Thomas Bywater flies aboard Sunday night's inaugural service of Air New Zealand's flight NZ699, from Auckland to Invercargill
An Airbus A320D, the first waka on the shore for Air New Zealand's North-South bridge. Fittingly, they used the black one (registration code: ZK-OAB) — the first jet of each class the airline receives from the aircraft manufacturers is painted in rock 'n' roll black.
Economy — it's all 170 seats of Economy.
Price: $83 one way.
Flight time: Two hours, with plenty of padding at the end of the service for backslapping and a haka.
My seat: 8G, a window out into the dark Southland night.
As it was the inaugural flight, the plane was full of the great and the good from Air New Zealand and Government. This included Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones and airline CEO Christopher Luxon, who haven't always seen eye to eye on the role of the national carrier, particularly in servicing the regions.
Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt was also on board.
Then there were 150 civilian passengers with varying degrees of engagement with the inaugural celebrations, some of whom made the journey up to Auckland especially to fly down on the first direct service. Among the others, a group of tourists bewildered to be approached by Luxon seemed to have booked a seat on the first service by accident.
Barely enough breathing room between the bigwigs, and a couple of camera crews.
Entertainment: This might have been Air New Zealand's longest domestic service but passengers still made do with a copy of Kia Ora. It's heartening to see there's still a place for print in the air if not in the Air New Zealand lounges. However, the live entertainment on board was far more captivating. A flight announcement from Luxon was something the outgoing CEO said he had waited his eight-year career for. Thanking those on board, Luxon also had a special mention for Jones' services as a flight safety video critic.
Sparring between Jones and Luxon appeared to be playful. The new Invercargill service was a shared victory for the two, who had previously been at loggerheads.
That Kia Ora magazine could wait, we had some lively political theatre to watch.
Food and drink:
The theme of all things Southland continued though the on-board catering. A "taste of the South" was served up in Southland cheese, sweets from the Seriously Good Chocolate company and cans of Speight's Gold.
Luggage: I travelled carry-on only. As did many of the media and plane enthusiasts who would be turning around to fly back up to Auckland the following morning.
The airport experience: At Invercargill we were greeted on the runway by a haka from the pupils of the Te Wharekura O Arowhenua school. A convoy of classic cars from Transport World was on hand to carry passengers from the airport. I hopped into a tangerine-coloured '57 Ford convertible. Even on a Sunday night, it seemed the town had turned out to meet the first jet service from Auckland.
The bottomline: Air New Zealand's longest regional flight is here to stay.