• Richard Prosser

Goodbye, Air Auckland

One of the downsides to living on the other side of the world is that it sometimes takes a little time for news from the Old Country to filter through.

And believe it or not, Air New Zealand's decision to end direct services to London didn't make the front pages here in the UK. Britain is sort of a wee bit preoccupied with other matters just now; you know, Brexit, and suchlike. No, the upcoming Rugby World Cup semi-final against the All Blacks isn't headline material either. Rugby is a very minor fringe sport in the minds of the World Outside New Zealand, even for the Pomgolians, who invented it. That it is a national obsession for the 0.06% of humanity who live in three small islands at the bottom of the world, islands that are being left off the maps with increasing frequency, does not trouble the editors of Fleet Street.

I was eventually made aware of this latest bizarre twist in the grey-matter processes of the New Zealand national carrier through a story on Newshub, and even then I only stumbled on it accidentally, whilst looking for something else.

But even Newshub didn't have much in the way of explanatory information. I found the following wee snippet on the Business Traveler website , and there's a truth contained in their article about the matter, that I think holds the key - or at least, one of them.

It's this bit:

"It also cannot have helped that travelers flying London-Auckland via Los Angeles need to obtain a US visa even though they were in transit."

- No, that didn't help, and in fact it has been instrumental in my own personal decision to not use Air New Zealand when flying between NZ and the UK ever again; a decision I made a few months ago, after enduring the process of transiting through Los Angeles, for one time too often.

I'm old enough to remember when Air New Zealand STARTED flying through LA. God, it was just the most glamorous dream destination, even if it was only a refueling stop. ANZ had 747s at the time, a grand total of five of them; and they scheduled their flights so that all five would be parked up at LA at the same time, to make them - us - look Big And Important.

I never flew that route at that time, so I can't comment on what the experience was like. But I can tell you what it's like now - f*****g horrible.

Los Angeles International Airport (yep, it even had a country pop song written about it) in 2019 is probably the most revolting experience any traveler could voluntarily put themselves through. On the NZ2 route, you're there for a couple of hours, which appears to be just long enough for the plane to be vacuumed and juiced up.

But fully half that time is taken up with going through security, and that's if nothing goes wrong. Now bear in mind that (because of my previous employment at the New Zealand taxpayer's expense, and once again thank you all for that) I'm a Gold Elite flyer, and will be for at least another two years, my status as a super-duper-important guest of Air New Zealand doesn't afford me any kind of privilege here.

How it goes is like this. You land at LA. You wait for some interminable length of time while they clear a gate. You disembark. Then you head down seven flights of escalators, into the bowels of the earth, walk several miles along stationary travelators, and arrive at a place from where you could probably reach out and touch the plane you've just got off, if it weren't for several layers of bullet-proof glass.

Then you get herded into cattle-drafting races, along with 8,000 other people, all of whom are from Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Nigeria, and one of the Moons of Jupiter. This leads you to a row of kiosks stretching out for a full statute mile. The kiosks are spaced one metre apart, and of the full mile of them, seven are operational.

Eventually you get to the right end of the queue. You put your passport into the machine. It asks you for your mother's maiden blood group, takes your picture, reads your fingerprints, scans your retinas, probably downloads your brain patterns, and absorbs and dissects the electronic visa you have dutifully applied for online and paid good money to obtain.

Then it spits a bit of paper in your face that informs you that your application can't be processed, so please go and see a human officer.

It makes no difference how many times you've done this. The process is always the same.

You re-enter another cattle drafting race, along with the other 8,000 souls who have been committed to the same transit purgatory. Some are less lucky, and are misdirected by Airport security staff, and have to go through the above-mentioned procedure a second time, before they're lucky enough to strike a member of Airport staff for whom English is only a second language, rather than a third, or fourth, or a not-at-all. Signs? yes, there are signs; they're at ankle level, and they point in whatever direction the last person to kick them, left them in.

Finally you get to stand face-to-face with a US Customs Officer. The officer puts your passport in a machine, absorbs and dissects your expensive electronic visa (remember at this point that you're not actually entering the US, you're only there in transit for two hours, and not ever leaving the secure part of the airport), scans your retinas, takes your fingerprints, and then waves you through.

I will say at this point that US Customs Officers, even though they're bored out of their minds and probably seriously underpaid, are always polite and professional. I do actually salute those people.

Then you go back into the cattle-race system, and not once, but twice, you go through security. Belts, shoes, jackets, everything off. Into the x-ray it goes. (Remember, you're not leaving the secure part of the airport, and your luggage is still on the plane that you've just got off - that you had to go through the same security to get on, in the first place). But here, even the cleaners are packing heat.

Then you get to the Star Alliance Lounge! Which Air New Zealand owns! Hooray!

And then twenty minutes later you get your boarding call, to which you have to respond, because the gate is a 40-minute walk away, via stationary travelators.

So for me, Los Angeles Airport has become a place and an experience that I am not willing to endure, ever again. And sadly, that means saying goodbye to Air New Zealand for my international travels. I say sadly and I mean it. Air New Zealand's staff - aircrew and groundcrew - are just the most very bestest of all the cabin and ground crews in the world, of any airline, anywhere, ever. I really do mean that.

But their senior management are clearly complete shit, and I say that because they have remained inexplicably welded to the whole Los Angeles thing for at least a decade longer than doing so has been humanly acceptable. There's also their fixation with Auckland.

And now, National want to make Air New Zealand's former CEO into their next Leader. Bear in mind that this was the chap who approved, and defended, for far too long, the 'safety video' featuring the fat wee brown fellow who couldn't hold a tune, pretended to be a New Zealander whilst emulating the behaviour of a wanna-be gangster from East LA, in the face of every but every frequent passenger telling him, and the airline, that they had crossed the line between the ridiculous, and the revoltingly insulting.

Now - Singapore Airlines can fly me direct from Christchurch, via Singo, to Manchester. This avoids three places that I won't lose sleep if I never see again - Auckland, Los Angeles, and Heathrow. But Air New Zealand can't. Why not? The only possible answer is complete and utter managerial incompetence. Email me if you have another explanation that is in any way realistic or plausible. If this wasn't the case, Singapore Airlines wouldn't be able to make that particular route work - but clearly, they can, or they wouldn't keep doing it. So Air New Zealand is, equally clearly, run by fuckwits, who can't see that, or who don't want to, because they're so far up Auckland's arse, that all you can see is their feet..

Well, you know what, Air New Zealand, no-one comes to New Zealand to see Auckland. They come to New Zealand to see the South Island, and that is why Christchurch should be your primary point of entry and exit.

Auckland, of course, is important for people who want to travel between their homes in Auckland, and the other places that Aucklanders come from, such as China, and Taiwan, and India, and certain Pacific Islands. So you'd do well to maintain what are effectively your domestic links to those places.

But take a lead from Singapore Airlines here. They have clearly recognised that no-one who wants to come to New Zealand for the purposes of tourism, has any interest in Auckland

(apart from Chinese gamblers at Chinese-owned Sky City). And they only put up with Taupo and Rotorura because it's on the way to where they really want to go, which is the South Island, and they really want to go there because it's the South Island that's actually worth looking at.

I will say this also. I did once fly the Vancouver route, which ANZ, for some further curious reason, known only to probably no-one at all, only operates once a week. The second leg of it is operated by Air Canada. I took that particular option because at the time, my second daughter was overdue to be born in the UK, and a troublesome volcano in Iceland was busy disrupting air travel all across the Northern Hemisphere.

So you land at Vancouver, which is the second-busiest airport on the West Coast of the North American continent. You stroll airily through the Arrivals Hall. A smiling, un-armed Canadian border officer looks at your passport, and says "Welcome to Canada" - and that's it.

But Air New Zealand has stayed stuck with Los Angeles; and now, all of a sudden, for reasons they appear to be genuinely unable to understand, so many people aren't using their service anymore, that it has become uneconomic to maintain it.

Well maybe now you know why.

Like the song says - LA International Airport, I won't be seeing you again. Or, sadly, Air New Zealand.

Richard Prosser

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