As is often the case, when the opportunity arose for a brief break, I was thinking of another dash around the world stopping briefly in a few countries I have yet to visit. As time goes by this is getting harder and harder to achieve. While there are more countries I have not visited than countries that I have visited (just barely), many of the more accessible ones (easy connections, little or no visa issues, high frequency of flights, etc) I have already visited.
So the planning for the trip was trickier than normal. Matters were complicated by my tight schedule and a short window of opportunity to arrange necessary visas - for I have had ongoing frequent international travel lately.
Those who've read some of my previous reports will be aware I'm not content to just have one complicated ticket on the go, but I also have other tickets inter-woven into my travel itinerary. Some are for convenient side-trips, while others are in the pursuit of another travel goal of mine - to fly every route of an airline.
As I write this I have no idea if it will all work out. All I know is the schedule is ambitious/optimistic (even by my standards), for some reasons which will become apparent as this report unfolds, as well as some other reasons which will hopefully never see the light of day.
Today I discovered that the domestic Air NZ Manage Domestic Booking tool (bottom left of the homepage) which allows you to select/change seats on domestic flights, also allows you to select/change seats on international flights. I'm interested to see if it works, because until now I'd been under the impression the only way to select seats on Air NZ international flights was through the travel agent the booking was made with, or by calling Air NZ.
Today I discovered that the domestic Air NZ Manage Domestic Booking tool (bottom left of the homepage) which allows you to select/change seats on domestic flights, also allows you to select/change seats on international flights. I'm interested to see if it works, because until now I'd been under the impression the only way to select seats on Air NZ flights was through the travel agent the booking was made with, or by calling Air NZ.
Indeed KF you are correct. I tried it today for a NZ135 flight to Brisbane. Gives a seatmap of 777 and exactly the same seat select format as domestic seat selection. It retained my original seat selection via Air NZ call centre as well which is good to see.
A link to discussion on NZ forum. Amazingly I stumbled across this new feature some hours before it was launched. I did the same thing last year with the latest multi-city booking tool on the NZ website.
One of the nice things of living on the other side of the world from KiwiFlyer is that I can have morning coffee and read his trip reports. Elation soon turned into disappointment when seeing new posts in this TR only to learn about seat assignment crapola!
This idea started a couple of years ago, when I was bored on a longhaul flight and looking at the route map in the back of the Kia Ora magazine (onboard all Air NZ flights). I realised I'd flown to almost all current Air New Zealand destinations, and had flown a high proportion of their current routes.
While I'd long been trying new destinations and routes I decided to step it up a gear and more actively seek out unflown ones on Air NZ, with an aim of flying them all. At the time I thought it might take a year. It has taken much longer than that, as new routes get added (the conversion of about a dozen trans-tasman routes from low cost subsidiary Freedom Air back to mainline has added several months to the "job") and the realities of inconvenient schedules have had to be dealt with.
At last, I'm now in sight of achieving this goal. Recently I thought I was just a few flights away until I was informed of a seasonal route that I'd overlooked. So instead of completing the job of flying all Air NZ routes in time for the Kiwi Mainland Do Two I will have one current route left unflown. I have of course since booked that flight when it's season resumes shortly afterwards.
This goal has gotten me into some trouble with immigration & customs. Somehow having 6 trans-tasman flights in 4 days is suspicious I've enjoyed some inaugural flights for the last couple of new longhaul routes - Auckland to Vancouver and Auckland to Beijing to Auckland (double inaugural). I've spent a lot of time flying around this corner of the world, mostly in economy. So far I've had no major problems with flights but a few minor ones - a few fog delays of some hours, narrowly missing an airport closure due to a snow storm, broken IFE, a trayful of smoothies in my lap I've also had some good luck with op-ups, rebooking on earlier flights with fees waived, equipment upgrades (a longhaul seat in place of shorthaul) and downgrades (losing a business seat on an all economy flight).
It's been a blast, but I am tiring of this pursuit and thinking about other goals. Hopefully the remaining 3 routes get flown without a hitch and I will move on.
AUCKLAND to WELLINGTON (AKL-WLG) on Air New Zealand 737-300 in economy class (space+ zone)
I met up with serfty as planned at the airport and we headed through security together into the Qantas Club (since serfty had no access to the Koru Club while I had access to both lounges). As I wasn't the first person through the WTMD today, I did not get the "random" wanding. We chatted a while, and confirmed the suspicion that the latest changes to the Qantas website on the red-edeal page did not work on the Qantas Club computers (software version too old) Why is it that airlines don't think to upgrade their lounge computers at the same time as their websites to ensure they are usable in their own lounge? Air NZ has had similar issues in the past.
After a while serfty's flight was called for boarding and I headed landside then back through security in the Air New Zealand portion of the domestic terminal for the Koru Club. One of my favourite agents was on duty so we had a nice wee chat. I grabbed some fruit for breakfast - the hot offering today was unappealing baked beans and dried up scrambled eggs. Still, the cold breakfast options are always good in the Koru Club - muesli, cereal, fruits, juice and toast. I had enough time to check my emails, airfare websites and FT, and grab a copy of the newspaper to read later.
Boarding was called late in the lounge, as usual. There was plenty of room in the overhead bins for my little carry on and I found I was in luck - despite a very full flight I managed to score an empty middle seat yet again. For those who haven't flown Air New Zealand domestic recently, or don't read the Air NZ forum on FT, space+ is the forward zone in economy on 737, A320 and 767 (only 737 has been completed) with approx 35" of legroom. As I posted on my blog recently, this is better than the longhaul seats and is available on flights as short as 45 minutes.
Being a weekend flight, the offering onboard was a choice of casava crisps or lollies (pineapple lumps and jetplanes). No banana chips this time. Drinks are tea, coffee and water. I read part of the paper, and watched the kiwi trivia quiz which plays on the bulkhead and overhead monitors. I think I zoned out for a while as before I realised what was happening we had touched down at Wellington.
WELLINGTON to NADI (WLG-NAN) on Air New Zealand A320 in economy class
I checked in for my onward flights. Air NZ does not yet have on line check in for international flights. However as I was checking in fairly early and Air NZ only had one international flight from Wellington this afternoon, there were no queues and I was quickly given 2 boarding passes. I had retained the seats I'd selected online a couple of days prior - so the new functionality passed the first test.
A quick stop by Travelex to pay the $25 departure fee. The clerk at first did not believe the boarding pass was correct as she thought there was no direct flight to Nadi.
Then, I headed up to the Qantas Club with blackcloud to pleasantly while away the time until immigration opened up.
WELLINGTON to NADI (WLG-NAN) on Air New Zealand A320 in economy class continued
On the way out of the Qantas Club we had a brief chat with sixties chick, then a short wait at immigration and I went straight to the NZ international lounge. There, I was warmly welcomed back on sight (no need to show my boarding pass or card ) and advised the middle seat had again been blocked for me. I quickly checked my email on a lounge computer in the couple of minutes before boarding. This took longer than I expected due to the computer rebooting itself for system updates just after I'd logged in Given the lounge is only open for a few hours a day, why can't these updates be scheduled for a time that won't inconvenience passengers?
As a result I was last to leave the lounge, but didn't hold up boarding as I joined a queue of 2 in the airbridge. Perfect timing.
I was looking forward to the flight. The online seat selection map indicated I had space+ seating (plus AVOD IFE) when I selected my seat a couple of days before, and earlier in the day it was still showing as space+. Unfortunately, it was soon apparent as a non-refurbished a/c. I made a mental note that while the refurbishment programme is underway, the online seat maps may not be reliable. Instead of something new I'd get to watch Death Defying Acts yet again, with less legroom
The meal was offered less than an hour into the flight. It was a choice of crumbed chicken or a lamb pasta bake. Both with a little salad and a small cake, hot and cold drinks, soft or alcoholic (hic).
I was tired after a hectic week and little sleep the previous night and so I dozed off at the end of the movie. We landed in the warm tropical Fiji night.
NADI to CHRISTCHURCH (NAN-CHC) on Air New Zealand A320 in economy class
With a short connection I rushed down the airbridge and walked to transit. Security asked me to get the boarding pass reissued at the desk, as they did also for a number of passengers connecting from Sydney to Los Angeles on Air Pacific. This took several minutes and I got handed a new identical boarding pass.
That was good enough to get me through security. I headed downstairs to the Air NZ lounge and grabbed a towel at reception to use the shower. This is very basic and would have done the job nicely but for a total lack of ventilation - meaning the heat and humidity were terrible. So much for a refreshing shower
There is no computer and the lounge was rather full, with just a few spare seats. Air NZ has two departures tonight. I headed out to have a look at the duty free while waiting for boarding. The prices were higher than I expected, and much higher than for example in Rarotonga, so I did not end up buying anything.
By the time I reached the upper level boarding had started. The load was very light and they were soon making a final call. Back onboard I saw I'd gotten an empty row. We pushed back early and an early pa announcement was made reassuring passengers the score in the Bledisloe Cup and Tri Nations decider (against Australia) would be announced as soon as it was known.
The movie was Second Hand Wedding which was quite good. I hadn't seen it before having previously carefully avoided it in the AVOD selection on 777 flights in the expectation I'd see it this flight. Ah it is good that Air NZ publishes the monthly IFE listings both online and in the Kia Ora magazine.
This time the meal was served well into the flight, which I thought was odd given many passengers wanted to sleep. By the time dinner was served I'd already had several glasses of the Saint Clair sauvignon blanc (from business class) and was ready for another bite (especially after the less than palatable meal on the flight over). The offering was fish cake (when oh when will they get rid of this tray of foulness) or a herb crusted chicken. Again a small salad and cake, plus drinks.
I dozed for a bit, but did not get much sleep, and chatted a while with one of the FAs. Each pa announcing the score was either met with stunned silence (and the odd loud groan) or cheers and clapping. As we descended to Christchurch, some half an hour early, the final score was given. A narrow pulsating win to the All Blacks. Dang - wish I'd seen that game.
A brief stop at duty free before immigration. A few questions there, and again at customs, and I was through landside far earlier than I expected.
106 Air NZ routes down, 1 to go. As that last route is seasonal, completing the "task" will go on hold for a short while. But that just gives me time for a few more trips.