Edited by: Keri Stooksbury
& Kellie Jez
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Airline: Air New Zealand (NZ)
Aircraft: De Havilland Canada Dash 8 Q300
Flight #: NZ8239
Route: Rotorua Airport (ROT) to Wellington Airport (WLG)
Date: January 3, 2023
Duration: 1hr, 10min
Cabin and Layout: Economy class, 50-seats, 2-2 config
Cash Paid: NZ$327 (~$213)
Typical Retail Cost: Approximately NZ$50 to NZ$400 (~$32 to ~$253) , depending on the day
After spending a few days in New Zealand’s biggest city, Auckland, I ventured over to Rotorua. The town of Rotorua is about a 2-hour drive from Auckland, home to natural hot springs, the famous Zorb attraction, and plenty of Māori cultural exhibitions. I prefer not to drive on the left side of the road, so I opted to fly from Auckland (AKL) to Rotorua (ROT), and then onward from Rotorua (ROT) to Wellington (WLG) several days later.
The drive time from Rotorua to Wellington is over 7 hours, so flying is the only practical way to get between the 2 cities on short notice. However, plenty of people make the drive, exploring the many natural features along the way.
Air New Zealand is the only airline operating out of Rotorua. The airline flies to Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch (CHC) on De Havilland Canada Dash 8 Q300 aircraft, featuring an all-economy-class configuration.
Award seats were not available on this flight, and I was firm with my departure dates. Had there been award space, it would have cost me 8,800 United miles and $1.20 in taxes.
There are 2 flights daily to Wellington — 1 in the morning and 1 in the afternoon — and I decided to take the afternoon flight to maximize my time. As there was no award availability, I booked my flight using The Platinum Card® from American Express to earn 5x Membership Rewards points since I hadn’t hit the $500,000 annual cap.
While Rotorua may seem remote, it is by no means the most remote airport I’ve visited. The airport is very modern and quite large for a regional airport.
Arriving at the airport, you’ll notice 2 distinct areas for arrivals and departures. The friends I was traveling with dropped me off at the departures building and I proceeded inside with my baggage.
Before going any further, it’s worth explaining how airports in New Zealand differ from much of the rest of the world. If you’re traveling on a regional aircraft, you’re not required to undergo security screening. In the U.S., you’re required to pass through TSA for every flight, but in New Zealand, security is only reserved for passengers on larger jets. Because my flight was operated by a small plane, no security was required.
When arriving at the airport, you only need to arrive in time to check your bag (if you’re checking one) and board the plane. With most airports, you’re likely told to arrive 2 hours prior to departure, but in regional New Zealand, it’s not uncommon to see passengers walk up at the last minute.
I arrived about 50 minutes prior to departure, as I wanted to check a bag. In Rotorua, like most New Zealand airports, check-in is handled by kiosk only. While there is an Air New Zealand staff member present to help with questions, you’re expected to use the kiosk. You can slide your passport in to retrieve your flight information, change seats, and then choose how many bags you’ll check.
I’m a Star Alliance Gold passenger and was traveling on a Flexi-Refund ticket that allowed me to check bags for free. I only had 1 bag to check, so I appropriately selected that on the screen. A bag tag was promptly printed out, which I self-tagged to my bag.
Once my bag was tagged, I walked it over to a conveyor that sent the bag to the handlers beyond. I had to scan the barcode on the bag with a scanner, and then my bag was immediately whisked off.
After bag check, I was free to explore the airport. Not having to pass through security meant I didn’t need to be very time conscious. I walked into the arrivals hall and into the Business Hub, the airport’s sole lounge (of sorts).
Access to the lounge is free for all passengers. You simply need to follow the directions on the door and enter a one-time passcode to gain access.
Inside, there are comfortable seats and private restrooms, but no additional amenities. This is a great place to seek a bit of privacy, but you won’t find any complimentary beverages, food, or anything typical of a normal airline lounge. It’s likely this area was meant for something else, but the airport repurposed it into a space accessible to all.
At about 20 minutes prior to departure, boarding was announced. It was honestly one of the easiest boarding processes I’ve ever been through. There was a large scanner near the gate door. I walked past, scanned my boarding pass, and proceeded through. It was basically a self-service machine and just seemed to work so well without gumming up the line like so many other airport experiences.
Star Alliance Gold and Air New Zealand Airpoints elite passengers were called first, and I proceed through to the plane. Several announcements were made advising passengers that they could not take pictures on the tarmac walking out to the plane. I’m not sure if this was for security reasons or something else, but I thought it was interesting to note.
This flight was operated by a De Havilland Canada Dash 8 Q300, with 50 seats in an all economy class configuration. There are 2 seats on either side of the aisle and a restroom at the rear of the aircraft.
Since all seats on this plane are the same, there’s really not a preferred place to sit except for the front row, which has unlimited legroom since it’s near the boarding door. These seats never seemed available to reserve, so I don’t know if they were blocked. You may want to ask at the airport to see if they are open for the taking.
I was seated in the exit row and luckily did not have another passenger next to me. I’ve noticed on several Air New Zealand flights that the exit row seems to be fairly empty. Many passengers didn’t seem to want to take these seats. While it certainly could have been a fluke, that was the case on multiple flights I took of different lengths.
The exit row is advertised with additional legroom. I’m sure it has a few extra inches, but it was not noticeably different than other rows. Don’t expect a ton of extra legroom to stretch out. Luckily, I was able to select this seat for free thanks to my Star Alliance Gold status, but the seat ordinarily sells for an additional NZ$10 (~$6).
Boarding was a very quick process. Within a matter of minutes, we were buttoned up and ready to go. This aircraft was manned by a single flight attendant, and she was able to brief the exit rows and perform the manual safety demonstration in just a few minutes. Shortly after, we were out on the runway and took off.
Unlike U.S. flights where there wouldn’t be a service on a flight of this length, Air New Zealand does have an inflight service. As we leveled off, the flight attendant came down the aisle offering still mineral water, tea, or coffee followed by a choice of cookies or chocolates. While it was a limited service with no soft drinks, alcohol, substantial snacks, or a meal, it was nice to have something light on a flight of this relatively short distance.
The flight time allowed the flight attendant to come through several times offering refills on beverages.
Unfortunately, this aircraft did not offer any inflight Wi-Fi or entertainment, so you’ll need to bring your own device onboard to watch. Additionally, there were no charging outlets, so make sure your electronics are charged ything is full of battery life before boarding. These planes only fly short flights (and New Zealand is only so big!), so you won’t be left without entertainment for hours on end.
Our arrival in Wellington was on time and the approach to the airport took us right over the city for some fantastic views.
Regional aircraft at Wellington park in a separate regional terminal that’s connected to the main building. Upon disembarking out into the open air (there are no jet bridges for these planes), it was a short walk into the central part of the terminal and then outside to rideshare.
Hot Tip: If you’re connecting to an Air New Zealand Airbus flight (or a larger aircraft), you’ll be required to pass through a security control checkpoint. Be sure to allow plenty of time for this after landing.
I find Air New Zealand’s regional service to be really efficient and friendly. It’s a staple throughout this remote country, and propeller aircraft are vital to taking passengers between small towns. While there’s not much of a choice of airlines in New Zealand, I would certainly fly Air New Zealand again!
For rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, click here.
There are no restrictions to fly domestically within New Zealand. If you’re flying a small regional aircraft, you do not need to clear security before your flight.
Domestic services within New Zealand are primarily operated by either Jetstar or Air New Zealand. Because of New Zealand’s remoteness and lack of major cities, there are only so many airlines flying within the country.
Yes! Air New Zealand operates multiple daily services between Auckland and Rotorua.
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