Hang onto your rings, Halflings, Air New Zealand, the official airline of Middle-earth, has outdone itself once again. Hot on the heels on the carrier’s hugely-popular Hobbit-themed inflight safety video, “An Unexpected Briefing” – which has been viewed by almost 10 million potential passengers on YouTube alone – Air New Zealand dazzled plane spotters, J.R.R. Tolkien enthusiasts and movie lovers alike with the touch down yesterday of its new Hobbit-themed Boeing 777-300ER at LAX. APEX Media Platform contributor/Tolkien enthusiast Tomás Romero was there to bring us this first-hand report on the festivities.
LOS ANGELES: Had it been a little colder yesterday, I might have considered wearing my Gandalf cape to the Air New Zealand event at LAX. Yes, I have a Gandalf cape. Well, technically, it’s an Anakin Skywalker cape with a hood, but, I’ve passed as Gandalf before, so, it totally counts.
Luckily for all involved, it was very hot yesterday, so, no cape. I did, however, blast the soundtrack from The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring while endlessly circling the parking structure at LAX, so, I was in a very Tolkien mood, not to mention a little dizzy, when I headed up to the rooftop of LAX’s iconic Encounter Restaurant to join the party.
And as I stepped onto that windswept observation deck and caught a heady whiff of New Zealand coffee and fresh-baked Anzac biscuits, I knew that I had crossed over into Middle-earth somewhere between the ground floor and the opening of the elevator doors a moment later. The mood was magical.
Sadly, no one was in costume, but the crowd up there could not have been more warm and welcoming. There were a few jaded media types, some tourists, several families with young children, loads of hard-core AvGeeks and plane spotters and best of all, the friendliest Air New Zealand employees you ever met. And on top of all that, there were drawings for prizes too. I won a pair of Hobbit socks and a snazzy sleep mask – both of which will be distributed to passengers on select Air New Zealand flights very soon – with a label reading: “If you’re following in Hobbit footsteps, it helps to have some good Hobbit socks. Will they carry you up Middle-earth’s misty mountains? Through deep, dark mysterious caves? You’ll also need to rest your eyes so you’re refreshed at journey’s end.” Honestly, they had me at free socks, but free hairy Hobbit socks? Wow.
And if you think that little inflight perk is exciting, wait until you hear what else Air New Zealand has up their flowy, Elvish sleeves.
“We will have certain flights where the crew’s uniforms will have … nice little Hobbit touches and Hobbit accents … like the folks from the safety video,” promised John Wilhelm, Air New Zealand’s brand manager/western markets. And besides the aforementioned socks and sleep masks, Wilhelm assured me that: “We’ll also have a Hobbit-themed menu on select flights as well.”
No word yet on if that menu will include the Hobbit’s beloved “second breakfast”, but, Wilhelm is clearly a huge fan of the franchise. “You know, The Hobbit is an incredible, epic story and for us to be able to have the opportunity to partner with Warner Brothers on this is just fantastic,” says Wilhelm.
“There it is!” shouted a breathless AvGeek with a notepad overflowing with scribbled airline arrival and departure times. “And a couple of minutes early too!” Wearing their black and gold Hobbit t-shirts, the Air New Zealander team nearby smiled and nodded at that part, no need to tell them what rockstars they are anymore: they already know it.
And as we all held our breath, that sleek Boeing 777-300ER with its gorgeous, full-color graphic (the largest ever applied to a commercial airliner) swept past us, glistening in the sunlight like Smaug the Golden.
Featuring exclusive scenes and characters from Sir Peter Jackson’s upcoming film, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the 239 foot aircraft had been transformed by Air New Zealand and the mad geniuses at Weta Workshop into what the carrier is calling: “a giant, flying billboard for the first movie in the Hobbit trilogy.”
And, let me tell you, that was one honey of a billboard. The plane was stunning.
A few people gasped, a few others cheered and I think that the AvGeek with the notepad might have fainted, but, for the most part, the crowd just stood there silently watching the plane touch down. And once it did, everyone began feverishly debating which of the 777-300ER’s bold design elements they liked best.
Some favoured the intricately detailed portraits of the cast along the side of the aircraft, longtime Air New Zealand fans raved about the updated livery: a black tail with white Koru, but for me, the heart of the graphic is the view of the world from inside Bilbo’s hobbit hole. Tinted golden brown, the arches above the rounded doorway are anchored by a staff-wielding Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen), on one side, and Bilbo (Martin Freeman), on the other. The images are beautiful enough on their own, but, positively breathtaking on an airplane. Amazing stuff.
After the landing, a few of the die-hard fans (myself included) headed across the street to the Air New Zealand ticket counter and it was definitely worth the walk. Wrapped in luscious green hues, the ticket counter is a loving tribute to the Hobbit’s bucolic homeland, the Shire. My favorite element there was a sign on the baggage scale reading: “Check your baggins.” Hilarious.
Summing up the days events on my long drive home, I was reminded of something Gandalf says to Bilbo in chapter one of The Hobbit. “I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it is very difficult to find someone.”
After a brief stop at London’s Heathrow airport, Air New Zealand’s Hobbit-themed 777-300ER will be returning to New Zealand in time to play what the airline terms as “a starring role” in the world premiere of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in Wellington on Wednesday 28 November.