It’s hard for the food offered on a trans-Tasman flight to compete with what you have just eaten in the Melbourne First lounge, however good the service onboard QF153, this trans-Tasman flight between Melbourne and Auckland, New Zealand.
Route: Melbourne (MEL) – Auckland, New Zealand (AUK)
Date: Friday, 28 July 2023
Depart: 1:20 PM
Arrive: 6:55 PM
Duration: 3 hr 35 min
Aircraft: Boeing 737-800
Seat: 2C (Business Class)
Cost: part of a multi-destination return ticket AU$1,912.89 (destinations include: SYD-MEL-AUK-BNE-SYD).
If you are travelling on short-haul international on Qantas, the collective view is that you should aim for a flight with an Airbus A330 scheduled because that way, you get your actual Qantas flat beds in Business.
I hold a contrary view. If it’s a daytime flight, and you are travelling with a companion, then the Boeing 737-800 can be a better option. However, the A330 seating plan and flatbeds are great for longer flights or if you are travelling solo.
The issue with the A330-200 seating plan in Business is it’s not very couple-friendly if you want to chat during the flight. Although the seats on the Qantas Boeing 737-800 are much less reclining and much less luxurious, they are actually better for chatting with a fellow traveller.
On the A330, even if you get a middle pair, the console forms a barrier and is not conducive to conversation. The staggered nature makes interaction difficult if you choose to be partners across an aisle. If you are colleagues or friends as 2A and I are, or even partners, then the 737 Business configuration can be much more pally.
Much as I love those Qantas Business flat beds, for a daytime flight with an engaging companion, I am more than happy with the Qantas Boeing 737-800 Business Class seats.
We checked in at Sydney Airport Qantas Business Class lounge for both our domestic and international flights. That is, we had collected our tickets from Sydney to Melbourne, and the international leg, Melbourne to Auckland. All we needed to do was show our passports at the Qantas Business Lounge in Sydney.
Obviously, although we had checked in and were ticketed in Sydney through to Auckland, we still had to be processed through customs and immigration at the Melbourne International Terminal 2. We had also just spent a very enjoyable time lunching in the Qantas First Lounge in Melbourne.
Boarding was fairly smooth but delayed. I like to be one of the first to board so I can get passenger-free pictures of the cabin. So we dived out of the Melbourne First lounge a few minutes ahead of the scheduled boarding time and then had to sit around near the gate, as it was not even remotely open. Boarding was scheduled to open around 1 pm but was delayed by roughly 20 minutes. It could have been the usual ‘late arrival of the aircraft’, but I didn’t hear an announcement to that effect. We boarded a little before 13:15 and were at our seats a few minutes later.
I’d say our crew were all New Zealand-based from the accents heard.
We were offered pre-departure drinks at 13:32, and 2A and I both requested champagne, which was promptly delivered.
Our departure was further delayed by about 20 minutes. Not sure why. I overheard some discussion of offloading a passenger’s luggage in 14D. At 13:41, the aircraft doors were closed, and our by-now-empty champagne glasses were collected. 20 minutes late for departure is not unusual on this route. The average for this route is 33 minutes.
Crew were advised to arm doors and cross-check at 13:42, and the safety demo video was played, along with in-person demonstrations by crew membrtd. We pushed back at 13:42 and headed skywards at 13:57. Six minutes later, the seatbelt sign was off on this roughly 80% full flight.
Unfortunately, food and beverage service was suspended a half hour into the flight by a big bout of turbulence lasting for roughly 10 minutes at 14:26.
At 14:35, the captain announced that we were experiencing strong headwinds, which had been responsible for the delayed arrival of the aircraft (now we know!) but would act to quicken this flight and that we should expect an on-time arrival into Auckland, despite our delayed departure.
The seat was standard 737-800 business class equipment, three rows of 2-2, with our seats in Row 2, A and C. Seat pitch is more than adequate until someone decides to recline their seat. In that case, the pitch is only barely deep enough to continue working on your laptop.
That turbulence a half hour into the flight pushed meal service forward, but given this was a three-and-a-half-hour flight, no biggie.
Down the back of the plane, economy options were described as chicken and a vegetarian option I didn’t quite catch.
Kevin, who was servicing the Business Cabin, circulated and read out our meal options: prawn salad entree (fortunately no smoked salmon), followed by a choice of corn and chicken soup, pumpkin and duck salad, or sesame and ginger chicken. I opted for the Sesame and Ginger Chicken, and 2A opted for the Duck and Pumpkin Salad. Both meals were served all at once on a tray containing the entree salad, the main meal, bread plate, crackers and cheese, and the dessert/chocolate bar. No multi-course service anymore.
White or brown sourdough bread was offered separately.
Kevin was pretty attentive, keeping our wine and water glasses topped up and meeting any requests to change or progress through wine selections.
Our trays were cleared at 15:11, with a tip from Kevin that ice cream would follow, and sure enough, at 15:30, pots of Maggie Beer Vanilla ice cream were distributed to those who wanted a further sweet treat.
Other than tea or coffee and regular offers of more wine and water, that was the end of the meal service.
Neither 2A nor I sampled the entertainment selection on this flight. It looked the same or similar to that offered on domestic routes. A fair, but limited choice of current movies, classics and selected episodes of TV series.
Still using Sydney/Melbourne time, the crew played a video about he strict customs approach from New Zealand authorities. The message in the customs video that was played at 16:16 was if you are not sure whether something is permitted or not – declare it, and you won’t be in trouble, even if it is not permitted. That’s a broad message that you should heed whether you are entering Australia or New Zealand.
The Pilot instructed the crew to prepare for landing at 16:28, with the seatbelt sign on at 16:41. The cabin lights were also dimmed for landing.
Swapping to Auckland, New Zealand time (2 hours ahead of Australian East Coast time), we landed at 18:52, and were at the gate 5 minutes later. The air bridge was activated, and cabin doors opened at 19:01
We both travelled with only cabin luggage, so no need to endure the inevitable wait for checked baggage at Bag Claim. Also note the time of 19:10 – less than 20 minutes from our actual touch down (18:52) to bag claim. Not bad.
Auckland Airport is fairly straightforward, although the passport control and customs area, I think, was adversely affected by the floods earlier in the year, so the current setup looks a little temporary. New Zealand customs and passport control staff are very amiable, and despite the press of arrivals, will pleasantly interact with you while maintaining their efficiency.
Thanks to the Business Class service of cabin manager Kevin, this flight between Melbourne and Auckland was a joy, despite the old Boeing 737 we were on.
Just something to note. For Australian citizens, you can now fill in your arrival information online, rather than in card form on the plane.
This was a great flight. The hard product – old 737-800, non-motorised business class seats and no WiFi onboard are standard on this flight to Auckland. I prefer the A330 with fully reclining business seats if travelling solo, but for a two person flight, these old 737 workhorses are actually more personable. The real star of this flight was the cabin manager Kevin. With hospitality at his heart, his service was a delight. And that’s despite the ‘whole-meal-on-a-tray’ that Qantas trans-Tasman service has descended to.
It’s always the staff that make the flight.
Next up in this trip report series – our stay at the Hotel DeBrett, and our return flights via Brisbane.
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