OK, long one – nominally ten hours something on the first leg and 11:35 for the second. But for once, riding at the front of the bus. Nice change I’ll be the first to admit. So let’s see how SAS and Air New Zealand got along with it.
The SAS Airbus 330/340 was not equipped with the new, updated SAS business class cabin. And, to be honest, the old one is a bit dated with a 2-2-2 configuration, standard side-by-side seats, that when turned into sleepers were not flat but at a … 20° downwards angle?
Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself.
Check-in. First things first. Actually tried to do this while walking through CPH on arrival Thursday evening from PRG via VIE. Busy times… And yep, I did get checked in – but no shadow of a boarding card. System just told me that mobile boarding cards weren’t possible. Which sort of was odd as lots of people cleared gate C32 Friday with mobile boarding cards… Fluke of the SAS system, I guess.
But SAS actually still came out – if not ahead, then less behind on this one. More on that later. Back at home, I printed a SAS boarding card on good old-fashioned A4 paper and at least felt ready for the first leg, also having done the usual carry-on bundle-wrap packing.
Apart from the somewhat dated cabin (and we are talking first world problems here), the SAS flight went really well. First time, actually, that I’ve been on a flight with a customised cocktail list. The gin-based Take-Off was quite good, I found. Danish craft brewery Mikkeller makes two beers for SAS – ashamed to say that with cocktail offerings as well as wines, I didn’t get around to those. Liver limitations, y’know.
The food was good and likely had one of the best main courses I ever had on a flight: Deer cheeks. I’ve cooked pork cheeks and I’ve had beef cheeks in Oz – the deer ones were every bit as tender as the others and with the rich game taste to boot. Vewwy nice!
Opted for sleeping through, yet woke up when the cabin stirred for breakfast – and had some much needed apple juice for rehydration (though I did drink water throughout) along with coffee, croissant, fruit and yoghurt. Much a continental breakfast man, me.
Into Shanghai about a quarter late which matched about a 20 min delay out of CPH. Long, slow taxi and apparently they’d parked the plane with an idea of walking instead of flying the last stretch into the Chinese macropolis .But … that was not the worst.
Along the way, I relatively soon found a transfer desk for NZ288. Transfer? Nope! For reasons unstated, I was told I had to check in landside. Which entailed 2 x Immigration and 1 x counter check-in and 1 x Security queues. Or, in round numbers, an hour – or maybe one and a half. Whether that’s due to Air NZ and SAS not systems-communicating or a peculiarity of Chinese airports, even for transfers, remains obscure*). Try asking even a decently speaking Chinese gate or check-in desk agent that –I tried and had a polite smile for an answer.
That left me with half an hour for a quick lounge visit – something cold to drink and no success with getting internet enough to do anything. The latter was very coherent with the PVG wifi performance.
After that first lot of bad luck and trouble, the Air New Zealand experience just got better and better. The business cabin on their 787-9 has three seats across in a sort of herring bone layout where the seats are at an angle to the length of the plane. Pretty good privacy, no legs to cross if you have to go anywhere, and a wee ottoman seat that you can put your feet up on or – if you’re flying with someone – for a guest to sit on so you can actually share the table.
The inflight screen on the SAS flight was small and embedded in the seat in front – Air NZ in contrast had a seemingly much more hi-res flip-out screen that was nicely responsive and didn’t require any use of the remote. Also, it had a jack plug for those using their own headphones and a USB plug that was capable of charging an iPad. Both airlines ran a standard 110V multi-national power plug but Air NZs connectivity was just a class above that of SAS.
The crew took orders for drinks and main course already before take-off and service was throughout quick and very attentive. And the Pinot Noir I had was superb – if SAS won for best main course, this one takes the prize for the best red wine I’ve yet had on a flight.
And the seat not only turned into a flat sleeper – as in horizontal – but also got equipped with a mattress and fluffy pillow. Slept like a baby – or, almost, because I found it very warm. But as the 11 hours 30 or so passed quite quickly, and that is a sure sign of having had a good sleep.
Into AKL 25 minutes early – which had the Hertz lady scrambling a little as the note on my flight data had not quite gotten through to her. But she gave me a car pretty fast anyway and so I could drive off into the early Auckland morning after what is probably the most comfortable way of getting through a trip of that length. Will be interesting to see if the SAS HKG-ARN flight on Friday will be with the new business cabin so I can get a comparison run. You’ll hear about if it does.
Cobblestones? There are some wins and losses for both companies, whether on their own or through interactions out of their controls. But taking into account that business class tickets make the higher scores harder to get, I’ll be a little harder on SAS than on Air NZ and award 4 and 5:
Air New Zealand 288:
*) Update: It was due to systems non-communicating. Could not check in online for my AKL-HKG flight back; phoned Air New Zealand and they told me so. In this IT day and age, I do find that such things should just work flawlessly between alliance partners. But as I don’t know if the blame for this belongs to one or the other or both airlines; I can’t really take off the cobblestone that I do feel should be lost on this. But be aware, SAS and Air NZ, that if you can lean back and say, “Hey, that’s probably due to our system”, then you should look at yourscore above and subtract one.