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
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.
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 DONeill, distributed under the GNU Free Documentation Licence).
Above: Air New Zealand Airbus A320 at the 2003 delivery
ceremony in France.