Grabbing A Delay And An Upgrade: NZ5- Upper Deck
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 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.
Kia ora and welcome to my 19th trip report. This report covers my flight on NZ5 from Los Angeles to Auckland and also through the twists and turns of the events around this flight. Air New Zealand has twice daily or near twice daily flights to LAX throughout the year – one flight continues onto LHR (NZ1/2) and the other terminates in LAX (NZ5/6). By the end of the year , LAX will be operated by only 77Ws as NZ is phasing out most of the 744s.
Air New Zealand has reduced baggage allowances from two bags to one bag for flight to USA. I knew that when I bought the ticket, I’d be either paying for excess baggage or looking for an upgrade to Premium Economy which allows a second bag for no extra cost. Enter trusty dad with his air points to allow me to purchase a standby upgrade which wasn’t guaranteed so I needed to hold behind at least US$50 just in case I wasn’t upgraded and had to pay for excess baggage. Because I was on a grabaseat fare, I tried looking for things saying that this certain fare cannot be upgraded on. Upon failing to do so, I kept my fingers crossed throughout the trip that I would get upgraded. Not only that, but it was a chance (if I was upgraded) to finally try out the upper deck of the ’Queen of the Skies’ itself, the 747.
28 November 2010
I had a great time in USA and was semi prepared to head home by then; although obviously wishing I had more time to fly around the place. An interesting piece of news came across the computer a couple of days earlier as I was checking the New Zealand Herald website, saying that the runway lights at AKL malfunctioned and were cut for a few hours. (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10690619)
They reported that the lights went out at 10:40pm, meaning that NZ2 would not have been able to get off in time and it would have disrupted NZ’s flights into and out of LAX. With this in mind, I decided to check out the arrivals and departures information on the day of travel. I went on the Air New Zealand website to see NZ5 from the previous day scheduled to depart at 10am LA time and I was a little concerned when my flight didn’t appear on the schedule for that evening. So I called up Air NZ reservations to hear the news about the rescheduling of my aircraft and that the plane would depart at 10am the following morning. He also told me that I would be offered a hotel room and also meal vouchers to compensate for the extra night I was to stay in LA for. I was told to go to the airport for more information about the situation (and also my upgrade) where I’d be given all that offered. In the end I turned it down to spend time with my family. I later realised by reading in the flyertalk forum that passengers were put up in the Hilton with a US$40 food voucher and breakfast provided, as well as the fact that some passengers were put onto NZ19 (LAX-RAR-AKL). My experience with NZ’s customer service was strikingly contrasting to the other person’s experience where he wasn’t offered any accommodation.
Deciding not to bother heading to LAX that evening, I stayed over at my cousin’s house for one last night before heading home, not needing to be at the airport until 7-8am the following morning.
29 November 2010
After a good night’s sleep, I was ready for the adventure which doesn't happen very often – a day crossing of the Pacific Ocean back to Auckland. Basically all scheduled flights operated to/from USA from the southwest Pacific are overnighters.
I was dropped off at the airport by my cousin. The police control at the entrance to the terminals at LAX was long gone – whatever there was of a Thanksgiving rush was nearly over. But by no means was LAX quiet on the Monday morning. Terminal 1 (Southwest’s terminal) was packed and I was glad I only had to get to Terminal 2 and not have to endure a long wait to go further around the terminal buildings. Terminal 2 was seemingly quiet in contrast to the rest of the airport. I made my way into the terminal and lined up.
The first thing that struck me was that there were no check-in agents to be seen. Indeed, it wasn’t a usual time for people to be checking into Air NZ flights but it was the same case the day before. The premium queue was quite a bit shorter than the Economy one but it still wasn’t that full as many had already checked in the day before. Eventually some ground staff turned up to check people in. 3 desks were open for Economy. My turn checking in came some 20 minutes after arriving at the terminal. I was quick to ask: “I’ve got a standby upgrade, can you tell me if I’ve been upgraded?”
Her reply was: “You’ll definitely get it. Where would you like to sit?” I was quite surprised at how quickly that popped up (and also very excited) but nonetheless I asked for an upper deck window seat. She told me that there were only “A” side upper deck window seats remaining. Air New Zealand’s Premium Economy layout is 3-2 with the row of 3 seats ABC next to each other and the other two are on the other side of the aisle. That was sorted out efficiently and after wishing me a good flight, I was off with my boarding pass.
The extra security screening of checked baggage meant that the bags came back to my side of the scales after the baggage tags had been attached and I had to wheel it over to the TSA agent manning the machine. I was informed that the lounge was available to Premium Economy passengers for the flight, probably due to the delay. I waved goodbye to my luggage and was off to security.
LAX T2 is a shambles. Many talk about it being that way but now I can say that I’ve experienced it. There’s a dedicated ‘Premium’ checkpoint where your documents are scrutinised but that day, they decided to put the slowest officer on that desk. I watched too many just take the ‘normal’ route and beat me to the queue. After passing that with ease, I headed up the stairs to join the monstrous queue for security screening. There were at least 8 lines. After standing in that queue for a while, I saw this TSA agent standing at the rear of the queue by some sort of signpost and people were bypassing huge chunks of the queue. I was later in a position to read the sign and it said ‘Premium Passengers’. That lady wasn’t at the sign when I got to the top of the stairs. Los Angeles Airport really needs to sort out their act in terms of a priority lane for premium passengers. The queue inched forward at an extremely slow pace. Terminal 2 has body scanners installed. They’re painstakingly slow to process people doing two people for every 6 or 8 through the metal detector. The two people in front of me were body scanned (I only realised later that you have some sort of choice between taking the metal detector only line or the line which you could be body scanned) so I only had to go through the metal detector. But anyway, I was clear through all of that in half an hour and airside at 8:30.
What a treat it was to be able to experience the Air NZ lounge at LAX. For starters, I hadn’t had breakfast so I was lucky to be able to eat something. A friendly welcome at the door by one of the staff was the start to a relaxing time inside the lounge. Air New Zealand’s lounge is very long and offers excellent views over the apron towards Terminal 3 and also runway views out towards the 24s. So why not do some spotting while enjoying a quick bite? There are plenty of facilities at the lounge – computer stations, a kids area, free wifi and an open bar. That’s right, get it yourself and you could knock back a few scotches before the flight! There were 9 wines (5 white, 1 sparkling, 3 red), beer, soft drinks, juices, hot beverages and spirits – not to mention a whole lot of 42 Below vodka in different flavours. Obviously, it wasn’t full of stuff you’d usually have before 9am on any particular day. I saw a lot of Bloody Marys made from my wanders around the lounge. [Air New Zealand is set to move into Tom Bradley International Terminal in 2014 and have built a new lounge in the new terminal]
Remembering the lesson of not eating too much in the lounge from a previous lounge visit before a flight where I had no appetite for Business Class food when I got onboard, I decided to have some cornflakes with yoghurt. There wasn’t much of an offering but it seemed ample for a lounge which doesn’t usually open at that time and when compared to other US lounges, I’m sure it’d still be considered pretty good. I went back for a few helpings, also for a muffin which was also offered.
I had a chat with a woman who was interested in my photo taking of planes in the lounge (how many people would pull out a big white lens in the lounge?) and told me she was a train spotter. We had a nice conversation about her experience over the delay of our flight and various other things including her epic adventure from Scotland to get to LAX and then onward on my flight back to AKL. While we were chatting, the FSM (flight service manager) Anthony did the rounds and personally introduced himself to everyone in the lounge. I thought that this was a fantastic touch for them to greet everyone in the lounge and ask if everything was ok. I later found out that this was protocol/normal from Air NZ. A PA rang out through the speakers, informing everyone about the expected boarding time. The boarding call was made in the lounge at 935 and people started to file out of the lounge towards the aircraft waiting at Gate 25.
Boarding for Economy had already commenced. There were no signs saying where Premium passengers were to go so I followed some into cutting the queue. The gate agent welcomed me with a “Thank you, Mr Young” and I was off down the air bridge for my flight home.
29 November 2010 (Delayed from 28 November)
Routing: Los Angeles - Auckland (LAX-AKL)
Airline: Air New Zealand
Flight: NZ 5
Scheduled Time of Departure: 2300hrs (GMT-8)
Actual Departure: 1015hrs (pushback), 1028hrs (rotate) (GMT-8)
Scheduled Time of Arrival: 0750hrs+2 (GMT+12)
Touchdown: 1926hrs+1 (GMT+12)
Flight time: 12hr 11min
Aircraft: Boeing 747-400 (-419)
Registration: ZK-NBU, City of Rotorua
ZK-NBU was delivered new to Air New Zealand on 11 September 1992. It possesses Rolls Royce RB211 engines. This plane is destined to be gone from the fleet by the time NZ receive all of the 77Ws they have ordered.
FSM Anthony greeted me at the door and upon showing him my boarding pass, his reply was: “Ooh, up the stairs for you!”
And so here I was, climbing the stairway to heaven for the first time as a passenger seated on the upper deck! It just felt so good making my way up to the secluded space in the bubble. The flight attendants were already very energetic and most helpful. I asked them what was offered for breakfast and his reply was “We’ve got lunch for you, it’s even better because you get more to eat!”
Before trying out Air New Zealand’s Premium Economy, I thought that the product was just an ordinary Economy class seat with a bit more legroom plus better meals. It was true to some extent but it still went way above my expectations. The seat has the same IFE system. There is extra recline in the seats and also a footrest which goes above and beyond what’s offered in the Economy seat. The legroom was superb. Each seat was decked out with a pillow, blanket, an amenity kit (pictures at the end of the report), a water bottle and noise cancelling headphones. The amenity kit included a toothbrush, toothpaste, earplugs, socks, eyeshades and some lip balm and came in a nice cardboard box. The footrest itself was a bit of a nuisance however – it was just a bar and was pretty hard and uncomfortable against shoeless feet but was in a way necessary when the footrest was extended.
The wonderful feature onboard the 747s are the storage bins underneath the window. Why can’t every window seat have such a luxury!? My camera bag just snuck into the bin where it stayed for the rest of the flight. Everything in those bins are easily accessible and the best thing about them is that you can chuck just about everything in there and not have to worry about using the overhead bins. It’ll be a shame to see them go as the 77W doesn’t have them. The A380 upper deck has these bins though. The suede finish on the seats gives them a much more premium feel over the standard Economy seats. The pair of noise cancelling headsets on my seat were broken but I had my Bose noise cancelling headphones with me which did a far superior job of reducing noise than the ones provided. Not the same could be said about the windows however. They were quite bad for taking pictures out of, due to the fact they were similar to A380 windows – the space between the outer pane and the inner pane was quite large and allowed for a lot of glare. If I get another chance to fly Premium Economy in the 747, I’m sure to take a seat on the lower deck.
After settling down in the seat, the flight attendants Chris and Hayley came around with pre-takeoff drinks – orange juice and Piper Heidsieck champagne came around on trays and was served to everyone. It may have been plastic but I guess everyone held their cups for takeoff so it could be easily put somewhere.
The flight crew came over on the PA making their pre-flight announcement. It started off with an apology about the delay of the aircraft – something to do with crew rest regulations on top of the complications at the airport. Expected flight time was 12 hours and 10 minutes.
Pushback occurred at 1015 local, taking the plane out of the apron area and providing good views of the terminals. We had to wait for a bit of smaller traffic before we lined up Runway 24L and lifted off from US soil.
The seatbelt sign were turned off a mere 3 minutes after departure. Immigration forms were handed out quite early in the flight and the FAs also did the rounds for another drink order. Hot towels were later distributed too.
After being able to snap a few photos, I saw that the FAs had started distributing the drinks ordered earlier so I headed back to my seat. My drink of orange juice was delivered along with a pack of the cassava crisps they regularly have onboard domestic flights within New Zealand.
I must have annoyed my seat mate as I got up plenty of times at the wrong time to take pictures.. But I wanted to make the most of it before lights were dimmed.
By then, lunch service was just about to begin and I made it back to my seat just in time for Hayley to reach our row.
The tray was served with the starter already on it consisting of raw salmon with a potato salad. Hot buns were also distributed. Hayley also poured out glasses of water for those wanting it, seeing that the drinks trolley could take a little while to get down the cabin. The salmon was fresh and tasted good; and so did the potato salad. The drinks trolley finally reached us where there was a comprehensive range of wines and other drinks available. I opted for a Syrah (aka in Australia as Shiraz) which tasted really nice and also complemented the main course which was to follow.
Forty minutes later (the wait was a bit long I think), the main meal was served. There was a choice of lamb or fish. I opted for the lamb which was served with beans, carrots and parsnip. It was a good tasting meal – what one would expect from NZ’s premium meals. It took me a while to eat it and within that period of time, the cheese plate had already come and gone. Chris came around while everyone was eating the main asking if anyone wanted their wine glass topped up.
The dessert consisted of some chocolate mousse/cake thing which wasn’t too bad although I’d probably take the small tub of ice cream served in Economy over it. It’d be good if an option was provided such as the one for ice cream.
Another 40 minutes passed since the delivery of the main before everything was tidied up. I jumped out of my seat for another chance to take pictures of the cabin before lights were dimmed for the vast majority of the rest of the flight.
I rested for the next phase of the flight, trying to get enough sleep to be able to stay up for a ‘normal’ day when I got back home. There was a possibility of getting a good 5 hours of sleep. Daytime flights are great for taking pictures.. Although pretty boring when you’re only travelling over water. The self service bar was quite well stocked throughout the flight, carrying things from biscuits, sandwiches (particularly nice!) and fruit to Coke and L&P (A soft drink found basically only in New Zealand). I got up a couple of times to get some bits and pieces to nibble on throughout the flight. Some annoying passengers behind me were quite inconsiderate and continued chatting and laughing pretty loudly throughout the flight and someone on the opposite side kept their window shade open. He wasn’t looking out of it either but wasn’t told by any of the flight attendants to close it for the sake of others onboard. This is what leads me to believe that if you were to fly Business on Air NZ, fly on the lower deck where there’s much more privacy.
Photos between snoozing:
Well, before I knew it, I could smell food from the galley. It meant that dinner was on its way and we weren’t too far away from AKL. At 5pm NZDT (9.5 hours into the flight), there was another round of hot towels. 15 minutes later, the entree was served on the tray – this time it was a pork entree with relish and bean sprouts on top. It was a good way to start the dinner service. The sesame and ginger dressing which was served alongside the entree was a great addition to the meal.
The meal followed a little later. The choices given were fish, duck or lamb. The lamb looked like a big tortellini so I opted for the duck. The duck was cooked Chinese style with capsicum on rice and some bok choy on the side. The duck was very good. But there was insufficient rice and the bok choy was overcooked so much that it was impossible to cut. But it’d be hard to get vegetables cooked perfectly without having proper cooking facilities onboard. Nonetheless, it was very enjoyable alongside the Central Otago Pinot Noir and the duck was particularly nice with the sesame and ginger dressing.
The dessert was a carrot and raisin cake with pineapple on the top, served with some hazelnut/cinnamon type cream. Once again, I wouldn’t have minded ice cream as an option for dessert and could have tasted just as good, if not better, as the dessert given. But it topped the meal off nicely, along with the cheese and crackers left over for the end. I’ve since heard that dessert wine is generally offered after the meal but also the fact that some crew cut corners and don't offer it. It would have been nice to have been offered some.
Trays were packed away and not long after, the cabin was being prepared for landing.
We touched down at 2025 local after a scenic approach over the Hauraki Gulf and across the rural area of the Franklin District.
We pulled into Gate 2 and that signalled the end of the wonderful flight. Just before descending the stairs, I quickly asked the flight attendant to ask the pilots whether I could quickly visit the cockpit. Since I was already up there, it made it much easier. So they allowed me to snap a few quick shots of the cockpit. They also said that they’d have invited me to visit the cockpit during landing if it wasn’t for 9/11..
I passed through customs with no sweat and made my way landside, back on home soil again.
Air New Zealand’s Premium Economy product provides those wanting a little more over the current Economy product. Comfort, along with better food and service, is probably what drives this product to be one that is chosen by a lot of people for their trips on long haul journeys. The extra legroom is more than welcomed. It’ll be interesting to see how the new Premium Economy seats will compare to the current ones although they look to be very impressive.
Despite the hiccups before the flight, Air New Zealand (from my perspective) seemed to handle everything smoothly and professionally. I would have no hesitations in choosing to fly Air New Zealand again. The Premium Economy cabin in the 777-200ER (at present) does not match the comfort level of the 747-400 Premium Economy so be sure to pick the right flights. The 777-200ERs will be retrofitted starting in 2012 [now 2014]. I’ll definitely miss the 747 and I hope I get another chance to fly it again soon.
Thank you for reading!