James Cridland

Trip report - BNE-AKL-BNE

Auckland is closer to Brisbane than Darwin is by plane.

Accustomed to long, long flights, a flight of three hours ten minutes is very much a domestic flight in my head. New Zealand is much like Australia - it has the same rubbish mains plugs, it has Bunnings, Michael Hill the jeweller, and JB Hi-fi. Because I never get cash these days and always pay by card, there’s no need to get some different cash. The time difference is just a couple of hours. Almost all the other international flights I take are eight, ten, or even fourteen hours.

So I’m momentarily surprised at the texts from Qantas telling me to get ready for an international flight; I have to think harder about which terminal I’m travelling to as well. I’m confused - for a minute - as to why Qantas is asking for passport details. The whole thing is a constant bewilderment.

I’m off to speak at a conference, and I’ve successfully negotiated that I will plug in my own computer there, ostensibly because I’ll play video and audio, but also to cover up for the fact that I’ve not yet written a presentation. So I’m feeling a little unsure (and a bit of a fraud) as I turn up to the international terminal.

After checking in my bag (I’m carrying some heavy drinks coasters for each participant), I get into the lounge and put off writing my slides by doing email and other things.

One thing I forget is that lounge or airport wifi is often quite managed in terms of download speed, but because they’re industrial internet connections, the upload speed is astonishingly fast and entirely uncontended. I run a few scripts to back up a few folders from my laptop to an Amazon S3 bucket, and upload more than 35GB in about ten minutes flat. I must remember this tip for next time - that would have taken days at home.

I get onto the plane. It’s full, and my careful seat choice is thwarted by some bloke sitting next to me.

If this were a domestic flight, we’d have one service, with a strange greasy egg thing in a box, and a coffee. This isn’t a domestic flight, though, so first I get a Platinum Welcome from Charlie, who is effusively excited that I’m flying with Qantas again. He’s very good. And so are each of the FAs, coming to deliver drinks, then a meal, then coffee. Each of the FAs greet me by name. When I get a beer with lunch, they remember what my choice is, and come back later to ask me if I’d like another. This is very impressive, attentive service.

No wifi on this plane, but I sit and edit a podcast, with headphones on. Charlie comes over before we land to check on everything. I realised that this flight will mean I requalify for Platinum again next year - and my status year runs out on Nov 1. I’ve done a lot of flying this year - all in economy (at least, paying for economy).

Through NZ immigration. The last time I was here in March 2020, they were nervously meeting us with leaflets about this new thing called the coronavirus. This time, the NZ government had piles of covid tests to give away just in case. (I grabbed a box. It turns out to be a box of four tests. Thank you, NZ government).

And then, a bit of an abortive attempt to travel into Auckland on public transport. There is a bus, but it turns out that it only takes you to another bus or train station and it’s a bit unclear where I go from there (the maps don’t show), and also in order to ride it I need to go and buy a transport card. None of this is very public transport friendly. The train is being planned, but has over-run its budget by over $1bn and is at least two years late. I use an Uber - as is the way in New Zealand, it’s a Toyota that’s been imported from Japan (complete with Japanese writing all over the in-car systems).

In my conference speech (which I wrote later and worked well), I made an off-the-cuff remark about “when you guys get around to finishing the trains”, and got a loud boo, coupled with laughs.

A free half day in Auckland the next morning was spent using the electric scooters littered around the city (though I later discover that I should have been wearing a helmet). It’s a wonderful way to see the city, and I got to see much, much more of it than I’d otherwise have done. I used the Lime scooters, because they work with Uber - and spent about NZD $35, all-in.

Back to the airport on an Uber again. There’s a special speedy security lane for Platinums, which does nothing other than help you skip the queue to get to the same security lane that everyone else uses.

Then, to the Qantas lounge. I gather that the lounge is being refreshed, though there wasn’t much evidence of that having started - an old, pre-2016 logo is still on the door, for starters. I was waved into the “first class” lounge, which was much less busy than the normal business lounge but otherwise doesn’t appear to offer anything extra. The Singapore First lounge it isn’t.

(From part of the First lounge in Auckland, I heard the familiar tones of BBC World News. Qantas should be showing ABC News channel, which is available globally via YouTube, and who they are contracted to show in Australia. There’s really no reason to be showing anything else. In London, Qantas shows Sky News UK. In Singapore, it shows CNN.)

Then, back - with almost as attentive FAs. No offer of a top-up, and the food (NZ catering) was objectively not as nice, but still fine. The flight departed 15 minutes late due to a mystery “thing that we just need someone to look at”, but landed on time. They didn’t tell us that it landed on time, which I always think is a missed opportunity. “We’ve made up the time and landed on time” would make sense.

I walk quickly to immigration, and navigate the new passport machines. If it were me, I’d be lining up people to stand behind other people using the machines, rather than only calling people over when the machine is free - it slows the queue down if people slowly amble over to the next machine. But, after grabbing my bag, I exit out of the express lane, even though Qantas hadn’t given us a special piece of paper letting us - Brisbane airport weren’t best pleased, but there we go.

A quick and simple set of flights, so short that they didn’t feel international; but they were. Whatever next?