Anyone who knows me, and probably a whole bunch who don’t, but just see my FaceBook updates of my travels, will know that I travel quite a bit for work.  Most weeks I am on between 2 and 4 flights (so that’s 1 or 2 return flights) a week to cities in New Zealand.  I also take around 2 major international trips a year (major meaning US, Asia, Europe type thing), and a handful to OZ.

Travel is a mixture of work and pleasure (I sometimes go on holiday overseas – but often it’s in NZ), and work travel is a mixture of travel for three different organisations.  I think my “record” was 11 flights in one week (including two international ones).  I think that was a busy week! :-)

Anyway, since I travel so much I wanted to share a bunch of thoughts on airlines in NZ – the good, the bad, the handy, and even a few tips.  This is part one of a series of three posts on this topic, with this one focusing on domestic travel.  Here goes …Firstly, lets look at what airlines service NZ in a major way

- Air New Zealand (Air NZ)

- Qantas (international only)

- Jetstar

- Pacific Blue

Plus a bunch like Emirates that do limited international only.

I am going to break it down into two sections – domestic and international.  With international I will look at short hall (NZ to OZ) and long hall (anything beyond 4 hours).  This post is about domestic travel.

DOMESTIC

Jetstar: This is simple: A BIG FAIL.  I am gonna be very blunt here and say unless timing doesn’t matter (ie you have a spare half day to kill) then I can throw out Jet Star from the list before I start.  They are just to unreliable for the business traveler, and even for a holiday, I don’t want to lose 4 hours becoz they don’t have enough planes to deal with schedule issues.  This is the main reason they are often late – the only have a handful of planes in NZ, and their schedule is so tight that one delay, in say Queenstown due to fog, throws the whole schedule for the day out.  Maybe they will sort this out one day, but I quite simply don’t trust them, and they don’t seam to care.

Jetstar also have no priority check in, priority luggage system or lounge (well one is coming – a pay lounge, but I can get a “pay lounge” by just buying myself a coffee at the cafe at the airport).  Anyway, for some people this isn’t important.  But for regular travelers, this is often a FREE thing (when you travel enough, you don’t pay for lounge access, its free) and its good to be able to check my emails from free wi-fi and read the newspaper before my flight.

Qantas Freq flyers can earn points on Jetstar, but only when buying the top priced ticket, which kinda defeats the purpose of a low cost service in exchange for low price, it one ends up paying a high price anyway!

PacificBlue: Of the budget airlines, this is the one to pick.  Still none of the stuff for regular travelers, but the airline is true to its position in the market, and it’s brand.  Its cheap (see more on that later), low service and reliable.  It still has the same issues as JetStar (small fleet in NZ), but seams to have enough “give” in its schedule to deal with most issues without the whole thing falling to pieces (aka JetStar).  Does have an airports system.

AirNZ: The only airline flying domestically to offer free checked luggage (1 x 25kg bag for everyone and 2 x 25kg bags if you buy the top priced ticket, or are a Silver/Gold/Koru.  In fact if you are in the last group and also buy the top ticket you end up with 3 x 25kg (yes that’s 75kg of luggage domestically for no extra charge!).

AirNZ has a lounge (Koru) with all the stuff you would expect (food, drinks, newspapers, TV, free wi-fi) and a nice extra touch is that they have a coffee machine (a real one) with a coffee barista making REAL coffees in the morning in the major airports (ChCh, Welly, Akl).   They also have a VERY good schedule, so if a flight is canceled, there are other options available quite quickly. (Same applies when you are in OZ and flying Qantas – just have a flight between major cities every hour helps heaps when there are delays).

Prices can often be as low as the budget carriers (often lower), as long as you watch out for deals (www.grabaseat.co.nz) for example.  Some of my flying is the “I need to be in Auckland for some meetings this month”, but with no particular day.  So If I see a $1, or $19 or $59 flight I will grab it.  In fact this month (November 2009) I have booked a trip to Wellington for under $60 return and one to Auckland for under $100 return in January and February 2010 already – I know I will need to do things then in those cities, so I can now plan my meetings around the days I will be in those cities.

The TOP price fairs are still a MAJOR rip off.  ($350+ one way ChCh – Akl).  It’s actually WORSE to the regional centers – it cost me around $300 to fly ChCh – Napier the other day – ONE WAY!   OWWWW.  AirNZ still has a monopoly on those routes.

AirNZ has, in my opinion, the world’s BEST check in system.  Their kiosks allow self check in, self bag check, and complete paperless check in if you have no luggage (you get your boarding pass at the gate) it’s awesome.  You can select your seat when you make the booking, print a boarding pass from home, or send it to your mobile, or even use your iPhone to have a bar code to scan (they have a cool wee app).  Their RF tag devices for regular travelers are very handy, but I have to say I refuse to put one on my iPhone (they suggest sticking it to the back of your cell phone) as it wouldn’t  be pretty.  So I have it in my wallet stuck to the back of my drivers license, and 10% of the time it wont read thru the 2mm of leather, which is a pain (I have to take it out, yeah I know life is tough! )

UPDATE: Their new “fast bag” is super cool.   At regional airports (or even major centers, when they are not using a jet), you can take your checked luggage with you right up to the plane.  Drop it in a special “fast bag” trolley.  They load it then and there, and then when you land, before anyone gets off, the system is reversed.  MAGIC – your bag is ready before you even get to the bottom of the plane’s stairs.  Very handy.  Very cool!

Oh, AirNZ actually serves OK coffee on its domestic routes. It uses plunger (not instant) coffee on all morning flights (b4 9am I think), and it’s actually not bad.  Most airline coffee is CRAP, as they use “coffee bag” types.

Qantas: Don’t do domestic anymore.  I put them here because they USED to be my preferred airline until late 2008.  I supported them back when it was Ansett NZ, then Qantas NZ, then Qantas (so over 10 years), but about a week before the pulled the plug in NZ I finally swapped to AirNZ.  I kinda like that in a way, coz I left on my terms (rather than when they pulled the plug on me, coz I decided just before the announced they were stopping flying).  I always likes supporting the “#2″ as if it wasn’t for competition a lot of the improvements that AirNZ made would have never happened (Air bridges were one thing AirNZ said in the 1990′s where “Not able to be offered in NZ, we just don’t have enough flights” – HAHA!    Ansett offered it 1st – and then .. low and behold, AirNZ caught up.   Ansett also were the 1st to offer FAST priority luggage (you might remember the ad on TV about the guy trying to beat his luggage off the plane, but couldn’t).

TIPS:

  1. Check the prices of ALL airlines before you travel (assuming price is important).  House of travel have a good site that allows ALL of the airlines ot be checked from one site - www.hot.co.nz
  2. Decide what is important to you.  If its reliability you cant go past AirNZ.  Not because they are actually because they have more reliable planes, but because they have a better schedule, and more options when things do go wrong.  They also seam to have a more flexible schedule that doesn’t fall to pieces just because their is fog in one city 1,000km from where you are!
  3. If a lounge isn’t important to you, or you fly less than 10 times a year – just buy yourself a coffee at the cafe, and pay for the airports wi-fi, and buy a newspaper.  For domestic travel a lounge is “nice”, but hardly essential.
  4. If ANY airline is late due to THEIR fault (ie not weather), then make them pay for the result.  ALL airlines TRY to quote “airline rules” as you when flights are delayed.  Well quite simply they are normally just trying it on, as they are used to being able to bully customers.  NZ law is quite clear on this – they are liable for costs associated with THEIR issues.  So if a plane is late due to engineering and you miss your pick up and now need to get a taxi – the AIRLINE should pay.  If missing your flight now means you don’t make it to the meeting, then THEY have to pay for your next trip up (and no, not just on the “same fare class”).  Anyway .. this could be a whole post on this topic (maybe I will one day!)

Black and White Version: Jetstar sucks, AirNZ rocks, but check out them all before traveling (www.hot.co.nz)

My next two posts on airlines will cover: (1) Short hall international (OZ) and (2) Long haul international (4 hours plus)

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