Departure Time: 8:30AM
Economy Class Seat 1A
Duration 3 hours
D-man dropped us off at Auckland’s International terminal with about 1 hour to spare before our flight. Air New Zealand flies twice a week from Auckland to Noumea, the capital of the French Province of New Caledonia. They fly an Economy Class only airplane and have an interesting arrangments for seating or service on these Economy only flights. This was also the last segment of our marathon and unbelievable value-for-mile KIX – HKG – BKK – SYD – AKL – NOU United Airlines First Class award ticket.
We checked-in at the Premium Check-in area at Auckland’s International airport. I believe both our Star Gold status via US Airways Chairman status and the virtue of us being on a First Class ticket gave us access to this area.
An agent helped us scan our passports into a kiosk to find our flight details. While our flights were found the kiosk was unable to issue us boarding passes. The agent explained that this was because our flight terminated in New Caledonia but Air New Zealand has no record of our flight to depart New Caledonia so an agent has to manually view these details as a control point to help ensure people don’t overstay their 90 day tourist visa in New Caledonia. We showed the agent our itinerary leaving from New Caledonia 6 days later on Qantas to Sydney.
Next came seating assignments. In these all-economy flights, I believe Air New Zealand has Standard Seating, “Works” Seating, and “Works Deluxe” seating. I know ahead of time the best seat Air New Zealand’s website would give us was a seat in row 5. However some of the farther up rows have more leg-room. So about 6 weeks prior to travel, I called Air New Zealand and based on our US Airways Chairman Status and First Class ticket were able to call down to their seating department and get us a seat in row 3 which supposedly had more legroom. I noticed that when the agent gave us our boarding passes we were back in row 5. I asked her about it and asked to be as far up front as possible. I explained that I had called before and had row 3 assigned and that we were Star Gold on a First Class ticket. It took her about 5 minutes, including a phone call to somewhere, but shortly thereafter we were issued tickets for row 1, seats 1A and 1B. That was fine with me. Our boarding passes noted we had “Works” seating which I believe means a free meal and free alcohol. I am not sure what “Works Deluxe” would have gotten us above and beyond this.
We quickly cleared security, customs and immigration through the Priority Check-in channel which was quite fast. We were at the gate about 30 minutes before boarding. Due to the short time before our departure, we skipped the Koru Club. Plus I had filled-up on a Minced Meat Cheese Pie at D-man’s flat earlier that morning.
Boarding for Noumea at Gate 4
The boarding crew getting ready to board the flight.
From my experience flying Air New Zealand in 2009 I knew that they were quite strict about carry-on luggage. Not so much on the size as they are on the weight. Their limit, even for a business class customer is 8kg (about 17 pounds). Our bags were packed to the gills and each clock in around 15kg (about 32 pounds), but they are standard sized carry-ons. I was worried they would try to weigh them as we boarded with the scale in the right of the photo. They say this is a safety thing, that too heavy of luggage could fall from the “overhead lockers” and harm a passenger. While this could be true, why do we not hear more stores in the USA of passengers being injured by carry-on luggage since those overheads are packed every flight with bags that exceed 8kg. Hell, I could accidentally have my shoes untied and trip on myself and fall into a passenger and inure them. But we can’t mitigate all risks in the world, can we?
Nevertheless, we were able to board without scrutiny of our carry-ons. We were amongst the first to board since they called business class on a separate boarding call. The bags fit fine in the overhead bins.
Legroom during boarding of Seat 1A is awesome. However, once the door is closed the door juts into the space quite a bit. It was still reasonably comfortable.
A view of the cabin and galley from row 1. The seats on the other side of the aisle had severely restricted legroom due to the bulkhead compared to the open galley leg-room we had.
“Continental Breakfast” on Air New Zealand flight from Auckland to Noumea.
The flight attendants were professional, courteous, although a bit turgid. No complaints overall.
The views on landing of the main island of New Caledonia were epic. We saw huge soaring mountains, beautiful bays, crystal clear water with empty atolls, beaches, and tidepools pocking the landscape everywhere.
We landed on-time and were amongst the first off the plane due to our seating position. We quickly cleared customs and immigration and were in the arrivals hall.
New Caledonia is a very expensive place. They use the Pacific France (XPF; 1USD = ~90XPF) which is issued by the French Department of Treasury. The airport is actually a long way from the main city of Noumea, about a 40 mile drive. Taxis cost 120,000XPF! Even a shared shuttle coach was 30,000XPF per person. We went outside where drivers were standing with signs for their pre-arraned pick-ups. We negotiated with one to take us along with his regularly scheduled pick-up for 25,000XPF per person.
The drive to the Le Meridien Noumea was about an hour. It was very scenic. We shared our vehicle with an elderly French Canadian man who has retired in Noumea. He was very chatty and gave us great detail about the island and its history on our way in. It was pleasant to hear his insights. I didn’t realize that the USA had actually built the airport we had just flown into. The runway can accommodate even a 747 or A380 and was built by the Americans in World War II to use as an air field in the pacific theater. Wow!
We arrived to the Le Meridien Noumea around noon. We had only a one night stay here before moving on to the Ile Des Pins the next morning.