A high proportion of passengers were continuing on to Los Angeles. So it was a slow process getting deplaned, through security and later reboarding. As at Nuku'Alofa, I hung back as long as possible. It was a beautiful night, the moon shining between scattered low clouds. A gentle breeze just barely keeping the air moving. An unidentified floral scent hanging in the air.
The security screening is required by USA and thus US rules apply here. Liquids. Belt off. Shoes off. Many passengers, particularly those from Tonga were surprised and annoyed to have their duty free confiscated.
We get a fresh crew here. I can think of far worse places to have a layover. Business class is only half full. Apparently they'd made some attempt to fix my seat during the transit but it was unsuccessful. So I switched seats.
I slept as much of the flight as I could, but that was only about half of it - thinking about too many things to sleep properly. According to the flightpath we took a very northerly routing, heading almost North to fly over Hawaii's big island before turning right towards Los Angeles, to take advantage of jetstream. I would have liked to have seen the big island, so I was disappointed that I woke up just a little too late.
The strong tailwinds allowed us to make up the previous lost time with interest, although when the captain did the spiel before landing did say they were sorry they hadn't made up as much time as forecast! I guess I missed that earlier announcement.
Breakfast was, as is usual for Air NZ and too many other airlines, served too early - about 2 1/2 hours before arrival.
Due to air traffic control we approach over Santa Barbara. There are great views through the smog, over the coast, mountains and later Hollywood including the sign of course. We land towards the sea at the same time a Singapore Airlines 747 is taking off from a southern runway.
As we taxi in to the terminal there is a wierd coincidence. I looked out the window to see what aircraft was touching down as we slowly turn into our gate and lo it is the aircraft I will be flying on in a couple of hours! Could this be a good omen for immigration queues?
AUCKLAND to LOS ANGELES (AKL-LAX) - nonstop or via Islands?
Air NZ flies between Auckland and Los Angeles via several routes - nonstop, via Rarotonga and Papeete (Cook Islands and Tahiti - soon to be discontinued), via Nadi (Fiji), via Nuku'Alofa and Apia (Tonga and Western Samoa), and via Rarotonga (soon to commence). This is the first time I have flown Air New Zealand between USA and New Zealand that is not on a nonstop flight. As expected the island hopper flight is generally not as good as the nonstop flights.
- far inferior seat in business class
- far inferior in flight entertainment
- flight duration is several hours longer, which is the difference between going to the airport after work vs leaving work early if heading NZ->USA or between arriving in time to start work vs missing half a day of work if heading USA->NZ
- middle of the night stops (the same is true in the other direction)
- each flight segment is shorter, so more difficult to get a decent sleep
- minimal amenities during the transits, and the heat and humidity in those transits means feel like needing a shower by the time getting to LAX/AKL
That said, it wasn't too bad and if there was no availability on nonstop and only on the island hopper, and it suited my schedule, I would take it again.
I had a couple of hours transit in Los Angeles, which going by my past experiences is barely enough time to do anything by the time have cleared immigration at T2 (which can have over 1000 passengers in the non-US line), customs, pre-security boarding pass check and security. Indeed on the through flights, which have similar transit times, I have sometimes not bothered attempting to visit the lounge when told of how big the immigration queues and on other times have literally arrived airside only to go straight to reboarding the aircraft.
So I had some trepidation about this transit. For it was vitally important to me, and to my fellow passengers, that I got a shower here. Why? As I've already said, the transits in the islands are hot and humid, so I get sticky. Add long flights both into and out of Los Angeles. Add a couple more flights beyond London Heathrow. Add in that there are no showers available to me at these onward airports. So in about 2 days of nonstop travel (not counting most of a day at work beforehand) I have only 2 opportunities to shower - in Auckland and in Los Angeles.
As a seasoned flyer, I was prepared by having everything ready for when the seatbelt sign came off I was up and in a well-practiced move grabbed my carry-ons from the overhead locker and past the seats in front of me before those seated there had even gotten themselves out of their seats. While I waited for the door to open I adjusted my carry-ons for comfort and prepared for swift walk/run to immigration. I was second off the aircraft and first to arrive at immigration.
I was stunned to see a full bank of immigration officers and not a single passenger at any counter or waiting in line. It was as if there had been no international (excluding Canada due to pre-clearance) flights arriving and they've just opened up. Obviously not the case - there were passengers on the other side of immigration collecting bags for example. This I was not expecting. I have arrived at LAX T2 way too many times and I have never not had queues. Sometimes, on a good day the queue might only be 15 minutes. On a bad day well over an hour.
Thinking back, I probably stopped short for a moment to wonder at it all, before regaining my senses and heading through the zigzag before the other passengers past me. The officer could see I'd travelled to and through USA many, many times and thus processed quickly and easily. A slight pause at customs where I got tangled up with a very dazed looking european backpacker type. The customs form checker took a while to explain she needed to take the red line, and then said to me "what are you waiting for, you're good to go". Great - please hand me back my form.
Upstairs I sped to security feeling good. Again no queue at pre-security boarding pass check and even the security queue consisted of 1 passenger and 5 TSA agents (who took quite a while to screen for some strange reason ).
Arriving at the nice NZ lounge on the mezzanine level the agent at the door is dealing with a NZ Gold Elite passenger who is asking for an on departure upgrade. It seems the process is slightly convoluted in that the agent has to contact Airpoints to do it. She notices I'm back again and welcomes me in. Before I head to the shower I ask her to take my visa waiver stub which they'd stapled all the way through my passport
So in less than 10 minutes I'd made my way from gate through immigration and security to the lounge and into a shower. Amazing at most airports, and stunning at LAX. I had to pinch myself that I wasn't dreaming. And why can't it always be like this?
After I was refreshed I had just enough time to check some emails and post a bit of this report before boarding was called some 60 minutes prior to departure.
LOS ANGELES to LONDON HEATHROW (LAX-LHR) on NZ 777-200ER
This is my first time on this flight since it switched from 747-400 to 777-200ER, but as I know already there is little difference other than cabin size / ambience.
The flight was supposed to be totally full, but about 1/3 of business class passengers did not turn up so we had plenty of room to stretch out. While waiting for departure I rearrange my carry-ons so that I can fit one inside the other (taking my coat and liquids bag out first).
I settle in with a couple of pre-departure drinks. About half the cabin are flying through from Auckland and the other half joined at Los Angeles. The flight attendants do a good job of checking if passengers are familiar with the seat and IFE and taking those new to it through how to operate them both.
We push back on time and taxi past the 767-300 I arrived on. In a new change for NZ, the airshow is now switched on immediately after the safety video is played. There has been a tweak to the software and some satellite imagery of the airport is included, so we can see the plane taxiing down the runway and then taking off, flying out to the Pacific and looping back over the airport. It looks pretty neat. So far only LAX and LHR airports had this imagery, for the rest of the flight was back to the normal airshow (which is still very good compared to other airlines' flight maps and information). I guess this makes some sense. At the airports the scale and speed of movement is such that any one can tell from the satellite imagery where they are. Once in the middle of the flight, is a satellite image showing Podunk blur past in a flash miles beneath us going to add anything?
The other change in the IFE is that the arrival videos are now optional. Yay, NZ has been listening to the complaints. This means we get an extra 30 minutes to watch movies. The old system was very annoying, for if wake up at breakfast on an overnight flight (as almost all the longhauls are) then there was insufficient time to see a movie before the system got overridden for a video you may not have wanted to see. The IFE is still switched off earlier than some other airlines (eg Singapore Airlines plays until very nearly touchdown).
Tired from the previous nights lack of sleep I sleep through the first portion of the flight and awake over Greenland. I love seeing the ice cap, glaciers, mountains, icebergs and sea ice. So, not having a window seat (and in any case window seats are not that comfortable for viewing out of thanks to the herringbone layout), I spent quite a while at the exit door window, supping some drinks, chatting and watching the frozen world pass by.
Once we are passed Greenland I go back to my seat for some more sleep, and awake over the Scottish Highlands.
We do okay out of the Heathrow arrival lottery, only a few loops around and thus arrive basically on time. As well as the terminal transfer and security hassles, the overcrowded Heathrow skies are an annoying factor for me in planning transits. Some days you get lucky and straight in, which means arriving a long time before due time, other days you can spend longer circling southern England than you took flying from the continental Europe (even as far as Spain) and arrive a long time after due time.
As seems to be the usual case for Air NZ we have a long taxi around the terminals, and a slow taxi for our gate is not yet clear of the previous aircraft. As usual, in my experience, we get the end gate of the furthest pier on T3. This means a long walk to the bus transfer for Flight Connection Centre (FCC), but that is not a bad thing after such long flights.
I decide I have more than enough time to use FCC and do want to avoid checking bags, so no immigration for me this time. I did notice that NZ did not hand out any immigration fast track vouchers. I am not sure if this practice has been stopped in general, or just by Air NZ? If it is an NZ move then this is a pretty mean cost-cutting move unwelcome by premium passengers, many of whom will have just spent more than a day aboard Air NZ and having paid handsomely to do so.
I arrive at the bus stop with perfect timing. Straight onboard the bus and the doors close behind me. Arriving at pre-FCC checks I am quickly through while the agents deal to (I was going to say with, but deal to is probably more accurate ) rogue passengers who dare to take 2 carry-ons, or haven't prepared their liquids. Inside the FCC itself it is a slow process, for of all the screening stations just 3 are manned and one of these is only available to BA premium passengers. Grrrr. Here shoes and belt both have to come off.
LONDON HEATHROW to HAMBURG (LHR-HAM) on LH 737-300
London Heathrow is only second to Los Angeles in my personal record of number of different airlines flown to or from a particular airport, and number of terminals used on arrival or departure at a particular airport. Today I am adding both a new airline at LHR and a new (or rather first time for me) terminal, the one current terminal or part of terminal I have not yet used.
LAX 9 airlines - NZ, QF, LA, AA, UA, SQ, AC, LH, BA
LHR 7 airlines - NZ, BA, BD, QF, IB, EI - and now LH
SIN 6 airlines - NZ, SQ, CX, QF, BA, EK
AKL 6 airlines - NZ, QF, SQ, LA, TG, EK
Between London and my destination today I had many routing options. I chose to go through Hamburg for several reasons. The connections were not in my view risky ones. I'd arrive at my destination in the evening, but not too late (important consideration after the long trip). By not flying nonstop from London to destination I got considerable extra miles and status miles (thanks to generous minimum mileages). Hamburg isn't too much of a deviation from straight line meaning not wasting too many miles of those alloted in the RTW. I get to visit a new airport.
First though, I had to check in at the FCC. They were slow processing the passengers in front of me. I don't like the setup at FCC very much. Each airline has it's own counter and even though mostly (all?) staffed by contract workers rather than airline staff, no agent idling by in any of the other 20 counters can help you. I've noticed this many times before and I'd be annoyed if having made it through FCC security I ended up missing a flight due to slow check in. I've had a couple of close calls and so now I tend to allow extra transit time if I can, on itineraries where I can't or a good chance I won't be through checked already. I now allow a minimum 3 hours and only start feeling comfortable at around 4 hours.
I get issued boarding passes for my remaining flights today as well as for tomorrow (unprompted). Great it means I do not need to turn up to the airport as early.
Having read on FT that the LH lounges are nothing wonderful, I pondered for a moment whether I could use one of the other T1/2 lounges instead. Being tired I decided against fighting the mighty BA lounge dragons and the SQ lounge is out of the question being in a completely different terminal which I cannot access. So I trudge the corridors to the LH lounge. The terminal looks very tired and dire. There are very few flights at this time of day so it is also quiet.
The pier layout is a bit odd with gates on either side. The odd bit is that in an attempt to separate arriving and departing passengers there is a wall down the middle, but with regular openings to allow pax to cross over to or from the gates on the "wrong side" for arriving or departing pax. An odd micky mouse arrangement.
The LH lounge is upstairs. There are 2 elevators, one is open at departure level and locked open (not sure why) and the other is at the upper level. Of course it will not descend due to the other elevator already being at this level. So I climb the stairs instead. The lounge is functional without being stunning. There is a small (and crowded) SEN/HON/First class side and a larger FTL/*G/Business class side. Other than size and slight differences in food and drink offerings they are identical. There is a view of some gates and the FCC. Newspapers. No shower. No computer terminals (only expensive wifi).
I rearrange my carry-ons, now back into 2 pieces. Rehydrate. Scribble some notes for this trip report. I head to the gate at the appropriate time. Looks like the flight is not very full (it was hard to tell in the lounge due to a few afternoon LH flights leaving within an hour or so).
The short flight offers no IFE. Meal is a very tasty feta and tomato salad, rolls, an apple crumble type small desert, some chocolate. The usual tea, coffee, apple orange tomato or blackcurrant juice, wines and beer.
Our taxi is fast - speeding past several departing longhaul aircraft lumbering along in the adjacent taxiway. As we lift off I see both Air NZ aircraft parked up at opposite ends of the "T" of T3 - one the 777-200ER I flew in on and the other the 747-400. Both will be heading back to Auckland in a few hours, one via Hong Kong and the other via Los Angeles.
We get great views of the many estuaries and waterways lining the North Sea along our route. Still I am reminded by the way the view fades out into a grey-brown murkiness how spoilt I am in the Southern Hemisphere with far less pollution than is evident here in Europe even on the finest of days.
The short flight passes quickly and we land slightly behind schedule.
Another excellent report thus far, Kiwi Flyer. Were you writing this in the SKL?
Some of this report (so far) has been posted from SKL (SQ Silver Kris Lounge), and some from other places. Even after these most recent posts I'm still several days, many flights and a few countries behind. I'll update as I can.
I have a short transit time. In fact it was this transit that had me worried about checking bags in. For with my itinerary if my bags failed to make the onward flight who knows when I would catch up with them again.
We arrive at a non-Schengen gate. There are no facilities inside the non-Schengen area of this terminal - just a couple of cafes, 1 small duty free shop and lots of seating. Oh yeah, and that annoyance that is unique to German airports, open air designated smoking areas that makes the whole area stink.
With only 15 minutes or so until boarding is due for my onward flight I decide to not bother with clearing immigration in search of the LH lounge. This also saves me 2 more stamps in my passport.
The inbound aircraft is late as I watch it pull up at a remote stand. They are efficiently unloaded and prepped for our flight. All up, including our own boarding time the aircraft turnaround was 25 minutes which I think is very good for international flights and a remote stand (the bussing process slows things down).
The load was moderate, but I was the only passenger in business. Plenty of room for both my carry-ons and jacket (will be needing that for arrival in Warsaw), and great service as a result.
A pre-departure drink (in plastic tumbler - later drinks of course in glasses) and moist towelette. Food was turkey with lettuce and cranberries, another meat dish, roll, cheeses and small bowl of mini easter eggs. Tea, coffee, water, apple orange or blackcurrant juice, several wines or beer, spirits.
The sun sets and in the low dusk light plus thickening cloud cover the views are hard to make out. Lots of towns and countryside. Seems quite flat. The lights of Warsaw shine brightly as we circle in to land.
We get a bus gate (par for the course in Warsaw) and taken first to the main terminal where only transit passengers are allowed off (since no immigration open here) and then to the secondary terminal for arrivals. There are 2 immigration officers for non-EU and with light load and no other arriving buses I expected to be through quickly. But Murphy's Law strikes and both officers have a problem case to deal with. Once all EU passengers are cleared I wondered if those officers would help, but no. After some 20 minutes finally it is my turn and I'm quickly through.
Still the late arrival of the flight and this delay means my ride has been waiting patiently for quite a while.
The airport is fairly close to the city and at this time of evening the traffic is almost non-existant so the trip takes about 15 minutes.
I'm staying at the Hilton which only opened a little over a week before. As such, the hotel has very few guests - many more staff than there are guests, and great personal attention. I'm greeted by name by the doorman(!) and by all 3 desk staff before I even utter a word or show any identification.
When I first made a booking it was a flexible paid one. Thanks to maltman1 who posted that cheap opportunity level awards were available and had the option to pre-reserve a King Executive Plus room, I cancelled that booking and switched to an award. A great way for a new hotel to build up some loyalty.
The room was very nice on 21st floor. Reasonable views although the closest couple of blocks not quite so nice (construction works). Nice en suite. Lounge is on 26th floor - has food and drinks all day (I think). I only used it for breakfast the next morning. There was no computer terminal but they had a laptop set up for free guest use in the lounge on their wifi. There were only a couple of people in the lounge when I visited.
The hotel location isn't perfectly central but not too far - about 30 minute walk or go one block to catch the tram in.
With arriving late one night and flying out of Warsaw the next morning I didn't have a lot of time to explore the city this time. More a quick sample while tiring myself out to try and get a decent sleep.
WARSAW to SAINT PETERSBURG (WAW-LED) on LO Embraer 170
Feeling slightly refreshed and envigorated by the frosty morning I head back to the airport. Since I already have my boarding pass I go straight to immigration, am quickly processed and through. I check the monitors to see which gates are busier to judge which of the 2 lounges available to LOT passengers will be quieter. I headed for the one right outside my gate (by gates 10 & 11).
The lounge is fairly empty with just a handful of passengers. The food on offer doesn't seem to have improved from my previous visit a couple of years ago - mostly junk food plus some mini salads in the fridge. There is a wide selection of drink. There are newspapers and magazines, and 1 computer terminal. I catch up on emails.
The flight is called some 15 minutes later than the time printed on my boarding pass. I'm not surprised - boarding 45 minutes before departure is ludicrous for a remote stand, smallish aircraft and low load. Screening is at the gate area. Liquid rules apply. Belt off but can keep shoes on.
Get handed a coloured tag so they can make sure we hop on the right bus for several bus gates all pile out in the same area and could be easy to get onto the wrong bus. The load is very light, maybe 20 or 25 passengers.
Again, thanks to careful pre-selection based on info gleaned from FT, I've got the best seat, for 2AB have easily the best legroom. This flight is longer than the LO flight I took yesterday, but the service is similar with a couple of exceptions. There is a printed menu and choice of main. However they only catered the 1 special meal request and 1 of each main, so I got to choose between nothing and whatever the 3rd business class pax didn't choose.
The weather is unfortunately cloudy the entire way so no views for me. The cloud base is fairly low so no views of St Petersburg on arrival either. We have a short taxi past a lot of Pulkovo Aviation and other domestic (I assume) planes and helicopters. We manage to get one of the 3 airbridges so that saves a walk in the cold.
The reasonably small international terminal is fairly old looking and not well laid out, with a number of corners to pass to get to immigration. Immigration is very fast and efficient and no hassle at customs either so I get to my ride into the city in next to no time.