What’s it like flying internationally in a pandemic? Last week, Karryon founder Matt Leedham piped himself into the green and black trans-Tasman bubble and floated over to Christchurch on one of Air New Zealand’s stylish Airbus A321neo aircraft to find out.
Ahh, the smell of avgas arriving at the airport, the lure and regret of buying duty-free stuff you don’t really need and that special smug feeling of going somewhere overseas that isn’t Tasmania or Hamilton Island.
I mean, as lovely as those places are, I was really going overseas this time, and to New Zealand no less!
I got the chance to fly one of Air New Zealand’s still newish planes – they were only launched at the end of 2018 – the Airbus A321neo out of the Gold Coast on a recent hop over to Christchurch.
So how was it flying in these strange times? Not strange at all it turns out.
Checking in and first impressions
The best thing about catching an international flight from Gold Coast Airport has always been the smug smile you wear on your face at every step because it’s all so effortless.
From parking painlessly outside the front door (and affordably) to dropping your bag minus a queue and then breezing through the small immigration zone before a short walk to boarding the plane – Oh, the freedom, cash, and hassle you save from the joys of flying out of a small airport. Even the staff are cheerier and genuinely excited for you that you’re going overseas.
If anything, COVID-19 has only enhanced the experience and aside from having to wear a mask in the airport and on board, the whole process has only been expedited even more.
Air New Zealand’s A321neo has 214 seats in a 3-3 configuration. As an added bonus, this aircraft still had that welcome ‘new car’ scent that also made me feel a little bit special.
I’m told that the soft leather, extra comfy slim-line seats offer up to 7% more space than the international A320 fleet and are also wider – 3cm for the middle seat and 1cm for the aisle and window seats. As small as that may sound, you do certainly feel the benefit.
I’m in an exit row seated in 11D and end up with a spare seat in the middle, which made for an even more spacious journey. The padded leather seats are excellent as is the headrest and the overall feel. Quality.
Th neo also has larger overhead lockers with around 25% additional space for cabin baggage storage than the current international A320 fleet, which is handy.
And the plane also feels quieter and has 15% less fuel consumption which makes for a more environmentally friendly flight and less lag, even on such a short sector.
This is the crew’s first trans-Tasman trip since the bubble opened and everyone is warm and friendly and tell me how happy the are to be back flying again over the ditch.
Entertainment and in-flight service
Let’s cut to the chase here… FREE WI-FI! Yes, you heard it correctly. This flight has free unlimited wi-fi enabled for the entire sector for as many devices as you like. And it’s quick too.
I streamed Spotify from my phone as well as browsed happily without any bandwidth pain. Streaming video or downloading files would be pushing the friendship, but that’s not the idea here.
For a free (three-hour plus) service at 35,000 feet, I think its pretty darn good and I managed to get a lot of work done and emails sent from high above the Tasman.
The seat-back screens are compact and sharp in resolution. There are plenty of movies, and TV shows to binge on and great music and with the usual seat chat for those inclined.
And let’s not forget the legendary Air New Zealand safety video
There’s also the neat ability to order food and wines from your seat without speaking to anyone. If you’re not on a Works ticket you can order snacks and drinks from your seat, as well as earplugs, toothbrushes and eyeshades for free which is a nice touch.
Plus, If you have an Air New Zealand Airpoints account you can also pay with your points which is a great initiative as it pulls your balance straight into your seat console. Turns out I had a princely NZ$24.50 to spend.
Also, another major selling point is that the entertainment unit has a USB C connector and a standard USB port which is a beautiful thing. You can also Bluetooth connect to your own headphones or device.
I was on a Works ticket which included meals and drinks and the food arrived around an hour after takeoff. With three choices on the menu (Chicken stroganoff with potatoes and peas, a beef casserole and a pasta dish) I chose the stroganoff which was tasty and also included a warm bread roll. All polished off with a couple of cheeky glasses of New Zealand Pinot Noir. Why not.
There are no in-flight magazines anymore which is no biggie for me, but other than that, the experience is the same as before.
I really enjoyed this flight. The extra legroom was excellent, as was the free wi-fi – a fantastic added element and bonus and most definitely a game-changer. Overall, the service was on point, and who doesn’t want to fly in a new plane? Top marks from me.
All of the staff were friendly and keen to help and given our flight was only around 50% full (what are people waiting for?), getting on and off at both ends was a breeze.
If you’re sitting on the fence when it comes to flying trans-Tasman i’d say don’t wait! Airfares are great value and the entire experience is 1000% safe, smooth and so quiet compared to usual.
- Flight: NZ278
- Aircraft: Airbus A321neo
- Class: Economy (Seat 11D)
- Flight time: Departs Gold Coast 1145, Journey two hours and fifteen minutes arriving at Christchurch Airport at 1500 (1700 local time)
- Baggage: Checked baggage is chargeable on the ‘Seat and bag’, ‘the works’ and ‘the works deluxe’ fare types.
More information: www.airnewzealand.com.au
Matt flew as a guest of Air New Zealand and Tourism New Zealand
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