Sunday, April 22, 2007

Flying With Air New Zealand

I often fly to New Zealand from Los Angeles and a greater contrast could hardly be imagined than that between L.A. in California and Auckland, New Zealand. For all of you who have to travel through U.S. airports nowadays, you’ll know the experience is no longer one of intimacy and joy. It is highly stressful with everyone struggling to cope with increased security measures, overloading, overcrowding, delayed flights and outbreaks of passenger rage. Then there is the airport itself as an increasingly tacky shopping mall with lousy customer service. That is what you get unless, of course, you are lucky enough to be flying Air New Zealand. Or, even luckier, flying their new premium Business Class.

For a start the airport lounge has been revamped to reflect the relaxed friendliness of true New Zealand home comforts. It serves real New Zealand food, not the usual plastic airport stuff, and showcases New Zealand wines and beers. There’s also a great range of the latest New Zealand, Australian, and U.K. newspapers, which are almost impossible to find in the U.S. From the lounge on, the experience simply gets better. I once told someone flying Air New Zealand to Auckland was like getting home 14 hours earlier. It’s truer now than it ever was.

I love the way the crew manages to create an intimate atmosphere that makes the cabin more like home than hotel. They also know how to have a bit of fun. On a flight a couple of Fridays back I was greeted by a crew member who asked me if I was coming back to promote my book The Lovemarks Effect or to stir up some other sort of trouble. Then the guy in the seat behind me said he had read an article of mine a decade ago called “How to Kill a Company” and asked how was I doing with it. A young woman opposite asked if I was still teaching at Cambridge. It turned out she’d been an MBA student there two years ago and was now working for Lloyd Morrison, one of New Zealand’s edgiest entrepreneurs. And the food? Perfect. It tasted as if your mum cooked it, not some anonymous airline caterer. Even better, I can assure you the new flat beds in Business Class are among the best in the world. To top my evening off, the selection of movies was fantastic. Instead of the usual middle-of-the road international mind-numbers you deliberately missed in theaters, you could choose from the sort of films you actually wanted to see.

Ralph Norris did a fantastic job turning Air New Zealand around and, luckily for us, most of the crews stuck out the bad times and are still enjoying the job. Now Rob Fyfe seems to be carrying the legacy forward. Thank goodness for all of them.