Mission A340: Emirates A340-500 MEL-AKL
Auckland has been known to attract A340s from various airlines over the past decade. Aerolineas Argentinas fly the A340-200, Cathay Pacific, LAN and Air Tahiti Nui operate the A340-300, Emirates bring the A340-500 and Thai used to operate both the A340-500 and A340-600 to AKL before switching them for the 777-200. Earlier this year, Emirates announced that it would discontinue the A345 services to New Zealand in favour of the 777-300ER which was now capable of flying unrestricted from Dubai to the East Coast of Australia. The increased capacity over the A345 means that Emirates will be benefitting much more from the restricted trans-Tasman crossings. I’d never been on an A345 before and it was a great opportunity to try it out or face having to fly half way around the world just to travel in one. Motivated by my friend to jump on an A345, I was off to find a way to catch this wonderful plane before it left the shores of New Zealand after 7 glorious years of service.
Salutations and welcome to my 16th trip report. As mentioned above, this will cover the flight on Emirates’ A340-500 from Melbourne to Auckland. You ask: how do I get from Sydney to Melbourne to catch this flight? The journey begins with the answer given just below..
14 April 2010
If you had a read through my ‘Joyrides’ series and noted down the Australian domestic trips I took, you would have noticed my willingness to stick with Qantas for domestic flights in the future because of their reliability and service. Today was no different. I was dropped off at the airport by my cousin in the morning morning. I’ve reviewed quite a lot about Qantas’ domestic service so it’ll be a semi-brief run through of the flight. Of course, the A345 is the main part of this TR. The SYD-MEL was earlier scheduled to be operated by an 737-400 but was changed for a 737-800 earlier that day.
Check in was smooth using the self service kiosk. Although there was quite a chaotic queue to drop my bag off, I didn’t feel in any rush.
As I’ve reported before, there’s absolutely nothing landside.. So what else is there to do but head airside?
It was unfortunate that I didn’t have any time to explore that heritage part.. Maybe next time.
Soon after, it was time to board. 3 newspaper choices were offered which I think is quite impressive (SMH, The Daily Telegraph, The Australian).
14 April 2010
Routing: Sydney – Melbourne (SYD-MEL)
Scheduled Time of Departure: 0845hrs
Actual Departure: 0849hrs (pushback), 0904hrs (rotate)
Scheduled Time of Arrival: 1015hrs
Flight time: 1hr 25 min
Aircraft: Boeing 737-800
VH-VYL is one of many 737-800s in Qantas’ fleet, registered in Australia on 11 January 2006 new from Boeing. Interestingly enough, this plane suffered an altimeter problem about a year before my flight which could have resulted in a crash similar to the Turkish Airlines 737-800.
With a very warm welcome just like on my previous flights, I was on the plane. The load was about 60-70% with an empty seat beside me. Interestingly enough, the safety video featured the new seats currently in use on the brand new Jetconnect 738s plying the Tasman.
I had just missed the breakfast service (by 15 minutes) as the last flight that has the breakfast service leaves at 8:30.. So a meagre alternative for that was this refreshment consisting of a muffin or a piece of fruit. So if you’re going to be flying with Qantas domestically soon and you’re departing around that time, just go for the one with breakfast!
Qantas have introduced this recycling bag for you to dispose of recyclables separately from food scraps etc. It didn’t seem like anyone cared so the flight attendant ended up doing most of the sorting anyway.
I asked to take a few pictures of the cockpit which I was allowed to do and then the kind pilot asked me if I wanted my photo taken! Of course I obliged ;)
And after that I was off to explore Melbourne. The Skybus is the easiest option to get into town in, dropping you off at the Southern Cross station and from there offers a complimentary shuttle service to drop you off at your hotel in the CBD.
It was time to hit the sack early as the next morning called for an extremely early start, not that Markus would agree with it being early!
15 April 2010
So, the day finally arrived. On this day, I would fly on the A340-500.
The alarm sounds, telling me to wake up and get ready to go to the airport! A lot of people called me crazy to wake up so early and catch this flight.. I somewhat agree, but there’s no way I’d turn down a flight on an A345 like that, especially if they’re not going to be flying in this part of the world again for a while. I could have easily booked the opposite way and head to MEL first before catching AR back from Sydney but one way airfares are so much more expensive departing Australia for some reason and the AR flight was a bargain.
Enough rambling from me.. I shortly checked out and walked the 3 minutes from the hotel (4 Seasons Kingsgate if you’re so curious, no photos as it was extremely basic and chosen for its proximity to the Skybus terminal) to the Southern Cross train station and hopped straight onto the bus which was waiting and left not long after I hopped on. There was no traffic at that time of the day so imagine the speedy 18 minute nonstop trip to the airport. I got straight off the bus and into the Emirates check in line.
15 minutes of standing in line and with nobody in the First Class check-in counter, I was waved over by the agent. He was extremely professional, what one would expect flying First Class and they certainly chose the right person to be at the right counter! Efficient and smooth, I was soon on my way, super excited about the flight in front of me.
Nothing was open at such a crazy early time.. And nothing else to do but head airside. Security was different to how I experienced it on my last flight through Melbourne International. It was much more organised than the last time and, the security check came before immigration.
I had a wander around the airport and also down to the new concourse area which was just opened at the time of my previous flight departing MEL but I couldn’t access it then. It looks very nice.
Finally, people started boarding and it seemed like forever between going airside and actually boarding.
15 April 2010
Routing: Melbourne – Auckland (MEL-AKL)
Scheduled Time of Departure: 0715hrs (GMT+10)
Actual Departure: 0708hrs (pushback), 0721hrs (rotate) (GMT+10)
Scheduled Time of Arrival: 1245hrs (GMT+12)
Touchdown: 1241hrs (GMT+12)
Flight time: 3hr 37 min
Aircraft: Airbus A340-541
A6-ERG is one of ten A340-500s flying with Emirates. They were originally assigned in 2003 to operate from DXB to the East Coast of Australia but Emirates have found that they can operate the 77W and A380 on this route and they are now being replaced by the larger aircraft. A6-ERG is infamous to those in Melbourne and also to the flight number EK407 (the flight number attached after turning around in Auckland to go back to DXB) – yes, this is the aircraft which was lucky to survive after major work on the frame following a tail strike. The rear pressure bulkhead was cracked by this and the whole rear section had to be redone so where better to get a replacement for it than the Etihad A346 that was driven up the blast wall?
So yes, I can sort of say that I also flew in an Etihad plane and also an A340-600 at the same time!
It’s a great aircraft and I’m glad they restored it to flying condition, regardless of how much it cost them to save their face in having to write off an A345.
So it was only here where I was able to get a clear view of the registration and it was nothing other than A6-ERG!
And I was finally onboard my first A340-500. The flight attendant was courteous as usual: “Welcome onboard Mr Young, the far aisle please”.
Once again, I continued walking down towards the back of the plane.
The seat itself is pretty hard, especially on the corners. The edge of the seat is quite strange and really hard to describe. It’s unusually soft and seems somewhat uncomfortable. The headrest is the same design as what was on the AR A342 and would seem to be pretty uncomfortable for a long flight. At least it was properly fixed unlike on the AR one, where the ‘wings’ wouldn’t stay in place as well as any other seat I’ve been in. However, that is countered by very generous recline. There is this cool pocket on the front of the usual pocket that can be seen in the picture above and it’s a nice handy spot to put something like your phone in.. But the main disappointment was the size of the IFE box, shown below.
There wasn’t space for anything but luckily my seatmate didn’t have anything to store there and he kindly allowed me to store my backpack there. There was just enough room under my own seat for the camera bag without it being too uncomfortable for my feet.
Hot towels were handed out before pushing back and it wasn’t long before we were off. Expected flight time was 3 hours 6 minutes. 11 languages were spoken by flight attendants on this flight.
A little bit more about the incident.. It was EK407 MEL-DXB in A6-ERG departing on Runway 16. Here I was on EK406 MEL-AKL in A6-ERG departing on Runway 16.. A near coincidence? Anyway, we departed smoothly and oh so quietly, nearly the same as an A380.
It was a pleasant surprise to notice that the ICE introduction guide was much shorter on the A345 than on the A380. It meant I had more time to watch what I wanted. The ICE IFE system of Emirates has been well documented and I don’t need to go into depth about it, only to mention that this is the generation older than what we have today on the A380 and 777 fleets. If they had only upgraded the seats and IFE to the standard of the 777/A380, I believe that the A345 would be the best Emirates plane to fly in Economy.
About 45 minutes after takeoff, breakfast was served. The tray table’s hinge was fixed (couldn’t slide it out) and it was a bit small for the tray. I was finally able to choose the lamb (instead of eggs) on this flight and I must say it did not disappoint. It was very tasty and filling. I was watching Up In The Air while eating breakfast (it’s called brunch on the menu) at 41,000 feet.. Not much gets better than that! Especially on a smooth flight like what we had. The dessert of banana cake topped the meal off nicely with a sweet hit.
After the meals were cleaned up, I was free to roam the cabin. I really like the A330/A340 series for the way it is laid out. 2 seats on the side is great and the cabin feels spacious. Of course, I love the mood lighting too but unfortunately I’ve never had an overnight flight making full use of it yet. The lavatory seemed standard but being clean is the most important aspect.
There wasn’t too much to see so I headed back to my seat. Soon after, they dimmed the lights to allow everyone to get more rest. The stars remained in the ceiling. The duty free card also went around. Later on in the flight, I saw a water run being made by the FAs! I couldn’t believe what I saw – it was the first time in 4 recent flights across the Tasman with Emirates that they had someone on the water run. I have no idea why they don’t bother on EK412/413 (A380) but it was great to see the staff doing it on this flight.
And then, just like that, it was time to start descending into Auckland. After the MAF (Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries) video was played to tell everyone about the quarantine enforcements of NZ, the IFE died so I didn’t get to watch the end of the movie. But at least the cameras were still there to watch the landing. Landing was smooth as expected and the plane touched down with as much grace as it took off with. A short taxi into Gate 2 and I was home.
This time, I asked the flight attendant if I could take a few pictures of the cockpit. She told me that it wasn’t allowed so I asked her if she could ask the pilots. Good thing she did because I was soon ushered through the First Class cabin and into the cockpit! I had a nice chat with the pilots who didn’t realise that this was the plane that tailstriked in MEL. I wonder if it’s taboo?
I breezed through the Smart Gate and I was back in kiwi land after another flight across the Tasman.
The A340-500 is a fantastic aircraft. The flight was very enjoyable due to the great service offered by the FAs, and also the onboard product. Give the A340-500 the seats which are currently in the 77L/77W and A380 and you have an Economy product which is unrivalled. It’s such a shame that the A340-500 will be leaving New Zealand for good on New Years’ Eve as the last service on EK434/435 via BNE will be made then before they switch the service to the 777-300ER. I’ll have no hesitation to fly the A340-500 in the future if I’m ever presented with an opportunity to fly in one again!