After my nice, but brief stay in an Executive Suite at the Westin Sydney, we were now bound for Auckland. Thanks to the availability via my Delta award ticket, we had to do this in a bit of a complicated manner. Virgin Australia and Air New Zealand have an alliance for flights across the Tasman Sea, but since I was using Delta Skymiles for my award ticket, only flights on Virgin metal would be redeemable. Approximately 70% of the Tasman flights in this alliance are on Air New Zealand, so it was somewhat of a challenge to find workable flights to Auckland. Actual seat availability did not seem like an issue on any flight I tried, but I only had a few options for Virgin Australia operated flights. This is why we had to leave so early for our flight from Sydney.
First stop was the Sydney domestic terminal for our flight to Melbourne. We checked in, and were given instructions how to transfer to our international flight in Melbourne. Unfortunately, we could not get our boarding passes for that flight, so we had to do so in Melbourne. This is the first of several annoying issues we experienced with Virgin Australia. They are in the process of changing the name of all their different operations to the same name, but there are still a lot of bugs to work out, as I will discuss more later. (Just as a reminder, here is some info about the changes in Virgin Australia branding).
Sydney Lounge entrance (photo courtesy of Flickr)
After another quick experience with pre-flight security for an Australian domestic flight, our first stop was the Virgin Australia lounge, one floor above the domestic terminal.
We then boarded our flight to Melbourne, which was a 737-800, painted in the older red paint of Virgin Blue. The interior had been updated to the new scheme, with 2 rows of business class seating. The flight attendant mentioned they were in somewhat of a transition period, so there was no in flight entertainment, but Digiplayers were available for business guests, as well as anything from the menu. Later the agent apologized since it seemed there were no digiplayers loaded for this flight, so he gave each of us a AU$10 voucher that could be used for purchases in vendors in Australian airports as an apology. Not really a big deal for a 100 or so minute flight. The seat was comfortable, and we were the only passengers in the cabin.
There was some stormy weather in Melbourne, so all inbound arrivals were delayed. I was a little concerned since we had less than an hour from our scheduled arrival time until we were supposed to depart for Auckland. The weather was causing all sorts of delays, so we ended up having no trouble. Upon landing in Melbourne, we had to head to the Virgin Australia check in desk to get our boarding passes for our flight to Auckland. We then had to re clear security for the international concourse at Melbourne. At this time, these flights were marked as Pacific Blue, which is based and primarily staffed in New Zealand.
Old paint schemes for Virgin planes in Melbourne (and a SQ A380 in the background)
Thanks to the previously mentioned delay, we had some time to visit the Air New Zealand Koru Club lounge on the basis of our premium economy seating for the flight to Auckland. This is a nice perk of the Trans-Tasman alliance, as Koru Clubs are excellent.
We were there in the morning, so there were various breakfast options there including fruit, cereals, bircher muesli and various breads.
Popcake machine to make fresh pancakes
The lounge was very well stocked with food and drinks. There was quite a bit of seating available in this large ground level lounge.
breakfast spread in Melbourne Koru Club
soft drink dispenser and self serve cocktails
As the delay continued, we decided to pass the time by taking advantage of some available games. A great feature in an airport lounge!
Finally, despite the ground level location, there were some interesting tarmac views. Throughout my trip, I marveled at the number of A380s, we just don't see that many of those in the US.
Widebodies galore: Qantas 747, Air Asia A330 and a Qantas A380.
Finally, the ANZ agents announced boarding of our flight to Auckland in the lounge. The gate is a good 5 minute walk away, and as we were leaving the lounge, our names were being read over the PA system for final boarding call. That was a little frustrating, but I can understand that with a delay, they board the plane as fast as possible, and things like notifying the partner lounge of that fact could be overlooked. Oh well, we were quickly into our row 1 seats of the 737-800. There was lots of legroom, but I'm not a big fan of front row seats such as this due to lack of storage.
This plane was painted in Pacific Blue livery, and in the older interior configuration with a few rows of premium economy in front of economy. This is similar to business class in Europe, with simply a blocked middle seat and maybe a few inches of extra legroom makes it premium seating.
As premium economy guests, we were offered a Digiplayer with preloaded movies and TV shows and a comfort pack with eyeshades, earplugs, socks, toothpaste, toothbrush and a blanket. We also were able to choose from the same menu as on the earlier flights linked above.
Darren did a detailed review of the Virgin Australia amenity kit, another in his series of Amenity kit review.
The flight was a little over 3 hours in duration, and upon arrival in Auckland, the immigration process was easy. We headed to the car rental counters and after some mental preparations for driving on the left side of the road, we were off to the Hilton Auckland.