This is sort of a hybrid trip report in that I didn’t actually go anywhere domestically in New Zealand, but I had to see Air New Zealand’s domestic check-in process for myself. So I’m combining that with my flight home. Overall, it was another very good experience, though I think the service level was slightly better on the way out than it was on the way home. (And yes, I ended up in business, not premium economy.) I promise, this will be my last ANZ post for awhile.
My flight home was at 715p, but I was able to arrange a visit to the domestic terminal at Auckland first. When I interviewed CEO Rob Fyfe back in May, he explained that their new check-in process for domestic flights would allow people to arrive only 15 minutes before their flight. I had to see for myself.
The airline arranged for John Whittaker, the man in charge of the domestic operation, to take me out there. He set up a booking for me so I could go through the process myself. It lived up to its billing, for the most part, though security slowed me down to make 15 minutes a little too tight. Here’s a 2 minute video of me walking through the check-in process.
This process really eliminates lines almost entirely. Sure, if people have complicated changes or problems that need addressing, they have to see an agent, but the vast majority of people don’t need that. They just need to drop a bag off and get checked in. If you don’t have a bag, you really don’t even need to go to the kiosk. You can print out a confirmation page at home or you can pull up a barcode on your phone and just walk through security. At the gate, you can scan your pass and it will spit out a receipt for you. Then you’re on your way. You only need to check in at the kiosk if you have a bag to drop.
Now, the only problem with an arrival 15 minutes before departure here is the security line. I was there at the absolute peak of the afternoon and it took about 10 minutes to get through. Domestic security is much easier – no shoes off, and heck, they don’t even check your ID, but it did make a 15 minute door to plane timeline pretty difficult during the afternoon rush. Still, you could easily have made it in 30 minutes.
Once through, there’s a really nice lounge that has food and showers, but the gate is where it got interesting for me. Instead of having a big podium for check-in, the focus is really on the gate reader. That’s where the work gets done. There is just one employee, a turn manager, who handles the flight on the ground, but a flight attendant comes off the plane to board the flight as well.
On the ramp, only one person pushes the airplane back. He has a remote that controls the unmanned pushback tug which works on a rear wheel (at right). Then he stands at the front of the plane and walks it back. Pretty slick operation.
Once I was done getting the tour, it was time to head to the international terminal. Unfortunately, they aren’t connected in Auckland. I could walk it, but there were thunderstorms around, so John drove me over on his way out.
The check-in area is enormous, but I went to a small private room on the side set aside for premium cabin check-in. It’s a more intimate setting with a few desks of people to check you in. Up to this point, my efforts to snag a window in premium economy had failed. The flight was full, and I was only willing to take a window so I could rest my head. So, I checked in and got my boarding pass for the upper deck in business and then headed to security.
Immigration lines were about 15 minutes long, and then security took 10 seconds. On the other side, I went up to the relatively newly renovated Air New Zealand lounge. The place was massive and had all kinds of areas – kid zones, no cell phone zones, massage areas, etc. I settled in for a few minutes of email checking before our concierge Brigitte came to meet us. She said that they were able to arrange a premium economy seat downstairs if I’d like, but I cracked.
I had gotten lost hiking on Waiheke Island (at left) earlier in the day and missed my ferry. My feet were cut up from what I believe was a rogue blackberry bush, and I was a little sunburned. The thought of giving up a flat bed right then was too much. Sorry guys. I’ll just have to find a way to review the new premium economy when it rolls out later this year.
They announced in the lounge that everyone had to leave for our flight early for the extra-special TSA-mandated patdown. Joy. So we went down to find a couple of gates isolated from the rest of the concourse with a makeshift partition. First, we waited in a 10 minute line just to talk to someone. They checked our passports again and made sure it matched the name on the boarding pass. Then they checked some magic list. I wasn’t on it, so I thought that was bad news, but now I think it was the opposite. I moved up to the next person who checked my boarding pass and sent me through a corridor that dumped me out at the gate. Others had to get the full pat down and search and that took a very long time.
The partitioned gate area was too small, so everyone was standing around like sardines waiting to board. Brigitte circulated around the room answering questions while the rest of us watched boarding time come and go. Security had managed to delay our flight by about half an hour, and the staff looked to be a bit frustrated that there was nothing they could do.
January 28, 2010
Air New Zealand #6 Lv Auckland (AKL) 715p Arr Los Angeles (LAX) 1015a (same day)
AKL: Gate 8, Runway 23L, Dept 15m Late
LAX: Gate 28, Runway 25L, Arr 32m Late
Aircraft: ZK-NBW, Boeing 747-419, Named Wellington, Maybe 90% Full
Flight Time: 11h51m
We did finally board and I took my seat upstairs with two other journalists. An older American woman boarded right behind us and the flight attendant said to her, “It looks like you’ll be sharing the cabin with these gentlemen.” The woman looked startled and said, “What?!” After repeating it, the woman breathed a sigh of relief. “I thought you said ‘Germans’.” We couldn’t help but laugh.
We took off and passed by some beautiful storm clouds before pointing northeast toward LA. I passed on dinner, flipped my bed down, popped some Ambien, and woke up 7 hours later. I was up for good at that point, so I tried to flip my bed back, but I was struggling with it a little. Nobody came to help. My glass of water also remained empty all night. The service during the middle of the flight wasn’t quite up to the level of the service on the way down, but the service at the beginning and the end when most people were awake was excellent.
I had a bacon roll once again, but this time it was more like the English-style of bacon. Delicious. (No bubble and squeak was offered, by the way.) Brigitte came up to chat with me as part of her rounds, and I found out she had only been doing this for a couple months. She used to be a journalist. So I asked what she recommended that people do in LA, and she said that she doesn’t usually get many requests for that. But when she does, it’s usually for long layovers, so she’ll point them to a beach or Santa Monica; something close by. She said that each time she travels, she tries to explore a new area so she can recommend it.
Then she went above and beyond.
Brigitte handed me her card and said that she had spoken with our concierge on the way down and he told her that I asked him for the registration of the aircraft. So she got the registration for me and wrote it down without me having to ask. Wow.
I naturally assumed that this was some sort of special treatment and she said that no, they talk like this all the time. If a couple is on a honeymoon, for example, the outbound concierge will tell the inbound concierge so she can ask specifically how the trip went and offer them a celebratory drink or something along those lines. Fantastic service.
Though we had light chop for the first two-thirds of the flight, the last third was pleasantly smooth after the sun came up. We landed just a few minutes late, and immigration was quick and painless. I didn’t have a ride, so it took me 2 hours to take public transit home. Not exactly what I was hoping for, but maybe LA will get its public transit act together one of these days. Nah, probably not.