Thursday, November 22, 2012

New Zealand 2012 - Part 3: Air New Zealand SYD to AKL to CHC

Part 1:  Asiana Airlines FirstClass – Los Angeles to Seoul
Part 2:  Asiana Airlines BusinessClass – Seoul to Sydney
Part 3:  Air New Zealand Economy Class – Sydney to Auckland to Christchurch
Part 4:  Winetasting in Waipara
Part 5:  Exploring Christchurch
Part 6:  Air New Zealand EconomyClass – Christchurch to Queenstown
Part 7:  Winetasting in Otago
Part 8:  Exploring Queenstown
Part 9:  Hilton Queenstown
Part 10:  Overnight in Sydney
Part 11:  Singapore AirlinesFirst Class – Sydney to Singapore
Part 12:  Singapore Airlines First Class – Singapore to San Francisco

The next legs of my trip were on Air New Zealand in economy class. As they are a part of the Star Alliance I was able to get premium economy seating on both flights to Auckland and then onto Christchurch.  I was also able to board the plane before most other passengers as well.  Unfortunately, Air New Zealand is pretty stingy with their carry-on luggage and my Tumi travel bag which goes in the overhead bins across the US had to be checked at the gate.  It’s sacrilege to my travel ethic but I had no choice.  I would have to pick it up at customs and then check the bad in again once in Auckland to fly over to Christchurch. 

The flight from Sydney to Auckland was on an internationally configured 777-200.  The premium economy seating on this aircraft is the standard economy seat with 6”-7” of extra legroom which was welcome.  I flew on their 747 on my prior trip to New Zealand in the same type of premium economy and it was worth it given the length of the flight from LAX.  I really want to try the new premium economy product they now have on their 777-300ERs to LAX which include a brand new type of seat and experience.  Unfortunately, tickets are expensive and I can’t redeem awards tickets for them either.  I settled into my seat at the window and lucked out that the middle seat was vacant. 


Air New Zealand, the airline of Middle Earth, created a “Hobbit” themed safety video which was shown as we were pulling back from the gate – funny but cheesy.  The IFE on this flight was superior to what Asiana had on both their flights in terms of interface and selection of movies and TV shows.  Just after the safety video I was able to start watching “The Amazing Spiderman”.  I enjoyed Andrew Garfield’s portrayal of Peter Parker and look forward to the inevitable sequel. 

We waited in line for about 20 minutes before taking off from Sydney.  Once we reached cruising altitude, the cabin crew began drink service first with cups for hot beverages and then cups for water.  The lunch options included a hot salmon dish and a cold Thai beef salad.  I opted for the salad which was decent for a quick lunch meal.  I suppose the dressing was supposed to make it “Thai” but I don’t think it was too successful in that effort.  The roll was freshly heated and soft and the butter wasn’t frozen so it could spread easily.  The brownie was quite tasty as well. 


The flight to Sydney took almost three hours over the Tasman Sea.  Once I finished with Spiderman I switched over to “The Simpsons Movie”.  I finally spotted land as we were on our approach into Auckland.  We flew over the city and the scattered cloud cover before turning in for the final approach into Auckland International Airport.  Landing provided great views of the Emirates, Air New Zealand, and Jet Star aircraft at the terminal. 


With “The Hobbit” coming out in less than a month, the Auckland airport has started to decorate the international arrivals corridor with artwork and faux columns and beams designed from the world of Middle Earth.  I hope they will keep it up over the next few years as the following movies are released. 

The immigration line was longer than I anticipated and moved rather slowly.  I was anticipating some detailed questions about my stay but just a quick as about where I was staying and if I had been in NZ before, and then I was out into baggage claim.  It was perfect timing because as I walked up to the luggage belt my bag was just passing by.  I grabbed it and then headed over to customs for another long line and an annoying French family who couldn’t figure out how to line up or how to drive the luggage carts.  Thankfully I was able to work my way in front of them, hand my slip into the officer, have my bags x-rayed, and then enter fully into NZ.  Once into the arrivals hall, I had to head to the left to the transfer desk to check-in for my last flight and check my bag.

Auckland airport is split into two terminals for international and domestic flights.  A free shuttle is available to transit between the terminals but you can also make the 10 minute walk easily enough along a marked path.  Since I had little exercise over the past 24 hours, a short walk was favorable and I was lucky enough to enjoy a beautiful day in the high 60’s as I made the journey.  By the time I entered the building and went through security (much quicker than in the US) I had about 30 minutes before my flight left. 

The boarding area in the domestic portion of the airport was very tight with three gates in the immediate vicinity all boarding at the same time.  The flight to Christchurch would take approximately an hour and a half and be flown with a 737-500.  It’s been awhile since I have been on one of these older 737 models but the interiors were well kept.  The flight looked to be full online, but no one sat next to my window seat in the second row.

I had the Hobbit themed safety video again as the place pushed back from the gate and then took off after a quick taxi.  I was excited to be seated at the window to see the scenery as we flew south to Christchurch but I was disappointed at first as the flight path went to the east of the north island and I couldn’t see anything out my side of the plane until we reached Golden Bay and started flying over the South Island.  The flight attendants quickly pushed out the drink and snack carts offering up free wine (a chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, and pinot noir) and a choice of bagel chips and hummus, cheese sticks, or a cheese plate.  I wish American carriers would go back to these simple snacks.  The chips and hummus hit the spot for just a quick bite and the Marlborough sauvignon blanc was good with that stereotypical NZ taste. 


Christchurch was overcast as we came in for a landing.  A smooth landing and quick taxi to the gate and I was done with flying for the next couple days.  I noticed that there was a USAF C-17 parked off on the tarmac probably in connection with the McMurdo Station in the Antarctic.  Currently Christchurch airport is undergoing renovations and expansion so the path to baggage claim was a little crazy.  Bags took a few minutes to arrive on the belt and then I was able to head outside and find my prearranged transport to my hotel – the New Zealand Super Shuttle service. 

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