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Jim Eagles: Living in a golden age of flight

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The introduction of new budget airlines has done wonders for passengers.
With the huge selection of airlines now in operation, customers can often find a reasonably priced flight. Photo / Creative Commons image by Wikimedia user Arpingstone
With the huge selection of airlines now in operation, customers can often find a reasonably priced flight. Photo / Creative Commons image by Wikimedia user Arpingstone

It's amazing how much the global aviation scene has changed over the years.

Great airlines have lost their way and famous names vanished without trace while brash newcomers have soared and the once-derided budget airlines gained respect.

When I first flew internationally about 40 years ago, my favourite airlines were Pan American, Qantas and British Airway's parent BOAC.

Now Pan Am has gone and I do my best to have nothing to do with Qantas, BA or any American airline at all.

These days my favourites are Air New Zealand, the Asian marvels Singapore and Cathay Pacific, and the extraordinary Middle Eastern newcomers Emirates and Etihad.

And I'm increasingly impressed with the performance of the new low-cost airlines.

During a trip to Europe this year we chose to fly with EasyJet and Ryanair and found them not only incredibly cheap but also extremely efficient (though you do have to stick rigidly to their rules).

Even Ryanair, which has a rather mixed reputation, provided a vastly better experience than the last time I made the mistake of choosing BA for European flights.

Similarly, for our latest visit to Australia to see the grandchildren we opted to get across the Tasman with Air New Zealand, which has basically adopted the no-frills model for its short-haul flights, and its low-cost partner Virgin Australia.

Again, not only were the fares considerably cheaper than anything I could find on the Qantas website, the experience was much more pleasant than the last time I suffered under the flying kangaroo.

For our next big trip, an Arctic cruise, we're thinking seriously about flying with China Southern Airlines, which offers cheap fares, the chance of a stopover in Guangzhou and - according to several experienced travellers we've talked to - perfectly good service.

It all goes to confirm, for me, what a wonderful thing competition is.

Once upon a time on most routes there was little if any choice.

Now every carrier knows that if it doesn't perform its customers can and will go elsewhere.

When Air New Zealand (and its parent NAC) had a monopoly on domestic routes the service was shoddy and expensive.

Now, thanks to the arrival of competition, it is a superb airline.

Similarly, the previous time we visited the grandchildren in Queensland, Qantas was the only airline flying to their town, allowing it to charge horrendous fares and get away with truly awful service.

Now we've got the option of flying Virgin so the fares have halved and the service is great.

It's a miracle.

Jim Eagles is a former Herald Travel editor.

- NZ Herald

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