My favourite line from the ‘I really don’t want to be here’ school of customer service comes from a Delta air hostess. It was July this year and we were flying to the States and a young man in the seat ahead of us was wrapped up with something else as the drinks cart came along. Clearly exasperated at not being heard when the hostess asked him what he wanted to drink, she let out a loud sigh and went: ‘Hey you at the window!’
She looked like she had pushed a lot of carts in her many years on the job. And that the only one she really wanted to be behind was in her local supermarket, pottering around in her retirement, looking for a nice dry white to go with her supper.
I was reminded of her en route here to NZ this week. It was a four legged trip: Dublin to Abu Dhabi and Abu Dhabi to Sydney with Etihad; and then Sydney to Auckland and Auckland to New Plymouth with Air NewZealand. It covered everything from painful long haul to moderate medium to short hop to commuter. And the Kiwis won hands down.
Etihad was a new experience for us. Man what a disappointment. On the Abu Dhabi to Sydney leg I was sitting beside a bloke whose partner worked for the airline, and he seemed embarrassed for them. The drinks menu was a work of fiction, because when we asked for a gin and tonic before dinner – as you do – we were told it wasn’t possible. Worse, half way through the ordinary meal, we asked for a second glass of red and got the Mr Bumble vibe. Was it coming from her personal stash?
Thereafter any interaction was frosty, so already fatigued and not wishing to spoil any more of what is a short life, we let it pass that the headsets were dodgy. Or that the food was crap. And resolved to give Etihad a wide berth in future.
Roll on to Sydney after one of those overnights when you climb into the pit at midnight praying for seven hours shut eye, and are bolt upright and wide awake at 2.30am. The queue at check-in six hours later was snaking towards the door because the conveyor belt had broken down. Fantastic. You look at your watch and try and figure out the chance that two hours somehow might not be enough, but in fairness to the Air NZ ground staff they handled it really well.
And then the flight (on a Boeing 767) was a doddle. From bottle holders in the seat pockets (what a difference that makes) to a comfie headset, good movie selection and a really friendly service, it was painless. And the food was good too.
I wouldn’t be a keen follower of fashion in the airline industry but my impression of Air NewZealand had always been that they were at the frumpy end of the scale. And maybe they are, but over the years –Ireland’s thoroughly enjoyable trip here in 1992 was my first exposure to them – they’ve been solid and genuinely friendly. And it works.
Unlike Ireland, where we have an evolving motorway network, New Zealand has a tedious amount of single carriageway roads, above which however is an air commuter system that hums along nicely. Kiwis zip all over the north and south islands in turbo props that take off quickly and land quickly and the whole thing is done and dusted in jig time. Then you grab your bags a few minutes later off a trolley in a terminal where departures and arrivals are one and the same.
The service is without frills and no worse off for that. And while there are some stunning road trips here, getting in the air is a great way to see this spectacularly beautiful country. Over the next month or so we’ll sample again what it’s like on the ground. For the moment, welcome to New Plymouth, capital of Taranaki.