Joyrides Down Under Part 3: East Coast Adventure
Noun: A ride in a vehicle taken solely for pleasure
Verb: A ride in a vehicle with no particular goal and just for the pleasure of it
I wanted to try out planes I couldn’t do back at home. The whole itinerary for my domestic flights around Australia is as follows: SYD-OOL-MEL-SYD-MEL-SYD-MEL-CBR-SYD.
This report will cover three legs in Economy: SYD-OOL (Gold Coast) on Virgin Blue (Now Virgin Australia) (738), OOL-MEL on Jetstar (A321) and MEL-SYD on Qantas (738). I’ll start this TR with an overview of the pre-flight processes I experienced with the airlines.
Online booking via the respective airlines is usually the easiest way to purchase your seats. The websites of Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin Blue all serve this purpose of a streamlined booking process. All Australian airlines add a credit card surcharge of between $3 and $9. All of the flights were easy to book.
Qantas has by far the easiest website to use. You’d expect that coming from the full service airline. Their booking process is less cluttered as baggage is included for free but for some reason, they charge the credit card fee “per booking”, making it cheaper to purchase a whole lot of segments at once rather than individual flight costs.
Jetstar's website is easy to navigate and the good thing about them is that you can secure your seat immediately. They also send out (literally) hundreds of emails stating “changes to your itinerary”, when in fact there is only one change but they continue to send out messages. At least they can’t be blamed for not notifying you, as I found out later on with flying another airline.
Virgin Blue’s website is also relatively easy to navigate through but there are as many “options” as Jetstar has which can push the price of the ticket up if you go through with it; such as emergency seat exits, insurance, carbon payments etc.
Tiger Airways’ website is much more difficult to navigate through. If there aren’t any flights scheduled for the day you’re flying, the page still lists flights on the days on either side of it and I’m sure people have booked seats thinking they’re flying on the day that they entered in the search bar. The site is clogged with many extras, more than DJ and JQ. It costs $5 to reserve a seat – in this case it came to the same amount as how much the OOL lounge access cost!
The budget airlines also had a way to “pay using your local currency”. It cons many out of a couple of dollars which goes as commission to an external company and ends up costing more than if you were to pay your commission through your own bank/credit card company.
Once I had these flights booked, I couldn’t wait for November to come around.
November eventually came around and I found myself in Sydney again, ready for these exciting flights around Australia. After figuring out that a weekly train pass from the International Terminal to the city would allow for travel between the two terminals, I decided to take up the offer which saved me a lot of money getting between the city and the airport.
There was a quick 10 minute train ride from my stop to the domestic terminal, getting me to the airport with plenty of time to spare. The domestic terminal train station is strategically located between Terminals 2 and 3 – Terminal 2 is used by Virgin Blue, Jetstar, Qantas Link (moved Aug 2013 to T3), Tiger and Rex and Terminal 3 is nearly all for Qantas Cityflyer flights (flights to the main centres in Australia). Just before the intersection to turn left or right towards the respective terminals, there a few FIDS; with Qantas and Qantas Cityflyer services on different monitors and non-Qantas flights on the newer screens.
From The Train Station
Baggage Reclaim For DJ
Signs Of The Past Still Exist – Look Closely!
JQ Baggage Reclaim
After checking out the arrivals area, it was time to head upstairs and check in.
I visited the airport the day earlier to do a little bit of spotting so I tried checking in for the flight then. But you can only check in 8 hours before departure on DJ self service booths.
Taken The Day Before
DJ Check In
Regional Express (Rex) Check In
JQ Check In
There’s nothing landside in these terminals, only check in counters, seating and the odd newspaper stand. I decided to head through security.
Gates Used Primarily By DJ
DJ 737 and E170 Behind
Turns Out To Be The 738 I Travelled On
End Of The DJ Pier
Looking Towards The QF/JQ Pier
Looking Towards The International Terminal
After some wandering around the entire terminal, it was time to head back to Gate 40, where my plane was soon departing to the Gold Coast.
24 Nov 2009
Routing: Sydney – Gold Coast/Coolangatta (SYD-OOL)
Airline: Virgin Blue
Scheduled Time of Departure: 0910hrs (GMT + 11)
Actual Departure: 0908hrs (pushback), 0920hrs (rotate)
Scheduled Time of Arrival: 0935hrs (GMT +10)
Flight time: 1hr 15 min
Aircraft: Boeing 737-8FE
Virgin Blue operates a fleet of E170, E190, 73G and 73H aircraft, totalling 68 planes. This flight was operated by a 737-800, arrived new from Boeing and registered as VH-VOL on 15 August 2003.
It didn’t take long before the boarding started. Boarding for Virgin Blue occurs from both the front and rear doors so if you’re seated in the back half of the plane, you have to walk outside even if the weather isn’t great. They told us that there was dual boarding but didn’t have very good instructions on where to go so I ended up walking down the airbridge and had to turn back and find the stairs onto the apron. A nice walk down the side of the plane came to a halt when one of the ground staff didn’t like me taking photos.. Oh well. Real double standards in amongst the ground crew in comparison to the following day (I was free to take photos flying the exact same airline at the same airport).
Up the steps at the back and I was onboard only my second 737-800 flight. There, just in the door was a friendly flight attendant whom greeted me upon arrival: “Your seat is the window seat on the left, Nicholas”. Not overly formal and not too casual, a very nice start to the journey. The seats are a bit hard but they suffice for such short flights. There was enough legroom too. They claim to have between 31 and 33 inches of legroom.
The cabin filled up and it was soon clear that I’d have an empty seat next to me! It was great to be able to spread out a little bit more. Live2Air, Virgin Blue’s in-air TV system, was not functioning on the flight for some reason so I didn’t have any air show to watch during the flight. This was inconsistent with what was said at the gate – they had told us that there would be Live2Air onboard (probably a standardised message) and headsets were available at the gate.
Pushback commenced and the safety demo began – Virgin Blue’s method of the safety demonstration is well coordinated and also uniform throughout their entire 737 fleets, including Pacific Blue. I’m quite impressed by this. That wrapped up quite quickly and we were off towards Runway 16L for takeoff. During the taxi, my seat mate’s phone rang. Nothing was done and it remained on for the entire flight. Not that it seems to matter anyway, the only detriment could have been a drained battery.
Takeoff was nice and powerful as we departed towards the south before making some left hand turns over Botany Bay to end up on course for OOL.
Ports Of Sydney
La Perouse And The Island Where Mission Impossible II Was Shot
A drink run was followed by the food run by the flight attendants. I wasn’t hungry or thirsty at that stage. I decided to save myself for the Gold Coast Lounge. All Virgin Blue and Pacific Blue 737s feature the exact same tray table. They slide backwards and forwards too easily and it can be rather annoying at times. The pilots came across the PA for an update on arrival time etc and mentioned that we were cruising at 33,000ft due to the weather being a bit bumpy higher up. The rest of the flight was uneventful
Not long after, our descent into OOL began. Once we were through the final layer of cloud, we could see the urban area of Coolangatta/Tweed Heads. It was a really nice approach over blue water and sandy beaches along the coast. We banked left and headed for Runway 16.
Coolangatta/Tweed Heads And The Border Between NSW And Queensland. OOL Below Left Fairing
Three A330s – Two Jetstar And One Air Asia X
Crossed The Border Back Into NSW
Disembarkation occurred from both the front and rear doors as well so it was quick to deplane. The weather was much better than in Sydney. I got back into the terminal in time to watch a couple of planes depart.
Gold Coast Airport is a nice airport, although hanging on the crowded side during the time I was in the terminal. The layout is nice and simple and just like a lot of Aussie airports, there is basically nothing landside. Quite boring if you ask me! Airside is buzzing with people. There are quite a few shops located along the seemingly narrow area opposite the gates. The layout of the airport is most unusual: There is a common screening point for all passengers through one end and those travelling internationally go through customs after they have cleared security alongside those travelling domestically. The gates are well partitioned and are confined to the northern end of the terminal. It must be noted that Qantas do not fly to Gold Coast Airport, instead it is a Jetstar hub for both domestic and international travel (This changed in 2013 when Qantas resumed flights to OOL).
Landside: Domestic Baggage Claim
JQ Check In
International Check In
At this stage, I decided to go for a wander to the beach and beyond.
North Kirra Beach
Border Between NSW And QLD – Is The Grass Really Greener On The Other Side? Also A Bit Of Childish Hopping Between States Occurred Here
Coastal Monument Marking The Border
Left: QLD. Right: NSW
New Zealand Is Somewhere In That Direction
In Town Border Monument
No Reciprocal Sign to this one facing the other way..
I arrived back at the airport with exactly 2 hours before scheduled departure. Self service booths made life much more simple as the check in counters were deserted for some reason. The booths are identical to the ones in New Zealand and print out exactly the same type of boarding pass.
Lunch Time For JQ Agents?
As I briefly noted earlier, I paid $5 as an introductory fare to enjoy and relax in the Jetstar Gold Coast Lounge. The fee is usually $10 if booked in advance or $15 if you turn up. You must be flying JQ on that day and you can only enter 2 hours before your flight (hence me making it back to OOL 2 hours before departure). It is located to the left directly after you clear security and international passengers also use this lounge.
The lounge seems like a best kept secret, although I don’t know how many people would pay the $15 if they only knew about it on the day. The place was empty when I first arrived so on my first glance, it looked extremely spacious. The food offerings are no way near as lavish as a full service First or Business class lounge but ample and continuous to the point where you can fill yourself up if you enjoy eating the items available such as savoury pies, sushi, self made pancake maker, soup etc. There’s a soda fountain, (instant) espresso machine, 3 beer taps and a few bottles of wine for self service. More drinks behind the counter if necessary. It wasn’t manned – only by video camera so someone could effectively drink quite a bit. There’s also a little “movie” area. The toilets are quite basic.
It was a very relaxing stay in the lounge that had free Wi-Fi which I couldn’t connect to using my phone for some reason. And sooner or later, a boarding call was made alongside the FIDS inside the lounge showing that JQ439 to MEL was boarding. Then I was on my way towards Gate 2 to my very first A321 flight.
En Route To The Gate
24 Nov 2009
Routing: Gold Coast/Coolangatta – Melbourne Tullamarine (OOL-MEL)
Scheduled Time of Departure: 1425hrs (GMT + 10)
Actual Departure: 1428hrs (pushback), 1438hrs (rotate)
Scheduled Time of Arrival: 1740hrs (GMT +11)
Flight time: 1hr 59 min
Aircraft: Airbus A321-231
Jetstar have a small fleet of six A321s operating a relatively small number of flights around Australia. They fit over 200 into this configuration giving 30 inches of legroom.
OOL has no airbridges. Everyone boards by stairs and on a nice day it is a serene sight to walk up to the plane. Jetstar’s A321 was only boarding through 1L. I can imagine what it’d be like during a monsoon type rainfall.
It didn’t take long to climb those steps onto the A321. The FA greeted me in typical JQ fashion: “Hi there, yes, your seat is the window on the right hand side.” While we were boarding, I heard the familiar tune of 'In The Summertime' by Thirsty Merc (an Australian band), one of a handful of pre embarking/disembarking songs used on the entire Jetstar fleet.
I chose the seat 12A due to the opportunity of taking nice photos of the engine out the window and I wasn’t at all disappointed when I noticed that there wasn’t a seat in front of me due to there being an emergency exit in row 11! I was then faced with a mission to store my hand luggage as I didn’t want to put it above. I resorted to stuffing it under the middle seat which was empty. It meant another flight with only one other person in the set of 3 seats! The seat itself was similar to the Virgin Blue seat but slightly more rigid. Boarding continued, a quick emergency row safety briefing was done by the FA whose jumpseat was located on the opposite side of the cabin to me. Then came the arming of the doors- a simple procedure. The rather predictable JQ recording of the safety demo rang out through the cabin.
Queue Wasn’t Too Long
The Plane That Took Me To OOL Approaching The Gate At OOL Once Again
Pen Is A Common Mark On JQ Planes. Tight Squeeze To Get Into The Middle Seat!
A quick taxi to the opposite end of the aerodrome to line up with Runway 16 followed. With no delay, full thrust was applied. Takeoff seemed quite quiet and before we knew it, we were airborne. Then there was this funny electric shaver-like sound coming from the front of the plane just after takeoff. Is this synonymous with the ‘barking’ sound?
Lining Up The Runway
Coolangatta/Tweed Heads – Where I Walked To
The flight itself was rather uneventful as I enjoyed my time with unlimited legroom and being on this A321. No video players were available for rental on this flight for some reason although I wouldn’t have been keen on hiring one anyway. It was cloudy for the beginning of the flight but later on through NSW it seemed to turn hazy either due to pollution or smoke. The crew did their usual run of food and drink then went back towards their galleys.
JQ’s menu doesn’t seem as thorough as DJ’s but they still offer decent snacks, not that I took up on any offers after filling myself at the lounge. JQ’s offerings for NZ domestic services is quite poor in contrast to the options available if you fly within Australia or internationally.
NZ Domestic menu
Then We Went Above The Higher Stuff
I waited until after service to check out the back of the long A321 cabin. And boy is it long! It makes me think that I’d enjoy flying in the 757. I took some photos from the very rear of the aircraft and a FA came up and abruptly told me to not take photos with crew in it. The crew were at the other end of the cabin and were barely visible on my photos! Some people..
View From Rear
Cameras For Personal Use Unrestricted According To The Safety Card
Window In The Emergency Exit Door
This plane was originally destined for Kingfisher Airlines of India
Barren NSW And Some Funny Shadows On The Ground
And all of a sudden, after cruising at 36,000ft for over an hour and a half, we started our descent.
Heading Beneath The Clouds
We approached from the North and landed on Runway 16, Melbourne’s main runway. After vacating the runway, we taxied past the International terminal and headed for Gate 6.
Nice Queue Of A Couple Of 744s
MEL’s New International Pier To The Left; DJ Terminal To The Right
Pulling Into The Terminal
Last Look At Having Infinite Legroom
JQ A320 Pulling Into Adjacent Gate
Melbourne Airport is definitely showing its age. It’s quite a big airport. The terminals are all joined together so you can seamlessly transfer from a domestic flight to an international flight without having to walk outside. Qantas and Jetstar share a terminal and their terminal is separated from the DJ terminal by the international terminal which sits in between them. Tiger has its own terminal down the road a bit.
Down The QF Pier
There is this funny quarantine area as you leave airside as the state of Victoria doesn’t allow fresh fruit/veges to be brought into the state. I don’t really know how they’d catch you if you did bring something through but there are honesty deposit bins for those to dump food into.
Very Informative International FIDS With Type And Rego
The Hilton, Melbourne Airport
International Check In
As I wanted to try more aircraft out, I asked the QF customer service desk if I could go on the earlier flight back to Sydney because it was operated by an A330-300. They looked at my ticket and said no, unless I paid the fare difference. It was worth a try and I guess I’ll have many opportunities to fly the A333. I also rang up my cousin back in Sydney to see if he could print off my boarding pass to my Tiger flight back to Melbourne early the next day. He questioned me, asking if my flight was supposed to be at 8pm and I was confused as I had booked for 8:45am flight. I went down to the Tiger terminal to see if that was correct (I had to butt in or else I would have been standing in line for at least an hour; lucky the check in agent didn’t reject me) and believe it or not, I had been bumped off my flight and rescheduled onto a flight later the following night without being notified at all. How appalling. I booked a replacement flight at the airport before heading back to Sydney.
QF Self Service Check In
It was a relief to be waiting at the gate for my final flight of the day back to Sydney.
24 Nov 2009
Routing: Melbourne Tullamarine – Sydney Kingsford (MEL-SYD)
Scheduled Time of Departure: 1930hrs
Actual Departure: 1930hrs (pushback), 1957hrs (rotate)
Scheduled Time of Arrival: 2055hrs
Flight time: 1hr 28 min
Aircraft: Boeing 737-838
Qantas operates 38 737-800 aircraft and another 3 (now 8) under Jetconnect, flying across the Tasman. The layout is 12J 156Y with Y having a seat pitch of 31”. VZB is quite a new plane, being registered with QF new from Boeing on 20 May 2008. The 737-800 runs many flights across Australia, connecting all major cities with decent frequencies.
Boarding was beginning when I got through security. I joined the queue and had my boarding pass scanned in the scanner. I handed my boarding pass to an agent just before entering the air bridge and he greeted me: “Good evening Mr Young, enjoy your flight”.
The seat wasn’t too bad – comfortable enough and legroom was sufficient for me. I was unaware until after I checked Seatguru that the row I was in – row 12 (the row in front of the emergency exit row)- has a recline lock on it for takeoff and landing, controlled by the FAs. I am certain that I like the 737 more than the A320 due to the position of the windows – the 737 window is lower and it makes it easier to both look out of (towards the ground) and take photos from. We pushed back on time and once again I was lucky to have a vacant seat next to me.
It seemed like peak hour with 6pm flights arriving into MEL. Because of this, there were 5 narrowbodies awaiting takeoff in front of us: 2 Virgin jets, 2 Qantas jets and 1 Tiger – 738s and an A320. I could see this but the captain told us anyway that there’d be a long wait for the queue to depart.
Two Queues Can Be Seen
Air Mauritius A343
Crossing The Crosswind Runway – Runway 27
Ex-Ansett Fokker 28-4000 VH-FKJ, Now Rescue Training Demo
The One That Got Away
Turning Onto Runway 16
After some wait, we turned onto the runway for departure. Thrust was applied and I was off once again for my third and final flight of the day. As we rocketed past the other holding area, I took a glimpse of the TT plane that joined the line before us. Off we went, doing a handful of left hand turns and flying back over the airport headed for Sydney.
Melbourne Airport From Above
Melbourne City To The Left Of The Wing, Port Phillip Bay To The Right
Not long after, dinner was served. No choices here – everyone got meatballs and pasta. I was quite hungry but it did taste quite nice. It was a little on the small side of things. The meal is one reason why I enjoy flying with full service airlines. I also got a Coke and a red wine to accompany it – the drinks trolley closely followed the meal cart. Also on the meal tray were some cheese and crackers and also a little chocolate.
There was a great view of the sun setting from 39,000ft but I was on the eastern side of the plane so I didn’t actually see the sun setting. Instead, I saw the sky being lit up with wonderful colours probably the best sunset I’ve ever had to accompany my inflight meal. Our routing was past Albury and Canberra but it was very cloudy and we couldn’t see anything.
The Terminator – The Line Between Day And Night
Things were tidied up with plenty of time remaining before descent. When we broke through the clouds, we could see the city lights below so I was fascinated to know that we were soon to be landing on Sydney’s crosswind runway – Runway 07. And we eventually landed there. It felt unusual as I’ve never used that runway in my handful of flights in and out of Sydney so the view was certainly different. Touchdown was only a few minutes after the scheduled arrival time. A taxi to the gate past the JQ pier and right around to the other side of the QF pier next to the maintenance area took a good 10 minutes.
Vacating The Runway
Into The Gate
Emergency Exit Row – Note The Funny Arm Rest On The Wall
And so I was back in Sydney after a long day.
And that was the end of the first day of flying around Australia.
I took my first flight in an A321 and loved every second of it. It could have been a different experience if I had chosen a seat that didn’t have infinite legroom. The overwhelming majority of staff were friendly and helpful which made my day better. Tiger is still a letdown. This is all done in time sequence so the Tiger story continues in my next report. Virgin Australia was voted best Australian airline in 2009 but there is definitely nothing wrong with Qantas at all. You get a meal, drinks and baggage all for free compared to having to pay for things if you fly Virgin.