Business travellers who need to get from New Zealand's capital to the country's economic hub have two options between Wellington and Auckland: Air New Zealand or Jetstar, both of which have an early morning flight arriving in Auckland before 0745.
Jetstar normally has the price edge, and its increasing affiliation with the oneworld alliance may well provide the opportunity to earn miles and points with oneworld partners. Air New Zealand's flights earn Airpoints or can be funnelled into the programme of a Star Alliance or other airline partner.
Using Air New Zealand's self-check-in machines couldn't be simpler. Just insert the card used to pay for the flight into the machine and it pulls up your reservation, asks you the usual security questions, lets you select a seat if you want, and prints off a boarding pass plus bag tag if needed. You then drop off your hold luggage at the bag drop ten metres away.
Airpoints members with iPhones don't have to check in at a kiosk unless dropping off hold luggage. They can use the excellent mPass app to display a 2D barcode instead of a boarding pass.
Air New Zealand Airpoints Gold and Gold Elite members, as well as Star Alliance Gold frequent flyers, have access to the Koru Lounge, which can also be purchased by becoming a member of the Koru Club. These travellers can also check in at the Koru Lounge.
Top tip: remember that internal NZ flights on jet aircraft do have security (turboprop aircraft don't). You don't need to worry about the liquid ban, though -- full-sized bottles are allowed in New Zealand. Nor is photo ID required: a credit, debit or Airpoints card will do.
Check-in closes 30 minutes before a domestic flight, or 60 minutes if you're connecting to an international flight.
While the Koru Lounge in Wellington is great, and we have access to the Corporate Box lounge via Priority Pass, we were travelling with colleagues who didn't have access to the lounges. Rather than abandon them and wave regally downwards through the windows of the lounge, we picked up a coffee and a croissant from Red Rocks that hit the spot.
There's plenty of comfortable seating and useful table space around the departures area for relaxing or hitting the laptop. The airport also has free Wi-Fi that's fast and easy to log on to -- just provide your email address, and they haven't spammed us yet.
There are ten places within the airport for food and drink (not counting the Koru or Corporate Box lounges). Kiwi favourite Wishbone has great fresh sandwiches, wraps and salads, and their outlet is just on the way to the domestic gates.
After only 45 minutes of drinking coffee and catching up with email in the departure area, boarding time approached. The Auckland flight departed from Gate 4, about 75 metres down the domestic pier. Security scans (metal detectors and x-rays) were in place, but no need for shoes to be removed.
The plane was nearly full -- only six seats at the back free, and took 45 minutes, under the timetabled one hour. Passengers sitting by the window get a great view of New Zealand's picturesque North Island. The best views are on the right hand side of the aircraft.
After touching down and taxiing quickly to the domestic terminal in Auckland, the plane connected up with the jetway and it was a short walk into the arrivals hall.
Special tip for business travellers between Christchurch and Auckland: avoid flights NZ34, NZ90 and NZ98: these depart from the international terminal at Christchurch. That means you need to check in 60 minutes before departure and will arrive in the International terminal at Auckland, including full Customs and biosecurity screening, which can be long and frustrating.
Air New Zealand's 737s have "space+" seating from rows 1-11, with 35 inches (89 cm) of pitch -- the space between seats you can call your own. The back of the plane is tighter at 31 inches (78.5 cm).
Air New Zealand Airpoints Gold and Gold Elite members, plus Star Alliance Golds and Koru Club members, can pre-select these seats. Others can request them at check-in subject to availability.
For a short hop, the 31" legroom was fine, even for tall passengers.
Top tip: if the flight looks full, pick a seat in the back few rows: the middle seat passengers are likely to be moved to the rows kept free at the very back of the plane, giving an empty middle seat to the people who are left.
Air New Zealand's internal jet flights between 0500 and 0900 get Koru Hour service: tea, coffee, water and a light breakfast. On this flight the crew offered muesli clusters, a muffin or muesli with yoghurt, and the coffee was fresh plunger style, hot and strong. Top marks for a 45-minute hop.
Even at the back of the plane, the crew had us fed and watered within twenty minutes.
If you're flying between 1630-1900, the offering is wine, beer and New Zealander fizzy favourite Lemon and Paeroa along with a light snack of cheese with crackers or bagel bites. Tea, coffee and water are also available.
Internal flights at other times are offered tea and coffee plus a small packet of sweet or savoury snacks.
Entertainment & Service
For a 45-minute flight, we weren't expecting much. New Zealand herself puts on the best show outside the window: picturesque countryside and volcanoes float by as you sip on your drink. A quiz is shown on fold-down mini-screens throughout the cabin, and Air New Zealand's inflight Kia Ora magazine is in the seat pocket.
If you bring a mobile or MP3 player that can play videos, you might just have time to get through a 30-minute episode of something before electronics need to be turned off for descent.