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It isn't every day that you witness a hijacking attempt + NZ's forgotten 4th island

It isn't every day that you witness a hijacking attempt + NZ's forgotten 4th island

Old Feb 8, 08, 10:11 pm
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It isn't every day that you witness a hijacking attempt + NZ's forgotten 4th island

Index to my trip reports

If you like this report, you may be interested in some of my other trip reports.
  1. AKL-YYZ with NZ/AC in F & C - my first trip report
  2. Europe to Iceland & return on Icelandair (FI) - somewhere different
  3. Some FTers DO the Inaugural Worlds Longest Flight SIN-EWR vv 28 June 2004 - 2 long flights back to back
  4. 7 Crazy Days - includes an almost inaugural flight
  5. Champagne and figure eights on ice - Antarctica flightseeing
  6. a Lit.tle sPRinG.Ly JoUrney (BUDding KiwiS Can zig-ZAG around Europe) - mostly central and eastern Europe
  7. Big DO DOs - or a Kiwi Flyer's Month of Madness - lots of flights
  8. Another Manic Month for Kiwi - again lots of flights
  9. Mini Tour of NZ - over 100 domestic flights in New Zealand covering all domestic routes (ongoing)
  10. Across the Globe in 5 Continents - criss-crossing the globe
  11. Auckland to National Park by Train - train in New Zealand's North Island
  12. Across the Globe in 5 Continents Again - criss-crossing the globe, but this time mainly on One World
  13. A Warm Embrace of the Tropics - short trips to the tropical South Pacific
  14. Singapore (SQ) new first and business class, plus a medley of 12 F & C SQ flights - name says it all really
  15. Across the Globe in 4 Continents - around the world on star alliance, including some unusual flights
  16. Queensland And Northern Territory Aerial Sampler - a sampling of Qantas flights, domestic and international, in economy and business (ongoing)
  17. Around the World in Under 60 Hours - around the world in a weekend
  18. The Heat is On - another longhaul economy trip in under 60 hours - what a contrast, Asia and Qantas' new first class lounges
  19. Fast on the ground and in the air - it must be Shanghai – a flying visit to Shanghai + Maglev
  20. It's a Fine Line Between Pleasure & Pain: 4 wacky weeks 2 RTW C, inaugural longhaul Y – mostly One World
  21. Back and forth across the Pacific on a variety of airlines in a selection of classes - 16 crossings of the Pacific plus some other related flights
  22. It isn't every day that you witness a hijacking attempt + NZ's forgotten 4th island - a visit to Chatham Islands coincides with New Zealand's first hijacking attempt
  23. There and back - first day Air NZ flies to Coolangatta (Gold Coast)
  24. A Run Around (part of) The Axis of Evil: A Perfect *A RTW in C? - Axis of Evil 0 US Immigration 1
  25. Wellington to Auckland by train - self-explanatory title
  26. A mad couple of days flying, including domestic international flights - a double longhaul inaugural, domestic international shuttle and domestic leg of an international flight
  27. Regional C *A RTW & (hopefully) finishing flying every route (100+) for an airline - featuring new QF First on A380 special flight, "you have to get off now", and 105th different current route with NZ
  28. One World Revolutions - Around Mostly the Southern Hemisphere - mostly Southern Hemisphere and mostly on One World on a mix of products
  29. Cris-cros the Med & the Globe on Emirates, Qantas & Star Alliance in mix of F/C/Y+/Y – starting with EK First on A380 and ending with Qantas economy, with a lot of travel mostly on *A in between
  30. An FTer flies to a Do (or Why take the nonstop when you can fly 10 flights instead?) - combining an FT Do with an aerial tour of northern Queensland
  31. The Ultimate Qantas Flight - short report on the ultimate flight
  32. Premium Flying Across the Ditch (Between New Zealand and Australia) - experiencing the forward cabins on Trans-Tasman flights (ongoing)
  33. 5 Boeings Straight to the Airbus Do - FTer feasts in first, business & economy - my journey to & from the *A / Airbus Mega Do
  34. NZ route oddities & One World turns by night (redeye special) - an odd collection of flight routes & schedules around the world
  35. From my first low cost redeye to a first class trifecta - an insane fortnight - some firsts of all types
  36. G'day, kia orana - it's another inaugural flight in Air New Zealand business class - a day & night tripping around the South Pacific on Air NZ
  37. A Feast of First Class Flying on British Airways, Qantas and Emirates - long distance in style
  38. A Weekend of Old and New - Lufthansa first & business, Air New Zealand business - a quick longhaul trip featuring some old and new products
  39. Star Alliance tres primo, and tres biz - a trio of first and business on Star Alliance
  40. A few flights to end 2011 - a quick trip around the world + more
  41. Five Continents in 3 Days and Some Other Mad Trips in 2012 - a selection of my 2012 travels
  42. Sky Team madness - 14 weeks, 200k miles, 5 continents, CI brand new business – mostly Sky Team
  43. Off to Star megado on Oneworld - mostly business incl brand new AA 787
  44. A Glutton for Punishment: red eye, new world's longest flight & more, in comfort?

Last edited by Kiwi Flyer; Apr 1, 16 at 3:56 pm Reason: Updated index of my TRs
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Old Feb 9, 08, 10:06 pm
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As I was checking in for a domestic flight from Christchurch I was told matter of factly to expect a delay as the armed offenders squad had been called out.

So it was an unusual travel day ... unusual even by my odd standards. But I am getting ahead of myself. This day trip is a bit different from my normal domestic travel and so I'm doing a report separate from my ongoing (and by now badly misnamed) mini tour of NZ.

Index to this trip report
  1. Introduction
  2. Auckland to Christchurch (AKL-CHC) on Air NZ 737-300
  3. An eventful transit at Christchurch
  4. Christchurch to Waitangi Chatham Islands (CHC-CHT) on Air Chathams Metroliner



I've wanted to visit the forgotten fourth island of New Zealand, the Chatham Island(s), for quite some time. I've been pretty much everywhere on the two main islands and have visited the third island, Stewart Island, which is easily accessible by boat or by air from Invercargill. But few people, even amongst New Zealanders, have visited Chatham Islands.

It is a part of NZ that most people have forgotten about - a cluster of islands 500 miles out to sea between the South Island and South America (or alternatively between the North Island and Antarctica). It has a small resident population (and a few regular visitors such as the island's barber). The main claims to fame are
- it is the easternmost timezone, some 45 minutes ahead of New Zealand, thus arguably first to see the sun each day (Mount Hikurangi near Gisborne also lays claim to this)
- ornithologists know it as the place where a threatened bird species, the Chatham Island Black Robin, was successfully recovered from the brink of extinction (at one stage just 1 breeding male existed)
- it was the home of the Moriori, a separate race from the Maori and whom were largely wiped out (no pure blood Moriori survive)

As the islands are windswept and too far away to be sheltered by the main islands of New Zealand, the climate is poor - rain, wind and cold occur year round. Indeed the day I took the trip it was close to 30C in Christchurch and barely over 10C in Chatham Islands despite the same latitude.

So I wanted to visit in summer where at least there would be a chance of warmish weather. No major airlines fly there and the boat takes a couple of days each way. The island has it's own small airline, Air Chathams which flies several times a week from Auckland, Napier, Wellington and Christchurch to Chatham Island - from a different airport each day. Fares are relatively high. Most flights are on an ageing (50+ years old) Convair. Additionally over the summer period they have an extra flight a week on a, not quite as old, Metroliner.

Much schedule makes it difficult to fit in a visit to Chatham Islands but I bit the bullet and arranged a Friday off to get there.

I didn't quite get what I expected, but it was a most interesting day to be travelling.

Last edited by Kiwi Flyer; Apr 1, 16 at 3:56 pm
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Old Feb 9, 08, 10:20 pm
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Another early start. This time I was taking the 6am domestic flight, so the first airbus of the day worked in nicely. Leaving central city around 0450 and arriving at the airport at 0540 - just late enough for me to be thankful I had already checked in on line (and nabbed some good seats), but not so late that I regretted not cabbing out to the airport. For the 6am international flights, the airbus is far too late to make check in cut-off.

On arrival I checked using quick check machine (about a minute before check in closed) whether there were any better seats to be had - it seems not. Then through security and up to the lounge which had already been open for a short period. I had just enough time to notice Air NZ had a one day sale when boarding was called. Oh well, I'll check out the sale when I get to Christchurch.

Despite the early hour (with just 2 domestic departures) we got a stand bay which meant climbing down some stairs, across the tarmac and up air stairs to board. When I boarded the aircraft was still rather empty. So much for the usual practice of calling flights in the lounge at a late stage in boarding.

However, passengers continue to come in by ones and twos for several minutes and the load ended up at about half full. I had a whole row blocked out (as confirmed by the quick check machine) ^

This week was the start of a new improved domestic service. Both Qantas and Air NZ are making improvements to try to keep their more profitable customers away from Pacific Blue. The changes for this flight included free newspapers at the gate for all passengers (and not just those who have lounge access), and a light breakfast offered (previously no food at all). Breakfast was a choice of a bran and walnut muffin (decently sized) or a small bowl of muesli. No napkin though - at least until hot drinks were served later - which means sticky fingers for those who chose a muffin. As well as the usual water tea and coffee (and now real coffee instead of instant ^) there was orange juice.

I read a bit and dozed. I also spent some time watching the early morning light over the countryside - the skies were fairly clear except for inland fog in North Canterbury which made the landscape look like a whiter southern version of the Marlborough Sounds. The soft morning light and low sun angles gave lots of interesting shadow effects on the land below.

We arrived slightly early and had a 1 minute wait for the airbridge as a result.
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Old Feb 9, 08, 10:31 pm
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An eventful transit at Christchurch

I had a bit of time before check in closed on Air Chathams, but as I was unsure where to go to check in I decided to skip a visit to the koru club (which strictly I wasn't able to use on arrival anyway although I probably would have been allowed in if I'd asked) and head straight landside.

I knew NZ had 2 terminals for making flight bookings right outside their ticket desk and headed there to check out the sale. I made one booking and asked a local FTer for advice about another. While I waited for a reply I wandered around looking for an Air Chathams counter. I couldn't see one, and nor does Air Chathams flights appear on the flight monitors. The airport help desk advised that Air NZ does check in for them. That information ideally would be on the Air Chathams website - but it isn't. I guess 95+% of their passengers are Chathams Islands residents or regular visitors (eg their barber) and so they don't worry so much about these "details".

I tried to check in. Apparently there are two different flight numbers used, one on the Air Chathams website and a different one by NZ's check in computers. Neither allowed me to check in. At one hour before departure it was, it seems, too early. This is indicative of the laid-back way of doing things on the island.

While I waited I tinkered around with the sales routes to work out some more bookings. Then the check in agent came over to me to let me know check in had now opened. Great service (and yes check in was really busy at this hour of day) ^

I was soon checked in, and handed a boarding pass with seat 9A. Hmm - it has been a long time since I last flew in a metroliner but I don't recall there being 9 rows.

The agent went back to the office to check something about my boarding pass, and returned with a comment that I should expect a delay as the armed offenders squad has been called out. I didn't quite know how to respond to that and so I headed off to the gate.

Last edited by Kiwi Flyer; Jan 27, 09 at 5:26 pm
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Old Feb 10, 08, 1:31 am
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I want to go to the Chatham Islands, too! Nice report so far...
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Old Feb 10, 08, 12:32 pm
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The gate was in the satellite terminal, with floor to ceiling views across the tarmac to the cross runway, where a tiny Jetstream a/c was stopped. There were armed defenders squad positioned all around the aircraft with many guns trained on the open aircraft door (which is at the rear of this tiny aircraft).

This is the head-on view of the a/c an hour or so later (the car was much further away from the a/c at the time). We were perhaps a hundred metres or so off to the right of the picture.

For a while we had the surreal experience of watching them positioning around the aircraft and manouevring their way closer.

News slowly filtered in by cell phone, amazingly most of it accurate in hindsight. Two pilots had been injured (fortunately not life threatening injuries) by knife attack in flight but managed to bring the aircraft down in one piece without causing injury. A bomb threat had been made. The passenger wanted to be flown to Australia (that isn't going to happen in that wee plane).

The flight was from Blenheim (one I've flown myself before).

For those unfamiliar with Jetstream32 aircraft, there is no cockpit door and the middle front seat is directly behind where the door would be, if there was one. It has been reported the attacker was seated in the front window seat. Prop flights in NZ do not have xray or WTMD screening. This particular flight left from a small regional airport.

Back to the story.

Fire engines held back close to the terminal, well away from the aircraft. They were positioned to protect some guys on the ground. Later ambulances parked up by the hangars, a long distance from the aircraft but a short drive across the taxiway.

It felt bizarre. If we hadn't been getting such consistent stories it might have seemed like an exercise. But no, this was the real thing. New Zealand had never had an in-flight hijacking attempt before and here I was getting a close up look at the aftermath (and yes some FTers have kindly pointed out that given the amount of travel I do the odds are high I would be on the spot).

Almost an hour later we were evacuated from the satellite terminal, and the main terminal airside portion was also evacuated. A few minutes after that landside was also cleared and all thousands of staff and travellers decamped to the carpark and grass outside (lucky it was a nice day).

Last edited by Kiwi Flyer; Feb 10, 08 at 12:59 pm
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Old Feb 10, 08, 1:09 pm
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Outside we milled around, unable to leave and unable to go back. Yes the airport had been cordoned off, but somehow that did not stop a media contingent getting in.

The mood was sombre but light spirited considering the circumstances. I've seen far far worse crowd reactions in a simple terminal dump in USA.

The general feeling was not that we were in any danger but rather this was an inconvenience to be passed. Some of the more frequent travellers (me included) were discussing how this event would likely lead to screening for prop flights and the impact this may have (several regional airports with one or two flights a day would lose scheduled air service if costs are borne by the airport/passengers alone)
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Old Feb 10, 08, 2:49 pm
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After a while an airport company car drove slowly around announcing something over a pa. The sound quality was poor and the wind didn't help - so no one could hear what they were saying even if standing close.

Some time later a PR flyer was handed out by the airport company. The wording is below - see how many mistakes there are.

Media Advice

At approximately 8am this morning, a bomb threat was received from flight NZ2279. The aircraft was an Air National J32 aircraft operated by Eagle Air and was on route from Oamaru to Christchurch.

The aircraft has landed and all passengers and crew have disembarked. The police and the armed defenders squad have surrounded and are securing the area.

All flights are currently on hold and this will be reviewed regularly. The airport terminals are operational but passengers should expect delays getting to the airport.

Police will be releasing an official comment at 10.30am.

A further update from Christchurch International Airport Ltd will be issued later this morning.

... END
At this stage the terminals were still closed and traffic had only just been allowed to leave the airport.

Later still traffic was allowed to arrive at the airport and I met up with CHC Kiwi + travel companions. The international terminal had just reopened so they were able to check in right away.

Someone at Pacific Blue was thinking - they announced check in for domestic flight would be done at international terminal and they'd use an international gate. NZ, like Australia, has the ability to have domestic flights through international terminal, although they only have a few a week so possibly couldn't cope with too many of them in these unusual circumstances.

I don't think they succeeded in the end, but at least they gave it a go.

Naturally with one of the 3 main airports out of operation for a few hours all 3 domestic airlines' operations were massively disrupted with a/c parked up in the wrong airports, cancelled and delayed flights and thousands of passengers stuck at Christchurch still wanting to travel.

Eventually the domestic terminal was reopened with a plea to let staff enter first and set up before passengers enter. Once it was opened it was chaos inside. Very little room to move. Many passengers who had already checked in needed to claim their bags from the carousel and recheck. Total confusion as to which flights were still operating and which weren't. Information on the displays changing by the minute (and no information at all for Air Chathams). Gates changed frequently. Flights left from gates that would not usually be used for that aircraft type. Passengers were rebooked for flights out of Christchurch and also for their connecting flights where relevant.

The door to the satellite terminal remained closed for some minutes so I popped outside to get away from the crush. When I noticed it opening I made my way through the throng to the satellite terminal figuring this was the easiest place to find out if my flight was still operating and when would it depart.

There was a question in my mind as to whether or not it would fly. The reason is that ex-Cyclone Gene (by now a powerful mid-latitude storm) was bearing down on the Chatham Islands and potentially be severe enough to cancel the flight. When I last checked earlier in the morning the storm was due to reach the islands in the afternoon. With no alternate airport to use and being towards the edge of the range of the aircraft there was a chance (I thought) that the flights would be cancelled.

The satellite terminal filled with passengers for 2 Pacific Blue flights - yes both their domestic aircraft were sitting here. Outside I could see several aircraft being towed into place, a procession of aircraft landing from elsewhere, and in the background the Jetstream32 was finally driven off the runway and into a parking spot in front of a hangar - with an escort of several vehicles.

One of the Pacific Blue flights boarded, only to disembark moments later when someone realised none of the passengers (or their carry-ons) had been rescreened following the terminal evacuation. Oops. A lapse at the best of times and a bad one today of all days.

I've experienced airport closures for all sorts of odd reasons - power cuts, weather, presidential visit. This is the first time I've been close(ish) to a hijacking attempt. Hopefully it will be the only time.
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Old Feb 10, 08, 4:07 pm
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Originally Posted by Kiwi Flyer View Post
News slowly filtered in by cell phone, amazingly most of it accurate in hindsight.
Watch it!
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Old Feb 10, 08, 5:48 pm
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I wasn't meaning you (I was in touch with lots of people). Just often in unusual circumstances rumours circulate with turn out to not be particularly accurate. This time, there were no wild (or wide of the mark) rumours.
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I must confess that my first reaction on hearing the news of the hijacking was to remark to Mr Falconea "Kiwiflyer must be having a bad day - there's been a hijacking and AKL is closed!"

I'm glad you're safe and I hope that the event doesn't destroy the minor airports over there.

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Old Feb 10, 08, 6:54 pm
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It seemed I was the only passenger on the flight that wasn't a local (or at least frequent visitor), for the agent checked by eye that everyone was here and dispatched one passenger to find someone else who had not turned up in the satellite terminal.

Eventually they were found and we made our way across the tarmac to the parked metroliner. We had a brief pause while the J32 was driven across our path to its parking spot, along with half a dozen or more vehicles as escort.

I used to fly metroliners regularly, but it has been years since I last flew one. Still the memories came flooding back as soon as I climbed the steps to board. The limited number of seats. The severe stoop to get to your seat. The cramped sitting Vee position required for anyone with long (or even average) legs. The sounds of fuel flowing during the flight. The noise. The tiny space for carry-on beneath the seat.

I tried not to notice the poor interior finish and odd rust patch. At least I didn't spot any scotch tape.

It was open seating but really there is not much difference in seats. The front left seat, despite having open space in front for the steps has less legroom than the other seats due to the steps intruding half way across.

No IFE. No magazine. No in seat power. Just a seat, whatever reading matter you brought on board, and snatches of conversation with fellow passengers over the noise.

I half expected a further delay on the taxiway with now lots of aircraft arriving and departing, but we were soon taking off to the north, turning east past Rangiora and then heading out to sea.

It didn't take long before we left behind all view of the South Island mountains and trusted in our pilots to head the right way above the empty ocean. Less than half way we met an extensive cloud sheet below us, and as we tracked east the cloud got thicker and more threatening looking.

The flight time was much longer than the usual 2 hours eastward, rather 2 1/2 hours. The cloud base was rather low so by the time we emerged below it we were already at the main island. The landscape was unusual - a low ancient shield volcano scalloped out into odd shapes by aeons of wind and stormy seas. Cliffs alternated with beaches flanked by high sand dunes. Vegetation was of the low scrubby variety with few trees and no sign of habitation. We flew low over the coast and along the edge of the large internal lagoon. We were buffeted by strong winds and landed half sideways as the pilots fought to control the aircraft and keep it on the ground once it touched down. It seemed they were well used to landing in rough weather.

We slowed and turned at the end of the runway and taxiied back to the terminal at the other end. It wasn't raining but the air was full of moisture and the aircraft rocked with the wind.

Welcome to the 4th island. I love this weather and wildness, so it felt like home!
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Old Feb 10, 08, 10:21 pm
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Great report so far, Kiwi Flyer! It would have been fascinating even without the highjacking, let alone with

It's nice to read a trip report in which you are actually planning to spend some time at your destination, rather than doing one of your speedy turnarounds - hope you'll write a little about the Chathams as well as the flights (since it's probably safe to assume this is the first Chatham Island trip report on FT).

More, more!
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Old Feb 11, 08, 7:10 pm
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Sadly not much time spent at the destination this time either mad_atta. But I don't think the visit has been totally in vain - it has reassured me that it's worth getting back for several days when I can schedule it in. Hopefully in summer.

I was unable to find any prior trip report on Chatham Islands using Google FT site specific search.

Last edited by Kiwi Flyer; Feb 11, 08 at 7:20 pm
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Old Feb 11, 08, 8:01 pm
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With ex-Cyclone Gene rapidly approaching I unfortunately did not have long to stay. Just long enough for the aircraft to turnaround, refuel, offload one small load of cargo and load up the next. During the wait the other Air Chathams aircraft, an ageing convair landed. It was fun to see it too land almost sideways on the runway and bounce along in the wind.

The convair sits overnight (at least) in the Chathams, so normally any visitors must spend at least 1 night there. The summer metroliner flights turnaround and return to Christchurch same day.

Normally the aircraft are not seen side by side. The big delay earlier was the only reason they were. The metroliner has the colours of now defunct airline Origin Pacific rather than that of Air Chathams.

The convair arrival delayed our departure by a few minutes but not enough for us to be caught by the storm.

Some people might be horrified by the check in process. All other (half a dozen) passengers of course had checked in earlier and were waiting around in the terminal which is basically a shed/converted barn with a few seats, toilet and a zip (tea bags and instant coffee available for sale at $3 a cup), but not much else. Outside was too windy to spend any time in than was absolutely necessary.

There was no one at the counter - all airline staff where either out on the apron seeing to refuelling, loading or unloading, or yakking in the staffroom. When it was time to load the bags on someone came out of the staffroom and I walked up to the counter. I pointed out my name on the sheet of paper lying on the counter in full view and was ticked off. No id. No boarding pass. No xrays, wtmd, shoe nonsense, etc.

Of course the risk is minimal. The airline staff and pilots know everyone (except me and I'd just flown across). With so few people on the islands and even fewer visitors, it is most unlikely anyone could claim a seat that isn't theirs.

We boarded shortly afterwards. The aircraft was rocking in the wind. I swapped seats with a fellow passenger so she could sit directly across the aisle from her partner. Unfortunately this meant I got the front left hand seat. While this is good for a quick exit should my onward flight connection be tight, the steps intrude and my left leg was jammed up against the steps and thus rather cramped the entire flight.

One of the pilots passed around a shopping bag full of sandwiches for passengers to help themselves, and one passenger suddenly dashed out to visit the toilet. Yup no loo onboard so go before you go on this longish flight.

A short taxi to the end of the runway. Then a big rev up before releasing the brakes. With a great view of the cockpit I could see they were steering on quite an angle to compensate for the wind.
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