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volante: new zealand

New Zealand airlines: plane to see
New Zealand airlines: plane to see

There are now three airlines wanting New Zealand travellers’ money, with Pacific Blue having launched on the eastern side of the Tasman. Which is best? Jack Yan flies all three


IN THE PAST MONTH or so I have had the pleasure of flying all the main New Zealand airlines: Air New Zealand, the national carrier; Qantas, the Australian airline that has fairly comprehensive services within this country; and Pacific Blue, the Toll–Virgin venture that launched with cut-price services nationally this month. All have online booking, so that at least puts them evenly as far as the computer-savvy folks are concerned.
   But how do the airlines fare for the traveller paying a regular economy fare?


Air New Zealand

It’s fashionable inside New Zealand to diss the national carrier. I’ve even heard from staff who have a patent dislike for their uniforms, crafted by none other than my friend Elisabeth Findlay of Zambesi. One standing joke is that they are reminiscent of the garments of International Rescue and stewardesses may hear passengers asking where Virgil Tracy is. It may be a bit cruel. And not all is down at the embattled airline.
   Pros: service has improved markedly, probably because of increased competition. Air New Zealand will sometimes carry double-booked passengers from other airlines. Internationally, they have been pretty good with excess baggage charges. Also, the electronic check-in gadgets are easy to use.
   Cons: legroom is the worst of the three based on a subjective analysis, and the cramped conditions now extend to the Airbus A320s doing the trans-Tasman crossings. It is surprisingly poor and you wonder if the person measuring it has confused the inch measurements with centimetres. No snack, but free water, tea and coffee domestically.



Qantas seems to do no wrong these days and it does have a famous Sweathog as a goodwill pilot. We flew a Qantas 737-200.
   Pros: in-flight magazine is a good read but the type is arguably too big, and the snack (of varying quality) is free. Excellent service. Free newspapers at Christchurch Airport, though it is just The Press.
   Cons: in-flight movies tend to be Australian shows that New Zealanders might not like; legroom is better than Air New Zealand but it’s still not the best. I still miss the vegetarian chips from 2002–3. No electronic check-in, though Qantas will roll this and its CityFlyer service out in New Zealand in 2008.


Pacific Blue

The airline has launched into New Zealand with cut-price fares beginning at NZ$39. This isn’t dissimilar to the last price war we had in the early 2000s where I was flying with reasonably good legroom for NZ$79 regularly.
   Pros: humour—Eddie, on the Wellington–Christchurch service, is air travel’s Gopher Smith. The magazine is great. The legroom on the 737-800s is amazingly good and the best in the country—so much for the expectation of “budget”. I remember flying Pacific Blue in Australia and having a good dinner—the menu’s the same on this side of the Tasman and you can get lighter food for these short flights. Internet check-in is a good idea, as well as the ability to change your seats from your desktop.
   Cons: scheduling and queues. The planes are almost always late based on the four flights we sampled as a company. Rumour has it that Air New Zealand and Qantas have priority at airports. The queues, being the cheap airline, were very long, even for those of us who had checked in via the internet the day before. (In Wellington, those needing boarding passes were quicker than those doing a simple bag drop.)


   For now, I’m going to have to advocate saving a few bob and flying Pacific Blue. Sure, I don’t get my miles credited with my other loyalty programmes, but for better legroom and new 737-800s, it seems a better deal. If Qantas and Air New Zealand were to charge even NZ$79–$89 and give me back the legroom I had in 2002, I would be happy to pay the premium over Pacific Blue to get points credited to my Asia Miles or United accounts.
   Conclusion: paying less does give you more and other than the delays, budget does not really have its true meaning in New Zealand skies.


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Left: Pacific Blue Boeing 737-800 at Auckland Airport (photograph by DO’Neill, distributed under the GNU Free Documentation Licence). Above: Air New Zealand Airbus A320 at the 2003 delivery ceremony in France.


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