Day 1: From Portland to Christchurch
Another adventure begins!
The plan for getting to Christchurch was, starting in Portland, connecting through Los Angeles, then Auckland, and finally arriving in Christchurch. All told the anticipated travel time was scheduled to be about 26 hours from wheels-up in Portland. That included a six-hour-or-so layover in Auckland; I was able to catch an earlier flight to Christchurch so the journey ended up being slightly shorter. Bottom line on the time: from the time the wheels of my first flight lifted off the ground in Portland at 4:22pm May 1 (local) to the time the wheels of my last flight landed in Christchurch at 10:15am May 3 (local), 23 hours had passed!
I successfully adhered to my two main travel rules: don’t check bags, and only do long-haul at the front of the bus. All packed and ready to go:
First flight from Portland to Los Angeles on an Embraer regional jet. Beautiful day for a flight out of Portland.
At LAX I went over to the international terminal and got checked in to the Air New Zealand flight and through security. The international terminal at LAX is a madhouse. Still had plenty of time, though, so I grabbed dinner then hung out in the Star Alliance lounge.
Aside from the destinations themselves, I was also excited about the aircraft involved with this trip: a 777-300 outbound and 787-9 back home. The 777 is a huge aircraft; rivaled only by the 747 and A380. The engines are truly impressive: the largest turbofan engines in the world, with models available up to 115,000 pounds of thrust each. You don’t really appreciate the size of these things until you’re up close and personal.
Air New Zealand 777-300 Business Premier Service
I have nothing but good things to say about the Air New Zealand flight. Looking back to my trip to Japan with Delta, the lie-flat seats had a “foot box” that were part of the overall length of the bed; the 767 had a box that was too small for my height and foot size; the A330 was better but just on the edge. The seats that Air New Zealand uses in the 777 are brilliant; they’re easily the best lie-flat bed seats I’ve seen. They don’t depend on an enclosed space at the end of the seat/bed; instead they are much more open and at the end of your space there’s a foot rest that doubles as a guest seat. This design is slightly less private, but that trade-off is well worth it for the much more open space instead of needing to fit your feet in a little box at the end of your “pod.” They also provide a sort of memory-foam mattress to put on the seat when you convert it into a bed. Very nice setup overall. It’s a 1-2-1 seating configuration, so every seat has direct aisle access and only four seats across in a 777 airframe is very generous. (I looked in the Premium Economy cabin, and it’s a pretty nice setup. The standard Economy seats, though, are probably best avoided: as with many airlines, Air New Zealand runs a 3-4-3 configuration, and 10 seats across just isn’t quite humane. Legroom is obviously important, but I’ve found that seat width is nearly equally important for comfort and 10-across is just too tight.)G
Here’s my seat; at the bottom of the first picture is the foot rest that ends up being the end of the bed after conversion, and the second picture shows from the seated perspective:
As is traditional, champagne is offered before takeoff. After takeoff, a cocktail and some nuts. Then dinner service with your choice of starter (“Roasted beetroot and goats curd salad with wild rocket, pine nuts and fresh pomegranate seeds” for me), main course (I chose the “wood roasted chicken with pancetta and pea risotto, roasted asparagus, zucchini and watercress”), ice cream for desert, and to finish it off a selection of cheese served with fig relish (with a single malt Scotch). Everything was delicious.
After dinner, I tried to stay up for a while to synchronize my sleep attempt to what would be “reasonable” for the 6:30am arrival in New Zealand, so I read for a while and did some work on the computer. When it was time to try to sleep, I concerted the seat into a bed; the cabin crew is more than happy to do this for you if you want them to.
I really can’t sleep on planes (or any other moving vehicle), but I did manage to string together what probably amounted to a few naps, so much better than nothing, and certainly much better than I likely would be able to get if not for the bed.
A couple hours before landing, it was time to wake up and convert the bed back to a seat for breakfast service. That started with yogurt and fresh fruit, followed by breakfast quesadilla.
At long last, over 12 hours after departing LAX, we were almost to Auckland.
Welcome to New Zealand!
Due to construction we couldn’t make it to an actual gate, so they parked the plane and brought out air stairs for us to disembark, then ride a bus to the terminal. Immigration and customs took some time waiting in lines, but was uneventful. I walked over to the domestic terminal for my flight to Christchurch and was able to move to an earlier connecting flight. As in Portland, it was a nice day for the quick 1.5 hour A320 flight from Auckland to Christchurch.