This is part 14 in a series about my November 2016 trip to New Zealand, booked off a $215 mistake fare.
Unfortunately, my great deal on my ticket to New Zealand required transiting through Sydney on the return, which added a significant amount of time to the journey – about five hours between the layover and three hour flight from Auckland to Sydney. I decided against spending a day in L.A. on the return figuring I would just want to get home (not expecting that DC would be an entirely depressing place to be). So that meant that if all went according to plan, I would have a travel time of 27 hours straight from my AKL departure to my arrival at DCA.
My flight out of Auckland was at 7:35am. I had originally planned to take an Uber at 5:30, but I ended up leaving at 5, because when I tried to check in the day before I had gotten an error suggesting my US passport was not enough for me to enter back into the country. Had the borders already tightened??? Was I blacklisted by America? Upon arriving at AKL, there was a bit of a line at the Qantas counter, but the separate priority check-in wasn’t bad. There was no problem checking me in, and the friendly agent explained where the Qantas lounge was, and gave me a sticker for Express Lane immigration and security as a Oneworld Emerald passenger.
There was a food court and shopping before immigration at the AKL International Terminal, but I decided to just go through. I didn’t actually use the express lane, because there was no line at the E-gates that U.S. passport holders can use. That line led right into security, which had no real wait. I then spent the last of my NZD on a gift, and headed to the Qantas Club.
There are 4 lounges in the AKL International Departures area: Qantas, Emirates, Emperor (Priority Pass), and Air New Zealand. I could have used the Priority Pass lounge, but for simplicity’s sake, just stuck with the Qantas Club. For those who remember my Qantas Club experience in Cairns, where I was loudly scolded about Qantas policy prohibiting photos in the lounge, there was no repeat of aggressive surliness. The agent was friendly and helped me change the frequent flyer number on my ticket from American to Alaska, as Alaska would give me about 4x as many miles for the trip.
The lounge was pretty empty, even though there were a number of Qantas trans-Tasman flights as well as the LAN tag AKL-SYD flight departing. The food counter was small, but had decent options – and would be the first of 6 breakfasts I’d be offered in the next 24 hours (all on the same calendar day!). For hot dishes, there were eggs, sausage, and creamy mushrooms. There was also yogurt, bread, fruit, juices, a pie-thing and sadly only one kind of pastry. Oh, and there was a freezer case of Kapiti ice cream, a New Zealand “gourmet” brand – vanilla, plum, and nectarine flavors. Yum.
I noshed and relaxed a bit before heading to the gate, which was quite far from the Qantas Club. You had to pass through a bunch of shops to get to any gate, but my flight was at an even farther pier that just had some vending machines and a small duty free/newspaper store combo.
I’ve actually never flown Qantas coach before, as all my Qantas flights on my 2015 Australia trip had been business awards, and I had flown Virgin Australia on my one revenue leg on that trip. The plane to Sydney was a two-cabin 737, with business class similar to domestic first in the US. The seats were new throughout the plane, and featured personal IFE and USB power ports at each seat. Headsets awaited on each seat and the flight attendant came by and offered blankets. Qantas has also relatively recently “upgraded” its economy dining, including on trans-Tasman flights, so I was curious to try that.
The plane was about 80% full. I didn’t pay attention when selecting seats, and could have had the first row in coach, which has lots of legroom, but instead took the second row in coach, which had the least legroom of any flight I’d been on this trip. For a while it seemed like I would have the entire row to myself, but as departure time came the Captain announced we were waiting for two additional passengers who were “missing.” A few minutes later, he announced they had been located. And then about 10 minutes after scheduled departure time, a disheveled man came ambling down the aisle and took the aisle seat in my row. I expected someone to follow him and sit next to me, but no one did. Another 10 minutes later and the Captain announced the passenger was missing again and they would have to locate the luggage and deboard it.
While this was going on, there was an extremely chatty Qantas flight attendant non-revving in the row ahead of me and saying how hard it was going to be to work First Class on the SFO flight later that day. The cabin crew passed out Australia landing cards to non-transit passengers, and my neighbor became obsessed with filling it out immediately, though he did not speak a word of English. He turned out to be Brazilian, and asked me in Portuguese if I spoke Portuguese. I can’t imagine many travelers from Auckland to Sydney do; I said no. He proceeded to ask me what every field on the landing card meant. He did luck out in that I speak Spanish, so I was able to communicate to him most of it. For some of it, I just took his pen and filled it out. (I have no idea how to say New Zealand in Spanish or Portuguese…not one of those words that comes up often, and apparently it’s not Nuevo Zealand.) He was so worried about it being filled out properly that he redid the card two times, not realizing the Australian government was not going to reject him because of crossouts. Particularly since he was traveling alone and said he was just visiting for tourism, and since he had flown from Santiago to Auckland on LAN, I wonder if he missed the LAN AKL-SYD flight somehow, and had gotten rebooked.
There was a cute safety video, showing Qantas crew acting out the safety demonstration maneuvers with comparable items at sites all over Australia. (E.g., the “brace” position was shown on yoga balls in Hamilton Island; lifejackets were demonstrated by older women at a pool on Bondi Beach.) One thing I noticed in the announcement was that they welcomed “Qantas, Emirates, and Oneworld” frequent flyers in that order- evidence of the decline of the traditional alliances, and the mounting world dominance of sheikh-owned labor-abusing vanity carriers.
I dozed off for about 15 minutes after takeoff, waking for the breakfast service. Despite the talk of a new menu, the breakfast still looked like an airplane breakfast, though on a nicer tray and with “designed” plastic cutlery. The choices were eggs or fruit (which I had to translate for my rowmate), both of which were served with yogurt and a muffin. I had the eggs, which came with a soggy hashbrown and sausage and beans. The only hot thing I ate was the eggs (this was breakfast #2, after all), and they were on the okay side. The muffin was more like lemon pound cake than a muffin. There was a coffee refill service, and then I didn’t really see the flight attendants again after that.
The seatback IFE had a lot of options, including three episodes of lots of American TV shows. As I edited photos and draft blog posts, I watched 3 episodes of Family Guy, and 3 of Arrested Development, and shortly after that, we were on the ground in Sydney.