Trip Report: A Whale of a Weekend

Saturday 4th February 2012

There’s early, theres OMG Oclock, There is O Dark Thirty, but this morning, I was up so early there is a new term for it. Stupid O clock. I was up super early but to be honest, I needed to get a run in before the day of indulgence ahead. Thankfully my gym is 24hrs so that was worth it. After a good run, I was feeling more human and by the time I left the house, the sun was rising.

I was also tring something new out this morning. I was going to drive to the Airport rather than rely on my usual mode of transport (the parents). So with an empty road ahead I made it to Andrews Airport Parking with plenty of time to spare and an easy pre paid check in, and all was done! I just had to wait about 5 minutes or so for the next shuttle to the airport. Pretty simple and pretty good value considering a two day stay was HEAPS cheaper than a cab to or even from the airport. A one way taxi is around $60 from my place. So this is a good alternative.

I was dropped off at the International Terminal soon enough and after a few minutes wait at the Virgin Australia Priority check in I was promptly served. Even though my check in was painless, I had to ask for an express pass, was not provided with a Lounge invite (apparently not needed anymore) but was not told which lounge I could use (although I was going to try and get into the Silverkris Lounge if I could manage it). Through immigration easily, hell I had to wait longer at the Express Pass lane for security than was at the normal security lane. Stupid stupid move mal! Pocketed the express pass to clear immigration as there was no wait there and I was out without effort.

I avoided the Duty Free store and headed over to the Silver Kris lounge to try and see if I could get in, now that Virgin Australia is partnered with Singapore Airlines, but I was denied access after being told I needed to be on a Star Alliance flight. I wasn’t sure of the rules, figured will try again in the future, and headed off to the Air New Zealand Koru Club as I knew I would be welcome there. Into the lounge, and minutes later I am coffee in hand. O dear delicious black liquid, you are what I needed. After a relaxing time in the lounge, reading my book, about 3 coffees, some toast I was ready for the morning’s flight ahead.

About 15 minutes before boarding I slowly made my way towards the gate as I wanted to get my customary photo and figured I could do with a bit more walking. Was hoping for PBJ to be on the flight but nope, PBG. Damn, no peanut butter jelly time for me 🙁

Virgin Australia (Operated by Virgin Australia NZ)
Brisbane to Auckland
Boeing 737-800 (ZK-PBG)
Economy Class – Seat 3A

Boarding: 0800 (Gate 77)
Push Back: 0833
Take Off Roll: 0847 (Runway 19)
Top of Descent: 1408
Touch Down: 1435 (Runway 05R)
Shut Down: 1441 (Gate 9)

Boarding was soon called after a lonely gentleman had been standing around waiting at the gate since I arrived and just stood there, waiting in line. He just had to be first onboard but whatever! Strolled onboard to find that this ex Pacific Blue aircraft had not been refitted yet, but who cares Row 3 means good seating either way! Old Premium economy seating at Economy prices. Gotta love the leg room though. We waited a long time while this flight packed to the rafters… all the way to the back this little 737 was packed full of people, all heading off to New Zealand (most looked to be heading home).

As we taxiied up to the far end of the airport to Runway 19 we passed Norfolk Air coming into the Terminal and was happy to get one last shot of it, because it won’t be around for much longer. We were about 2nd in line behind a Virgin Australia domestic and ahead of a Virgin Australia domestic… busy morning for Virgin! We lept into the air and soon enough were turning left and reversing course towards the east. Goodbye Australia, see you tonight!

Service onboard was up pretty quickly, no offer for Elites to fill the empty Premium Economy Cabin but meh, I had leg room, I had my book and noise cancelling headphones. Feed me some coffee and I will be even happier. Well Virgin made me a happier man, because they are now offering free Tea, Coffee & Water to all guests. w00t! Black coffee, water and my book. I was in flight heaven. I love to fly, feed me coffee while I am flying and I am even happier, give me those three things I just mentioned, I could sit on that flight for hours (well till my back started hurting at least).

It was a pretty good flight really, a few bumps on descent into Auckland and with a very low cloud deck, that was to be expected. We popped out below the cloud deck on finals into the Airport, I did not expect to be that low after coming out of the clouds so it was a suprise to say the least. As we descended into Auckland I saw a lovely looking Black Airbus sitting waiting at the runway threshold. A Few quick photo snaps and thankfully I scored another All Blacks livery to the collection. And then I saw the other one! Quick finger work got this one as well. Then we turn toward the terminal and There is another score, A Cathay Pacific One World livery. Lordy what a haul.

As we pull into the gate, all the way out on the end of the old pier, I have to trudge across the airport to the Immigration then clear the world’s longest immigration line (thankfully there was no wait at the Smartgates, passport stamp be damned). I was through immigration pretty quickly and painlessly. No having to answer questions of why I was spending about 4 hours in the country before flying straight back again. But my punishment was about to begin. All the priority bags came off quickly but mine was nowhere to be seen. Not again!!!!! It eventually came off, in the last grouping of bags. Check my bag and no priority tag.. Fail Virgin Australia… #fail. With my bag in hand and a solid 30 minutes of lounge time wasted, I quickly walked my way to the other end of the terminal to the Emirates Check in desks.

I had remembered where Emirates Check in was located from last time I flew out of Auckland at easter last year. But this time, I was heading to a different section. A red carpet awaited me, a Beautiful empty red carpet with the words “First” emblazened all over it. I was only in line about a minute before I was beckoned over, I had barely enough time to pull out my own things before I was being told apologies for having to wait a few extra seconds. Now that is service! Hell I was happy to wait, gave me a few seconds to get my stuff in line. I was quickly checked in, a few First Class tags pilffered as momentos and then I was being pointed in the direction of the pre clearance for customs. I pre cleared and then was instructed to turn left as I went into the Departures area.

Upstairs, into Departures which was all decorated up for Chinese New Year, and through the Pre Cleared lane. This was effortless! No need for express passes, no need for explanations, hell not even a question about my length of stay in the country. Forgot my belt at security, but rather than make me take it off and go through again, they just did a manaul grope scan instead. What can I say, the kiwis are different. I headed towards the Emirates Lounge, which I thought was downstairs but is in fact upstairs next to the Qantas and Air New Zealand lounges. I was expecting extravagence at every turn. But what I found was quite suprising. Their was a service that you would expect onboard an asian carrier. The term “Lounge Dragon” would not even enter my mind, this lady was the epitome of nice. After a quick run down of what is in the lounge and what to expect for a first timer, well I was impressed.

The lounge was not over the top, in fact it was quite subdued. Plenty of big comfy cream coloured sofas & chairs spread about it made the place look elegant yet comfortable. Reminded me of Palazzo Versace before the refurb, before it became to over the top and silly. This was elegant, refined and inviting. Just what I was not expecting. The booze was laid on pretty thick, good quality and lots of it. The food looked fantastic, very snacky but yet some substance to it. Staff moving about every where and to be honest it all looked to good to be true.

I settled into a couch with a plate full of vegies (and a bit of bread and protein but not much as I am sure dinner will be full of that!). More book reading, in front of CNN going on but I wasn’t in the lounge for all that length of time. I was planning on checking ou the duty free to see if I could get some stuff in Auckland cheaper than in Sydney. So after leaving the lounge about 30 mins before boarding was meant to commence and a quick browse drooling over the Breitling watches in the watch store, I couldn’t find what I was after, so wandered around. Spotted the All Blacks 777 and then made the long walk out to Gate 15. Took it slow, enjoying the view of the airport movements going on around me.

The gate area was packed full of people, no doubt all flying Economy as I was probably the only one in the upper classes sitting around at the gate. Hell I had my First boarding pass half hidden, one to see if I could trip up the gate agents. With about 5 mins before boarding was due to commence they started to take the pre boards down to the gate, their was a family with a wheelchair and about 15 Unaccompanied minors. This caused the biggest rush of Gate Lice I have ever seen. They came from no where!! There was about 30 of them by the time boarding was called. I mean seriously, I have been through that A380 boarding process before, you have to wait a LONG time and they take their time loading the A380.

Auckland to Sydney
Airbus A380-800 (A6-EDB)
First Class – Seat 3A

Boarding: 1800 (Gate 15)
Push Back: 1839
Take Off Roll: 1849 (Runway 05R)
Top of Descent: 1910
Touch Down: 1940 (Runway 16R)
Shut Down: 1950 (Gate 61)

A Boarding call was made inviting all First Class guests to board at their leisure, and I was away! First to the gate, first onboard, first time in Real First class. I wanted as much time as possible to experience this!! I made my way up the ramp on the A380. Only the 3rd time I have flown this type of aircraft and only the 2nd time I have trekked upwards to get onboard. But this time, It was upstairs and “Welcome Mr Muir, right this way please” and with that I was in First Class.

I was shown to my seat Suite, and with that the photos began. They must see people taking photos all the time, because the crew member instantly offered to take my photo in the Suite, so who was I to say no. After a number of shots (with me trying to supress a giant silly grin on my face) and lots more pics of the cabin. I was offered a Pre Departure Beverage of choice and when I said just “Sparkling Water Please” it was as though they were dissapointed. Plenty of offers of Champagne but I decided to wait. I had been told they hold off on the Dom until you get in the air and I figured a glass of Dom after a shower was the way to go.

With my water quickly delivered, I got to chatting with the Purser about 777’s (my Boeing shirt turned out to be a good conversation starter) and how great one would make as a Private Aircraft (o if only I had a spare 3 or 4 Hundred Mil). As the cabin started to fill slowly (would of been so much better if I had the place to myself, I arranged to have a shower as soon as we were in the air) and then I settled into the Suite to play and explore. We were at the gate a LONG time, the air bridge for the Upper Deck was pulled quite early compared to Downstairs. I was just happy to be chilling. A hot towell was offered, but no Arabic Date or Coffee. This was a bit of a shock as I knew this was part of the service. I think the reason behind that was the couple taking up the middle pair of seats declined and I was just forgotten, but after an offer for a Water Top up, I declined but gave them a prompt that I wasn’t offered a date or coffee, and they quickly brought some out for me (of which I had time for two cups before take off).

By the time we started pushing back, I was just happy to have this experience start, the sooner we were in the air the sooner I could get the bucket list item ticked off. Shower time! We taxiied out but this time the take off was slightly louder. But to be honest, I didn’t mind. It didn’t feel like we had taken off (maybe thats an A380 things) but the noise was definately more distinct this time. We took off, and for a while the Seat Belt sign just never came off. I was needing to make a pit stop but didn’t realise that the Toilet IS the Shower spa for first class and they told me that they were prepping the shower for me and they would be with me shortly. The crew kept reffering to me as the “your the one having a shower” which wasn’t what I expected! Would of prefered my name to be honest but what the hell.

I was collected a few minutes later and taken to the Shower Spa where I was promptly shown all the facilities, how the shower works and again I was trying to supress a silly smile. A minute or so later they left me to my own devices, so after a number of photos of the shower spa, I had my shower. When I hopped out, we were at a cruise altitude of 12000m. What a wierd feeling and experience. My one and only complaint was the shower was just not hot enough for my liking. But damn, it felt good! I was clean, refreshed and feeling human. Time for some dinner and some relaxing! After heading back to my seat, my pre ordered drink was promptly served. A glass of Dom Perignon 2002! O yes please!

There is where the service got a bit wierd. Everything from here on out was super rushed, but we were barely 25 mins into the flight with 2 and a half hours to go. I was asked what I would like for dinner, and I had not even been handed a menu, no nuts with the drink (I had to ask for them) and the meal was brought out so quickly after that it felt like they were trying to cram it down me! I was hoping for a relaxed meal but that was not to be! I did take my time as much as possible with the courses though. I didn’t even touch my starter until I had finished the gloriously hot nuts. Not warm nuts ala United and American. These were piping hot, and tasty!

First up I went with the “Hot Cured Salmon Filet” served with Kawakawa Potato Salad, garnished with Fresh Cream and Dill. This was stunningly yummy and the salmon was just devince. Caviar looked to be kept for the longer sectors but this was still good for me! I skipped the soup and went with the “Seared Lamb Loin with Mediterranean Vegetables” served with creamy mashed potoated, roasted courgettes, eggplant, onions and tomatoes. The lamb was tender and beautiful but the potato was far from “creamy” But I had some beautiful wholemeal bread to go with it (with a little bit of butter cause I am in first class).

And then my eating went out the window. I was offered Dessert, Cheese or fruit… what came out of my mouth… “All three would be nice” By this stage I was drinking my usual diet coke and this was promptly replaced with coffee while I enjoyed some lovely cheese, crackers and fresh fruit and the coffee went extremely well, served in a little silver pot and I got a good 2 or 3 cups out of each pot. I was pretty much stuffed by the time I finished all this and had a bit of a rest enjoying watching Pan Am. With the show finished, I went for a wander up the back to the Upper Deck lounge. As I walked back through Business, it was empty!!! About 1/3 full really and its a big business class cabin.

The upper deck lounge was empty and I got myself a drink (after having to ask, no offers) and then the snacking began! I mean seriously why would I do this to myself. I was offered some chocolates which I had one of instead of the cake I was also offered but instead, decided to try some Baklava. I had never had any before and it was tasty, but not something I think I would have all to often. After a lengthy conversation about travelling with the Crew member staffing the Bar I wandered back to my Suite to settle in. Just before descent I asked for some more coffee (I was starting to crash a little) and this was brought out with a few more boxes of chocolates. These promptly went into my bag to avoid me eating it (since I had decided to have the ones I brought back to my seat). To be honest, this wasn’t the first things to go into my bag. I felt like I was taking just about everything that wasn’t nailed down. Suite Guide, inflight magazine, writing kit, hell I grabbed the two arabic coke cans (one for me, one for a friend) and then at the last minute, all the chocolate bars as well (greedy I know).

We started our descent into Sydney as the sun started to set. This flight was coming to an end unfortunately. But I had enjoyed it never the less. As we came in for approach to Sydney I flicked to the Flight cameras and was alternating between the Downward cam and Tail cam and then soon enough we were on the ground in sydney. As we taxiied to the gate, part of me wished I was continuing onto Dubai. I was handed an Express Pass for immigration (didn’t realise until today this was actually for New Zealand and wouldnt work in Sydney cause I was given the wrong one). We disembarked and being in first meant we were first off as they held business class back and they connected our Air Bridge first.

I had time to shop and get some duty free, before the masses made it through to the gates, hell Immigration was desolate and my bag was waiting for me on the carosel. No need for the express card as their just wasn’t any lines and within 10 minutes of disembarking I was walking out the doors. I spotted my Emirates provided chauffer waiting for me and within minutes I was heading towards my hotel for the night. 15 minutes from Disemberkation, Shopping, immigration and bags and then on the way to the hotel and 20 minutes after that I was walking into my hotel for the night the Sofitel.

I had selected the Sofitel to test out how my newly scammed Platinum A|Club would be recieved as it was either the Hilton or the Sofitel and I figured that since I had stayed at the Hilton before, might as well check out the Sofitel and kill two birds with one stone. My bag was taken by the Porter the second we pulled up and I was promptly greeted and shown to reception. A|Club card presented with my credit card and they had me checked in within minutes. I heard all the things I wanted to hear “here are your Welcome drink vouchers (didn’t end up using them but will pass them to a friend), “We have upgraded you” but when I was handed a little box of chocolates I figured this was my welcome gift. Boy was I wrong!

I got up to my room and there was the BIGGEST fruit bowl known to man, sitting on the table. Dear god it looked good but such a waste considering there was no possible way I could eat it all! I unpacked and packed up all my bounty from the flight and promptly jumped into the Sofitel My Bed. I love this bed for its softness but it is ALWAYS to warm for me. But either way, passed out shortly there after, fairly early but it had been a LONG day.

Sunday 5th February 2012

Woke up a little bit early and went for a lovely run along the harbour as the sun came up to its full height. This is one of the things I love about my new life and travelling. I can see these amazing sites while doing something I enjoy. Felt very very good by the time I got back and was ready for the morning ahead. Took a few minutes after getting myself ready to down some water and take a few photos of the hotel lobby and explore it a little before packing up and setting off towards the train station. If I got their early enough I could “Next Flight Out.” Timed it pretty well because after buying my ticket at the Station, the airport train was sitting right there! Score! Within 15 minutes I was hopping off at the station and less than 5 minutes later I was up in the terminal.

Checked in and after asking if I was on the 9am flight, I did let them know that i was on the 10am but if they could get me a window seat I would be happy to take the 9am flight if there was time. I was handed a boarding pass and told that boarding would begin in about 15 minutes. w00t!! barely enough time to get to security, get stuck in a giant queue, but then told to head right to the end where no one was, then into the lounge and get myself some toast for breakfast. I will keep my thoughts more on the Virgin Lounge system for next week but It was a good spread for breakfast. With about 5 minutes till the boarding time given to me on the boarding pass, I headed off after only 1 coffee but thankfully I could have another on board. I headed towards the gate and thats when I heard another boarding call for a flight leaving in 20 minutes. It seems they tell you a 30 minute board time, but they only board 20 minutes prior to departure. Damn, could of had a few more minutes to relax my breakfast or time for another coffee. Damn.

Virgin Australia
Sydney to Brisbane
Boeing 737-800 (VH-VUI)
Economy Class – Seat 10A

Boarding: 0840 (Gate 33)
Push Back: 0905
Take Off Roll: 0920 (Runway 34R)
Top of Descent: 0901
Touch Down: 0924 (Runway 01)
Shut Down: 0928 (Gate 39)

Boarding was called and I strolled forward and followed a mother with her baby onboard all the while hoping that she was not sitting next to me! As I was heading to the plane I knew this was the time of the new Virgin Australia game called “seating gamble” where you get to see if you get a new fitted aircraft or not. Success! New fitout! but then things got confusing, as Live2Air was still fitted…AWESOME!!!

We loaded up fairly quickly and 10B stayed empty (thank you check in lady!) and we sat and waited as we were all loaded ahead of time. As we waited and pushed backk a bit late it was explained to us later it was due to traffic around the gates, which there was planes going everywhere and we were tailgating a new livery 737-800 to the runway. We past the Tower Mound (now called Shep’s Mound) as we took the long long journey out to 34R or as I like to call it… “the Sydney Runway that is actually in Auckland” We took off to the North with a lovely view of the City as we climbed out and that is when I switched off really. I did hear them announce the service order for the flight and they didn’t once mention the free Tea, Coffee or Water so I was quite suprised to get a dirty look when I asked for my usual Coffee & water. But whatever. I zoned out for most of the flight, finishing off more of my book, getting some coffee into me and slowly waking up.

As we came into descent over Brisbane we were told the weather was to be good and it was beautiful. Warm but not to hot, no clouds with lots of sunshine. I missed a good shot of the City but there is always next week. We landed and within minutes were pulled up to Gate 39. This was a good omen, its the gate closest to the Baggage Claim and to be honest, one of my favourite gates in Brisbane. This was the first Gate that I remember ever departing on a flight from out of this Airport. Back in the old Ansett Days, heading off to Sydney for my big journey to the states. The aircraft shut down at 9:28 and within 15 minutes I was off the aircraft, bags in hand (for some reason my bag always comes out upside down) and onboard a shuttle to the car park (timed it good as I had to run to jump on one about to leave). As we pulled up, my car was just pulled up and i walked in the door, grabbed my keys and was quickly heading home! That was worth the trip.


This weekend, though expensive was totally worth it. I had a very crappy weekend back in December when I had decided to tick an item off my bucket list and do some flying. Everything seemed to go wrong. Well this time around, everything seemed to go right! Things were by no means perfect. Their was a number of flaws with the Emirates First Class that could of been better but to be honest, It didn’t detract all that much from the experience. Their was a few hiccups on my Virgin Flight to Auckland but nothing that isn’t to shocking really. I could pull them all apart but that would be niggling way to much. To be honest, I enjoyed this weekend so much, I can’t wait to get back in the air again next weekend for 5 more sectors of fun!

Emirates First Class