Nicholas Jones flies from Whenuapai to Mumbai on a broken-down RNZAF jet.

The plane:

Both of the Air Force's two Boeing 757s. Bought in 2003, they had previously been in service for 10 years as commercial airliners.

Class: Cattle.

Price: A steal at about $200 return.


Flight time: Forty-three painful hours. A bit of a blur. The schedule: Leave Whenuapai 6am. Six hours to Townsville, refuel, 6 hours to Jakarta, refuel, 6 hours to Mumbai.

Things went pear-shaped as we attempted to take off from Townsville with a technical fault detected as the engines revved up. After a few more hours at the RAAF base, another take off attempt was aborted. Bronagh Key, Brendon McCullum and other delegates tucked into a spread of Subway hastily arranged by Mfat officials.

Eventually the Aussie air force brought in vans to take us to a hotel, as the RNZAF's other Boeing 757 was flown in from Christchurch. We flew out the next morning and arrived in Delhi almost 43 hours after setting off. Wednesday spent in Delhi, before boarding the plane on Thursday for the trip back.

My seat: A standard Economy one. There are three on each side of the aisle. There's a "Business" section for VIPs, and "First" for the PM and VVIPs. A lack of lifejackets (they are in the panel above), foot rests or whatever else they put below seats on commercial flights was a godsend, meaning I could fully stretch out my legs underneath the one in front.

Fellow passengers: The PM and a couple of MPs, Mfat officials, a 35-strong business and education delegation, about 15 media, and the NZDF cricket team, on the way to play their fully professional counterparts in the Indian Armed Forces.

How full? Reasonably for such a trip. I was crammed in the middle on the way to Townsville. But the replacement plane had fewer Business Class seats, which meant we were more spread out and there were spare seats in the middle. Apparently on other trips each person can take up a whole row.

Entertainment: None.

Service: Excellent under the strained circumstances.

Food and drink: About the same as commercial airliners but more generous in portion and more regularly dished out. Although it was an oversight to run out of vege options on a flight to India.

The toilets: Standard, but much less busy.

Luggage: Same restrictions as commercial.

The airport experience: Like the pre-War on Terror days. "Customs" at Whenuapai is really just a person quickly checking passports. No security screening, no need to put liquids in clear bags, etc.

Would I fly this again? Yes. But if I was McCullum, I might book business on Air NZ next time the PM offers a trip.