Friday, August 22, 2014

*updated* London Heathrow to Wellington... the big day

** Updated: 22/8/2014 14:45 with more details and minor editorial updates **

I have been back in Wellington, New Zealand for less than 24 hours now, so it's time for a brief update on the flights :-)

I left London Heathrow on the evening of Tuesday 19 August and arrived in Wellington mid afternoon Thursday 21 August, having travelled via Abu Dhabi and Sydney.

Rides home were:
  • London to Adu Dhabi: Etihad Airbus A340-600
  • Adu Dhabi to Sydney: Virgin Australia Boeing 777
  • Sydney to Wellington: Air NZ Airbus A320
All of the flights were comfortable enough [ok, so long-haul in economy is never going to be great] but the Virgin Australia economy seat stood out as noticeably more comfortable than the Etihad economy seat [the Etihad seat felt the same on all 3 sectors I flew with them; a noticeably harder seat pan].

The inflight service was really good on all long haul sectors, including crew and food. Without exception, all of the cabin crews on all flights were friendly and welcoming and even the long-haul meals were all tasty.

I liked the Virgin Australia "snack bars" in economy - just chips, water and soft drinks - a nice touch but easier than going to ask a crew member. As for Etihad, a two people on different flights commented about how helpful and friendly the Etihad crew were to passengers - something I saw as well. Perhaps surprisingly and completely unprompted, both of those passengers compared Etihad to another well-known, well-regarded, full-service airline and said that Etihad crews are far better [I haven't flown on that other airline, so I can't comment on that]!

As for IFE - they were all good, although the Virgin Australia aircraft implementation was mostly better. It was more touch-responsive [although none of them are great] and no annoying adverts before the movies! Big bonus points for not having to fast-forward over the same advert for each movie for TV programme! The only [minor] negative about the Virgin IFE was that the flight map history was all made up - only the current position was accurate [yes, I did say minor!].

All in all, I'd very happily fly with all three of these airlines again.

The only major niggles I had in the entire trip were a delayed bag [on the way over] and a disinterested, lying, lazy, idiot [or all 4 perhaps?] check in agent [working for "Servicair" on behalf of Etihad] at London Heathrow on the way home.

Delayed Baggage
...was delivered the next day... turns out someone had only sent it as far as Abu Dhabi... annoying for me and for family who were at Heathrow to pick me up, but hardly the end of the world. I was given £26 compensation at the airport, of which my sister made me spend about £75 on new clothes... yes, those numbers are correct :-)

Servicair check in at Heathrow
Checking in just over 3 hours before the first flight towards home, I was told by the check-in agent that there were no aisle seats available on any of the three sectors [she did not say "I can't change seats", but "there are none available"!]... unless I wanted to pay extra for an exit row of course [no, I'll keep my money]... Almost sounds like this person was on commission!

If I had checked in at short notice then fair enough, but there are about 114 aisle seats on an Eithad A340-600 in economy [excluding the 12 associated with an exit row], so I doubt they were all gone 3 hours and 10 minutes before departure [can anyone confirm either way?]... as for the flights departing about 13 hrs and 28 hrs later... who knows...?

As it turns out, I found out that the computer had already allocated me an aisle seat on the longest flight between Adu Dhabi and Sydney [so she probably didn't even look before saying "none available"!].

What confirmed her incompetence was when I was told I would have to pick up my checked baggage [ie: go through immigration] in Sydney, even though I was continuing on to Wellington a couple of hours later. This was despite her issuing me a bag tag which included Wellington. Yes, I did query this in case I had mis-heard her. The same instruction was issued. Virgin Australia [via twitter] suggested the advice I was given was wrong and Air NZ [at the international transfer desk in Sydney] confirmed all was OK. Air NZ also gave me an aisle seat [they wanted to reissue my boarding pass anyway for some reason]. Nice support Virgin Australia and Air NZ. Thanks!

I have never thought it was unreasonable to politely request aisle seats. I had never been ignored before. Oh well. Servicair.. perhaps one of your staff should be given more training...?

Social Media support
The social media teams at Virgin Australia, Etihad and Air NZ seem to have the social media side of things just about worked out. Sure, they all like compliments, but even when there have been issues, they are quick to help [especially Virgin's twitter people after the "Servicair" incident about the baggage]. There can be a wee disconnect between Virgin's team and the services available at the airport at times, but no major problems.

Maybe I'm just getting old and should stop complaining :-)

Anyway, just a few photos from Heathrow Terminal 4. Top to bottom we have:

Boeing 777-2U8/ER, 5Y-KQT, of Kenya Airways
Airbus A319-111, F-GRXA, of Air France
General view of part of T4
Boeing 777-337/ER, VT-ALO, of Air India
My ride to Adu Dhabi :-) Airbus A340-642, A6-EHK, of Etihad Airways
Airbus A380-841, G-XLEC, of British Airways
Airbus A321-211, F-GTAJ, of Air France


Roy Blewett said...

Good old fashioned customer service, British style. One reason I now live in Wellington, not London!

Rodney said...

Yep :-) Having said that, everyone else from an airline I met/ communicated with was good - including Virgin Australia, Air NZ, Etihad, British Airways