Winston Aldworth jumps aboard NZ611 — a night flight from Auckland to Queenstown.
Air New Zealand has A320s working this route up to 19 times a day on return flights. I was on one of the new night flights — their full schedule of night flights came into effect in early July, with the latest landing in Queenstown at a scheduled 9.35pm. (That's the one I was on.)
For Aucklanders, that means you can pretty much work a full day before flying south.
It took more than a decade to get the night flights started — now they just need to build a few more hotels so all those people arriving on the planes have somewhere to stay. The airport spent $19.65m on runway and lighting improvements and can now operate between 6am and 10pm year round.
It's a worthwhile investment — this flight is the perfect way to start a short break in Central Otago.
Price: One-way fares start from $83.
My seat: I flopped into my usual aisle seat, but later regretted it as we had an unusual westerly approach to the airport, coming in above Lake Wakatipu, giving those passengers seated by the windows great views of the resort town all lit up.
Fellow passengers: Most seemed to be Kiwis. But one of the advantages of getting later flights landing in Queenstown will be the ease of transfer for visitors coming in longhaul to connect straight out of Auckland. The flights have only been going a few months, and as time goes on, expect to see more bleary-eyed foreigners on these later connections. Just have a snooze before you pick up your rental cars, dudes.
How full: I was surprised to see quite a few empty seats, but a couple of Air New Zealand staff I chatted to in Queenstown told me the night flights have proved popular and are generally full. I was flying on a Wednesday and it's a safe bet that Thursday and Friday are the busiest runs.
Food and drink? A cookie or a packet of corn chips comes for free. I've given up on airplane coffee.
Entertainment: I cannot take my eyes off that quiz. Here's an idea: how about having buttons on your seat to click the answers and when the flight lands the passenger with the most correct answers is declared the winner and gets a bunch of Airpoints.
Airport experience: Folks in the domestic lounge were getting their dinner in before flying. Well, those corn chips won't fill you up.
Flight time: Departure is scheduled for 7.35pm — we took off five minutes late at 7.40pm and landed at 9.16pm, four minutes ahead of schedule.
Would I fly this again? Absolutely. Night-time flights are the best way to get anywhere.