Sunday, 29 January 2012

The New Zealand Diaries: No.1 - Don't fly Qantas

Now, as most of you know, the jourknow had an action-packed trip down-under this Christmas, visiting family in the breathtaking South Island of New Zealand. A stunning place of untouched beauty, mesmerising landscapes and the home to the nicest people on earth. Over the next few weeks, I will be uploading a post of some of the things I got up to, along with some of the photos I took whilst travelling. I hope you enjoy my holiday as much as I did, and who knows, maybe you will be tempted in to booking yourself an unforgettable four weeks on the 'Isle of Paradise'!

No.1 - Don't fly Qantas

For most people, the flight to your holiday is usually the worst part of the holiday. Queueing up for check-in, being patted down by a shifty security guard and sharing seats next to a screaming baby and a woman with a cold; it is enough to put you off going on holiday. That's if you ever take off from the airport!

I had my concerns when my father booked the flight tickets last year to New Zealand through a travel agent. "Qantas", I cried. "Have you not read the news lately?" (this is in reference to the numerous news stories surrounding the airline, including strike action, engines blowing up and dwindling profits). But it was the cheapest economy class ticket we could find, so I forgot about my apprehensions and put on a brave smile as me and my brother walked through to check in in Heathrow Terminal 3, which yes, is still heaving at 9:00pm.

Sadly, the smile soon faded. My eyes were firmly focused on the Departure Information board. Only one flight was cancelled that evening, and yes, you guessed it, it was mine. Anyone who has ever flown and found their flight is cancelled will understand the emotions you experience when you read your flight is cancelled; anger, sadness, frustration, worry.

And this is where the Qantas operation starts to unravel. We queued for over an hour to find out what was happening, with only one obnoxious check-in girl offering any advise on what was going on. I could have sworn the couple behind us, travelling to Bangkok on their honeymoon, were considering hitting the woman. Once we got to the information desk, it was if an earthquake had just struck and everyone was in panic mode. Passengers were crying, quite rightly, with the staff offering little sympathy. For me, my number one priority was trying to discover what would happen to me and my brother. How would we get to New Zealand, if we were now going to miss all our transfers. After a heated discussion with one check-in girl who struggled to know where New Zealand was, her manager stepped in and informed us that we would find out tomorrow morning. Before I had chance to argue, I was escorted off the premises with my brother to a hotel for the evening.

Great, a night stuck in a hotel with my brother, right next to the busiest airport in Heathrow. Thankfully, the hotel was actually quite nice, and the food was good. Despite having no luggage - Qantas took that away, despite appeals from most of the people travelling - we got by, and with a few hours sleep, we awoke to the morning rush-hour of Heathrow. Our flight got off on time, albeit 12 hours late from the original lift off.

What about the flight? Me personally, well I love flying. I love it when the plane speeds along the runway for take off, I love watching the emergency procedures. I even love the food. But did I love the Qantas service? No, not at all. The plane was dated, the crew matched the near 'antique' interior, and the squashed surroundings reminded me of when I once wrote a project on the Slave Trade at school. I felt like a battery hen from start to finish. My brother was ill throughout most of it, and with a screaming baby in front of me, I closed my eyes and tried to dream I was somewhere else. Ideally business class.

After a pointless stop over in Bangkok, which saw us all walk off the plane and then get back on it, we got to Sydney to be told our transfers would not be until the next morning, which meant another night in a hotel. In a way, I was relieved. The good thing about staying the night in a hotel is you manage to get a good night's sleep, even if we had the screaming baby next door to us.

In the morning, refreshed and revitalised, I was angry to find out Qantas were not willing to get us to our final destination. Oh boy, did the Australians get a reality check. I threw everything at them; the waterworks, the sob stories, anger. Anything that might help get us to Dunedin. Thankfully, my father rallied around and sorted our connecting flights, and we even managed to get a change of airline, flying to Christchurch with Air New Zealand.

And what a flight that was. A brand new aeroplane, delicious food and an exquisite service which was just the starting point for my love for the Kiwi's. If you ever fly with them, you will love the safety video they play. It had me in stitches, it's so New Zealand! Finally arriving in New Zealand - a day later than intended - to the open arms of my father and his partner, I was relieved to be finally there. Now the real adventure could begin.

Lesson to learn: Do not fly Qantas. Despite the price being so cheap, the service was inadequate from start to finish. We were treated like some kind of urchin from start to finish, with no apology ever issued from the airline. Although the compensation was good - the hotel and food provided were better than expected - the whole experience was something I would rather regret. The Qantas service sadly left me with an impression of a company which is out-dated, underperformed and inadequate to the 21st century travelling.

Photos: The first two were taken from Sydney Airport, the last two were taken from my Hotel room, at the Mercure in Sydney.

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