My sisters are transplants to Australia and I have stayed in New Zealand, which means I am frequently ribbed by their respective husbands and other hangers-on about the general inferiority of the Kiwi way of doing things.

To be fair, they are often correct. You can get better salami and soft cheeses in Australia; cheaper food altogether, in fact, and the job market is more robust, obviously. Naturally, I counter with the following: New Zealand icecream (superior); Eftpos (more widely available here and a superior cashless system); and, strangely, school playgrounds. Ours are green and colourful while theirs are fenced-in, dry and dusty-looking. Admittedly, I'm humming and hawing a bit after those three knock-out punches.

One subject that gets all our goats is that of the best transtasman carrier. As we - as much as our bank balances and children allow - are back and forth between the two countries fairly regularly, we consider ourselves rather well versed in the various flight options. And we are far more likely to encounter the worst possible service, boarding as we do with harried faces and young, loud-lunged children.

I am, in general, a fan of Air New Zealand, not only for the nice planes and decent in-flight service, but primarily for its friendliness. I have found that the carrier's staff either generally like children, or heroically pretend to - convincingly enough to persuade me that they mean it. I do try to keep mine fed, watered and entertained and so out of everyone's hair, but it cheers me no end to get a sympathetic smile, as pathetic as that sounds. And whether it really is a sympathetic smile, or a "my God, I'm glad I'm not you" smile, I'll take the smile, which Air NZ seems to offer far more frequently than the Australian competition does.


What I didn't realise is that these days you may well pay for one type of service, but get something else entirely. I bought tickets to Melbourne recently for myself, my four-year-old and the baby, to visit my turncoat sisters, and we had a perfectly pleasant trip over on Air NZ, which I had great cheer in recounting to my still-Qantas-backing in-laws.

But the trip back, on Virgin Australia, was different. The plane felt clapped out, there were no built-in screens on the seats (you had to buy sets) and then you had to buy everything else on top of that: food, drink and so forth. It was clearly signalled that passengers would pay for everything over the basic minimum, so that wasn't really the issue. Nor the seat sizes, even though the baby on my lap had his head in the lap of the person sitting beside me, his legs on my daughter sitting on the other side, and his tummy wedged up against the tray table, rendering it useless.

But what was worse was that there really did seem to be a lack of basic friendliness from the crew, and it jarred in comparison with the flight over.

I couldn't understand why my Air NZ flight had morphed into a whole different experience, and didn't grasp why Air NZ believed it made good business sense to partner on one of its most important routes with an airline which in no way gels with its own in terms of service and general disposition.

That doesn't mean to say Australians are unfriendly - on the contrary, in many cases. But it does mean that in an industry like travel, where customers view airlines' demeanour at close range, a few more smiles from our flying Aussie cousins would not go amiss.