After a nice brief stay in Christchurch and a wonderful trip in New Zealand, the return portion of our journey was about to begin. Our Virgin Australia award ticket had us flying back from CHC to MEL.
As I have discussed before, actually getting to Melbourne proved to be a bit of a challenge. My Pacific Blue/Virgin Australia flight was changed to Air New Zealand. From that post:
The problems started when flying from Christchurch to Melbourne on what was supposed to be a Pacific Blue flight I had several calls a few days prior notated as urgent from the airline about a change. I called back and was told the only change was a departure time 15 minutes earlier. After asking the agent to confirm this was the only change for both my wife and my separate records, he casually mentioned that the flight appeared to be operated by Air New Zealand, despite being labeled as DJ 61. Odd.
I arrived at CHC airport approximately 130 minutes before departure for checkin (much earlier than I normally do, BTW). There was a special checkin area for our flight. Air New Zealand agent couldn't check us in right away, so told us to wait. This was the first time I heard the phrase "Won't be a moment", apparently an Aussie/Kiwi thing. In reality it was nearly 2 hours before bags were tagged and we had boarding passes.
Apparently, there was an issue with the Virgin systems that was refusing checkin for various passengers. The agent confirmed my Australian visa was fine, we had seats, but the NZ agent couldn't get their system to allow check in. This happened to several other people, and required multiple calls to the Virgin operation center, which was apparently very understaffed at the early morning hour Australia time. It took nearly 2 full hours for them to sort this out. I was a bit uncomfortable since various agents were walking back and forth with our passports, and our bags were stacked behind a counter the whole time. I was told "It won't be a moment" and "almost done" so many times, which were far from correct. I was upset to be standing at the checkin counter this whole time rather than relaxing (and exploring the NZ lounge). Somehow they solved this issue, then were hurrying us and others with the same problem to security to get the plane out on time.
This issue was due to a Virgin matter, although Air New Zealand was the face of it for the customers. I don't hold them at fault in this case, since they had no flexibility in their system. Having Air NZ operate a plane with their aircraft and their staff was a new thing, at least for the agents at CHC. It still is not clear to my why this change was made.
In the process of this long wait, I finally confirmed we were actually flying on Air New Zealand metal, as I suspected. In a way, I was happy about this, as for me to spend 2 weeks in New Zealand and not to fly on their flag carrier would be a shame, so in that way it worked out for the best. That said, for many domestic and trans-Tasman flights, there is no premium seating. Despite having a Premium Economy seat booked, my wife and I were booked into seats 3D and 3F. Sounds good right? It would have been fine if not for a nice gentleman seated in seat 3E. As much as I dislike middle seats in economy, I took his seat so I could sit next to my wife. The NZ A320 we were on was quite comfortable, with decent seat pitch, and an excellent AVOD system. In flight, all passengers served a light breakfast, which is better than what is offered to economy passengers on Virgin.
As I mentioned, I was actually happy to fly on Air New Zealand. Its always been an intriguing airline to me, but since I was traveling on a Delta Skymiles award, all of my flights were on Virgin Australia aircraft. The last minute switch to ANZ was not a particularly pleasant experience, but I'm glad to got to try them out, despite the circumstances.
The in flight entertainment system was quite good with a 9 inch screen in the seat back, with various movies, TV shows and games available. There is a map and various other features including a flight info screen that the below picture attempts to show. Also, there is a USB charging port in each seat. Details on the system are here.
Legroom and a (bad) view of the IFE on the Air New Zealand A320.
In addition, we got to see the (in)famous Richard Simmons safety video on board. ANZ is known for their creative safety videos. This particular video is a humorous and sometimes obnoxious take on a serious topic. It was fun to spot the various Kiwi celebrities in the video as well.
Once we finally got our boarding passes, we rushed through customs, and had to hurry to the plane. Unfortunately, we did not have time to visit the Air New Zealand lounge in Christchurch.
There didn't appear to be any open seats in the economy-only airplane. As I mentioned before, we were assigned to a window and an aisle seat in the same row near the front of the plane, but someone was assigned to the middle seat. So much for premium economy (sigh). Shortly after take off, a light breakfast was served.
One option was muesli with fruit and a muffin
The other was a hot breakfast
Nothing too special, but the free meal was appreciated after waiting 2 hours to check in and no time to get anything else. I'm not sure why free meals were provided, since this is not the standard policy on ANZ for trans-Tasman flights. Maybe because this was the unique case of a Virgin tagged flight (DJ 61) being operated by ANZ. On Virgin Australia flights, they have buy on board, with anything free to Premium Economy guest.
Once we arrived in Melbourne, we were greeted with a very long queue at immigration. This took more than an hour, and call me impatient, but after the check in delay, for this flight, I was in no mood for more waiting. Virgin Australia provides business premium economy passengers on international flights an express pass to bypass the these long lines, but we did not receive these that day.
We finally were cleared back in to Australia, and we headed to the Skybus for a ride into the city. That was a quick way into the city, and they offer free transfers to most hotels. The trip takes about 20 minutes depending on traffic, and a return ticket costs AUD . Shuttles are available all day, and leave every 10 minutes during the day.
The last full day of our trip was spent touring rainy Melbourne and a suite at the Park Hyatt Melbourne.