Hurtling Across Canada at 700 kmh

Posted by

Well ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls here we are again. Sitting in an aircraft seat (15D) Air Canada flight AC148 to Toronto specifically. This is the third trip to Canada I have made in 2011 and will not be the last for the year either.

I’m on an Air Canada plane but am going to write about Air New Zealand.

The flight from Auckland to Vancouver NZ84 was very pleasant. Anyone who has ever even glimpsed at my meagre contribution to the twittersphere will know that I am something of a fan of our national airline.

It hasn’t always been that way however, I remember being a very devoted fan of Ansett New Zealand and then Qantas for many years.

Coming back to Air New Zealand took a while but it has been well worth it. I am a very loyal passenger and enjoy getting to know the cabin attendants and lounge personnel on my regular trips.

I want to record a little of why I like them so much, and in particular the concierge service.

On this occasion the concierge (Aaron) was the same one I had on a flight in June from Vancouver to Auckland. That was a particularly memorable flight. I had been in the US and Canada (old job) and landed in Vancouver to connect with my homeward leg. Upon switching my phone on after the four and a half hour flight from Toronto it immediately went into overdrive with SMS messages from New Zealand. There had been another significant aftershock in my hometown of Christchurch. Several of my wonderful Christchurch staff had in the midst of their own drama thought to let me know so I could contact my family. I’m not too sure I’ve ever thanked them for this.

I telephoned my wife immediately. Thankfully Katherine (who it would be fair to say is not a big fan of earthquakes) was OK. It was a Monday in New Zealand when the quake hit and through good luck my youngest daughter Katie had had sore tummy and had not gone to Kindergarten that morning. This necessitated Katherine saying home from her work. Katherine works as an early childhood teacher and the protocol should a quake occur when she is at work means that she has to stay with her wards until they can be collected by their parents. This can take some time depending on the level of damage to the roads or bridges to our seaside community.

Our middle daughter Molly was also at home unwell. So despite the quake being large, Katherine was OK as she had two of our daughter’s with her. Separation anxiety is a considerable stress during earthquakes in Christchurch, not knowing where your kids are or if they’re OK is physically sickening.

So I was able talk to Katherine and establish that she had heard from Annie (our oldest, who was at high school and who had texted to say she too was OK). I talked for a while and then told Katherine I was going to get a coffee before boarding the long haul flight.

No sooner had I hung up than my phone rang. A good friend from work telephoned to tell me there had been another much bigger quake that very moment. It was (to say the least) a very emotion charged call… I was left with no doubt it had been a big and scary quake. I rang home straight away. Katherine was audibly shaken and I could feel the panic, fear and terror.

I did what little I could do by talking calmly and telling her to get to her family. Annie was on her way home from school, which had been closed due to the earlier shake. We didn’t know where she was.

I then received the boarding call for the flight. 13 and a half hours without contact. Grim.

Aaron from Air New Zealand came and found me at the gate lounge. He knew that I was from Christchurch, he told me that they we monitoring the situation and that he would keep me up to date throughout the flight. He was excellent, several times he came back to find me and kept me informed as best one can. He was the consummate professional. I was and am very grateful.

It was nice, therefore, to have a laugh with Aaron in the lounge before the flight on this trip and to get a chance to say thanks.

Special mention also to Tina and Jon on the flight today also. They were great.

My recent flight homeward in late October had Mary Jo as the concierge. She was equally awesome. As a regular traveller (polite way of saying Gold Elite) I receive a text message usually the day before the flight from the concierge introducing themselves and asking whether I need anything. I always say hi back. On this occasion I had neglected to do anything about looking into an upgrade from economy to premium economy and given I and done a ton of internal travel in Canada I thought a bit more leg room mightn’t be a bad idea.

I cheekily asked whether Mary Jo might be able to assist in the process of this (I’d left it too late to do online from my hotel). She cheerfully replied she could and did. Nice.

And the bit I really like is where I get little gestures that remind me I am welcome back. I tend to travel economy class for long haul (we are a small company and I am trying to maximize our travel spend in the number of trips I can make to clients rather than the location on the aircraft I sit). Notwithstanding that I’m in economy the Air New Zealand team equip my seat with water, premium economy toilet bag and headphones. And I frequently get a glass of port or some other nice surprise pop from the curtains in front. I love it.

I was once a premium One World member (the Qantas days). I was on a Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong with colleagues. They’re sick of this story… All three of us were sitting in economy together when the cabin attendant approached us asking for Mr Hygate. “Here we go chaps”, I said… “upgrade time”. She lent over and said (looking at a computer list) “welcome onboard”.

I laughed and laughed, how did my colleagues feel? Presumably they weren’t welcome onboard?

Well actually I do know how they felt as the same thing happened to me on a flight from Heathrow to LAX in June. I had a last minute seat change to Premium Economy and was siting next to chap who received a very warm welcome as a Gold Elite. He proudly told the attendant he had just ‘made’ Gold Elite. I am into my fourth consecutive year there. I was tempted to refer to chopped liver but was having such a comfy flight and after all I had the Cathay karma to make amends for.

I am interested to see how Air New Zealand will continue to reward their most loyal clients. I don’t see a huge amount of daylight between Gold and Gold Elite. I once heard that the number of Gold Elites was quite large, and I’m not that sure it’s hard to get there. I’ve banked enough status points to keep me there a while and that’s without the rather daunting 2012 schedule…

I do wonder whether a more status-based-upgrade-at-the-gate (where there are seats free) system might be cool? Then again I see that operating for Air Canada and United and don’t really like the whole litigation that can occur at the gate or the whole not knowing. I like to know where I am on the aircraft, it allows me to go through my own preflight rituals… But they’re the stuff of another blog entry.

Thanks Air New Zealand and thanks to the awesome team onboard.