How I experienced the gunman shooting at Canberra airport

I spend the Sunday morning in Canberra walking around the government precinct. Unfortunately, the weather is not very nice and not really ideal for walking. It’s cold, windy and wet. Canberra is meticulously clean and very well kept. But perhaps precisely for that reason it also seems a bit artificial.

My flight back to Sydney is not until 15h35. I’m rather looking forward to this one, because I booked the flight with Virgin Australia, who has Link Air operate the flight on their behalf with a Sabb 340. I haven’t been on one of those in years!

But considering the crappy weather, at around noon I give up and decide I might as well return to the airport and do some work on the Phd somewhere in a quiet corner. I catch the R3 bus from in front of the Sebel hotel, which makes the journey in less than thirty minutes. I arrive at the airport at around 13h00.

One half of the terminal is for QANTAS only, while the other half is shared by REX, Link Air and Virgin Australia. And there’s even an old aircraft on display at the departures level!

I head straight through security, which is again a very hassle free and quick process. In Canberra there is no need to take anything out of your bag. Not even your laptop. You just have to empty your pockets.

I do a quick walkaround and take some photos of the lovely B 717 – let’s face it, it’s really a DC-9 and we all know it – and of what I think will be my ride to Sydney.

I park myself at a table and grab a coffee and a cinnamon roll. I’m still getting used to sizes here in Australia. I order a medium sized flat white and end up with what looks like half a litre of milky coffee! From where I’m sitting I can watch gate 8, where a Jetstar flight is in the process of boarding. At some point I hear a popping sound off in the distance. When I was a kid and we used to visit my grandparents at their restaurant, we would sometimes – if we were very lucky – get a packet of crisps to share. Part of the fun of course, was to pop open the packet by giving it a good squeeze. That’s what the pop sounds like, and I wonder why I even noticed it. Then suddenly there’s a huge commotion, I hear people screaming in terror and what sounds like a stampede heading in my direction. In the queue for the Jetstart flight I see a woman turn pale. Her face contorts into absolute panic. “Oh my God, what’s happening” she yells and people start running everywhere, trying to get out. I hear somebody yelling “he’s got a gun”. And that’s when my senses kick into gear. We have to run. Because we have to survive. The alternative is not an option. And so we make a run for it. There is an elderly lady running in front of me, she must be in her seventies. She is going as fast as she can, which isn’t very much because she’d guiding her blind daughter who has lost her walking stick in the scrum to get out.

I reach the exit of the terminal at the lower level, and that’s when I am gripped with a complete and utter sense of terror as I become aware that I have lost my partner. I don’t know where he went and I don’t know if he made it out. I push down the rising panic boiling in my stomach. I’m trying to stay calm, but as I start looking for his face in the crowd, I can feel myself becoming increasingly frantic. But eventually, after about twenty minutes, I finally spot his pullover in the crowd and I’m flooded with relief. And that’s when I realise the full extent of just how very cold I’m feeling.

A few minutes later, the police start arriving. The airport is cordonnned off and cars are not allowed to pull up to the terminal. All arrivals and departures have been stopped. The old lady with her blind daughter made it out, they’re being looked after by the paramedics.

After the emergency and rescue team, the press arrive and start interviewing people, hoping for an eye witness’ testimonial.

There’s an Asian guy standing there barefoot in his socks. When the evacuation started, his shoes were just going through the x-ray machine and he just left them to get out with his young wife and their eight months old baby. Eventually, we end up spending nearly three hours standing outside in the cold and wet. The flight to Sydney has been cancelled and we’ve been rebooked onto the flight the next day at 07h50. But I just want to go home by this stage. So I quickly log in to the airport network and book us two tickets on the QANTAS flight back to Syndey that same evening at 17h40.

Our belongings have been retrieved by the police and placed on the floor behind security for passengers to find. And I’m really grateful to the police officer who tries to lighten the mood. As I put on my yellow rain jacket to get warm again he gives me this funny look and tells me that “oh mate, yellow’s really your colour. Good on’ya”. And then he laughs. Good on’ya yourself and your colleagues, and thank you for taking care of us!

We park ourselves at gate 14 and then we just wait. Things are still a bit chaotic as the aiport slowly reopens, so it’s hardly surprsing that eventually, our flight departs from Canberra with a delay of nearly two hours. But you know what, I so couldn’t care less, because things today could have gone much, much worse.

I trust you’ll understand that after such a day I really didn’t have any energy left to pay attention to anything much that happened on the flight. So, I think I’ll just leave you with some pictures of the gorgeous B 717, aka the DC-9.

QANTAS, Economy Class – Bombardier Q400: Sydney to Canberra

Getting to the airport

I just love Sydney and its harbour. And I really like the idea of commuting by boat. I mean, how cool is that! As usual, to get to the airport I first take the Manly ferry and then the train from Circular Quay. In the sun it’s pleasantly warm. But in the shade it’s still fresh. And the breeze on deck is not for the faint of heart. But the view…!

At Sydney airport there is one station that serves all domestic terminals. QANTAS operates out of Terminal 3

Check-in

From the station you need to go three floors up to the departure level. I’ve already checked in on the app and I have no luggage, so I can just go straight through security. In the domestic terminal they use body scanners, and you don’t have to take anything out of your bag either, which is really very convenient.

The QANTAS Business Class lounge

After I exit from security, the entrance to the lounge is to my left just a few steps down the hall.

No beach or sleep wear is permitted in the lounge. Although I wasn’t actually aware that UGGs were sleep wear…

The lounge is a lot less busy than when I was here last when I first arrived in Australia. I’m also a lot more awake. So, I grab myself a seat by the window, get myself a flat white (I’m picking up the local lingo…) and a cheese sandwich (yeah, okay… and a plate full of Arnott’s biscuits) and read until it’s time to leave the lounge.

Boarding

Boarding starts with a delay of twenty minutes from gate 17. More importantly, what I’m looking forward to is that boarding is via stairs and not an airbridge.

The cabin

On the outside, the aircraft is already wearing QANTAS’ new livery and looks rather… Dashing. Inside though, it looks like the cabin has seen some pretty heavy usage. It’s not that the cabin is in bad condition, just that the seats look rather worn.

The seat pitch is good. The only problem on the window seat it that the narrow width of the Q400’s fuselage cuts into your leg space.

Once we’re seated, there’s a further delay. Apparently, there’s a lot of luggage and it’s taking them a long time to load the bags in such a way that everything will fit.

The service

There are two female cabin crew. The purser seems quite reserved, but her colleague is great and interacts well with the passengers, and especially with the many kids on the plane.

While we wait for the handlers to finish with the bags, the crew pass through the cabin handing out small bottles of still water.

The flight time to Canberra is announced as 35 minutes.

The snack service

To be honest, I thought the bottle of water was all we were going to get, considering the short flight time. Much to my surprise though, once the fasten seatbelt sign is turned off, the crew start their service, which includes a packet of buttery passion fruit biscuits and a full drinks service, including tea or coffee.

Arrival

Eventually we land at 13h45 with a delay of eleven minutes, which is not all that bad. Here in Canberra they have these very funky mobile, wheelchair friendly ramps that they use to disembark. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a great idea if there are passengers with mobility issues on board. But seeing as we boarded in Sydney without having to use one of these, I’m kind of wondering if it would not have been faster to just disembark via the stairs.

I step off the aircraft and make my way across the ramp to arrivals. There’s a bus into town every thirty minutes and I’ve just missed the one at 13h46. So I’m going to have to take a taxi to make it to my 14h30 appointment for afternoon tea at the Hyatt. The journey by taxi takes 12 minutes and costs AUD25. By bus it would be about 35 minutes.

Conclusion

I’m assuming that this will be my last domestic QANTAS flight for the time being. As I already mentioned in my post on the A 380 flight from Singapore to Sydney, I’m really not a fan of the QANTAS First Class product. Their domestic Business and Economy Class products are something else though. I find it quite amazing that they will serve you a hot meal on a leg of only ninety minutes between Melbourne and Sydney, or that they offer you bikkies in Economy Class on a flight of thirty minutes. It makes you wonder what the poor Aussies must think when they visit Europe and have to count their lucky stars if they get anything at all on a plane.

QANTAS, Business Class – Boeing B 737-800: Sydney to Melbourne

Transferring from international to domestic at Sydney

So, it’s 10h34 when my suitcase finally arrives on the belt after having to wait for a solid hour for them to start delivering the bags off QF2 from Heathrow and Singapore. My flight to Melbourne is leaving in 24 minutes.

If you’re connecting onto a domestic flight with QANTAS, the transfer at Sydney airport is really easy. As you exit through immigration turn right and follow the signs marked ‘QANTAS domestic transfer’. Eventually, this will lead you to a small, flat building with ten check-in counters. When I enter, there are two Economy Class and one Business Class counters open. I hand my passport and boarding pass to the check-in agent and she tells me that I’m not going to make it onto the 11 o’clock departure and they’ll have to rebook me. She then tells me the next available flight is not until 21h00 this evening, in more than nine hours – or she could send me via Canberra, even though apparently she can’t really tell me how long the layover in Canberra would be. Yeah, no. So the 21h departure it is. Although she also tells me I could always try and get on an earlier flight once I get to the domestic terminal. There is a flight leaving for Melbourne every thirty minutes.

From check-in I head through security for the airside bus transfer from the international terminal to the domestic terminal on the other side of the airport.

I mean, obviously I’m not too happy about missing my flight in my advanced state of exhaustion, but the complimentary ramp tour is quite nice…

QANTAS domestic Business Class lounge

The entrance to the QANTAS domestic lounge is more or less opposite gate four.

At the entrance I explain my predicament to the receptionist and she tells me she’ll keep an eye on the flights to check for an earlier availability. In the meantime, she suggests I go down to the concourse from time to time and check directly with the gate attendants for any possible openings.

The lounge is enormous, but very busy. It’s basically impossible to take pictures without pestering anybody or getting them in the picture unintentionally. The buffet is quite extensive, with a good selection of cold dishes, soup and one hot dish (some curry with rice, I think). There is also a large coffee bar that seems to be permanently busy during my stay.

I park myself in an armchair by the windows and hope the view will be enough to prevent me from nodding off to sleep. Apparently it’s not. God knows what noises I must have been making, because when I awake an hour later with a start, I get a very bemused look from the people around me. It’s been a long trip, okay? At least I wasn’t drooling…

Eventually, I decide to go for another walkabout to avoid nodding off again. The 16h00 departure at gate 10 is running late, so I figure I might as well try my luck, and… bingo! Seat 2C is available and there is still enough time for my suitcases to be located and loaded onto the aircraft.

Boarding

I very much like that QANTAS has two separate queues for boarding, with premium passengers on the left, and Economy passengers on the right. There is a large box set up in the middle of the queue where passengers can help themselves to complimentary earphones to use during their flight.

Boarding starts at 16h15. In the photo below is the 16h30 departure to Melbourne, which ends up pushing off stand before we do.

At the door passengers are welcomed by two elderly gentlemen. Both of them are very friendly and chatty, making easy conversation with the passengers as they wait to enter the aircraft.

The cabin

QANTAS has a dedicated Business Class cabin with four rows on its B 737-800 fleet. The seats are in a 2 + 2 configuration. The seat pitch is very comfortable. The recline is okay, although for my liking the seat back could be more upright in the neutral position. The headrest is adjustable in height, with foldable ears for better head support. I now know from experience that they work and really do prevent your bonce from rolling about like a little bobble head man.

There are no inflight entertainment screens, but streaming via wifi is available.

The meal

Once we’re airborne, the service starts pretty much as soon as the wheels go up. The flight time is one hour & twelve minutes.

Much to my surprise, there are two meal options. One is a prosciutto salad and the other is a warm leek quiche with onion confit and mashed peas. With that the crew serve sourdough bread with butter. There’s also a Lindor chocolate on the tray.

The meal is good and hits the spot nicely. The presentation of the tray could perhaps be a bit nicer, but then again you’re not eating the tray…

Arrival

We land in darkness and make a short taxi to our stand on the domestic pier. From there it’s just a short walk to the baggage reclaim, where my suitcases arrive just as I reach the delivery belt. And then I make my way to the hotel. I’m a wreck.

Conclusion

I will be spending the next two months in Australia, and I’m really looking forward to the peace and quiet. Before that though, I think it’ll take me a few days to recover from the long journey.

This short domestic hop on QANTAS was an interesting comparison for me, even if I was already very tired by this stage. Two things struck me: first, that there seems to be a bit of a disconnect between QANTAS’ Busines Class product on short-haul and its long-haul First Class product. The First Class product is really not very good, and not up to international standards. In contrast, their domestic Business Class product is very good, even though they’ve more or less cornered the market and needn’t try so hard. As a result, the gap between Business and First didn’t seem that great to me. The second thing that strikes me is that this is the complete opposite of the situation of the European carriers which still offer a First Class. In Europe it’s usually more the case that the First Class product is very good, like my experience with SWISS from Zürich to Singapore, but the gap between First and Business Class is too big, with the latter more like a slightly better Economy class service than a truly premium offering.

QANTAS, First Class – Airbus A 380: Singapore to Sydney

Transfer in Changi

I step off the SWISS flight from Zürich at 17h20. Apparently, we are running fifteen minutes late. On the scale of events though, after a twelve hour flight that seems rather unimportant. My connection with QANTAS to Sydney will be departing from Terminal 1 at 19h30. There is a young lady holding up a sign with my name as I exit the airbridge. I approach her and she gives me instructions how to get to Terminal 1. She also tells me the gate will be D46.

So I catch the Skytrain from the station opposite my arrival gate. The journey only takes a few minutes.

Once I reach Terminal 1, I follow the signs for the QANTAS First Class lounge, which is separate from the Business Class lounge.

QANTAS First Class lounge Singapore

The lounge is quite busy, so I do not have any good opportunities to take any photos. It is quite a spacious lounge, with a fairly large dining area.

There are also showers available in the lounge.

Just before 19h00 I decide to leave and make my way to D46. There is a queue forming outside the lounge as I leave, which I consider a good sign, because it means my aircraft has arrived as QF2 from Heathrow.

Boarding

The security check takes place at the gate and there is a separate queue for First and Business Class passengers. Our A 380 is in the process of being turned around for the onward journey to Sydney.

Boarding should have started at 19h00. However, 19h30 comes and goes and there are still no signs of activity. The ground crew make an announcement to inform passengers that boarding will not start until 20h30. By this time I urgently need to take a leak, so I decide to exit the gate area because there are no loos behind the security checkpoint.

I go for a walkabout and return at around 20h20, again going through security to enter the gate area. At 20h30, another announcement is made to inform us that one of the high loaders for the cargo accidentally drove into the aircraft when it arrived. The Singaporean civil aviation authorities and a team from Airbus support are trying to determine if the aircraft is still airworthy. So the departure time is moved back to 22h30, and passengers in First and Business Class are advised to return to their respective lounges.

By this time I am starting to feel hungry again, so I figure I might as well eat in the lounge and then skip the meal on the plane. I can highly recommend the shrimp wontons in chilli and ginger oil.

I return to the gate at 22h20 and go through security a third time. Just as I enter the gate area, the crew announce that the aircraft is finally ready for boarding. As it turns out, I am the first passenger in the First Class cabin to board, which gives me ample opportunity to take photos.

The seat & cabin

The QANTAS First Class seat is the strangest thing I have ever seen. I really do not get what they were trying to achieve with this seat. There are fourteen seats in a 1 + 1 + 1 configuration. In the take-off position, the seat faces forward. However, to recline or extend the seat into a bed, it turns about 45 degrees towards the windows. There just seems to be a lot of unnecessarily wasted space. And you sit far away from the windows.

There is no storage space for a larger item such as a laptop. There are two small drawers, but one of those is already being used to stow the earphones. The USB port is also located in a strange position.

You also feel quite exposed in the seat. There is a screen that can be raised for more privacy, but it is not really all that effective.

The First Class cabin is located on the lower level between the L1 and L2 doors. Behind it is the galley and then the Economy Class cabin.

The service

There are four crew working the First Class cabin. They are friendly and very Australian. Martin comes to introduce himself and wishes me a pleasant flight. He brings me a glass of sparkling water and a plate with a caviar canapé and a cracker with baba ghanoush, which seems like rather an odd combination.

Next his colleague brings me the vanity kit, slippers and pajamas.

And then the menu. Not a single refreshing towel is offered during the entire flight.

The meal

Catering on QANTAS is something that I have always found quite odd. I just do not get it. I am never quite sure what the concept for the meal service is supposed to be, which also makes it difficult to know exactly what and how to order. I am still full from the wontons anyway, so I tell the crew to make my bed up immediately after take-off. I will not be having dinner, but I want to be woken for breakfast.

In the middle of the night I wake up feeling a bit hungry. So I make my way to the galley and ask if there might be any snacks available, to which one of the female cabin crew suggests the chocolate cake with pears. I also check the inflight map, which shows that we are running four hours late.

The second service

Two hours out of Sydney, I ask for a coffee, apple juice and breakfast. Apparently you can order food à la carte. Nonetheless, it takes the crew a whole hour after bringing me the drinks to start laying the table for breakfast.

I order a Birchermüsli and toast. The first thing that strikes me is that for QANTAS a Birchermüsli means something very different to what it means in Switzerland. What I get is a bowl of dry müsli with a large dollop of yoghurt. The only problem is that the yoghurt hardly has enough liquid for the müsli to soak up, so it is rather a dry affair.

The other thing that strikes me is that the crew ask me what I would like with my toast. I say marmalade, and that is exactly what I get. On SWISS I got a whole dish with four different preserves to choose from.

At the suggestion of the crew I also decide to try the breakfast brioche. And what a mistake that turns out to be. It is basically a brioche bun with a hash brown, egg, tomato chutney and bacon in it. I can hear my arteries clogging up just looking at it…

Arrival

The weather in Sydney is dreadful. It is windy and raining. As a result, there is a bit of a delay for our arrival. By the time we touch down, we are already more than four hours behind schedule.

We pull up to our stand and the captain comes on the PA to ask all passengers to remain seated. Apparently, one of the passengers developed Covid symptoms during the flight, and now they need to be checked before anybody is allowed to disembark. Eventually we wait for forty minutes before we are allowed off the plane, by this time nearly five hours late.

The good news is that we are so late that the early morning queue at immigration has already died down. But that is about as far as my luck goes. For reasons that are not explained, it then takes another whole hour for the first suitcases to arrive on the belt, and another twenty minutes for my suitcase to arrive.

Conclusion

It really is difficult to know what to say about this flight. Sure, the delays were not really the fault of the airline, and I think all passengers appreciated that the crew wanted the damage checked before we got airborne. Other than that though, I found the whole First Class experience on QANTAS seriously underwhelming. Their only saving grace were the friendly crew. The seat was just plain weird and the food offerings were sparce and more like an average Business Class product you would get on other airlines.

TAP Air Portugal, Economy Class – Embraer 195: Porto to Lisbon

Introduction

Porto is a nice, modern city with a lot of tradition. It’s also very touristy. In Porto I stayed at the Intercontinental, but to be honest, I don’t think I’d stay there again.

Getting to the Airport

From the Intercontinental you can either walk ten minutes uphill to Trinidade, or you can take the metro line D for one stop and then change onto the E line from Trinidade to the airport. Which is what I do to save me some walking.

The metro in Porto is nice. It’s quiet, clean, easy to use and modern. The metro to the airport only runs every thirty minutes, although I’m not sure if perhaps that’s because it’s the weekend. The journey time to the airport is thirty minutes. And it’s a very nice journey too!

Check-in

TAP has a shuttle service between Porto and Lisbon. On weekdays, the first departure from Porto to Lisbon is at four in the morning, with subsequent flights running hourly during peak hours and every two hours for the rest of the day.

There are dedicated check-in counters for the Lisbon shuttle.

The Lounge

Luckily there is a fast track for security, which is much less busy than the queue for the general security checkpoint.

TAP does not operate its own lounge here in Porto. However, there is a lounge operated by Nav Portugal. I am entitled to use this lounge because although my flight to Lisbon is in Economy Class, it was booked on the same ticket at the Business Class fare from Zürich to Porto.

The lounge is nice and has a good selection of finger food and snacks. There’s even a freshly made fruit salad, which is just excellent!

The entrance to the lounge is right opposite gate 32, which is the dedicated gate for the Lisbon shuttle.

Boarding

Boarding for the flight starts at 17h30, although by the looks of it, it’s not going to be a full flight. The boarding process is the same as yesterday in Zürich, with a separate queue for premium passengers.

The Cabin

Much to my surprise, this aircraft has a different – and much nicer – cabin configuration than the dreadful old plane I arrived with from Zürich yesterday. This aircraft has different, more comfortable seats. The most prominent difference though, is that this aircraft appears to be equipped with an inflight entertainment system, because there is a screen in the back of each seat and a control panel in the arm rests.

I am seated on the emergency exit, which is row 14. The legroom, obviously, is very good on this row.

The Crew

There are three ladies working in the cabin this evening and again, they seem very nice and interact with the passengers in a relaxed and unpretentious way.

The flight time is announced as forty minutes.

The Meal

Much to my surprise, all passengers are served a snack and a drink on this flight, despite the short flight time. The snack box contains a packet with four crackers and another packet with a soft but tasty cheese. No cutlery is provided. Although it turns out it’s not really required, because the cheese is quite soft.

Arrival

About twenty minutes into the flight, the pilots ease back the throttles and we start our descent. I’m assuming here that the Porto shuttle probably gets preferential treatment for the landing, traffic permitting. So eventually, we touch down in Lisbon after a flight time a few minutes short of the announced forty minutes.

TAP Express, Business Class – Embraer 190: Zürich to Porto

Introduction

Taking this trip is probably not a good idea. Four weeks after the pain started, my back is still no better. But, in the end I couldn’t resist.

Getting to the Airport

I catch the 16h31 train from Winterthur, which arrives at Zürich airport at 16h44. Fortunately, this service has level carriages at platform height, so I won’t have to climb any steps.

Check-in

I’ve checked in online. I don’t have the TAP app because I don’t really use them that often. But the web check-in works fine on my iPhone. Airport check-in for TAP is done in check-in 1, which is the Star Alliance area, or at one of the self-service ticket machines in check-in 3, above the airport’s railway station.

The Lounge

I arrive at the lounge at 17h15 and the place is crawling with people. I end up standing around for a few minutes for a seat to become available because the place is so crowded.

Eventually, I find a place to sit in a rather oddly shaped corner of the lounge. I’m guessing this is the ‘business’ area where passengers can work. One wall is kept in this really ugly and unfinished looking plywood. Or course, the opportunity to bullshit is too great for SWISS to pass up, which is why of course they have to put up a plaque declaring that this wall is hypoallergenic and made of freshly pressed hay from the Alps. Really SWISS, is that what you’re going with? You’re too cheap to properly renovate your lounge and now you’re going to pretend it’s because you’re doing your passengers a favour…

Eventually I figure I might as well step outside and find a place to sit there. It’ll be more comfortable for my back, and probably better for my blood pressure too…

Boarding

Boarding is from gate A 75. There are four rows set up in front of the counter to queue. From right to left: one for ‘premium’ passengers, one for passengers without bulky hand luggage and two for everybody else. Boarding starts with a delay of fifteen minutes, which was caused due to the late arrival of the plane form Porto.

The Cabin

On the Embraer 190, Portugalia, who operated the flight on behalf of TAP under the TAP Express brand, has managed to squeeze in an impressive 106 seats. To this end, the aircraft only has a quarter of a Business Class galley, so that row 1is more or less opposite the L1 door.

Unlike many airlines, seat numbers on this aircraft are A and B on the port side and C and D on the starboard side. A and D are the window seats. There are no seats 1A and 1B. Thus, the seats with the best legroom are the bulkheads rows on 1CD or 2AB.

Other than that, I have to say that the Embraer 190 is a very uncomfortable little aircraft that really should not be deployed by any airline on sectors of more than one hour. I know I have a back injury right now, but that does not account for the fact that I and the guy next to me eventually agree that the seat is rather unpleasant. By the time we land in Porto, my back is pretty much jammed up and my kneecaps are more or less locked in the bent position.

Oh yes, and more thing: in Business Class TAP Express will not leave the seat next to you empty.

The Crew

There are three females working the cabin on this evening’s flight. And I have to say, they really are very lovely. They have friendly, warm smiles and their service is attentive and chic.

While we’re on the ground, there is no service at all. Boarding is completed at around 18h10. At around 18h40 the captain comes on the blower to explain that only the first fifteen minutes of our delay were cause by the aircraft being late. He explains that Swissport, the handling agent, is have problems finding an available tug to push us back from our stand. ‘Swissport company provides bad service at this airport…’.

Eventually, at 18h44 we push back. We are airborne at 19h03, with a delay of one hour.

The Meal

The other issue with the tightness of the Embraer 190 and the fact that both seats on a row are sold, is that it can be rather difficult to eat in this seat. At least not without shoving your elbow in the kisser of the person on your left.

The Main Course

A small salad with shrimps, served with olive oil dressing.

Dessert

A pasteis de nata – which is something of a Portuguese national dish. It’s a filo pastry with vanilla custard filling and burned sugar on top.

A packaged refreshing towel and a small piece of chocolate.

To drink with the meal, I have a sparkling water with ice and lemon. And then after the meal a cup of tea.

Arrival

We land in Porto after a flight time of two hours and fifteen minutes. It’s already dark outside, which makes for a very nice approach right over the city with all the lights.

Porto airport is a bit of a surprise, because I was expecting the same kind of patched up facility as that in Lisbon. But instead, Porto has a very nice, spacious and airy terminal.

To get into town I take the metro, or tram rather, which makes the journey form the airport to the city in about thirty minutes, depending on where you’re going. A one way ticket will cost EUR2.30.


Qantas, Business Class – Boeing B 737-800: Townsville to Sydney via Brisbane

Introduction

My time with Professor Bond is a real eye-opener. I think I was able to ask him all the questions for which I was seeking answers. Having said that, he also gave me a lot of answers to questions I wasn’t even aware I had!

Getting to the Airport

The journey to the airport takes about ten minutes by car. After all, it’s still very early and there are hardly any people on the roads.

Check-in

The landside part of the terminal is disproportionately large, compared to the somewhat tight and narrow airside area at the gates.

Each one of the major airlines operating out of Townsville has its own dedicated check-in zone. I can bypass this today, because I’ve already checked in on the QANTAS app.

There is a queue for security, but it moves quickly. Of course it helps that in Australia they only want you to remove your laptop from your bag and not also your toiletries etc.

The Lounge

Once I’m through security, I only have ten minutes before boarding starts. But I’m gagging for a coffee. Much to my surprise and delight, there is actually a fairly large QANTAS lounge, where the baristas will even make you a cappuccino to go!

Boarding

So with my coffee in hand, boarding starts on time with an initial call for Business Class and frequent flyers passengers. It’s only once I settle in my seat that I realise it’s raining quite heavily outside.

The Cabin

QANTAS has a dedicated Business Class cabin on its Boeing B 737-800 fleet. There are three rows of seats in a 2 + 2 configuration, which makes for a total of twelve seats.

Every seat is equipped with its own video screen, an electricity plug and USB port. There is also a footrest that can be raised when the seat is in the recline position.

The wifi on board works surprisingly well.

I think the Americans in particular tend to frown upon the European interpretation of Business Class seating, which basically means blocking the middle seat on a row of bog standard Economy Class seats. Which is, admittedly, pretty lame. But it seems to me that the average sector length in Europe is probably much shorter than in vast countries like the US or Australia, and which therefore hardly warrants the installation of a more comfortable solution with a dedicated Business Class cabin and seat.

The Crew

The maître de is serving the Business Class cabin and I have to say, this guy is really absolutely brilliant. His manners are impeccable! He addresses every passenger by name and no request ever seems too much for him.

The service on the ground consist of a welcome drink. There is a choice of still or sparkling water or apple juice. There are no towels, newspapers or anything.

The flight time is announced at one hour and thirty minutes.

The Meal

Once we’re airborne, the meal service begins. There is a choice of either Quiche Lorraine with bacon or an omelette served with a mushroom sauce, spinach and bacon. I go with the latter option.

The tray comes with two slices of sourdough bread, butter and apricot jam. There’s also some awfully healthy looking packed thingy, which I decide to steer clear of.

Later on, the maître de passes through the cabin offering cranberry muffins that are fresh out of the oven and taste lovely.

To drink with the meal, I have an orange juice, still water and a coffee. Oh yes, the coffee! Full and extra brownie points for QANTAS on the coffee front. Instead of that horrific instant stuff you get on most airlines these days, QANTAS serves a lovely brew made in a coffee press, which just tastes so much better!

Once the tray is removed, the crew pass through the cabin with small bottles of still water and ask passengers if there’s anything else they’d like. I order a Coke Zero and then settle in to read the latest book of the PC Grant series, which my friend the wiry R. and I both find quite entertaining.

Transfer in Brisbane

We land in Brisbane about ten minutes ahead of schedule. I disembark the aircraft through gate number 23. I check on one of the FIDS, only to find that my flight to Sydney in slightly over an hour will be operated by the same aircraft from the same gate.

The glorious beauty of the English language…

Language change is unavoidable. One of the key drivers of language change is exposure of the language as it is used in a specific area to the other languages in use around it. In which case there may be regional approximation of two or more languages coexisting in that region.

Why am I even bothering you with this? In British English a thong refers to a particular type of knickers or underpants. If you look up the term on onelook.com, it will give you as a definition: ‘a piece of underwear or bottom part of a bikini with a very narrow piece of cloth at the back’. So basically, it’s the type of underpants that look as though they need to be surgically removed from your butt crack.

Which makes it all the more hilarious that when I enter the QANTAS lounge during my layover in Brisbane, the lounge dragon will not let me enter because they have ‘a strict no thongs policy’ in the lounge that she’s asking me to respect. Of course, what she’s referring are what we call flip flops in Europe that you wear on your feet.

The Meal

In any case, the only other thing worthwhile mentioning on the next leg to Sydney is that there are three options for lunch: a kale and spinach frittata, fruit salad or a smoked salmon salad. The tray comes with a large tub of blueberry yoghurt on it. The bread is served separately.

Arrival

Our arrival into Sydney is stunning. We approach the city from the north. At some point, we make a gentle left turn for the downwind, which brings us in right over Manly. In the distance I can see the harbour bridge with the opera house and CBD. It just looks so spectacular from above! I shall miss this when I leave again for Europe tomorrow.

Conclusion

I rather enjoyed these two short-haul flights in QANTAS Business Class. My previous experiences with their Business Class product have all been on longer sectors, on which the meal concept was somehow always a bit odd. So it’s good to see that this is not the case here.

To me QANTAS’ biggest selling point are definitely their crews, which are friendly, properly trained and really do represent ‘the spirit of Australia’.

Qantas, Economy Class – Boeing B 737-800: Melbourne to Sydney

Introduction

The meeting with the people at the language testing research centre is interesting and I feel quite excited about visiting again, even if that won’t be until next year. At least this will give me something to look forward to.

Getting to the Airport

The meeting ends just after 15h, which should give me enough time to leisurely make my way back to the airport for the return flight to Sydney. From the University of Melbourne, I first take a tram 19 back to Bourke Street and then from there a tram 86 or 96 to Southern Cross. The tram stop is right across the road from the entrance to the coach terminal at Southern Cross station.

Check-in

There are four terminals at Melbourne airport that are connected to each other. QANTAS domestic flights operate out of Terminal 1, which is the last one of the two stops of the Skybus, although the distance is short and you might as well get off at the first stop and then just walk over to Terminal 1.

I’ve already checked in, which is a shame really, because QANTAS’ check-in and the whole departure area look very fresh and modern. Seems as though they’re trying to keep up with Virgin Australia in projecting the image of being hip and classy.

Airside

Right behind security, there is the food court and the entrance to the QANTAS lounge to the right of that. I haven’t had lunch yet, so I figure I might as well treat myself to a snack while I enjoy the excellent views of the apron.

In hindsight, I have to say it was totally worth it for the view, but the egg and lettuce sandwich I got at one of the shops is just… meh!

Boarding

Boarding is from gate 1 on the C pier, which is the gate closest to security and which, I guess, is why it is probably reserved for the Sydney flight. Both Virgin Australia and QANTAS operate a shuttle service between the two cities.

What I always find interesting with QANTAS, is that the cabin crew are also the ones who do the boarding at the gate. Because this is something that, to my knowledge, is not done in Europe even though, come to think of it, it’s not a bad idea.

The Cabin

The seats are kept all in black, which certainly makes for a gloomy but elegant looking cabin. I guess it probably also saves on cleaning. In contrast to Virgin Australia, QANTAS has individual video screens installed in every seat back and there are also USB plugs. Complimentary earphones are available as you pass through the gate for boarding, and should you forget to pick up a pair, the crew will come by offering earphones just before push-back.

The Crew

The crew is clearly what tips the scale in favour of QANTAS, as far as I’m concerned. First of all, they’re all older than the ones on Virgin. Perhaps that’s why they come across as having a lot more personality. Furthermore, the way they interact with the passengers is just a lot more professional. For example, on this QANTAS flight the cabin crew giving the safety briefing for the emergency exit row makes a point of giving a very detailed explanation and making sure that everyone seated on the exit rows feels that they are being addressed. In contrast, the crew on Virgin did the same briefing in about half the time and with a total lack of enthusiasm.

The Meal

Once we’re airborne, the smell of hot food starts wafting through the cabin and I kind of assume it’s for the Business Class section. Much to my surprise though, despite the flying time of only one hour and five minutes, QANTAS will actually serve a hot meal in Economy Class too. In fact, there appears to be a choice between either minced pork in gravy with pak choy and jasmine rice or a cold salad of grilled chicken breast on quinoa salad.

Arrival

About 25 minutes out of Sydney, the pilot eases back the throttle and we start our descent. The approach into Sydney brings us in over the sea and it’s quite spectacular flying along the coast with the sun setting in the distance.

We touch down at 19h22. I then make my way back to the train station and then from there to Circular Quay. I arrive at the wharf at 20h02 and it looks like I’ve just missed the regular ferry back to Manly. The next one is not until 20h45. Fortunately, there is also the express ferry, which costs slightly more but only takes 18 minutes to make the journey. And as my luck would have it, that boat will be leaving at 20h15. A single ticket for the express boat will cost you AUD9.80.

Conclusion

QANTAS wins this round hands down. While the cabin and branding of Virgin Australia are all modern and glitzy, you somehow can’t shake the feeling that they’re trying just a bit too hard to be different. Which is okay, as long as you don’t forget that what makes the passenger’s experience is not only the hard product but also the soft product. And that’s where I think QANTAS has the advantage. First of all, as I already mentioned above, the crew came across as being a lot more polished, professional and experienced. In addition to that, the meal service on QANTAS is definitely way superior to that horrific portein bar served on Virgin Australia.

Royal Air Maroc, Business Class – Boeing B 737-800: Casablanca to Paris Orly

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Introduction

I wake up this morning to find it’s raining. The light outside is strange, with the sun trying to push through the cloud while the rain is still pelting down. We’ve heard all sorts of horror stories about how long it takes to leave the country, so we’ve decided to make an early start.

Getting to the Airport

We exit the hotel just after 8 in the morning. The journey from Mohammedia to the airport should take roughly an hour and we still need to refuel our car and return it to Europcar.

About five minutes into the drive the heavens open. At least this will hopefully slow down the traffic which is ‘interesting’ here in Morocco, to say the least… Theoretically, you could also take the train all the way from Mohammadia to the airport, but I don’t think I have the nerve for that this morning.

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Check-in

We return the car without any issues and then make our way towards the terminal. And this is where the fun starts. To enter the terminal, you first have to go through security and have your passport checked (1). Fortunately, you only need to show your passport and not your ticket, because I only have that in electronic form.

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From there I head one floor up to the departures level. Royal Air Maroc operates out of terminal 2. There is a dedicated area for Business Class passengers. The check-in agent is not overly friendly and not overly bright I don’t think. There are immigration forms on the counter, but it doesn’t occur to her to point out to me that I might need to complete one of these for immigration, even when she checks my passport (2).

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From check-in I head for the dedicated fast track for security and passport control. To enter the fast track area, again you have to show your passport (3). Immediately behind the security check is the passport control (4), where my passport is checked and stamped. And then behind passport control there is another guy who checks your passport (5) before allowing you inside the actual airside part of the terminal.

Airside

The lounge really doesn’t look like anything much to write home about. In addition, I’m here with the wiry R., whose flight to Brussels will be leaving 5 minutes after mine. So instead of staying in the lounge by myself, we decide to have a coffee and this really tasty chocolate thing at one of the many cafés in the terminal.

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Boarding

Boarding for the flight starts twenty minutes behind schedule, due to a medical case that needs to be boarded first. When eventually boarding starts, I first show the gate agent my passport (6) and boarding pass, which he scans. Immediately behind the boarding gate another guy is already waiting to inspect my passport (7). And then finally, before I can enter the airbridge, I actually have to show my passport again (8)!

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The Cabin

The cabin of this aircraft is quite nice. Royal Air Maroc has a dedicated Business Class cabin in a 2 + 2 configuration. I really like the colours of the cabin and seats. The only thing I’m not too happy about, is the fact that the seats are covered in leather rather than cloth.

Other than that though, the seat is comfortable. There is a pillow on every seat when I board the plane. The leg room is good and even when the woman in front of me reclines her seat, I still have more than enough space. There is also an extendable footrest.

Mind though that there are no power plugs on the seat.

For inflight entertainment, Royal Air Maroc uses a system called Sky-RAM. You need to download the Royal Air Marco app first. Once that’s done, you can turn on the wifi and watch films, listen to music, etc. on your own device for free.

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The Crew

The service in the Business Class cabin is done by a really friendly and very charming young Moroccan lady. While we’re still on the ground, she passes through the cabin with a selection of drinks. She also distributes newspapers and magazines.

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Once we’re airborne, the maître de distributes the menus, which have the same intricate pattern as the bulkhead. Before the meal service begin, the crew hand out hot towels that are scented with jasmine.

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The Meal

The meal service is really the highlight of this flight. We start with a glass of Laurent-Perrier champagne and a bag of salted almonds.

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Shortly after, the table is set. The trays are then brought out individually and contain the first course and the dessert.

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The First Course

The first course is a plate of honey-marinated scallops with salad and asparagus. This is quite good and the vinaigrette served with the meal goes well with the lemon as a dressing for the scallops.

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The Main Course

No sooner has the first course been removed that the hot meals are brought out. Royal Air Maroc places all the hot meals on a cart, which is nicely decorated with roses. There is a choice of lamb tagine or chicken breast in a cream sauce with rice and vegetables. I decide to go with the latter, and it really is good. The vegetables are not at all soggy and don’t give you the impression of having been cooked to death. The chicken has a tasty grill flavour and the rice also very flavourful.

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The Cheese

After the hot meal, the plates are removed and the cheese cart is rolled out. Blimey! There is a choice of five different cheeses. I make the mistake of asking to try a small piece of each one. But obviously the charming young lady’s interpretation of ‘small’ is not the same as mine and she cuts me a large chunk of each cheese. The cheese is served with bread, crackers and fruit.

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Dessert

And then finally, it’s time to tackle the dessert which has been eyeing me all through the meal. The wiry R. would be drooling right now if he saw this. It’s a tasty pecan caramel pie that is simply lovely. I really wish more airlines would make desserts like this. Seriously, it’s divine. The pasty is crumbly and buttery. The caramel is sweet, with a subtle hint of salt.

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The meal concludes with a glass of sweet Moroccan tea, served from a dainty little silver tea pot.

Arrival

Eventually we land in Paris Orly just slightly ahead of schedule. Royal Air Maroc operates out of the south terminal, together with all the other carriers from the Maghreb. But the process is fairly swift and efficient and within just a few minutes I’m through passport control and already have my suitcase back.

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And now I shall kick back and enjoy the weekend in Paris! To get into town, I exit the terminal through door C and then take the shuttle bus to the RER station Pont de Rungis. A ticket on the shuttle will cost EUR2.-. From Pon de Rungis I take the RER train to the Gare d’Austerlitz. That ticket costs EUR10.40.

Conclusion

All in all, I must admit I was quite surprised by Royal Air Maroc. Quite frankly, I thought they were going to be a real stinker. But it turns out their service is in fact quite professional and elaborate. Admittedly, I’m not so sure I’d want to connect through Casablanca – their hub – which is just tedious and really very boring. But other than that I don’t think I’d mind having to travel with them again.

Qantas, Business Class – Airbus A 330-200: Perth to Brisbane

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Introduction

At this point you’re probably wondering why the heck I didn’t just fly directly from Bangkok to Brisbane, instead of taking the detour through Perth. It’s a long story and I’m not even going to attempt to explain. It has something to do with a compulsion for flying, a fascination with aeroplanes and probably some deeply rooted neurosis a psychologist would likely have a field day with…

Getting to the Airport

To get to the airport, I take the bus line 935, which makes the journey in about 30 minutes. The fare is AUD4.70 and the bus stop is literally across the road from the hotel. In the photo below, my hotel is the tall building in the background.

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Check-in

I’ve checked in using the QANTAS app. If you’re checking in at the airport, QANTAS have these very funky self-service check-in machines at which you can check yourself in, issue the baggage tags and drop off your baggage. It nearly makes me wish I had more than just hand luggage!

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The Lounge

There is a separate queue for Business Class passengers for security. The process is swift and efficient. From security I head straight for the QANTAS lounge.

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I really do think QANTAS seriously has the best lounges of all airlines. Ever. In the world. And the lounge here in Perth is no exception. It’s beautifully appointed and offers a wide range of seating options. Even the loos have style!

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There is a large buffet with an extensive selection of hot and cold dishes. Apart from that, there is a coffee station where they make excellent coffee and a separate drinks bar. Oh yeah, and the apron views are pretty good too!

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Boarding

Boarding for my flight is from gate 14. Business Class passengers use the L1 door of the aircraft to board, while all others use the L2 door. From what I can tell, the flight is completely sold out in Business.

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The Cabin

Qantas operates the A 330-200 in two different configurations. There is one version with a seating capacity of 199 in Economy and 36 in Business Class and another with a seating capacity of 243 in Economy and 28 in Business Class. The lower-density configuration is used primarily on international services but is also deployed on domestic routes, while the higher density configuration is only used on domestic services and to New Zealand.

The international configuration has the Qantas Skybed, which is sufficiently comfortable but offers very little storage space and is really quite ugly to look at. This configuration has angled lie-flat seats that are 21.5 inches in width and have a pitch of 60 inches. The seats are in a 2 + 2 + 2 layout.

The domestic configuration is definitely much nicer and obviously newer. This is a completely lie-flat seat, width is also at 21.5 inches. Stretched out into the bed position, the seat is 78 inches long. The seats are laid out in a 1 + 2 + 1 configuration. On uneven numbered rows, the A, F and K seats are aisle seats. While on even numbered rows only the E seat is directly on the aisle.

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Apart from the fact that it looks much nicer, the domestic configuration also provides a lot more storage space. And fortunately for me, today’s flight is operated by an aircraft in the domestic configuration.

The Crew

There are four female cabin crew working the Business Class cabin. They’re friendly enough I guess, but their interaction comes across as being slightly put on. But at least they are very professional in the way they deal with the passengers. But I have to say, throughout the flight the crew come through the cabin repeatedly to make sure passenger are hydrated and have something to drink, which is something for example the Thai crews didn’t do.

While we’re still on the ground, welcome drinks are served. There is a choice between wine, water and some cranberry juice spritzer, the name of which I didn’t catch.

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The Meal

The meal service is something I never really quite get about QANTAS. I’m assuming they think is very stylish and sophisticated. I just think it’s weird and more than just a little pretentious. The menu has a choice of two starters, four main courses and two desserts, which is quite extensive I think, especially on a domestic flight. But the things they have on the menu are just slightly odd.

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First Course

For the starter I go with the mozzarella with grilled radicchio, green beans and crushed hazelnuts. This is rather unusual and quite good. So far so good. The dish is served with a minute side order of salad and two slices of sourdough bread.

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The Salad

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The Main Course

For the main course I have the chicken parmigiana, which is also quite good but just looks slightly forlorn, sitting on the plate with just a slice of lemon and nothing else. I mean, some sort of side dish might have been nice.

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Dessert

And then for dessert I have the cheesecake with berries.

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I spend the rest of the flight watching an Australian film called ‘The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Dessert’, which I can highly recommend. The film is not that recent, but I thought it was hilariously funny in a tragic sort of way.

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Arrival

Eventually we land after a flight time of just over four hours. The approach is spectacular and brings us in right past the city of Brisbane on our left.

The temperature is more or less the same as in Perth, but it’s definitely more humid here.

Getting into Town

In Brisbane I’m picking up a rental car. My first stop is a small town on the Sunshine Coast that goes by the name of Mooloolaba and which has a lovely sandy beach. I have to say, it really does feel so nice to swim in the sea and feel the heat of the sun on my body again. With the rubbish weather we’ve had back home recently, I’d started to forget what the sun even looked like!

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