Flying Air New Zealand In Style to Auckland (Trip Report)

Good morning from beautiful Auckland, New Zealand. Don’t ask me what day it is, because I have no idea. This whole international dateline thing still messes me up. Over the weekend, Air New Zealand flew me down here for a big media event today launching their new cabin interior. Though I will have full details tomorrow, early reports are suggesting there will be the ability . Yes, you’ll want to read tomorrow’s post.

But today, let’s talk about the existing product and the flight down from LA. It was absolutely stellar. Comparing Air NZ to my Air France flight to Tahiti last year is like comparing Singapore Airlines to Alitalia. There isn’t a comparison.

Air New Zealand provided the ticket down to Auckland and yes, they flew me in business class. Despite some people telling me I’m insane, I’m actually trying to get downgraded to premium economy for the flight home so I can give you a report on that, but the flight is full and they say it may not be possible. I’ll keep you posted.

Back to this flight. I got to the airport at 530p, two hours before departure. I figured I didn’t need to be there that early, but there were a few of us on this trip together so I thought it would be nice to meet them in the airport for a little bit. I was also a little concerned since you aren’t allowed to check-in online. (I’m told they’re considering that for the future.)

I walked up to the premium check-in area and they instantly gave me my boarding pass and asked if I was happy with a window on the upper deck. No problems there, of course, since I had snagged my seat a few days earlier online. Then, the agent came around from behind the counter and escorted me to the lounge.

Wait, that didn’t sound right. I double-checked to see if this was something they did for all their premium customers and he said no. He was just given instructions to escort our group. Ah, I see. Not a fan of that. That’s not exactly helpful for me to give an opinion on what other customers will see now is it? If you were traveling outside our group, you had to face a roughly 30 minute line which I skipped. Once Northwest left Terminal 2 at LAX, they took away the premium security line, so the experience has gotten a bit worse in that regard.

After cutting in line at security (grr), I went up to the lounge. I had only been in the tired, worn old Northwest lounge in Terminal 2 at LAX, so seeing the much larger, nicer Air New Zealand lounge was a good surprise.

There was not only a large area with cold cuts and other snacks, but it looked newly redone with plenty of room and even some showers. I later found out that while we had to use the old Northwest lounge when we flew Air France business class to Tahiti last year, Air France First Class passengers get to come here.

Once again, the special treatment continued, much to my dismay, with a corner of the lounge blocked off for our group to get together. I met the other writers would be joining me down to NZ along with Kathryn Gregory, Air NZ’s Marketing head in the US and Roger Poulton, a 40 year Air NZ employee who is now Vice President of the Americas. He came to see us off while Kathryn was flying with us.

In the lounge, we got to know each other and I wandered around to take it all in. Then, the inflight concierge Aaron Nelson came through. I’ve written about Air New Zealand’s concierge program before and how I think it’s a great idea. Now, I had the chance to dig in and try it out.

Aaron had actually been working as an account exec with the airline before he decided to apply to become a concierge. Right now, concierges are based in Auckland and London and only operate on the North American routes. They arrive about 1.5 to 2 hours before the flight and immediately start looking for any problems to solve. I asked Aaron how they measure the success of the program and he said it’s all about complaint reduction. Air NZ has a zero complaint policy, and routes with concierges have seen complaints down by more than 20% while other routes haven’t seen that drop.

So he wanders the gate area looking for anyone who needs help. He introduces himself to everyone and offers his assistance throughout the flight. He’s not a flight attendant, so he doesn’t have the same rest rules. He is responsible for helping anyone who asks throughout the entire flight. When he wasn’t helping, I saw him constantly roaming the aisles to reach out to people.

After monopolizing his time, I told him I would come and bother him on the airplane again so he could do his duties before we boarded. They started boarding the flight but we waited until the end to get on. We left the lounge and got on the plane about 10 minutes before departure.

January 23, 2010
Air New Zealand #5 Lv Los Angeles (LAX) 730p Arr Auckland (AKL) 525a (on 25JAN)
: Gate 22, Runway 25R, Dept On Time
: Gate 10, Runway 23L, Arr ~15m Early
Aircraft: ZK-NBU, Boeing 747-419, Named Rotorua, Full
Seat: 20K
Flight Time: 12h10m

Immediately after boarding, I headed upstairs to my seat. I was instantly greeted by name by Marian our flight attendant (as were all the other business class passengers, I checked) and was asked if I’d like a tour of the seat so that I could know where everything was. Having flown in this seat once a couple years ago, I didn’t feel the need for the tour, but I let them do it anyway.

Soon enough, Aaron the concierge had come up as well to check on our cabin and see if we needed anything. Soon, we were buckled up and ready to push back one minute early. Unfortunately, they routed us around to the south runways so we had to taxi for quite awhile. The good news is that Air NZ lets you use your inflight entertainment the second you board, so I just fired up a movie.

We launched peacefully into the beautifully clear night, the first one we’d had in LA in a week, and pointed the nose south toward NZ. It was a straight shot over nothing for about 12 hours.

I had been offered a pre-departure drink and my order had been taken for a drink right after takeoff as well. Determined to get a good sleep, I stuck with water. Soon enough, they started coming around with dinner service. I was actually drifting in and out of sleep, so I woke up to find my tray out with a tablecloth on and a glass of water waiting. I’m not sure how they did all that without waking me up, but they did.

I just wasn’t hungry and instead was more concerned about trying to get sleep, something that is nearly impossible for me on an airplane. The flight attendant offered me a light dinner or simply just an appetizer and dessert after I turned down the full meal, but I told her that I thought I would pass. She had that look of a concerned mother but she obliged.

I decided that I would watch a couple movies and then go for about 8 hours of sleep, if I could. A 12 hour flight is just about right for that. So, toward the end of my second movie, the lights were dimming and others had gone to bed. Marian and Aaron both came back asking me if I would like to have my bed made up. See, this is the same seat Virgin uses where they flip the seat over so you have a flat bed on the back.

I told them I would do it once the movie finished. As soon as it finished, I had another flight attendant come up and ask if I needed my bed made. I went back to the lav, got ready for bed, came back out, and sure enough I had my bed made waiting for me.

Aaron the concierge came by once again to ask if there was anything else I needed, and we got into a brief discussion about how I could spend my single free day in Auckland. I purposefully didn’t do any research because I wanted to see what the concierge could do. He asked me what type of things I liked, and after a few minutes, he promised he would have a great itinerary ready for me when I woke up.

With that, I laid down and popped an Ambien. I now love Ambien. I went to bed around 8p Auckland time. Though I woke up briefly a couple times (the last row of biz upstairs is right next to a little self-serve bar, so it’s a little annoying), I didn’t wake up for good until about 315a when they started waking the cabin up for breakfast. Unreal. I simply can’t sleep on airplanes like that, and I was thrilled.

Marian came through gently offering to turn beds back into seats for those who were ready. I took her up on it, feeling fantastic after getting so much sleep. And now I was hungry.

Marian brought a cart through with a variety of morning drinks. I opted for a delicious strawberry smoothie. Then she came by with fresh fruit and cereal to start.

Aaron dropped by while I was eating to give me my personalized packet with suggestions of how to spend my time in Auckland. I asked him if he did this often, and he said on this flight he had put together about 10 itineraries. It’s usually between 10 and 15.

While some of the materials were pre-made, some he actually typed up in his workstation and printed out for me. He also included a card with his email address and a general Air NZ concierge email address if I needed any further help. Apparently, if someone is having flight problems or other issues, he can radio ahead to take care of them. If they ever get inflight internet onboard, I can only imagine what he’ll be able to do.

Before he left, I asked if he could find the aircraft registration for me. Within a couple minutes, he was back with it. (This was one of Air NZ’s vintage 747s – nearly 20 years old.) Then it was time for more breakfast – this time I took a croissant but passed on the vegemite. Ugh, nasty stuff.

Then Marian came through offering bubble and squeak (pass) or a bacon sandwich. Clearly I opted for the latter. I was expecting a bacon sandwich to be more like what you get in Europe – more of a ham/pork sandwich, but no. This was the bacon we know and love in the US, and it hit the spot.

Soon enough, we were descending into Auckland. It was nice to finally see land after a dozen hours over water. We landed and I paid particularly close attention to the people sitting around me to hear if they said anything about the flight. I heard things like “incredible service” and “just a fantastic seat.” There were a lot of happy passengers, and I was one of them.

We headed off to the hotel to relax and more importantly, shower. I’ll have reports tomorrow from today’s interior reveal.

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