62 on Air New Zealand is the first row affected by the tapering of the aircraft fuselage and is shown by the misalignment of the tray table to the seat. But in saying that, it’s minimal enough to not really notice. The only drawback I notice after reviewing the photos is the reduced under seat storage space for the window seat. The wall alongside the seat tapers in quite a bit compared with the seats further in front which have a massive area underneath the seat for storage. The IFE box didn’t worry me at all. The seat pitch is 34” in Air New Zealand’s 747-400 and allows for a lot of stretching space for someone like me! Too bad that once the 744s are phased out, the biggest seat pitch in the fleet will be 32” shared by both the 772 and 77W. The seat itself is quite comfortable.
The IFE system currently on the 744 and 772 is a Rockwell Collins one and is about 5 years old now. With the 77Ws coming with the Panasonic system, the 772s will be retrofitted with them when they get around to it. That should be done by the end of 2012.. [still not even started as of Oct 2012] By then, EK would probably have found a better version of ICE to replace what they already have [And they have!]
The selection is definitely not as thorough as EK’s – no airline’s selection is. But it has semi recent movies and (hopefully) enough of them to keep one entertained for the flight. Music selection is fairly limited and I was surprised to see some of my favourite bands missing from the album list (Coldplay, U2). The remote is in the armrest and in a much better position than the QF A330 one because it is extremely hard to knock and change channel etc. It isn’t a touch screen unit so you have to use the remote.
Air New Zealand recently removed the inflight magazines from every seat pocket on these long haul international flights to save weight. So if you want one, you need to ask the flight attendant.
As time ticked closer to pushback, it seemed that the seat would remain empty next to me. And it was the case when the 2L was closed for takeoff. It’s interesting that Air NZ don’t have the announcement that EK has of “all ground crew should be off the plane now, this plane is bound for XXX”. The captain made an announcement before pushback estimating a flight time of 11 hr 25 min. It wasn’t long until we were pushed back from the gate and eventually all 4 GE CF-6 engines were fired up.
And we were off, hurtling down 05R with much more of a roar than an A380 and off into the skies above Auckland.
7 minutes after takeoff, the seatbelt sign was switched off. A water run was made to my surprise, directly after the switching off of the seatbelt sign, after the lack of water runs on the EK A380 in the past. US immigration forms were handed out soon after. Hot towels were also circulated around the same time. I decided to watch a movie and planned for it to finish around the time of dinner being collected so I could get some sleep. There was so much legroom that I used my bag as a footrest and stretched out fully. My Bose noise cancelling headset must have drastically improved the quality of the sound over normal headphones.
Air NZ utilise the IFE system very well to inform the passengers of things instead of blasting it over the PA. You just hope that most people understand English.
There was another announcement made in the same fashion to ask for the window shades to be lowered as a courtesy of other passengers who were trying to sleep.
So dinner was served 1 hour after takeoff. With the choice of beef casserole or fish pie, I opted for the beef. I’ve been advised that the fish pie has actually been pulled from the long haul menu due to being quite umpopular, only surviving 3 weeks and has now been replaced with chicken. This is all bound to change when the 77Ws come online and the food produced from the onboard ovens will make for a much different aircraft food experience [not the case anymore as they had problems with these ovens and reverted back to normal meals]. The drinks cart soon followed and I opted for a ginger ale and a Pinot Noir. The starter was some sort of pasta salad dish with a few raisins in it. On the tray was also a bun, some cheese and crackers and also a tub of Kapiti 'double cream and cookies' ice cream. The pasta was nice and refreshing. The main of beef casserole was very good and didn’t even require the extra salt and pepper. I couldn’t see the tomato in the dish which was apparently a main part of the dish. There was also not enough rice served on the plate for my liking. It’s great that NZ still use ceramic dishes to serve their food in. The ice cream was to die for and topped off the meal nicely.
Trays were cleared within 50 minutes after the meal being served. It was time for a short walk around the cabin before lights were dimmed. The lavatories are of a standard size but NZ’s economy lavatories have no extra amenities so it looks pretty bare.
Lights were out 2 hours after takeoff and after I had settled back in my seat. By that stage, we were basically crossing the International Date Line and making our way back to Thursday, 18th November.
A good 2.5 hr sleep and I somehow woke up. I peered out the window to see just a little bit of light coming over the horizon and stayed up until the sun had risen. It was a magnificent sight, one I had never experienced before.
That’s all I needed to see for a while and I was back for another sleep and managed another 3.75 hours of sleep. The sun was well up by the time I woke up again.
The food must have been the thing to wake me up as a mere 5 minutes later, breakfast was served. The choice was scrambled eggs or pancakes with apple and blueberry bits. I went for the latter and was certainly not disappointed by the meal. It tasted really nice, especially with the apple and manuka honey syrup drizzled over the top of it. Bits of melon and pineapple were also served along with apricot yoghurt and orange juice on the tray table itself. I asked for an apple juice to accompany this meal when the drinks cart was wheeled through.
40 minutes later, breakfast was cleared and it was time for another stretch and more of a look around the Y cabin.
Window shades were finally opened at the top of descent into LAX – about half an hour out from landing. The weather was great – you could see how far Los Angeles spread into the distance. It was such a smooth descent into Runway 25L at LAX and we touched down at 1:31pm local. And just like that, my long haul flight to LAX was over!
Los Angeles has so many planes that don’t come to Auckland so the long taxi around to Terminal 2 from the southern runways was quite some treat! Because they are constructing a brand new TBIT terminal, the taxiway I had once been familiar with from my first flight to LAX 9 years previously is now a massive construction site and so the planes are forced to taxi around all the hangars as well. But that gives a better view of the aircraft!
The A380/Rolls Royce engine saga was in full swing around the time of the trip so I was expecting to see a whole bunch of Qantas planes sitting around. I wasn’t let down as we passed right by them. I counted 3x A380s, 3x 744s and an A332. It made me feel as if I had landed in Sydney!
So the taxi in took about 15 minutes and I had quite a wait to disembark seeing that I was at the back of the plane. Another 10 minutes later, I was out of my seat, heading for terra firma of America. The pilots reminded everyone to take everything they owned off the plane as everything else would be removed from the plane.
I thanked the crew and disembarked the plane.
There was a huge line as we got off the plane but that was for transiting passengers, not those terminating at LAX. So down the escalator we competed for queue spots with those who had just arrived from CDG and lined up for US customs. The queue down at customs was probably longer than the transit line, especially in the ‘Non-US citizens” line. There were a couple of people from the AF flight who managed to cut the queue and amazingly nobody stopped them or told them off for doing it. They managed to save at least 30 minutes from doing that. Someone had taken all the suitcases off the carousel so it was simply a case of pulling up the handle and walking to the ‘quarantine’ checkpoint where I was waved through the doors to landside USA.
I can’t believe I hadn’t flown long haul with Air New Zealand (or even a Star Alliance carrier for that matter) prior to this flight. Air New Zealand provides an excellent product in Economy at present. You can’t complain about 34 inches of legroom for a long haul flight. Flight attendants couldn’t be faulted for their great service. Meals were of a decent size – enough to remain satisfied on. It would have been nice if mood lighting was introduced a lot longer before the current generation of planes – small tweaks such as mood lighting would make the 747-400 a superb aircraft. IFE has enough content to keep one entertained and also has some NZ comedy programmes such as Moon TV. I actually wished that the flight was longer to give me more time on an Air NZ 747 and receive more of the wonderful service! It was an amazing experience and I have no problems recommending Air New Zealand on long haul flights.