We live in Iceland and several of our family members live near Melbourne, Australia, so we decided to spend Christmas there. The two airports - Keflavík and Melbourne - are not exactly close to each other, the distance being 10,539 miles (about 17,000 kms). If there was a direct flight it would overfly Svalbard, Eastern Siberia, North-East China and Eastern Indonesia and it would take about 21 hours. But there's of course no direct flight. So how should we get there?
We knew we didn't want to fly economy and we didn't have the budget for most business class flights, so we had to look for an exceptionally good deal in business class. Connecting flights from Iceland to Africa, Asia or Australia are never good value. London, Copenhagen, Frankfurt or Germany are usually among the more expensive departure airports. Amsterdam or Paris can have better deals but none was available at that time.
We checked premium economy as well, and although Singapore Airlines' great premium economy was bookable at a reasonable price from Stockholm to Melbourne via Moscow and Singapore, we still hoped for a good price in business.
We considered for a long time, and we even held a booking for some time, to fly from Cairo. A CAI-MCT-KUL-MEL in business class was offered by Oman Air and Malaysia Airlines at a price similar to many economy class flights from Europe to Australia. But direct flights from Europe to Cairo are overpriced even in economy and connecting flights can have unfavorable schedules.
So what was the solution? Oslo is usually, maybe surprisingly for some of you, the cheapest airport for long-haul business class flights from Europe. And there came a promotional offer: Oslo to Perth with Qatar Airways and Auckland to Oslo with China Southern. Yes, we wanted to fly to Melbourne but why not to visit Western Australia for a few days? And yes, the return leg was from New Zealand but we could finally visit NZ as well - and the flight was even slightly cheaper than a return from Australia.
The Trans-Tansman market between Australia and New Zealand is an important one. There are five direct flights from Melbourne to Christchurch on an average day and up to 15 from Sydney to Auckland, and there are also several other direct routes. The Sydney to Auckland route has some interesting options to fly a good business class at a competitive rate such at LAN Chile's B787 for AUD 419 (EUR 265) one-way, or you can even fly Emirates First Class from Sydney to Christchurch for AUD 1100 (EUR 690).
A typical one-way economy fare from Melbourne to Christchurch would be - AUD 165 (EUR 105) on Jetstar's low-cost red-eye flight - AUD 280 (EUR 175) with Qantas' and Virgin's full service economy - AUD 520 (EUR 325) with Qantas and Virgin in business class
Qantas uses Terminal 2 at Melbourne Airport for its international flights
There was zero waiting time at check-in
The check-in agent checked my onward or return ticket from New Zealand. This is normally done for non-Australian or NZ citizens.
The airport is large, modern and was not crowded when we were there
Follow the signs
A lot of long-haul flights
We passed security in 10 minutes. The automated passport control was even quicker
Duty free as usual
Upmarket mall first, more ordinary shops afterwards
Although we were travelling in economy class we had access to Qantas' Business Lounge due to my British Airways Executive Club Silver (oneworld Sapphire) tier.
To get to Qantas business lounge go down to level 1 near gate 9
You can see which airlines use this lounge
The entrance area of the lounge
The lounge is large and was not crowded when we were there. Some of the seating areas:
How do you like the view from the lounge?
Hot food was available. The choice was big enough and both meal I tried - pea soup and dhal (lentils) - were very tasty.
Liquors and wine
There's another part where waiter service is available
Another eating area
Newspapers and magazines
Altogether I found the lounge very satisfying.
Look closely: current time 18.45, boarding starts for our flight (QF133 to Christchurch) at 18.25, scheduled departure time at 18.45. We checked several times with the lounge staff and we were told not to worry
Boarding was announced at 18.50. It was a short walk to the gate. Similar to our Perth to Melbourne flight I found again that boarding was much faster than in Europe. The view from next to our boarding gate:
The B737-800 aircraft flying this route had three rows of business class in a 2+2 configuration. But business class was unfortunately not for us today. The economy seats were however reasonably nice with a good average legroom
Headphones were waiting on the seat. Yes, audio was working this time (unlike on my Perth to Melbourne flight)
Push back was at 19.15 and take-off at 19.30 for a schedulde departure time of 18.45. An expected flight time of 2 hours and 51 minutes was announced for a scheduled flight time of 3 hours and 14 minutes
There's a small individual screen for each seat. It's great there's a built-in screen but it's very hard to find out where to press it exactly to make it react.
The overall view of the cabin
Safety demonstration was both manual and on the screens
Flight information right after take-off
The view after take-off
Meal service came at 20.20 and it was very similar to the domestic flight from Perth to Melbourne.
There was no menu so the cabin crew had to repeat the choice more than a hundred times, and the passengers had to choose very quickly. They told me the choice so quickly I had to ask back and still didn't understand completely.
Having three choices of hot meal sounds good. We had two different hot meals on two different flights and we were not able to eat any of the four meals - and we're not difficult. We felt that Qantas was trying to offer some original food but the taste was just not good.
Asian style noodle meal
Beef with rice
At least the ice cream was good (or at least we adults liked it - the kids didn't)
I found the choice of movies quite good
TV Box Sets
TV Music. This was the only music available in the IFE. The audio system offered "business-focused chat shows" only.
Qantas offers free Wi-Fi which sounds good - but the sign-in page never got loaded
Flight information before landing
We're almost there
We landed at 00.22. Immigration and customes took about 40 minutes.
We stayed at Commodore Airport, only a five minutes drive from Hotel Christchurch. I can really recommend it.
Bonus: New Zealand South Island
We spent four full day on New Zealand's South Island. I've been to 105 independent countries, 10 dependencies and 4 partially recognised countries and I found New Zealand the third most beautiful behind Iceland and Greenland (this is of course totally subjective). Not only the specific sights were nice beautiful but almost wherever we were the surrounding landscape was just beautiful (the only place we didn't like was Queenstown which was overcrowded with tourists). We found the New Zealanders very friendly and easygoing.
Some of the beautiful lakes
Some more lakes
This view was probably the most spectacular
A historical pub
The West Coast
A tropical forest near Franz Josef Glacier
Qantas Business Lounge International
Melbourne - MEL
Christchurch - CHC
This Melbourne to Christchurch flight was a very similar experience to the one I had on my previous Qantas flight from Perth to Melbourne. I appreciated the very nice lounge and although the full service economy with airport check-in, checked-in luggage, boarding by bridge, nice seats, headphone, in-flight entertainment and hot meals looked very good on the paper it was quite far from being perfect. The two weakest points were the lack of music in the IFE and food quality. Qantas economy class remains nevertheless a good choice.
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