Regular readers of my reports will be aware that Easter time means travel for me. It is a convenient time of year for me to take a trip, and I like that it is in between seasons at most places. So if visiting northern parts of North America, Europe or Asia it isn't too cold (although likely still colder than I am used to), and hopefully isn't yet blistering hot in subtropical regions.
It is also a good time of year for me to earn significant mileage towards requalifying. Yes, not all frequent flyer programs have calendar year qualification periods. My main programs have qualification dates spread throughout the year. Since I credit different bits of an itinerary to different programs to maximise the benefits, it is a bit of a juggling act to make it all work out.
One day I'll learn not to try to visit both extremes in the same trip (makes for tricky packing to meet the new strict carry on requirements). But for now, I've repeated the mistake.
I try to visit some new places each trip like this. So that was my major consideration. Also schedule was important for I only have a couple of weeks to spare. My earning is for star alliance frequent flyer programs, so that limits some options.
I decided on another CRWSTAR3 (39,000 miles round the world in business class). After various playing around with schedules and spreadsheets I came up with an okay itinerary that I thought met all the fare rules. I then tested it against the RTWMC (online star alliance round the world mileage calculator tool). There are plenty of known bugs with this tool, so I waited until I heard back from agent that the itinerary was okay. Not only was it okay but I had managed to get the official mileage at 38,999. This is harder to achieve than it sounds since each airline has it's own figure of mileage for each route, and these may differ from that given by RTWMC or other sources (eg great circle mapper).
I held off ticketing for a while, and it was good that I had. After making the reservation my plans changed and I needed to get back earlier. So I changed several flights and downgraded to CRWSTAR2 (34,000 mile limit). If I had ticketed at the time of reservation then I would have either not been compensated, or would have needed to cancel (costing US$150) and rebook (with the associated risk of not getting the same flights back if the booking class is not released back).
Visas can take a while for me to obtain since the embassies and consulates are in a different city, or sometimes even in a different country. Where information needs to be obtained from the country I'm visiting, as is the case here, the often large time difference also plays a part.
Other international travel has cut short the window I could obtain the visas in. I use a company that specialises in visas - the extra cost is worth the peace of mind (for checking the applications are correct and complete), the chasing up they do with the embassies and consulates, the speed with which visas are processed (seems to be faster through them) - ie the convenience. I had almost 3 weeks to get the visas, which seemed ample in the circumstances. Nonetheless I got a call 2 weeks later that only one had been done and I would need to pay an expedite fee to get the other consulate to process faster. Oops that other trip may not have been so wise after all.
It was well that I did since even with this extra fee the passport was returned just a couple of days before my other trip. This is not the closest I have sweated it out - a few years ago I needed a replacement passport on short notice which arrived back the day of international travel.
With the usual rush before a trip I must have been mad planning a couple of days flying around the country immediately before leaving for overseas. Nonetheless the short journey around NZ went without too much of a hitch.
I rocked up to check in at Wellington. There were queues at all the counters - not too many people using the quick check machines. With a paper ticket I was unable to OLCI, and using a different status FFP I was interested to see what seat I would get (see the link above for initial unsatisfactory results on a small sample post OLCI roll out). I got a reasonable seat on this moderately full flight.
I originally didn't include any domestic flights in my itinerary, for as one class only they are a bit of a waste in a business class around the world ticket. However the changes to my plans and tight schedule meant I was going to be leaving a few hundred miles to waste. Furthermore I needed to get from Wellington to Auckland any way. So waste not and add this sector.
I catch up on my other trip report in the lounge. Soon boarding is called, followed a minute later by final call. I head round the corner to the gate to find boarding has only just started. Grrr.
The flight is reasonably full but seat blocking worked for me. A few bumps after take off and then above the scattered cloud cover. We have decent views as we head north, passing over Wanganui, over the rough hill country and on the west side of the central volcanoes. In under 2 days I pass over the central North Island 8 times, but I do not tire of the views.
With the strong head winds we arrive in Auckland a little late. Yay I am on my way.
Some weeks ago I had the bright idea that since I had several hours to spare, and was going to be at the airport anyway, I could do a side trip to earn some points and status credits. Now, it doesn't seem like such a great idea as I'm a bit frazzled and seriously short on time. Oh well.
On arriving at Auckland I walked through to the Qantas end of the now partly integrated domestic terminal. I'm quickly checked in and catch up on some work while waiting for the flight down to Wellington (on 737-300). I notice the seat I usually get still hasn't been fixed (it has been broken for several months) - it still auto-reclines. Very annoying for both me and the passenger in behind.
The flight is uneventful, other than leaving slightly early and arriving slightly early is normal. I head for the lounge for a bite to eat, a drink, and to catch up on FT. Hmmm my flight hasn't been called yet and close to what I thought was the departure time. Grrr it seems the schedule changed after I'd booked and, unusually for Qantas, they hadn't notified me of the flight running 30 minutes later. Fortunately I'm not being met after the flight so nothing more than an annoyance.
The aircraft is late arriving and so there is a further delay. Optimistically an announcement is made when the aircraft arrived that boarding will be in 10 minutes. Yeah right. In my experience, even when they are trying to turn around fast to recover time when they are running late they cannot do so and sometimes lose even more time. Sure enough boarding started 20 minutes later. I slowly made my way to the gate and was last to have BP scanned, but still a queue in the airbridge so I wasn't holding anything up.
On board I notice I was in a row of 3 and politely requested to move to a row a couple back that only had 1 passenger in it. The flight was in darkness, not helped by the reading light being hopeless for illuminating on the aisle seats. I tried to doze. We arrived an hour later than I'd booked - unfortunately about par for the course with QF in NZ.
I forgot to mention NZ has adopted new security rules from 31 March. After a period of a few years of not needing to remove laptops from carry-ons, it is now, apparently dangerous and therefore need to remove them once more. There were also dogs (with their handlers) at some security checkpoints as well as roaming around the terminals.
For international flights NZ has now adopted the liquids rules for carryon. Some (but not all) domestic flights had an announcement about this on arrival - but if connecting to an international flight it is already too late by then for checked bags will be tagged through and transferred to the onward flight.
Back out to the airport. I had a little time free and it was a very nice warm day, so this time I walked from domestic to international terminal. The check in queues seemed longer than usual, perhaps since the liquid rules are so new that agents spend time explaining to passengers and some passengers have to rearrange their baggage. I head directly for the premium check in area. Only 2 check in agents are on duty so there is a small line. However with relatively few Air NZ flights at this stage it really isnt too busy. The big screen tv behind the counters explaining the new rules has a glitch and half the screens scrolling through show some code instead.
I asked to be checked in only for the next few flights, but not all the way to my next destination. This was for two reasons - firstly I doubted the flights at the end of the sequence would be open for check in, and secondly to keep options open for later on whilst minimising the risk of lost bags. Hopefully this will become more clear when I get to the relevant part of the journey.
The check in agent was puzzled why I would take this routing, with the old business class product and middle of the night stops in the humidity and forecast showers, when I could have routed more simply with the new business class product. The reasons are simple - I love travel and flying, and this routing adds to my unique routes flown as well as gets a little closer to having flown every single current Air NZ route.
Boarding passes issued I was quickly through immigration. Security was slow despite the extra staff manning the stations. Clearly the new rules will take a while for all passengers to get used to. On the way to the lounge I notice the duty free shops are deserted.
With NZ being so far away from anywhere other than south pacific and east coast of Australia, a moderately high proportion of passengers have multiple flights to take and thus are unable to take liquid duty free outbound.
The lounge is moderately busy with departures across asia, south america, australia and beyond in the space of a few hours. I freshen up with a shower, grab a late lunch and catch up on some work.
The flight is full and seems there have been several op-ups also. We have a delay on departure waiting for 2 passengers who boarded very late. The taxi takes longer than usual, for at this busy time of day we have to thread through the parked aircraft at remote stands and in a couple of places wait for other moving aircraft. As we take off I am dismayed to find my seat is broken - it won't lock into the upright position. This is a seat I'm supposed to be in for more than half a day
We quickly left New Zealand behind in the afternoon sun and headed across the ocean to Tonga. The flight is just long enough to view a movie. The sun sets during our flight and we arrive in twilight. The trip is moderately bumpy throughout. We don't make up any time so arrive slightly late.
Deplaning takes a while due to the number of elderly and wheelchair passengers who are carried down the stairs. Roughly half the passengers head for immigration and the other half head for the departure lounge as transit passengers. I recalled that the terminal gets rather hot due to small size and lack of air-con, so I dallied in getting off the aircraft and into the terminal. Carry-ons can remain on board for this transit.
After about 30 minutes in the stifling departure lounge it is time to reboard. We take off slightly late, not having made up any time. The flight is again full in both economy and business, meaning I am stuck with the reclining seat.
One passenger was upset to be moved from her pre-selected seat in row 1 to make way for some VIPs.
The flight time is fairly short, and again bumpy for the most part. No movies are able to be shown, so even in business class with PTVs only airshow and comedy shows (eg The Simpsons) are on.
We again land slightly late in a sticky Western Samoa. The lights of the villages twinkling in the night sky in between low scattered cloud. At least here there is a breeze so slightly more comfortable than in Nuku'Alofa despite being hotter.
Here everyone must deplane with all their carry-ons. This takes quite a while. I was surprised to see an Air China 747 parked up outside the terminal.