Here it is, part 2 . . . .
After a great few days in France and our second wedding-filled weekend, we took the Eurostar over to London. Now THAT is a fantastic experience. It’s fast now, but in less than a month the station to station time will be down to about 2 hours with the opening of England’s high speed track. Just incredible. After a couple days in London, it was time to come home on our longest flight of the trip.
October 16, 2007
Air New Zealand #1 Lv London/Heathrow (LHR) 415p Arr Los Angeles (LAX) 730p
LHR: Gate 16, Runway 27R, Dept :18L
LAX: Gate 21, Runway 25L, Arr :14L
Aircraft: ZK-SUH, Boeing 747-400, Standard, ~95% full
Flight Time: 10h40m
With such a late departure on a rainy, gloomy day, we had plenty of time to spare so we decided to take the Tube out to Heathrow. Unfortunately, all the work they’re doing in Terminal 3 means that to get to some check-in areas, you have to actually walk outside and around in an uncovered area. We were lucky enough to find a break in the rain when we were outside, so it could have been a lot worse. For us, the discomfort really began when we walked in to find a snaking check-in line (at left).
We had two hours until departure as we stepped in line, and I honestly was afraid we wouldn’t make it. At first there were four agents checking in coach passengers and three working on premium cabins. Slowly, the coach agents kept dropping out until there were only two left. It was a long 50 minutes before we found ourselves first in line. I had predicted we would end up with the one very angry-looking agent, and sure enough I was right . . . almost. The agent looked at us, crossed her hands to signify we weren’t welcome, and just walked off. Did I mention these were United employees?
That was probably fortunate for us, however, because the next agent who came available was very nice. We were happy to hear that we were on the upgrade list, but the agent said we’d have to check with the gate to see if we’d clear. She was nice enough to give us a pass to the lounge, but we didn’t think we’d have time. Sure enough, 20 minutes at the security line (including a strange, random, post-security shoe inspection) meant we had to go straight to the gate.
Once we arrived, the agent took our boarding passes and wrote the magical alphanumeric combination of 1A and 1K on them. Oh happy day! This was my first time sitting in the nose of a 747, and I was excited.
We of course boarded right away and found our seats up front (at right). We were immediately offered water, OJ, or sparkling wine from New Zealand. I was parched from schlepping my bags all over London, so I just opted for water to start. The flight attendant offered to take my coat but got distracted and didn’t do it. Another one came by soon after and took it after she offered newspapers to everyone.
Then a third flight attendant came up and asked if I had been in this seat before. When I said no, she gladly walked me through all the functions of the seat. She also told me, as was emphasized throughout the flight via public announcements, that I could be in any reclined position I wanted during takeoff and landing. That was nice. One thing you’ll be surprised to hear was interesting is the seatbelt.
Since the seat is angled, the half of the seatbelt facing forward has a lot of extra padding on it while the other half is normal. It was bulky but not necessarily uncomfortable. When you’re in the flat bed position, you use a different seatbelt that has no padding on it. Anyway, once she was done, I sat back and played with everything as we waited through our short ATC delay. Right before we left, the flight attendant asked for our pre-dinner drink orders and I chose the Oyster Bay Chardonnay.
We took off into the murk and that’s when I realized that retracting nosegear is really loud when you’re right on top of it. At that point, I pulled out the tv for a long afternoon of movie watching. First up was the amazingly awful Evan Almighty. It took me awhile to get things started because the system is very slow to respond to commands (they actually announced this at the beginning of the flight). But once I got it going, my wine showed up along with the first of two hot towels and all was good. Then they started the meal service with a smoked salmon appetizer and warm bread. The fruit with the appetizer was unfortunately still frozen, but that was really my only complaint about the meal. I had a tasty chicken dish for dinner that came complete with real metal knives (at left). Ooooh. After dinner, my fiancée came over to my seat so we could have dessert together.
After three glasses of wine and a glass of port (yes, I got carried away), I was feeling all warm and fuzzy and ready to fall asleep. Despite my best efforts to fight it, I dozed off only to wake up as the flight attendant was leaning over me to close my window shade. You always see those commercials where the flight attendant pulls down the window shade to demonstrate caring service, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen it happen in real life.
At this point, I decided to keep myself awake, so I moved on to a better movie, the really good “Hot Fuzz.” After that, I kept rolling with “License to Wed.” Please, for the love of all that is holy, do NOT see this movie. Not even being trapped on an airplane could make it halfway decent. Don’t even ask me why I watched that one. I feel dumber for having seen it.
With 5 hours left, I couldn’t take another bad flick, so I dove into some of the classics in the AVOD system. That’s when I decided it was the perfect time to finally watch the 3 hour and 45 minute “Gone With the Wind” for the first time. It was a great way to pass the last half of the flight, and I converted the seat into a bed so I could get comfortable.
The Virgin Atlantic-style bed seemed great for sleeping, but I wasn’t trying to sleep on this flight. I really wished there was something in between the slight recline and the fully flat position. That’s the problem with having a bed that flips over. On the other hand, the bed itself was really comfortable. I’m sure it would have been very welcome on an overnight flight.
Most of the way back, there were spectacular views as we flirted with sunset. There was a very light chop most of the way, but nothing that kept the seat belt sign on for more than 10 minutes the whole flight. Does that extremely light chop come with sitting in the nose or was it just the air we were flying through?
As I chugged on through the Civil War, the flight attendants brought another hot towel and then a selection of sandwiches for our pre-arrival snack. The movie finished up, and I then passed the rest of the time by reading a book (at right) and watching the sophisticated airshow map. We passed over Las Vegas before gliding over the lights of LA (at left) and then landing on the south runways.
They held the coach cabin until all premium cabin passengers exited, but they probably didn’t need to do that. I was surprised to see how few people were staying in LAX. I’d say most of them were despondent All Blacks fans heading back home to New Zealand. I was most amazed by the lack of US citizens/residents on the flight. They only had one immigration officer working the US line and there were no more than 15 people there. It still took awhile to get through, but our bags were rolling off just as we passed through and we headed out to the curb for our ride home.
Ha…too cool. As much as I travel, I’ve never flown anything but coach internationally. I’m dying to upgrade on my next flight, but I don’t know if I want to waste my miles that way.
Either I missed it, or you didn’t explain how you upgraded yourself.
I flew trans-pac in the nose of a big 747 on Thai Air. Loved every second of it. It wasn’t the nose of retracting of the landing gear that surprised me, it was the brakes when we were still on the ground and taxiing.
No, you didn’t miss it, David. I actually had a contact who was able to get us on the list. I’m just happy they had enough room for us.
CF, Great post. My first 747 ride was on Braniff’s pumpkin N601BN from Love Field to Honolulu and I had the front row seat too. A bit disappointed there wasn’t more forward visibility though. Until I read your post, I didn’t realize Air New Zealand was carrying local LHR/LAX traffic.
Yep, it’s a nice little secret that NZ can carry locals over to LHR. I’m sure NZ would prefer it not be so much of a secret though. They’ve done some limited marketing here, but their best weapon is their low fares, especially in the business cabin.
Right now, a 7 day advance purchase is “only” $4,551. Meanwhile, to get almost the same exact seat from Virgin, you’d have to book 42 days in advance to get that price. If you can’t make plans 6 weeks in advance, the 7 day advance price is $10,290.
I have to assume that the local traffic is the only reason they fly through the US anyway. Most airlines have abandoned US stopovers since our transit rules are so onerous these days. Even NZ has started flying to London through Hong Kong now as well to make transit easier.
(By the way, I’m very jealous you rode on the pumpkin.)
I’m still finding the fact that NZ can carry locals to LHR to be a bit incredible… I figured we’d be stingy on giving out fifth freedom rights..
Nick – We are stingy but this is a long time legacy right that NZ has had. We tend not to take those kinds of things away once they’re already out there.
well not to one up myself, but my first trip to London was also on the pumpkin with Braniff’s nonstop flight from DFW to LGW. I didn’t work for BN, nor did my Dad, but he was able to get BN passes for me. I currently work with several ex-BN FAs who used to work those flights.