Feel like I’m flying, I’m dying to say / “Want you forever and easy”

Time to eat my words.

A few weeks back I post­ed a com­ment on Lance Wig­gs’ blog.

Lance had writ­ten some very pos­i­tive words about Air New Zealand in the post:

A selec­tion of rea­sons why Air New Zealand won the Air­line of the Year in the Air Trans­port World mag­a­zine awards. Most of these refer to posts made here over the past three years, and the over­ar­ch­ing rea­son is sim­ply that Air New Zealand is a very well run busi­ness.

They have kept their fares low, and use a very sim­ple fare struc­ture. That means reduc­ing some food ser­vices, but the lol­lies remain and, it seems, always will.

They have steadi­ly got the details right – from the econ­o­my seats, to the check-in and seat back enter­tain­ment. The busi­ness class seats still rate, for me, as the best around, offer­ing so much more than the com­pe­ti­tion.

(much more at the link..very much worth a read, and most­ly he’s very right)

I com­ment­ed, a lit­tle snark­i­ly:

I’m fly­ing ANZ for the first time in 7 years, this next week, from HK to NZ and I’m rather keen to see how they match up. To be hon­est the last time I flew them (from NZ to Mel­bourne), I swore I’d not ever fly them again. The plane was over-crowd­ed, dirty, the inflight enter­tain­ment sys­tem was almost non-exis­tent and the ser­vice utter­ly shock­ing.

In the inter­im I’ve racked up hun­dreds of thou­sands of kms with all sorts of airlines..some great (Sing Air with their usb ports and lap­top pow­er on all seats, Qatar, Air France), many aver­age, and some awful (Malaysian comes to mind straight off, but noth­ing match­es Viva Macau).

I’m look­ing for­ward to being very pleas­ant­ly sur­prised.

And I was.

There is some sto­ry, albeit brief, to both my orig­i­nal com­ment and my eat­ing of words. Read on if you care, or skip to the last line if you’d rather avoid the ver­bosi­ty.

I spend a lot of time trav­el­ling. I both enjoy it and its a part of my var­i­ous jobs. From 1995 through to 2002 I went to Aus­tralia on busi­ness about 40 times, on either Air New Zealand, and Qan­tas, and I found myself fly­ing to Europe and the US about a dozen times over the same time. I like fly­ing and I like get­ting there in a good state, both rest­ed and in a good mood. I like to arrive in a town, check into wher­ev­er I’m sup­posed to be stay­ing, and head out. Most­ly the air­line is the rea­son why that is or is not pos­si­ble.

I was pret­ty hap­py with our nation­al air­line up to about 1999. They got me there in one piece, the ser­vice came with a smile, and onboard they had pret­ty ade­quate food, enter­tain­ment and cab­ins. Then, that year, it all start­ed of go wrong. It was fair­ly clear­ly linked to the Ansett fias­co (and yes, the Aus­tralians do have rea­son to be grumpy, how­ev­er defen­sive New Zealan­ders were) as the air­line went to pieces. I last flew Air New Zealand to Mel­bourne in ear­ly 2002. The plane was, with­out more than a cur­so­ry sor­ry, very late leav­ing, it was crowd­ed, the food was almost ined­i­ble and the toi­lets looked like they’d not been cleaned for god knows how long. And worse, the in-cab­in crew were unsmil­ing and repeat­ed­ly refused to respond to the bell-calls com­ing from me and oth­er frus­trat­ed pas­sen­gers.

I got off after a return flight that was lit­tle bet­ter and swore I’d nev­er fly my nation­al air­line again. I’m not a patri­ot­ic soul and won’t sup­port some­thing sim­ply because we share an accent.

Jump for­ward sev­en years, and I’ve flown count­less miles on count­less air­lines in the inter­im. Some as I said in the com­ment, were bril­liant. Qatar do every­thing right (apart from Doha air­port, that is. It’s a dog. As is their awful habit of wan­der­ing through depar­ture lounges ran­dom­ly weight­ing car­ry-on like some sort of 7kg fas­cists), and Air France too are hard to fault. Sin­ga­pore Air is thor­ough­ly pre­dictable: when times are good they tend to be rude and off­hand; when times are tough, they get a rock­et from man­age­ment and re-learn the art of the smile, only to lose it again as the bot­tom line begins to improve. How­ev­er, they have, with­out ques­tion, the best in flight enter­tain­ment sys­tem bar none.

I’ve done the awful (all Indone­sian Air­lines, Viva Macau, who use duct tape to hold togeth­er their loos, and the always awful Malaysian who sim­ply exude rude­ness in a way that, unlike the uber-cheap Indo buck­et car­ri­ers, who you can most­ly excuse as the Jakar­ta dolly­birds (excuse sex­ism: sor­ry) in the cab­ins are paid a pit­tance, have to deal with 150 peo­ple phys­i­cal­ly push­ing them out of the way as soon as the plane hits the run­way, and the over­whelm­ing­ly bad sur­vival odds each time they take off, they have absolute­ly no excuse for) and the pleas­ant­ly func­tion­al (Air Asia, who are real­ly very good).

We’d want­ed to fly Thai from BKK to AKL this time but the day I went to book the flight the price had dou­bled.

So Brigid spent some time online and we worked out that for less than the new Thai price we could get an Air Asia tick­et to Hong Kong and spend a cou­ple of days there (which allowed for some busi­ness in both direc­tions) before tak­ing the leap back onto Air NZ.

The word was they’d improved.

I’m always wary of the word.

HK, though, was reli­ably won­der­ful aside from the hotel putting us next door to a 24 hour bus stop where­in we dis­cov­ered that all bus­es in HK have squeaky brakes, which meant when we sat down on NZ080 we effec­tive­ly hadn’t slept for two days.

Grumpy.

We sat in our seats (63D & E if any­one cares) and asked the stew­ard if they had eye­pads as sleep was a neces­si­ty and usu­al­ly high­ly unlike­ly on a full, as it was, 777. Of course, he said and returned with not only the afore request­ed pads but earplugs (these are both sup­plied as stan­dard kit to every pas­sen­ger on many air­lines so no extra points for that aside from the big smile that went with it), but also with busi­ness class head­sets (extra points earned) and the offer of a glass each of French cham­pagne from the front of the plane (extra points being ladled on now). Yes.

He returned and said “here you go, Mr. Grigg”. Bemused, the woman in 63F asked if we’d just got mar­ried or some­thing. We returned the bemuse­ment.

After we took off anoth­er mem­ber of the cab­in staff came past and stopped to ask us – just us – if all was fine. Uh, yes. Fine.

Would we like some more wine? Uh, yes? (no-one else was asked).

A few min­utes lat­er a woman called Ruth came to us (and I para­phrase, so I’m sor­ry Ruth – my mem­o­ry is not that good). I’m the crew man­ag­er. Is all ok? Yes. I bet you’re won­der­ing why all the atten­tion. Yes. Its because of a com­ment on a blog and a tweet. Uhh. We were con­tact­ed by three dif­fer­ent peo­ple in the organ­i­sa­tion and told you were about to fly with the air­line and to look after you. Uhhh. We just want to say thank you for giv­ing us anoth­er go and wel­come back.

Nice.

Of course it may’ve been strate­gi­cal­ly bet­ter not to say any­thing to us and just to ramp up the ser­vice more sub­tle­ly, but as a way of mak­ing a grumpy ex-cus­tomer feel wel­come and more than a lit­tle spe­cial, it worked some won­ders. We glowed and we set­tled rather com­fort­ably into our quite com­fort­able seats, as we were bought our meals of choice before the rest of the cab­in. So, yep, it worked.

And noth­ing I’m say­ing here, of course, has any­thing to do with that pam­per­ing.

Ok, it has a lit­tle to do with it.

But, the sim­ple fact is that, as above, Lance was very right. Most­ly.

But, to the impor­tant stuff.

Yes, I’ve come around.

The seats (most impor­tant­ly) were as com­fort­able as any I’ve had any­where in recent years with far more leg room than the ever tight­en­ing squeeze of Sin­ga­pore Air or many oth­ers. The crew lacked the stern­ness of years past as still found on all Amer­i­can car­ri­ers. They smiled and seemed to mean it, unlike the plas­tic of the rule­book bound Sin­gAir or the sim­ple lack of any­thing resem­bling a smile on Qan­tas or Malaysian (where the staff have this unfor­tu­nate habit of talk­ing about non-Malay pas­sen­gers in neg­a­tive terms in Bahasa Malay (uhh… I speak it)).

And there was no call to pray to Mec­ca as there is every half hour or so, as you crave a beer on the bland air­line of Brunei as you fly into the even bland­er state of Brunei.

The food was rather good, the wine was pre­dictably won­der­ful, the movies were just fine (I liked the one about Win­ston Churchill even if it was fac­tu­al­ly ran­dom in a very HBO way) and it was a very pleas­ant flight. With­out reser­va­tion.

No, make that a real­ly bloody good flight. It worked. I’m hap­pi­ly sold and, all things as they should be, will prob­a­bly make the BKK-HK-NZ route the default route when re-nest­ing, using Air New Zealand. Is that hum­ble pie enough? Any chance of an upgrade when we fly back to HK? How about a radio show?

Ok two more major points win­ners:

The way that the air­line tells you its fine to watch the movie from the moment they shut the doors is a huge win­ner. None of this ridicu­lous no head­phones until cruis­ing height non­sense. Seri­ous­ly, it’s 2010 and we’ve paid for in-flight enter­tain­ment. Thank you. Points.

And the fact that they tell you you can turn your cell­phone on when the wheels hit the tar­mac. The whole dan­ger from cell­phones thing on air­craft has long since been dis­proved and indeed large parts of the plan­et seem to have no issue with them in flight, and, whilst the very last thing I want, espe­cial­ly in Asia where the so-called hand­phones are used at an obses­sive lev­el and most folks car­ry two or more Black­ber­ries or HTCs which are both used at the same time with­out break, is the end­less bleep­ing of incom­ing texts, or loud con­ver­sa­tion, for 11 hours, a lit­tle real­i­ty inject­ed helps. Points.

I do feel the need to take issue with Lance’s claim to the Air New Zealand web­site. It’s one place they get a C. Sin­ga­pore Air, at the high­er lev­el, and Air Asia, at the bud­get lev­el, do it much bet­ter as do many oth­ers. Hav­ing booked via the Air NZ Hong Kong Kong web­site, it was next to use­less when I tried to get infor­ma­tion, or look at the pos­si­bil­i­ty of chang­ing a tick­et.

And the air­points. I get them on my cred­it card and they’re essen­tial­ly use­less, expir­ing before you get the chance to use them for any­thing worth­while. Air NZ’s loy­al­ty points sys­tem seems at best half-baked, but to be fair that comes in a time when most air­lines seem to be rather des­per­ate to ramp them back (Malaysian’s Enrich site has effec­tive­ly, and dis­hon­est­ly, been offline for redemp­tion pur­pos­es for a year or so, cit­ing some vague short-term issue).

So, yeah, Air New Zealand are quite good.

3 Comments

Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

Lance
January 25, 2010 at 11:01 PM

This is an aston­ish­ing case study in how poor expe­ri­ences can destroy a com­pa­ny for years. The Ansett deba­cle was a woe­ful peri­od — a reverse takeover with Ansett man­age­ment com­ing over in force.

I’m very impressed as well that AirNZ picked up on your trav­el — for the record I had no con­tact with any­one there. Well done to the team.

Great to hear that your expe­ri­ence was so pos­i­tive. Lance

P.S. my expe­ri­ence with blog­ger is not so pos­i­tive. Post­ing com­ments seems to be much hard­er than it should be.

Ja
January 26, 2010 at 04:01 AM

Dis­agree with the com­ments about Air NZ’s loy­al­ty scheme, it real­ly is a step above the rest.

I have a huge bal­ance with Qan­tas that I have nev­er been able to use but the Air NZ one gets spent on domes­tic flights every 6 months or so.

George
January 27, 2010 at 08:01 AM

Emi­rates is also very good in my expe­ri­ence, which is lim­it­ed to econ­o­my class. But since they don’t do BKK-AKL, and to Europe is a dogs-leg through Dubai, I’m not sure you’ll find them very help­ful. Great across the Tas­man though.

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