Some of you might appreciate this trip report I posted ten years ago when service levels were substantially better than they are today. BA's First Class menus were more extensive and Alaska served real meals on domestic First Class. I didn't have a camera back then, so there are no photos. Still, consider this a trip down memory lane and if it is deemed inappropriate, please let me know and I'll remove it. * * * * * * * * * * * Lots of people like to leave Alaska during the winter months. Given the depth of the temperatures coupled with the dearth of mid-winter sunshine, by the end of autumn most snowbirds are more than happy to pull up stakes and head for the warmer climes of Mexico, Hawaii or the Desert Southwest. We’re not talking just two week vacations here either. Often folks are gone for months at a time. A friend of mine just got back from three months in Florida, Georgia and Venezuela along with the compulsory visit to family and a Packer’s game in Wisconsin. For many however, New Zealand is becoming increasingly popular. For me, this will be my seventh visit since first setting foot on this South Pacific jewel back in 1981. Because of the seasonal nature of my work in Denali National Park, working from May to September, I have plenty of time for more extensive travels. As a result, I don’t take vacations, I take trips – for me that means just throwing on a backpack and taking my life on the road for a few months. The focus is not on the often extravagant but short lived relief from the daily grind that a vacation offers but rather just going down and becoming one with the country and its people. No hotels, tours or rental cars for me. I can’t afford them. I’ve got to stretch my budget over a much longer period. For this trip I’ll be gone until April 14th. Traveling from Alaska to New Zealand, the most logical routing would be to fly down to Los Angeles and connect to one of the many daily nonstops to Auckland. One could leave Fairbanks in the morning and arrive in New Zealand approximately 24 hours later. I however have cashed in 150,000 of my Alaska Mileage Plan account miles (Effectively bankrupting my account I might add) towards a First Class ticket to Australia aboard British Airways. This means I’ll have to travel via London and Singapore. For many people a routing like this would be unthinkable – the height of folly. For me it’s just perfect. Here’s why: To begin with, I’ve never flown British Airways. I always get excited about a new airline and this will be my 101st airline flown. As well, BA’s First Class enjoys a stellar reputation as one of the finest services aloft. I could have taken Qantas First Class for only 135,000 miles but there’s just not that much service aboard those late night nonstops to New Zealand or Australia. For me, the highlight of any trip in First Class is the meal service and on those late night trans-Pacific runs you get a late supper and a full breakfast. That’s it. Your international First Class experience to Australia is over after only 14 hours, much of which you slept through anyway. I wanted more. With BA, I was looking at twice the flying time and three times the food. Flying from Los Angeles to London to Singapore to Melbourne was scheduled for 36 hours and 45 minutes, including transit time in First Class lounges in London and Singapore. Over the course of the trip I’d be served three dinners and three breakfasts. Indeed, this was my kind of routing. Plus, I’d get a stopover in London on the way back which I’ll use for a side trip to Finland and Estonia. Following is the tale of my journey from Fairbanks, Alaska to Christchurch, New Zealand covering 20,760 miles aboard three airlines. First Class all the way! 04 February FAI-ANC-SEA Alaska 88 First Class 737-4Q8 N779AS Seat 2A 808a – 227p Flight time: :47/3:18 The Fairbanks airport gets my vote for quickest and easiest check-in and security screening of any airport I’ve flown out of. There is rarely a line either at the counter or at the security screening checkpoint so the whole procedure of check-in and security is more like a formality than the unpleasant trial it often is at larger airports. It’s not uncommon at FAI to find yourself checked in and past security within five minutes of walking in the door. I grabbed a copy of our local rag, The Fairbanks News Miner, and headed for Gate 3. Boarding was announced 20 minutes before our departure time. After the people “needing a little extra time in boarding” were aboard, the call came out for First Class, MVP and MVP Gold cardholders to board. Over half the people in the boarding area stood up and got in line! The load was 12F 96Y, so we’re talking a fair number of people here. I know that Alaska passed out MVP and MVP Gold memberships like Chiclets at the end of 2001 but this was ridiculous. A bottle of orange juice, a pillow and a blanket awaited me at Seat 2A. Wall Street Journals were passed out, the safety demonstration was completed, the jetway was retracted and we were on our way. We took off to the North (rare out of FAI) and climbed to 26,000 feet for the short but bumpy ride down to Anchorage. Years ago, this flight used to rate a snack in First Class, generally a small fruit plate and maybe a Danish. These days it gets what AS calls their “Pub Service” – coffee and orange, apple or cranberry juice in back, and pretty much whatever beverage you desire up front. Approach into Anchorage was very bumpy. Dark clouds loitered ominously around the Chugatch Mountains while the land below us was a study in black, grey and white. Certainly not the prettiest day to fly into Anchorage. On our way to the gate, we taxied past the Fed Ex cargo terminal. It looked especially busy today with four MD11s and three DC-10s on the tarmac. Also in town were 747-400Fs from Atlas Air and Cathay Pacific along with a 747-200 from Nippon Cargo Airlines. We parked at Gate B8 and I headed into the terminal for a Starbucks and a quick visit to Alaska’s Boardroom. Upon re-boarding Flight 88, I noticed the seat side orange juice had been replaced by a small bottle of water. Preflight drinks were offered and I accepted a Club Soda with lime, my old standby. As we taxied out to the runway, the Captain advised us that we’d be in for a bumpy ride climbing out of ANC. As well, we’d be battling headwinds (rare flying southbound to Seattle) and that our flight time down to Seattle would be 3 hours 18 minutes. I flew in this direction a couple of weeks ago and we did the trip in 2:30. When flying south out of Anchorage, I always request a seat on the “A” side of the airplane. The reason for this is the scenery. The Anchorage to Seattle run, much less flights to any points in between are amongst the most scenic in the world. On a clear day, passengers on the lefthand side can enjoy spectacular views of the Chugatch Mountains while climbing out of ANC, followed by beautiful views of the Coastal Ranges and the many glaciers that flow from them down to the sea. This section of Alaska and Canada is home to 70% of the world’s glaciers. Some of them are larger than Rhode Island. To see them from the air is much different than seeing them from ground level. From 33,000 feet, you can truly see why glaciers are called rivers of ice, some of them winding more than 40 miles out of the mountains before terminating at the sea. Although it was pretty cloudy climbing out of Anchorage, we got some partial clearing down towards Cordova so I got some partial glacier views as a result. Lunch today was a choice of a hot roast beef sandwich served on a hoagie roll with roasted potatoes or a cold poached salmon served with a pasta salad. Orders were taken from front to back and I got my first choice, the cold poached salmon. My seatmate ordered the roast beef sandwich, The meals were served all on one tray, consisting of the plated entrée, a roll and a little Ghirardelli’s chocolate square. My salmon looked better than it tasted, which was bland. Perhaps some kind of a soy or ginger marinade on the side might have improved it. The pasta, while tender, was not much more flavorful. It came with capers and olives. My seatmate enjoyed his sandwich but said his potatoes were cold. I think both of these meals could have benefited from a small green salad on the side. We had a beautiful approach into Seattle, starting our descent around Vancouver Island and flying straight south past the downtown skyscrapers and over Boeing Field before landing to the south. We parked at Gate D1, right next to Alaska’s airport club, The Boardroom. Check in: A Preflight: A Service: A- Comfort: B- Meal: B- A nice start to the trip. The meal wasn’t perfect but it was an improvement on Alaska’s past lunches which were just a sandwich and a small pasta salad or a chicken breast salad. 04 February SEA-LAX Alaska 482 First Class 737-790 N612AS Seat 2F 543p – 821p Flight time: 1:53 I had almost three hours to burn in Seattle so after getting a shoe shine I headed straight for Alaska’s Boardroom and ordered couple of ice cold McTarnahan’s Ales to accompany my two bags of mixed nuts from the prior flight. The Boardroom was packed as usual but the staff there do an excellent job of keeping everything well stocked and your beer topped off. In the afternoon, Alaska offers a variety of cheeses and crackers along with fruits and peanuts. Complimentary beer, wine and vodka drinks are available throughout the day. Twenty minutes before flight time, I sauntered up to Gate D4 where boarding of our 737-700 was in progress. I noticed the aircraft was N612AS. Again! I log all my flights, including of course the N-Numbers. This was to be the fourth time I’d been on this aircraft! When it comes to airlines and aircraft, I like to get as much variety as possible. Collect them all! First Class was full as always, coach had maybe 40 people. We took off to the south and I don’t think we made more than a five degree change in course heading from take off until we lined up for approach into LAX. Flight time was announced as 1:59 but no cruising altitude was given. I talked sports over a couple of beers with my seatmate, a Seattle engineer who flew to LA regularly. While the Mariners have to be the favorites to take the AL West pennant, I felt the A's, despite the loss of Giambi were still a strong squad and could be the darkhorse. We both agreed that the Seahawks might need a couple of years before rising to the top in the NFC West. Dinner orders were taken from front to back. Tonight’s offerings were: Portobello Mushroom Pasta or Fillet Steak We both chose the fillet and I had another beer. Linens were laid and salads were delivered on a tray with silverware, a bread plate and two packets of salt and pepper. I quite like the fact that Alaska has trained their flight attendants to present a meal course by course. United FAs generally just load it all onto one tray and be done with it. I think that when you’re traveling in First Class, if there’s time, a course by course service is a nice touch. Our steaks were delivered piping hot. They came with potatoes au gratin and what appeared to be shredded squash. Everything was delicious and my steak was not overcooked too much. Our plates were cleared and Alaska’s ubiquitous Apple Cobbler was presented for dessert. This cobbler is always dry as cobblers go but a cup of coffee improved the situation considerably. Overall, a nice meal service for a two hour flight. After fifteen minutes of flying over the lights of greater metropolitan Los Angeles, we touched down nicely at LAX and taxied smartly to our gate in Terminal 3. A reservation at the Sheraton Gateway awaited me so I wasted no time in claiming my pack and heading straight over to the hotel. Check in: N/A Transit Lounge: B+ Preflight: A Service: A Comfort: B- Meal: B+ The reason I give Alaska a consistent B- for comfort is that in my opinion their First Class seats are not all that comfortable and offer less legroom than any other major airline that I’m aware of. Otherwise, a nice meal and good service from our FA. 05 February LAX-LHR British Airways 268 First Class 747-436 G-BYGC Seat 2K 845p–300p Flight time: 9:37 I’ve been looking forward to this flight ever since I first booked it a month and a half ago. Unlike some of you who, be it for business or pleasure, routinely fly in International First and Business Class all over the world, for me it’s a rare and cherished treat. The last time I flew in First Class on an international carrier was back in 1987. That was a wonderful journey! I bought a straight F class fare between Auckland and Tokyo for only $930.00 thanks to a generous exchange rate on the NZ dollar at the time. I also utilized the Maximum Permitted Mileage provision of the tariffs to fly the following routing: AKL-MEL Air New Zealand 747-219 MEL-SYD Ansett 767-277 SYD-BNE Ansett 767-277 BNE-SYD Singapore 747-212 SYD-SIN Singapore 747-212 SIN-BKK Thai International 747-200 BKK-HKG Cathay Pacific 747-267 HKG-NRT Swissair 747-357 I bracketed this itinerary with a pair of United 747SPs LAX-SYD and NRT-LAX and also flew SYD-MEL on a TAA 727-200 and then MEL-CHC on a Qantas 767-200, all in First except the QF flight which offered only Business Class. What a trip! Since then, I’ve been limited to a United and a Continental First Class trip each to Australia and one United Business Class trip down to Buenos Aires. Everything else has been either domestic First Class or coach. Well, needless to say, First Class has come a long way since 1987. At least in terms of seating comfort and certain aspects of the service. But more on that in a moment. Lets start at the beginning. Driving into LAX from along Century Boulevard is quite a treat in its own right. The boulevard is palm lined and sports all of the finest hotels. Driving west along this broad palm lined promenade seemed quite appropriate to the occasion: A long flight in First Class aboard one of the world’s premier airlines. I arrived at the Los Angeles International Airport at about 5:00pm, just as the sun was setting. Flying out of a major airport like LAX is always exciting, all the more so for all the tails of the world rising above the terminal buildings. We’re talking 747 and 777 tails here, displaying the illuminated logos of the world’s finest airlines. I saw the Chelsea Rose of my British Airways 747 and felt like a child looking at presents under the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve. Lots of anticipation. The International Terminal at LAX is quite impressive in every respect. It is well lit, well organized and nicely built. I liked all the glass and the high ceilings. Nobody was in the First Class check in queue at the BA counter so check in for me was quickly accomplished. I removed the Alaska Airlines name tag from my pack and replaced it with a much nicer BA First Class tag. My backpack was then checked through to Melbourne, Australia and I was given an invitation to BA’s First Class Lounge. On to security, which was no better or worse than it’s ever been since September 11th. Which is to say it was just slow. My laptop either aroused suspicion or was randomly picked to be inspected for explosives so I had to turn it on, get it checked out, then wait until it had booted completely up before I could turn it off. Finally, I was free to go. British Airways shares a First Class lounge with Qantas up on the Fifth Floor of the terminal. Based upon what I’ve read of the Terraces Lounges both in Flyer Talk Trip Reviews and on BA’s web site, this lounge was quite a disappointment. I took stock of it as I walked in and asked the receptionist if indeed this was the First Class lounge. Indeed it was, she replied. She showed me to a closet for my jacket and pointed out the bar and snacks area. The bar appeared well stocked with a nice variety of top shelf liquors and a good variety of beers and juices. I helped myself to a Fosters Lager and surveyed the food offerings. Hmmmm… a variety of small finger sandwiches, some vegetables and dip, two different cheeses and crackers and a big container of mixed nuts. To be honest, I had expected a bit more but not wanting to become overly critical and ruin the mood of what should be an excellent flight, I selected a couple of sandwiches, some broccoli and dip and some of the nuts. Only three other people were in the lounge as I entered. They were having an animated conversation in French over in one corner so I looked for a quieter seat in the opposite corner of the room. The lounge was fairly small and did not offer any work areas or tables at all so I just found a couch and made some last minute calls to friends and family. This kept me busy right up until the call to board came at 8:15pm. Though it was great to say a few goodbyes over the phone before leaving, I wish I had taken time to head down to the gate area a bit early to check out the plane. As it was, by the time I got over to Gate 120, boarding was well under way and I was encouraged by the gate agents to board promptly. What the heck, let’s do it! I could make out the nose of our 747-436 through the big picture windows just before entering the jetway. Chelsea Rose was emblazoned just under the windows. Ah, certainly one of the prettier additions to BA’s short lived Tails of The World color schemes. (Even so, most BA aircraft that I saw on this trip have yet to receive the new flowing Union Jack tail colors.) Upon entering the aircraft, I was greeted by a male flight attendant and led to the First Class Cabin. I noticed that this aircraft had been outfitted with the new Club World beds. While certainly a vast improvement upon Coach Class seating, I thought the overall ambience appeared somewhat cramped. The seats looked to be neither as wide nor as comfortable as United’s Business Class seats. But then again, they do go flat – a nice advantage over any of the more traditional J Class seats out there. I was more than happy however to be able to continue on through the galley and into the First Class cabin where I was handed off to another Flight Attendant and shown to my seat. Ah… much nicer. This cabin radiated refined comfort with only 14 suites, each of them accented by wooden wrap around barriers. The picture hanging on the wall at the rear of the cabin was a nice touch and the boarding music was light and soothing. I got my jacket hung and was offered a glass of champagne. Mmmm. Louise Pommery, 1989. My favorite! Just kidding, I’ve never had this champagne before but I found it immediately appealing, full of flavor yet not too crisp. Delicious! At the seat was a small plate of cashews. After getting my gear stowed away, I sat down and checked out the electronic controls. There were a variety of seat functions available from lumbar support to full recline, two different push button lights in addition to the one on the cable snaking out from behind my seat. The TV and video controls were in the seat beside me and the unit used for those controls doubled as a telephone. Very nice. Menus were distributed along with the amenity kit. A small plate of canapes was also offered. The menu was comprised of eight pages sheathed in a plain white cover with BA’s First logo embossed on the outside. I was surprised to see that only two appetizers were offered and thought that this might not be a full dinner service but rather a late supper. It turns out that this was a full dinner but service cutbacks appear to have deleted a couple of appetizers. It’s still a lot of food but I missed the variety of appetizers, one of my favorite parts of the meal. Following is a transcript of the menu: Los Angeles – London DINNER Appetiser Maine Lobster with crème fraiche and lemon Vegetable Risotto with shaved Parmesan cheese Soup Roasted Tomato and Garlic Soup Salad Mixed Seasonal Salad served with balsamic oil or honey mustard dressing ** ** ** MAIN COURSES Grilled Fillet of Beef Offered with maitre d’hotel butter and roasted sea salted potatoes Seared Sea Bass Presented on rosti potato with lemon butter sauce Seared Breast of Chicken On a pancetta risotto with Swiss chard Thai Style Vegetables In lemon grass and coconut sauce with fragrant rice LIGHTER OPTIONS Lamb Lancashire Hotpot Grilled Salmon Fillet Served with seasonal salad leaves and spicy salsa Freshly Cooked Pasta Presented with your choice of walnut pesto or provencale with herbs sauce served with freshly grated Parmesan cheese ** ** ** Cheeseboard Selection DESSERT Warm Lemon Curd Pudding with Cointreau orange sauce Apple granolata tart Selection of fresh fruit Chocolates WINE LIST Champagne Louise Pommery, 1989 White Wines Chateau Gaudrelle, 1998, Vouvray Sec Puligny-Montrachet, 1998, Chartron et Trebuchet Meursault Les Narvaux, 1999, Vincent Girardin Wente Riva Ranch Reserve, 1998, Monterey Chardonnay Red Wines Chateau Lynch-Moussas, 1995, Grand Cru Classe Pauillac De Loach Russian River Cabernet Sauvignon, 1998 Gevrey-Chambertin, 1999, Domaine Frederick Magnien Cornish Point Cornishtown Pinot Noir, 2000 Dessert Wine Opitz Pinot Gris/Pinot Blanc Trockenbeerenauslese, 1998 Port Warre’s, 1986, Reserve Tawny Port Oenophiles would be pleased to note that BA had thoughtfully left an open space to the side of its wine descriptions entitled “Wine Tasting Notes” However, under spirits and liqueurs, it states that a wide range of “the finest spirits and fortified wines” from around the world were available. Fortified wines? Where I come from that means stuff like Night Train and Mad Dog 20/20. It would be fun to ask for one of those if only to see the expression on the FA’s face... One of the nicer things about modern day First Class meal service as opposed to the style practiced in years past is that you can dine when you choose as opposed to when the airline chooses to serve the meal. This means that each course is brought from the galley and although I miss the panache of the trolley service, I prefer the concept of A La Carte dining as you wish. For dinner, I selected the Thai Style Vegetables along with all of the pre-main course accompaniments and elected to eat immediately. For you Amenity Kit afficionados, the kits, or BAgs were presented in a nice suitcase style zippered box about 5 x 8 inches in dimension and were produced by Anya Hindmarch – London. My kit was divided into three sections and included: For Take Off A tiny jar of Farmacia brand Face Moisturizer cream A tiny jar of Farmacia brand Eye Gel (with Aloe and Arnica!) A small atomizer of Aroma Therapeutics Oxygen Mist (ylang ylang water) For Cruising A tiny jar of Farmacia brand Hand Cream (with Echinacea and Vitamin E) A tiny jar of Carmex brand lip balm A small atomizer of Aroma Therapeutics Sleep Enhancer For Landing A tube of Farmacia brand Shaving Cream (with Echinacea and Lavender!) A Wilkinson brand disposable razor A tube of Elgydium toothpaste with toothbrush A small bottle of Farmacia brand Mouthwash (with Tea Tree!) A tube of Aroma Therapeutics Wake Up Gel Now I would imagine this is a very nice kit. Alas, uncultured lout that I am, I’d have no idea how to apply things like eye gel and no use for face moisturizer. I don’t believe I’ve actually used hand cream more than once or twice in my life. In general, I’m not too keen on smearing ointments on myself for any reason. Even so, it’s a big world out there and we all have our little peculiarities so I don’t mean to demean those who would actually use these products. I don’t use them however and will send this kit off to my sister who I’m sure will be absolutely delighted by it. We pushed back from the gate right on time. Just prior to doing so, our Captain welcomed us all aboard and gave us some pertinent information about tonight's flight. We’d be taking off from Runway 24L and climbing out over the Pacific Ocean before making the big turn and heading northeast over Las Vegas, central Utah, Casper, Wyoming and North Dakota. We’d be entering Canadian airspace just north of Fargo, ND and continue on across some of Canada’s more barren tracts before finally reaching the Atlantic and bee lining it on into London Heathrow’s Terminal 4. Flight time was projected to be 9hrs 35 min at a cruising altitude of 33,000 ft, later climbing up to 37,000 ft. The taxi out to the runway seemed quite slow and stately. Perhaps a lot of this impression comes from the sheer size of the 747 but it seemed appropriate and I was reminded of the big ocean liners that would slowly cruise out of New York Harbor before entering the Atlantic and opening up the throttles. The roar of the four big Rolls Royce engines behind me was muted to almost a mild but deep buzz and after a take off roll of about 40 seconds we were airborne. Flying into or out of Los Angeles at night really is a beautiful experience. The city and surrounding suburbs cover a vast area and as we made our turn out over the Pacific and headed back towards the coast, it was quite a sight seeing all those lights up and down the coast for miles and miles. My suite had three windows from which to view all this. A glass of Grand Cru Classe Pauillac was delivered to me and as I sat there enjoying the view and my lot in life at the moment, it occurred to me how quiet the cabin was. There really was no discernable noise from the engines any more. Granted they were quite a ways behind me but the only real sound was that of air rushing past the fuselage. It reminded me of the sound you would hear if standing nearby a rippling stream. I had another sip of wine and reclined my seat. Now this is First Class… Despite a lack of turbulence, it took awhile for the dinner service to begin. Still, once things got rolling, the service proceeded quite smoothly. Linens were laid and my table was set with salt and pepper shakers, a bread plate and plasticware. Now, I realize this plasticware is a sore point with a lot of First Class passengers and I couldn’t agree more that it certainly steals some of the thunder from a fine meal presentation. Still, for what it’s worth, at least BA's stock was sturdy stuff, unlikely to break off while you’re cutting through your steak. At this time, the Chief Purser, Mr. Trevor Peacock (If that’s not a proper British name, I don’t know what is!) stopped by to greet all of the First Class passengers by name and thank us for flying with British Airways. A nice touch. I must say I quite liked the size of the tables in these BA Suites. They pull up out of the sidewall and are approximately 24” X 18” affording one plenty of room for the meal or work. First up was the lobster appetizer. This consisted of a de-shelled claw and half of a tail with a lightly flavored dill cream sauce on the side. It was excellent, though the sauce could have used a bit more flavor in my opinion. Next came the soup. I’d been told that despite the menu indicating a tomato soup, they’d instead be serving a cream of mushroom soup. That’s cool – I like cream of mushroom. When the soup arrived however, it actually was the creamy roasted tomato and garlic soup which I also happen to like. This soup was very good indeed. The salad arrived in a medium sized bowl and contained a nice variety of veggies and greens. I removed the olives which I’ve never enjoyed and quickly polished off the rest of the salad. While I like a good strong flavored salad dressing (And balsamic vinegar will certainly spice up any oil) it seems that the balsamic vinaigrette is becoming quite commonplace on the airlines. No doubt it’s simple and quick yet I’d love to have a good and spicy Italian dressing just once. And hey, I’m easy on this matter. I mean, they could offer Wishbone or Bernsteins or Ken’s and I’d be thankful. All of those dressings are quite good per my tastes. I asked about my Vegetable Risotto and oops, they’d forgotten to include that amongst my choices. I was told two or three times that this would take about ten minutes to prepare. Did I really want it now? Yes! I want it all! After all, what’s ten minutes when you’ve got nine hours of flying ahead of you? Well, when the risotto arrived, it was well worth the wait – in my estimation the best part of this meal! The rice was buttery in flavor and was sprinkled throughout with bits of shallots, corn, peas and peppers. Four big pieces of sun dried tomato were presented symetrically atop the rice. Delicious! By now, I was beginning to feel quite full and was wondering if perhaps I should have skipped either the soup or salad. No doubt hind sight is 20-20 but it’s not everyday I get presented with a food service of this quality so when my entrée arrived I was determined to have a good go at it. Well, first of all, let me say that I’m a real fan of Thai food. Fairbanks, despite its northerly latitudes, enjoys not one but four Thai restaurants, two of which offer as good a fare as I’ve ever eaten anywhere including Thailand. Alas, tonight’s entrée was a disappointment. The vegetables were covered in a bland off white sauce that had the consistency of gravy rather than being a light coconut milk sauce as I’ve enjoyed in many a restaurant. Honestly, I could hardly taste the coconut flavor and ultimately ate only about half the entrée. So in one regard, this actually worked out quite well for me as I was already so full from everything else. I would suggest the caterers try a peanut sauce next time. Normally, I never eat dessert at home but on airplanes I generally always try it, especially on United where Eli’s endless variety of cheesecakes and other sweets are sliced on the small side and for me are just right. Tonight however, I was simply too full and opted for a small plate of cheese, crackers and grapes along with a glass of the Warre’s Tawny Port which complimented the cheese and crackers perfectly. In all, though the entrée didn’t turn out so well, it was a nice meal and I felt ready to take in a movie. Early in the flight there’d been considerable difficulty in getting the video system up and running. BA had recently installed new video systems in many of its long range aircraft and, as might be expected, there were some early glitches to be overcome. In this case, the system had to be shut down and then re-booted. By the time dinner was completed, the video system was up and running. There were 29 movies to select from in the video library and a further 18 channels of movies and television programs to choose from. Also, of course, was my old favorite, the Sky Map or AirShow. If all else fails, (and even if it doesn’t) this is for me always entertaining. By now, it was actually pretty late, almost 11:30pm California time. I watched a bit of Training Day with Denzel Washington, then decided to take advantage of the laptop power port and get a little work done on, amongst other things, this report. During the movie, I’d occasionally switch over to the Sky Map to check on our progress and noted that we crossed into Canadian airspace after about 2:50 of flying time. Although it wasn’t indicated that we had much in the way of a tailwind, we were making good time, cruising at over 600 mph every time I checked. Finally, I was ready for bed. As I wouldn’t see my luggage until Melbourne, I wanted to keep my shirt as wrinkle free as possible so I was thankful that the sleeper suit we were offered came in two parts: shirt and pants. I changed into the shirt portion and hung my button down shirt in the closet at the front of the cabin. I’d read in earlier FT Trip Reports that BA’s cabins were kept inordinately warm. This flight was no different. I went back twice during the flight to ask if the temperature could be turned down a bit and the FAs were always happy to oblige. By the time I had converted my seat into the bed, the temperature was much more acceptable. As for comfort, I actually found the seat not particularly soft. That is to say it was wide rather than deep. Looking around, I noticed that most passengers had simply covered themselves with the duvet provided. Myself, having the advantage of having read more than a few FT Trip Reports regarding flights equipped with these Suites placed my duvet atop the seat and then covered myself with one of BA’s fine wool blankets. This was much more comfortable and I managed to sleep fairly soundly for about five hours. By the time I awoke and turned my bed back into a seat we had only about an hour and fifteen minutes left in the flight. Breakfast smells filled the cabin and I was more than ready to have my table set and accept one of BA’s renowned wake up energizer drinks. This is essentially a fruit smoothie, but by my tastes a very good one. It certainly was a nice way to start the day. Following is the breakfast menu: BREAKFAST Freshly squeezed fruit juice Our special wake up energizer drink Fresh seasonal fruit Breakfast cereal Natural or Fruit yogurt Warm breads and breakfast pastries HOT CHOICES Complete British Breakfast Your choice of freshly scrambled eggs, pork sausage, grilled bacon, mushrooms, tomatoes and rosti potatoes Chicken and Mushroom Pastry Offered with grilled tomatoes My only disappointment so far was that more than a few passengers were still sleeping and so I couldn’t open my window shade to check out the morning sun and the dark blue Atlantic below. I had the Sky Map on as always and watched with anticipation as we approached the Irish coastline. You can bet I snuck a good long peek as Ireland glided by beneath us. It was a beautiful day, cloud free and the green Irish countryside looked most inviting. Wake up you chowder heads! Yer missin’ a real treat outside!! For breakfast, I ordered the Classic British Breakfast. I’d been smelling those eggs and breakfast meats for the past fifteen minutes so the more sensible choice of cereal, fruit and yogurt was out of the question. My breakfast was delivered all on one plate with a slice of toast and some surprisingly good coffee. Everything was delicious but the potatoes were pretty greasy. I’ve had hashed browns that were cooked in such a way that the grease was minimal and they ended up crispy on the outside and seemed almost steamed inside. I wonder if this can ever be accomplished on the airlines? And for those of you who like your hashed browns cooked in the manner described above, when in Seattle head over to Mae’s Phinney Ridge Café. Great cinnamon rolls, too. But I digress… Plates were cleared and I spent the remainder of the flight drinking more coffee and watching through my windows as the English countryside passed by beneath us. We had a beautiful approach over London into Heathrow and, after 9 hours and 37 minutes, lightly touched down thus ending my first ever flight aboard British Airways. Here’s how I rate this flight: Check in: A Lounge: C+ Preflight: A Comfort: A- Service: A- Meal: A- A nice start to my British Airways Odyssey. A friendly and capable yet unobtrusive crew and some pretty good food. Spice up the Thai though and bring back some more appetizers. The lounge in LA needs improvement. ** ** ** HEATHROW AIRPORT With just over four hours to burn until my next flight onwards to Singapore and Melbourne, I wasted no time in locating and heading for BA’s First Class Lounge, located nearby Gate 10. Never having flown BA before this trip, I’d never been in LHR’s Terminal 4. Walking down to Gate 10, I liked what I saw of the terminal – it was very well lit with all manner of shops and restaurants available. There were plenty of phones and large windows in the gate areas for better viewing of airplanes. BA’s First Class Lounge, along with the Molton-Brown Spa, are located one floor down from the departures level. I was warmly greeted as I entered the lounge and was told that my ticket also allowed me entrance into the Concorde Lounge. Oh Boy! But first, I had a look around the First Lounge and helped myself to one of the multitude of small sandwiches available in the food and beverage area. Also available were a variety of cheeses, biscuits and crackers along with fruits and all manner of juices and soft drinks. Certainly, I intended to check out the Concorde Lounge but with the Molton-Brown Spa and a hot shower right next door, I decided to stop in there first. The spa was described as “a dedicated therapy center filled with mood sensitive colours, aromas, sounds and sensations harmonized with soothing textures, lighting and state-of-the-art design.” Passengers were invited to "move from the travel environment into a sensory well-being zone.” Although I desired only a shower, the spa also offered a variety of stress reducing treatments including reflex therapies such as the “Citrus Pressure Charge for Palms”. This treatment involved utilizing “the energies of the rose quartz crystal and our unique Acupressure Reflex Technique.” Also available were pre-flight or post-flight circulation therapies (massages) and a variety of facial therapies. Each of these massages had the most intriguing names! There was the “Yuan Zhi Peacemaker” which sounded more like a Chinese missile or the “Vitamin Energy Boost” which I first thought was a beverage but was actually described as “A supremely uplifting massage bursting with mind and body enhancing citrus vitamins. Sweet Florida orange and lemon oils deliver immune boosting vitamins directly onto the skin and leave you feeling clear, alert and energized for the journey.” I was impressed! These massages appeared to allow one to experience levels of physical existence previously unattainable without the use of illegal drugs or mastering an exotic eastern religion. Still, I desired only a shower and the closest thing I could find to one was the “Body Jet Hydrotherapy Shower” This was described as follows: “Awaken the senses with the Pharo-Hansrohe hydrotherapy shower: wash off the day and give your muscles and mind the benefits of an intense cleansing and toning aqua-massage. Adjustable body jets pummel you from all angles and combine with the aromatic lather of Molton Brown Travel Reviving Shampoo & Shower Gel to leave you fully revitalized and with a sense of total wellbeing.” This sounded just fine to me, though I was curious as to just how the aqua-massage might accomplish any discernible toning on me. The attendant told me that there was a waiting list of about 20 minutes for showers but wait! If I didn’t mind using unit number 4 which had a slight drainage problem, I could go in right away. The drainage problem was indeed minor – one of the two drains didn’t drain all that fast and water would slowly start to back up into the rest of the room. Towels were put down to slow the spread and unless one were to take an inordinately long shower it wouldn’t be a problem. Of course, all the products from soaps to creams to shampoos were Molton-Brown. Coming from Alaska, I’m not familiar with them but I certainly enjoyed the scent of the shampoo and body wash provided in the shower and the aqua-massage did indeed feel kinda revitalizing. All of the products used in the spa were available for purchase as well but the price was a far sight more than I’d ever paid for any soap or shampoo so I passed on those. Emerging from the spa revitalized and with a sense of total wellbeing, I proceeded upstairs to the Concorde Lounge. After checking in with the receptionist, I was immediately descended upon by a bevy of attendants and asked if I’d like anything to eat or drink. Beverages in this lounge appeared to be about the same as the First Lounge though as I didn’t order any alcohol I can’t say for sure that some of the spirits or wines available weren’t of a higher quality than downstairs. The food however was handled entirely differently. Instead of a selection of sandwiches and cheeses, a full menu was available to order from. Everything from a full breakfast to a variety of more filling sandwiches and salads could be ordered. I ordered some veggies and dip and headed over to the business center to work on this trip report. Geez, these things take time, don’t they? Also available were three computers offering internet access and the latest Microsoft Office programs. Printers, faxes, whatever one needed to go about the business that allowed one to pay for that Concorde ticket were all available. Rather than wait for boarding to be called, I decided to stroll down to the gate a bit early and check out our aircraft for the long trip into Melbourne. After all, it’s a combined total (with the stop in SIN) of 10,510 miles and 19 hours 55 minutes of scheduled flying time on this aircraft so I was excited to go down for a preview. 06 February LHR-SIN British Airways 17 First Class 747-436 G-BYGF Seat 2A 750p – 430p Flight time: 12:13 This flight was departing out of Gate 3, the very last gate down at the far end of the terminal. Arriving at the gate, I was mildly disappointed to see that once again the aircraft, 747-436 G-BYGF, was painted in the Chelsea Rose livery. With so many different Tails Of The World color schemes still out there, I had hoped to fly on as many different ones as possible. Although it was still about a half hour before departure, boarding was underway and I decided to board right away. That jetway for Gate 3 had to be the longest and most winding jetway I’ve ever used. Finally, I reached the aircraft and was the first person to arrive in First Class. I managed to get a couple of nice snapshots of the interior as a result. This aircraft had not benefited from some of the new interior enhancements – at least not in First Class. Club World sleeper seats were installed as well as the new World Traveler Plus seats, arranged in a 2-4-2 configuration and outfitted with laptop power ports. Up in First Class however the seats were not equipped with the Empower ports but the rest of the cabin was pretty much the same as the one for my flight in from LAX. One of the lights over my seat did not work but with two others to work with I was satisfied I’d have enough light. I ordered a mineral water and some stationary from the very friendly, not to mention very pretty flight attendant. The mineral water was no problem. As for stationary however, there was none to be had. A small plate of cashews was delivered but no preflight canapes. BA competes with Singapore Airlines on this route and also on the continuation into Melbourne so I was curious to see how the service would be. So far, no laptop power, one broken light and no stationary. None of these were major downers but when you’re paying for the premium service, the little things are appreciated and cumilatively count for a lot. Still, knowing of BA’s reputation, I was confident that the rest of the service would be quite good. As things turned out, I was not to be disappointed. Service began very shortly after takeoff. Menus were distributed and drink orders taken. I noticed that we had an entirely new wine list for this flight and I was anxious to try out the new reds. To begin, I chose a glass of the Clos du Marquis. According to the write up on it in the menu, “The 1995 vintage is quite superb and vies with the 1996 for supremacy in the minds of connoisseurs. This wine features complex aromas of blackcurrant and toasty new oak. On the palate the ripeness of the vintage is apparent, with textured, rich black cherry and cassis fruit over a firm tannic core.” Hmmm…. It sounded like my kind of wine. I like a lot of tannin. Unfortunately, it didn’t taste like there was much tannin but what of it there was must’ve been firm. In trying to describe my preferences in wine to wine merchants, I’ve been told that my tastes tend to run towards the more “muscular” reds. The Australians often are right up my alley with two of my all time favorites being Penfolds Bins 389 or 409. I moved on to the Rosemount Syrah before discovering the one wine that turned out to be my favorite of the entire trip so far, the Beaune. It was delicious! Still, in all fairness, I must admit to never having spent more than $27.00 on a bottle of wine so you might want to take my word on quality and taste for what it’s worth – perhaps $27.00, if that… Enough wine talk. Let’s move right on to the menu transcript: London – Singapore DINNER Appetisers Warm Gruyere cheese and tomato souffle with basil oil Roast breast of quail with chanterelle mushroom salad Soup Shellfish bisque soup Salad Mixed seasonal salad with balsamic vinaigrette, Caesar dressing or extra virgin olive oil ** ** ** MAIN COURSES Pepper Crusted Fillet of Beef Served with Worcestershire au jus and caramelized shallots or crisp seasonal salad leaves Tiger Prawns Presented with Singapore noodles and fried chicken Corn-fed Chicken in Vegetable Broth Accompanied by crisp pancetta bacon Vegetable Tajin Offered with couscous and preserved lemon LIGHTER OPTIONS Freshly Cooked Pasta Presented with your choice of tomato basil or creamy mushroom sauce Served with freshly grated Parmesan cheese Artichoke and Pepper Pizza ** ** ** Cheeseboard Selection Somerset Camembert, Capricorn Goat, Yarg, Hereford Red and Cashel Blue Cheese Dessert Apple Brulee Traditional warm bread and butter pudding with custard Selection of fresh fruit Chocolates ** ** ** WINE LIST Champagne Louise Pommery, 1989 White Wines Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru, 1998, Laboure-Roi Sancerre Cuvee Edmond, 1998, Alphonse Mellot Lenswood Adelaide Hills Chardonnay, 1998 De Bortoli Yarra Valley Chardonnay, 1998 Red Wines Clos du Marquis, 1995 Rosemount Balmoral McLaren Vale Syrah, 1997 Beaune Premier Cru Les Epenottes, 1998, Domaine Parent Dessert Wine Miranda Golden Botrytis, 1995 Port Warre’s, 1986, Reserve Tawny Port The quail breast was a nice beginning, its flavor nicely accented by the mushroom salad. I would rate the seafood bisque and the salad as OK and the steak as very good. It was really quite nicely cooked as airline steaks go, moist and pink in the middle and nicely flavored by the pepper on the outside. The menu didn’t mention potatoes but I certainly enjoyed the smidgen of scalloped potatoes on the side and only wish they’d included more. I was pretty full by the time cheese and dessert were offered so I just had a glass of that delicious Port and some of the blue cheese. Then, after reading a few chapters of my book I called it a night. I awoke somewhere over north central India. It was bright and sunny outside but as it was still 3:00am GMT for most of the passengers, all of whom were sleeping soundly, I was unable to raise my shade and check out the view. We still had five and a half hours to go but it was still too early for a general breakfast service so I wandered back to the galley and ordered a portion of the artichoke and pepper pizza. BA doesn’t actually offer a separate mid-flight menu for First Class. Basically, you can have anything that’s on the menu at any time and I was indeed tempted to have another serving of quail breast. Still, variety is the spice of life and when the pizza arrived I was glad I’d ordered it. The crust was quite good and the cheese and artichoke bottoms definitely hit the spot. Before I’d gone to bed, the Chief Purser stopped by and said he’d heard that I had asked about Empower ports earlier in the trip. He explained that although this aircraft wasn’t equipped with them in First (It was in World Traveler Plus, though) he would be happy to take my computer back to his work station and charge it up there. Now that’s the kind of service that will make me one of BA’s biggest supporters! And as a result of his generosity, now, at 3:30am, I had a fully charged laptop and was able to write about yesterday’s flight. Every now and then, I’d sneak a peek out my window. It was a beautiful day outside and it seemed a shame to not be able to check out this foreign landscape below. We passed just south of Calcutta and Burma, then turned south and headed down along the Thai coastline. By now people were starting to stir and BA’s special energizer drink was the order of the moment. The galley could hardly make them up fast enough! Soon our tables were reset and the breakfast service commenced. BREAKFAST Freshly squeezed fruit juice Our special wake up energizer drink of banana, raspberry and honey Fresh seasonal fruit Greek yogurt with honey Natural or fruit yogurt Warm breads and breakfast pastries HOT CHOICES Our Classic British Breakfast Your choice of freshly scrambled or boiled eggs, pork sausage, grilled bacon, sauteed mushrooms and grilled tomato Eggs Florentine French Toast Accompanied by a compote of berries I started off with the fruit bowl. It contained sections of pineapple, grapefruit and orange along with some grapes and raspberries. Very nice. For my main course I ordered the Eggs Florentine. They were presented a bit differently than I’d anticipated based upon my experience with them in restaurants – I received a single English muffin section topped with sauteed spinach, an egg patty and a dollop of some creamy off green stuff that complimented the overall flavor quite nicely but which I am still at a loss to identify. The egg patty looked pre-formed like the kind you see in plastic wrapped fast food breakfast sandwiches but overall the whole consist was quite tasty. Coffee and another energizer drink closed out the meal. I spent the last hour of the flight watching a couple of documentaries on the TV channel before it seemed that enough people had awakened to go ahead and open my window shades. The view was spectacular! We were flying off the coast of Thailand, near Phuket, and the numerous islands in that area passed slowly by as if floats in a grand parade. Only myself and one other person in First Class were actually checking out the view, however. Everyone else was either reading or just resting, sitting in the dark with their shades drawn, only their reading lamps providing them with light. I was tempted to shout out “Hey! Y’all check out this amazing view out here!!” but I suspect such an outburst would have been counter to the overall decorum of First Class. To me, one of the great enjoyments of flight is checking out the view from 30 some odd thousand feet above the planet. Even now, after nearly 2,900 commercial flights to my credit, I still love to have a window seat during daytime flights. We made a wide turn over the ocean just west and south of Singapore and those of us seated on the left side were afforded excellent views of the downtown skyline. One thing that stood out for me was the huge number of tankers and container ships sitting just off shore from the city. There were literally dozens of them. We landed smoothly and braked quite strongly before turning in towards the terminal and our gate. An Emirates 777 and an Aeroflot IL-96 were also parked nearby. I was surprised to see the big Russian jetliner as I had heard awhile back that Aeroflot was planning to go with an all western fleet on its long haul services. Perhaps that has yet to be implemented. We had an hour and a half layover in Singapore and passengers were encouraged though not ordered to disembark while the aircraft was being cleaned and restocked. I’d certainly encourage anyone with a layover in SIN to go and check out Changi Airport. It is everything an airport ought to be, truly one of the best designed airports in the world. I disembarked and headed straight for the quiet sanctuary of BA’s First Class lounge. The lounge, which BA shares with Qantas, offered showers and a nice supply of sandwiches. I had a couple of small open face salmon, cream cheese, onion and capers sandwiches along with my first Tiger Beer. I found a small area offering perhaps five work areas and managed to scrawl off seven postcards and a letter before the call came to return to Gate 13 for the continuation of our flight. I left the cards with the receptionist who said she’d be happy to post them later that evening. She’d even supply the stamps! Nice. Here’s how I rate this flight: Check in: N/A - Transit Lounges: A Preflight: A Comfort: A- Service: A Meals: A Really, one could hardly ask for much more in food or service. The crew were outstanding! 07 February SIN-MEL British Airways 17 First Class 747-436 G-BYGF Seat 2K 615p – 430a Flight time: 6:38 The gate did not have a separate boarding area for First and Club World passengers so I arrived to find a fairly good sized mob of passengers waiting to clear gateside security. This took about fifteen minutes and once again I had to turn my computer one before being allowed to proceed aboard the aircraft. We had a new crew out of Singapore. The FA working my side of the cabin came by with a tray of canapes and her views on BA’s meal service on this sector. She claimed loudly and pointedly to me and the man in front of me that she couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to eat anything out of here as they had just finished breakfast prior to arrival in Singapore. She went on to state that she always ate very sparingly on flights, perhaps just a salad and some bread. So? I should be impressed? Although I didn’t tell her so, I could care less about her eating habits or her pontifications on ours. I did tell her, with just a wee touch of iron in my tone that when one considered the cost of a First Class ticket relative to Business Class, much less any other class, it was certainly better that BA offer too much rather than not enough food. We don’t necessarily have to eat everything on the menu but it’s nice to have the enhanced variety of foods to choose from. As to the benefits of eating lightly in flight, well, I’ll be the judge of that. Now get outta here and bring me another plate of those canapes! And more beer! That said, lets check out that menu ~ Singapore to Melbourne DINNER Appetisers Seafood Market Meze Breaded Goat Cheese Presented on red cabbage and asparagus salad Soup Prawn, coconut milk and coriander soup Salad Mixed seasonal salad served with balsamic vinaigrette or yogurt and lime dressing Selection of warm breads ** ** ** MAIN COURSES Roasted Loin of Veal Accompanied by pesto potato mash and red peppers Barramundi Baked in Coconut Curry Sauce Served with steamed rice Lobster Salad With French beans, skinned plum tomatoes and quail eggs dressed with lemon olive oil Savoury Crepes Served with morel cream sauce LIGHTER OPTIONS Grilled Fillet Steak Sandwich Offered with red onion marmalade Freshly Cooked Penne Pasta Topped with your choice of tomato and basil or creamy mushroom sauce served with freshly grated Parmesan cheese Reception Sandwiches ** ** ** Cheeseboard Selection Somerset Camembert, Capricorn Goat, Yarg, Hereford Red and Cashel Blue Cheese Dessert Warm brioche bread and butter pudding with double cream Amaretti trifle Selection of fresh fruit Chocolates For an appetizer, I had the seafood meze. When I first read the menu I remember thinking that this must have been a typo and what the appetizer was really a take off on the Arabic mezze. I was wrong. It was just a plate of various seafoods, but was a nice start nonetheless. I decided to pass on the salad but definitely wanted to try out the soup which was described as very spicy, like a Thai Tom Yum soup. Boy, was it! Wow! I was all over that water glass after the first spoonful! Still, I like spicy food and after my taste buds had been thoroughly cauterized I managed to finish it off with gusto and a bread roll. My main course selection was the Barramundi, a delicious light flavored fish amenable to most any sauce you wish to serve it with. This entrée was excellent in every respect. From presentation on the plate to overall taste it was totally First Class. Would you believe that although I was pretty full and was more than willing to forego dessert, our aforementioned light eating Flight Attendant talked me into the bread pudding. With the double cream, of course. This was a good choice. It really was a fine ending to a superior repast, especially with a cup of BA’s coffee. I don’t know what they serve but it really is quite good. And mind you, I was drinking Decaf this time of day because I really wanted to try and get some sleep before we got into Melbourne. This meal gets my vote for Best Of The Trip. After dinner, I watched an entertaining documentary on the early days of Muhammad Ali’s career. This flight was scheduled for just under seven hours and by the time the documentary was over we only had about four and a half hours to go. We crossed into Australian airspace over Derby on the northwest coast. The remnants of Cyclone Michael were giving us a short lived but nonetheless terrific lightning display off the starboard side. I was glad I’d switched to 2K. Then I flattened my seat and caught about 3 ½ hours of sleep. I awoke with only an hour left in my British Airways First Class marathon. From the time I’d taken off from Los Angeles to landing in Melbourne, I’d spent 28 hours and 30 minutes inflight with maybe 6 hours total ground time connecting in London and Singapore. I suppose I should have been exhausted and anxious to get off the plane but I would have happily turned right around and done it all over again. BA offers a very nice First Class product. Though it doesn’t seem quite as opulent as Cathay’s or Singapore’s, I would say it still holds rightful sway in the upper echelons of the world’s best airlines and I’ll definitely be looking forward to April 5th when I get to do it all over again. Here’s how I rate this flight: Check in: N/A Transit Lounge: B+ Preflight: B Comfort: A- Service: B+ Meal: A The preflight service was a little slow in developing and the FA’s little speech about her dining habits vs. the main were uncalled for. Although she improved as the flight went on, “Gracious” would not describe her serving style. The meal was one of the best I’ve ever had aboard an airplane February 8 Air New Zealand Business Class Melbourne – Auckland 767-204 Flight Time: 3:18 I had checked my backpack only to Melbourne because LAX-LHR-MEL-AKL-CHC is just asking for trouble in the mislaid baggage department. Also, I had an almost seven hour layover in Melbourne and after all of two days in the same cloths it would be nice to change into some fresh ones during the layover. Customs was non-eventful, as it ought to be. I’d actually declared my unopened foil packet of Alaska Airlines mixed nuts on the arrival card just to be on the safe side. The customs agent chuckled and thanked me for declaring them but said they wouldn’t be a problem so I told him I’d be sure to enjoy them with a fine Aussie lager later in the day. By now it was 5:00am and check in for my flight to Auckland didn’t begin until 8:15am, three hours before departure. The restrooms downstairs in the arrivals hall were basically deserted at this hour so I washed up and changed my shirt before heading over to the baggage storage facility and checking my pack. It’s a big one and I didn’t want to lug it around for the next three hours. This cost me $12.00 AUD which I thought a bit steep, but it was nice to be free of the bulk for awhile. I arrived at Air New Zealand’s Business Class check in counter at about 8:30am and after getting my pack tagged to Christchurch I asked the agent if today’s aircraft was still scheduled to be a 767-200. It turned out he was a bit of a fan of the 767 and, after informing me that today’s aircraft was indeed the –200 model, we spent the next few minutes trading war stories and memories. I showed him my passport case that was a gift from United for having been a passenger on the inaugural scheduled flight of the 767 almost twenty years ago on September 8th, 1982. The flight operated from Chicago to Denver aboard N606UA, named “City of Chicago”, an honor that would have been bestowed upon N605UA, the aircraft originally scheduled to operate the historic flight. Unfortunately, ship 605 developed a mechanical problem and was renamed “City of Denver” instead. I might add those were the only United jets to bear “City of” names other than the entire 737-200 fleet back in the 60s and 70s. After clearing security and immigration, I headed straight to the Air New Zealand Business Class lounge, located just down the concourse from immigration. It was a fairly large lounge and offered a good variety of breakfast foods such as breads, cereals, yogurt, fruits and juices. A big plate of tuna salad reception sandwiches was also available along with the usual beers and spirits. I grabbed some cereal and a cup of coffee and settled into a seat by the windows to watch the departure of a Garuda A330. Just down the concourse was a Malaysian 747-400. This was a bright and comfortable lounge but despite the plaque on the door saying Business Class Lounge, there was only a small “Business” room offering two partitioned desks with phones and a fax/copier machine. There were no tables out in the main lounge area. Although I’m not traveling on business, I like my laptop on a table top and I often use my time in lounges to surf the Internet and catch up on correspondence. The call to board came 20 minutes before departure. I polished off my tuna sandwich and headed out to the gate. Upon arrival, I was disappointed to see that our aircraft, ZK-NBJ, was painted entirely white with the only the Air New Zealand title and tail koru adorning it. I like Air New Zealand’s new colors and wish they’d finally get around to getting this ex-Britannia jet properly painted. I’ve never liked those hybrid color schemes anyway. They look cheap. Speaking of color schemes, in this day and age of painting up aircraft in older “Retro” color schemes, I’d love to see this 767 painted up in Air New Zealand’s old TEAL colors. For those of you who don’t know, Air New Zealand’s original name was Tasman Empire Airways, Ltd. Though this aircraft may have looked shoddy on the outside, the Business Class cabin was quite inviting. Twenty-four seats were upholstered in a dark blue and teal fabric and given about a 50” pitch between seats. Each seat had electronic legrests and lumbar support, not to mention a 5” TV screen stashed in the mid-seat console. When I arrived at Row 2, my seatmate didn’t even have to get up to let me in. We chatted for a bit about everything from New Zealand fishing to Alaskan winters. We did not chat about the fact that he was traveling barefoot. And not just him. I could see three other people from just my seat alone that had removed both their shoes and socks. This must be a regional affectation, as I have never seen it anywhere else. The Business Class cabin checked in completely full and its two Flight Attendants were both very busy offering pre-flight drinks and hanging jackets. One was older and one was younger. Both were excellent. Newspapers were distributed and I accepted a copy of the New Zealand Herald. I enjoy reading newspapers from other countries as opposed to US papers. The foreign papers give a much more thorough worldview in my opinion. The luncheon service began soon after takeoff. The menus were printed on a large, colorful card, about 6” X 14” in size. Meal orders were taken from the back of the cabin forward and I was happy to find my selection, the Baked Cod, still available. Here is the menu: LUNCHEON Appetizer Slow-roasted Roma tomatoes with marinated green bean and red onion salad MAIN COURSE Moroccan Chicken Salad Served chilled, with char grilled vegetables, garlic and thyme Warmed Olive Panini Bread Filled with beef pastrami, peppers and Parmesan cheese Baked Blue Cod Served over egg noodles with sliced courgettes Cheese and Fruit Fine regional cheese and preserved fruit Dessert Connoisseur ice cream A breakfast menu from the previous flight had been left in my seat pocket. The entrée choices looked quite nice: Three Egg Omelette Filled with spinach, Gruyere cheese and onions, accompanied by grilled mushrooms and tomato Mixed Breakfast Grill Featuring French lamb cutlet, grilled bacon, pork sausage, tomato and hash brown potato Lunch was served on a single tray with the appetizer coming first. I don’t know what they marinated those green beans in but they were quite good and would have very nicely complimented most any Bloody Mary. The entrees were delivered next. My seatmate’s choice of the Moroccan Chicken Salad was served first and after seeing it I was glad that I had ordered the cod. There wasn’t all that much chicken in the salad. My cod arrived and looked every bit as good as it ultimately was. It was actually a combination of cod and salmon. After having my meals presented on plates over the past three days, it was somewhat odd to have this meal served in a round dish. Still, the crockery did nothing to detract from the flavor, which was excellent. Dessert was an ice cream sundae cart. I would have asked for Amaretto in place of the chocolate sauce but the sundaes were already fully prepared in advance. Even so, that chocolate sauce was good and the ice cream tasted like French vanilla. A nice treat. I would also like to note that I was most impressed with the service provided by the two ladies working the Business Class cabin. They were unfailingly polite, efficient and gracious in their service. I wish we had more like them back home. I dozed off a bit after lunch and awoke about an hour out of Auckland. The Pacific Ocean looked gorgeous – a deep blue that was so calm it reflected the shadows of the puffy white clouds above it. I spent the remainder of the flight watching the Sky Map and glancing out the window watching for that first glimpse of the New Zealand coastline. Unfortunately, sunshine and puffy clouds gradually turned to light rain and gray clouds as we descended into Auckland. We landed hard and, after a short taxi, parked at what I think is the finest little International terminal in the South Pacific. Here’s how I rate this flight: Check in: A Lounge: B+ Preflight: A Comfort: A- Service: A Meal: A- The two FAs working this flight were top notch. The seats were a little hard but offered otherwise impressive recline. Nice meal presentation. February 8 Air New Zealand Business Class Auckland – Christchurch 737-300 Flight Time: 1:03 I took the inter-terminal bus over to Air New Zealand’s Domestic Terminal. From the ground floor at least, this building looked like it dated back to the National Airways days. I had thought that I would have a couple of hours in AKL but was surprised to discover that New Zealand is not one but rather two hours ahead of Melbourne. This means that New Zealand is only two hours earlier than Alaska, except that when it’s 4:00pm in Fairbanks, it’s 2:00pm the next day in Auckland - a 22-hour time differential. Air New Zealand’s lounge, The Koru Club, was located upstairs above the check-in area. This lounge was much larger than its counterpart in Melbourne but no less well appointed, staffed or stocked. The afternoon food offerings were really quite impressive and included cold cuts, salads, breads and a variety of sushi complete with ginger, soy and wasabe and a tray of little dessert cakes. The beer fridge also offered a wide selection, including my old favorite – DB Export Gold, a.k.a. Liquid Gold. I wasn’t all that hungry however so I settled for a beer and some nut mix. Twenty minutes before departure I still hadn’t heard the call to board so I gathered my stuff and headed out to the gate. Passing through security, I looked up at the TV monitor displaying flight departures and it showed my flight as closed. Whaaaat?!! There were still 15 minutes ‘til departure! I hurried on up the stairs and over to Gate 30 just as they gave the first call for boarding. I boarded right away as I’d never been on an Air New Zealand 737-300 and was anxious to check out the layout. The Business Class cabin offered eight seats with pretty decent legroom – not 50” but still pretty good considering that these seats also had leg rests, lumbar support, recline and some other button that I never did figure out. Pre-flight drinks were limited to either water or juice, neither of which interested me. As always, I’d selected a seat on the side of the plane where the sun would be setting, in this case the right side. Only five of us were in front and the seat beside me was empty. We pushed back from the gate on time and scarcely ten minutes later were breaking through the clouds over Auckland and into brilliant early evening sunlight. With only about an hour’s flight time ahead of us and a full dinner catered, our FA got to work almost immediately after takeoff. Drink orders were taken first and I asked for a DB Export. My beer was served with a rice cracker-peanut mixture that did nothing to enhance the flavor of what was room temperature beer. I took one sip and traded it in for an ice cold mineral water. While our Flight Attendant was most courteous and expeditious in serving the meal, I do fault him and any others out there who would serve lager that’s anything less than cold. Not cool. Not room temperature. Cold. It shouldn’t be all that hard to do. Next I was presented with a tray bearing a small plate with mixed greens topped with a slice each of papaya, honeydew melon, turkey and ham. A roll was plated on the side along with some cheese and crackers and a tiny white box marked “Specialty Chocolate” . Since the flight was only a little more than an hour long, I figured that this was dinner and started right in on it. After all, you wouldn’t get anything more than peanuts on a flight of this length in the US. Well, no sooner had I sliced my roll in half and made a sandwich out of it with the meats and cheese than our FA reappeared bearing a hot dish of baked salmon with little new potatoes and some kind of hot cabbage, carrot and onion slaw. What a surprise! It was a big slice of salmon, too. I’ve seen smaller portions in First Class in the US. For a one-hour flight, this meal was spectacular. Way to go Air New Zealand! Meanwhile, a glance out the windows showed that we’d crossed the Cook Strait and were now flying over the beautiful valleys and mountains of New Zealand’s South Island. Though the crest of the Southern Alps garner most of the attention, the area around Nelson Lakes up in the northwest part of the South Island is also quite pretty. I did an eighty mile backpacking trip through there about ten years ago and the area remains my favorite backcountry in New Zealand today. Soon we were gliding over the Canterbury plains and on final approach to the Christchurch airport. We touched down softly on the runway and, after four days and eight flights on three airlines covering 20,760 miles, I had finally arrived at my destination. Here’s how I rate this flight: Check in: N/A Transit Lounge: A Preflight: B+ Comfort: A- Service: A- Meal: A Aside from serving a warm beer, our Flight Attendant was friendly and attentive. The meal was an unexpected surprise for such a short flight. On the ground and in the air, Air New Zealand does a great job!