QantasLink, B 717 – Economy Class: Ayers Rock to Alice Springs

Qantaslink_Logo

Airline: QantasLink (National Jet Systems)
Aircraft: Boeing B 717
Cabin: Economy Class
Seat:
2C
From:
Uluru
To:
Alice Springs
Date:
18. August 2013
Departure:
10:35
Arrival:
11:20

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Getting to the Airport

I leave the Longitude at 09:00. Today we are travelling by multipurpose Bush vehicle to the airport.  The journey takes about 15 minutes to complete.

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Check-in

Uluru airport is a fairly small building on one level. As you enter there are arrivals to the right and the check-in counters to the left. There are separate counters for QantasLink, Virgin and for Jetstar. The concierge at the hotel checked me in the evening before.

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Airside

Well, there very simply is none. The departures area is relatively small. But then again the facility only has two gates anyway. In the departures area there is a bar and a souvenir shop selling Uluru memorabilia. But the views are good!

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Boarding

Boarding starts on time. I exit the building and head towards our aircraft, looking forward to the opportunity to take some photos of my aircraft before I get on board. But alas, some gentleman doing I’m not quite sure what job takes it upon himself to inform me of just how bad a safety hazard I am to the aircraft by my intention to take pictures…Fair enough, I’ll take pictures in Alice, where I’m sure they probably won’t be quite so anal.

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By the way, it turns out that the gate agent scanning the boarding passes as we board is also one of the cabin crew on the flight. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before!

The Cabin

The cabin on this bird is in fairly good shape, although it’s quite apparent that it is well used. There are stains on the seat (Do I want to know of what?) but other than that everything seems in working order.

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The engines start up and we backtrack to the end of runway 13. It’s really quite amazing just how quiet the B717 is when you’re sitting on row two. Even when the aircraft accelerates for take-off the engines are barely audible.

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The Meal

The meal service on this flight is probably the biggest surprise, especially considering that the flight has an expected block time of only 40 minutes. Every passenger receives a packet with two soft biscuits – dark chocolate and white chocolate with nuts – a cup of water, crackers and a slice of cheese which tastes mostly like a cheddar.

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Arrival

I’m just swallowing the last of the crackers and cheese when the throttles are pushed back and our aircraft dips its nose for the descent into Alice Springs. And shortly thereafter we land.

Like in Uluru, we have to backtrack to reach the entrance to the apron. I disembark and take a few pictures of my aircraft. As expected, nobody really seems to mind. Next stop: Adelaide.

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Hawaiian Air, First Class – A 330-200: San Francisco to Kahului via Honolulu

Introduction

Yesterday I arrived in San Francisco on a United Airlines flight from Las Vegas. I spent the night at the Hyatt Regency close to the airport and today I am finally on my way Hawaii.

Hawaiian-Airlines-Logo

Date: 29 January 2013
From: San Francisco
To: Honolulu
Airline: Hawaiian Air
Aircraft: Airbus A 330-200
Cabin: First Class
Seat: 1A

Getting to the Airport

It’s gone six and I am standing outside the entrance to the Hyatt, waiting for my shuttle to arrive to take me back to San Francisco airport.

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The shuttle makes a stop at the Marriott on its way to the Hyatt and is already quite full when it arrives. Most of the passengers are flight crews about to start another working day. There’s one guy who looks like the caricature of a pilot, complete with leather jacket and Frisbee cap.

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All of the passengers descend at the domestic terminal, except for me. Although the flight to Honolulu is a domestic service, it departs from the international terminal.

San Francisco International.
San Francisco International.

Check-in

The facility is fairly deserted when I arrive. There is already a small queue forming for the Hawaiian Air counters. Apparently they’re having trouble of sorts with their check-in system. The ground crew apologise for the inconvenience and tell us they shan’t be long. And indeed, a few minutes later the ATB printer is happily printing a test boarding pass.

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There is a separate line and counter for passengers in First Class and passengers with status in Hawaiian’s frequent flyer programme. When it’s my turn the check-in agent welcomes me to the flight and thanks me for flying Hawaiian. She then proceeds to print my boarding passes for the flight to Honolulu as well as the onward connection to Kahului on Maui. She also directs me to the priority lane for security, not that it makes a difference with so few passengers around this morning.

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Airside

The terminal is only just opening and most of the shops are still closed. Which is a bit unfortunate as Hawaiian doesn’t have a lounge in San Francisco and I’m dying for a coffee. Eventually I find a place towards the end of the concourse that is already open and is very close to A8, my departure gate for this flight.

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A cappuccino, fresh orange juice and a toasted bagel later and I’m feeling much more alive than I did when I first reached the airport. I switch on the complimentary wifi and give my mum a quick call on Facetime to report on my progress thus far – it’s cold and rainy in Switzerland, the usual. In contrast, the view from where I’m sitting is just fine.

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After I ring off I cross to the other side of the facility to take a closer look at my bird for today. And I am truly smitten. She’s simply gorgeous and I can barely take my eyes off her!

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Boarding

Boarding starts right on time with a call for passengers with reduced mobility and special needs. Once the passengers with kids and wheelchairs have passed the gate, the ground crew halt the boarding process to give the special needs passengers enough time to settle in. I like that, very sensible. Next it’s the boarding call for the premium passengers. There are two airbridges attached to the aircraft, premium passengers should use the left one.

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The Crew

I am the first to board the aircraft. I am greeted by a friendly ‘aloha’ and I am struck by how much better looking and, well…happy…the cabin crew look than those I encountered on United. They’re smiles all round and give the impression of actually looking forward to having you on board as their guest! I am mesmerized; thank God I didn’t choose United for this flight!

The Cabin

The cabin on this bird is either very new or very well kept. The First Class seat is not state of the art and only offers limited recline. The seat controls are mechanical rather than electrical. Still, the seat is comfortable enough for the journey of five hours across the Pacific to Hawaii. The First Class cabin comprises three rows of seats in a 2 + 2 + 2 configuration, making for a total of 18 seats. Twelve seats will be occupied on today’s flight.

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A blanket and pillow are already at my set when I arrive.

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I stow away my things and take my seat on 1A. Immediately a flight attendant appears, places a napkin on the armrest and asks me if I’d like a glass of champagne, guava juice or a combination of both. I ask for the guava juice and have to make an effort to stop my jaw from dropping as the flight attendant actually brings me just what I’d asked for: a glass of juice, not a plastic cup!

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A short while later the same flight attendant brings me the menu for today’s flight. She points out that all the items on the menu will be served.

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And shortly after that we’re ready for departure. The ground crew make an announcement wishing all the passengers a pleasant journey and officially hand us over to the cabin crew. Then the doors are closed, the airbridges are removed and we push back. The journey begins!

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Take-off is surprisingly sluggish, considering it’s an A 330. I’m sitting on the left side, so I’m hoping to get a view of the city and the Golden Gate Bridge. But as my luck will have it, we begin a left turn towards the open Pacific before we reach the bridge.

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Amenities

After take-off service begins with the distribution of earphones. I haven’t tried them yet, but I think they’re rather cool to look at. After that the crew come to ask what we’d like to drink and I have another guava juice, which is brought to me with a small dish of mixed nuts and berries.

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The Meal

From my seat I have a good view of what’s going on in the galley, the curtains have not been drawn. I am particularly impressed and quite surprised to find that the plates with the hot meal have not been prepared beforehand. Instead, the flight attendant doing the galley is preparing and decorating every plate individually. The meal consists of:

  1. a warm muffin with orange zest
  2. a selection of fresh fruit – pineapple, melon, grapes, strawberries and mint
  3. a lomi lomi salmon omelette
  4. steamed rice with chicken, taro and shitake mushrooms
  5. a slice of carrot cake for dessert
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And very tasty the meal is too, in particular the omelette is nice and fluffy and full of flavour.

Once I finish the meal, the tray is removed. I take out my Kindle and read until we start our descent into Honolulu. Throughout the flight the crew pass through the cabin a number of times, asking passengers if there’s anything they need or if they’d like to have a drink.

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Just before we leave our flight level, the crew distribute hot towels. They’re not scented, but that’s okay.

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Arrival

After a flying time of five hours our flight draws to an end and we make a lovely approach into Honolulu. Honolulu is a nice airport, a lot of the terminal is open air and it feels good to be able to walk around without a jacket.

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Last turn onto finals.
Last turn onto finals.
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Transit area.
Transit area.

Transfer in Honolulu

From Honolulu I have an onward connection with Hawaiian Air to Kahului. So I find a nice place to sit outside, take some pictures and wait for my flight to board. There is First Class lounge for the intra-island flights, but to be honest it’s not really that nice.

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There isn’t really anything much to say about the onward connection to Kahului, after all it’s only a 20 minute hop. About thirty minutes before departure I head for the gate and take a seat to whatch all sorts of birds flying around.

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A short while later I see my aircraft pulling onto stand.

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Date: 29 January 2013
From: Honolulu
To: Kahului
Airline: Hawaiian Air
Aircraft: B 717
Cabin: First Class
Seat: 1C

Boarding

My plane arrives at the gate 20 minutes before departure and I start to think that we’re probably not going to make an on time departure. Little do I know how hard they work those little B 717s.

My plane.
My plane.
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The Cabin

Boarding starts on time.

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Waiting by the entrance.
Waiting by the entrance.
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Even on these short hops Hawaiian have a dedicated First Class cabin in a 2 + 2 configuration. I’m slowly coming to the conclusion that this is quite an amazing little airline. Little of course only by American standards.

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The bulkhead.
The bulkhead.
Don't forget your manners just because you on holiday, so don't put your feet up against the bulkhead.
Don’t forget your manners just because you on holiday, so don’t put your feet up against the bulkhead.
The front office.
The front office.

The Crew

Despite the short flying time, in Business Class Hawaiian still serve a pre-departure drink and another drink with a packet of nuts inflight. But they’re expecting quite some chop on today’s flight so the flight attendant distributes the nuts on the ground.

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I didn’t take any further pictures of the flight. It was quite turbulent and with the shaking it was impossible to take any decent pictures.

Conclusion

Hawaiian Air really impressed me. Their service is truly excellent and the crew are just so nice and friendly. I don’t think I’d want to do the direct flight from JFK to Honolulu in that seat – it’s a ten hours flight – but for the journey from San Francisco it was certainly more than adequate.

Epilogue

On Maui I call the Makena Beach Resort home. As I sit here on the balcony of my room writing this up and occasionally looking out to sea, I can actually see and even hear whales breaching in the distance – beautiful!

This concludes the series of reports on my American vacation. America is such a vast country, full of contrast and with so much to see and do. It has been a memorable trip and I certainly hope to return to Hawaii some day. I leave you with some pictures of Hawaii.

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Blue 1, Economy Extra – Boeing B 717 / ATR-72: Copenhagen to Oulu via Helsinki

Introduction

This is a review of a trip I took in December of 2011. In the meantime a lot has been happening at Blue 1. The beginning of 2012 looked rather bleak for this Finnish SAS subsidiary, with the airline basically withdrawing from all its international services outside Scandinavia. In the meantime though, things have started to look up, at least slightly. With the financial situation at SAS continuing to deteriorate, it may well be that Blue 1 will end up taking over at least the entire European operation of the SAS group.

Date: 27 December 2011
From: Copenhagen
To: Helsinki
Airline: Blue1
Aircraft: B 717
Seat: 1F
Cabin Class: Economy Extra

Check-in

Copenhagen airport is very busy when I arrive, judging by the queues it looks as though all of Denmark has elected to travel by air on this early morning!

Fortunately I checked in online the previous day, so I won’t have to join the not so fun looking queue down there.

In Copenhagen SAS has a dedicated Fast Track for passengers in Business Class on SAS or with Eurobonus gold status. Fortunately Economy Extra passengers on Blue1 may also avail themselves of the fast track.

There are two exits from the Fast Track security area, one leads you into a duty free shop while the other drops you off right outside the SAS lounges.

The SAS Gold Lounge

There are two lounges in one facility in Copenhagen. The SAS lounge for Business Class passengers is located on the ground floor, while the upper floor is the Scandinavia lounge for all Star Gold passengers. The lounge is rather peaceful. Not really quite sure what to expect in terms of catering on Blue 1, I decide to have breakfast in the lounge.

Boarding

Eventually I head to the departure gate to catch a first glimpse of my ride to Helsinki.  Et voilà!

The Cabin

My first impression of the cabin is good, although the carpets look rather worn and filthy. Of the three flights on a Bue1 B 717 I take on this trip, none were identical from the inside. This aircraft has a bulkhead covered in blue leather and is equipped with two lavatories in the rear of the cabin.

We take off into a murky looking Copenhagen sky, very soon though we are through the clouds and in lovely subdued sunshine.

Service already starts on the ground with a round of water or orange juice. There are eight rows of Economy Extra for only five passengers in this cabin, which makes for a very pleasant and quiet flight.

The Meal

Once we we are airborne, breakfast is served, which comes with nice warm bread. The crew do a number of coffee and juice rounds throughout the flight. One thing that strikes me is that everything on this aircraft is SAS branded, from the seat covers to the salt and pepper sachets. So why not just call it SAS Finland?

The meal is tasty and certainly more than I expected. It hits the spot just nicely.

Arrival

Soon we start our descent, which is a very bumpy affair, making it really hard to take any decent pictures.

Transfer in Helsinki

Upon arrival I head for the SAS lounge, which is right opposite my gate for the connection to Oulu. The lounge is nice and rather well stocked.

The weather is starting to clear up – I think.

Date: 27 December 2011
From: Helsinki
To: Oulu
Airline: Blue1
Operated by: Golden Air
Aircraft: ATR 72
Seat: 18A
Cabin Class: Economy Extra

Boarding

Boarding for this flight is from a remote stand, so we are bussed to our aircraft, which is parked in a part of the airport that really does justice to the term ‘remote stand’.

The load on this flight is close to 100%. There are two rows of Economy Extra. As the ATR has the entry door at the rear, the premium section is also located in the rear section of the cabin. So I take my time and wait for everybody else to get on board.

The Cabin

Seating is rather tight, but quite okay for such a short flight. The cabin is clean and welcoming.

The Meal

On this flight lunch is served, consisting of a chicken breast with some sort of pasta salad and chutney. Every tray comes with a bottle of wine on it (in a plastic bottle, I decided not to try it…). The food, as all the meals I have on Blue1 actually, is quite tasty. The chicken is succulent and not at all dry.

Another proverb for which the Blue 1 coffee cups are famous.

Arrival

Landing in Oulu is pretty rough and there seems to be a blizzard passing through the area as we start our approach. Still the sturdy ATR 72 marches on persistently, seemingly unperturbed by the rough flying conditions. My greatest respect to the cockpit crew’s airmanship skills! As we slow down, there is a strong crosswind component sweeping snow across the airfield and the runway. The snow clearing squad is evidently having a hard time keeping the apron and runway clear of snow.

I have finally arrived in Oulu and clocked the B 717, Blue1 and Golden Air. It’s also so cold that I’m freezing my nuts off by the time I reach the hotel!

Conclusion

I like Blue 1. They’re a nice little airline and the service they provide on the four flights I have with them is consistently very good. I have nothing to complain about. But please, someone give those carpets a good scrub!