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


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 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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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 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.


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.


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.

Qantas, Economy Class – B 737-800: Adelaide to Perth


Airlines: Qantas
Boeing B 737-800
Economy Class
14A, window
22. August 2013


I spend four blissful days at the Barossa Pavilions in Lyndoch, a small rural town just under one hour away from Adelaide airport. The locals here are a very relaxed and friendly bunch. Wherever you go, somebody will strike up a conversation and once they realise you’re not a local they’re only too happy to help you make plans for things to do and places to visit. This truly is my idea of complete and perfect relaxation.


Getting to the Airport

In theory the journey by car from the Barossa Pavilions in Lyndoch do Adelaide airport should not take longer than about an hour to complete. As you approach Adelaide there is currently some major roadwork in progress, which poses a serious challenge for the GPS. So eventually it takes closer to 100 minutes to make the journey, including a fuel stop.



The airport has changed dramatically since I my last visit sometime during the nineties. In fact I’m not even sure if the original terminal structure from back then is still standing, or if they simply demolished the whole thing and built the current facility from scratch.


I checked in for the flight the evening before using the Qantas App, which allows you to check-in for domestic services. Once you’re checked in, you can elect to have the board pass transferred to your Passbook App.

The Lounge

The Qantas lounge here in Adelaide is positively enormous. It’s also nearly deserted today. The lounge is very well stocked. There is a huge business area as you come in, right behind reception. The food options are very good, with an interesting selection of hot and cold dishes. In addition to the self-service drinks bar, there is also a separate bar where you can order all sorts of things.


So I get myself a bowl of pumpkin soup and a selection of items from the antipasto buffet and settle down by the window overlooking a small part of the apron. The three turboprops parked here don’t look as though they’ll be going anywhere much anytime soon, but that hardly matters.



At 13:53 my iPhone goes off and alerts me that boarding for the flight to Perth has started. I take a last sip of my Ginger Ale, make a quick pit stop and then make my way to gate 22, from where my flight is in fact not yet boarding.

Not my plane…P1090622

I wish…

One must be realistic about one’s expectations…

On my way down to the plane I grab myself a pair of earphones before heading down the airbridge.

The Cabin

I turn right into the cabin, only to find that the aircraft is still in the old configuration and with no individual screens. But never mind, I have my music and I have my Kindle. Let the journey begin.


The Crew

The crew on this flight is a bit of a mixed bag. The cabin crew are all ladies and there are five of them. With the exception of the purser they all seem genuinely friendly. The purserette however is a bit irritating. Her announcements are just a tad overdone with the marketing bull – she’s just a bit too enthusiastic. Generally speaking enthusiasm for your work is a good thing, especially if working with people is your business. But her eyes betray her, and while her voice is smiling – her eyes are not.

Departure is on time and the pilot is obviously in a flaming hurry to get us off the ground. We haven’t even properly lined up with the runway when he applies full throttle and we go thundering down the runway. Shortly after take-off we cross the beach, Glenelg I presume, and head out to sea. For most of the journey ground visibility is very limited due to the clouds, making it impossible to know what route we took.


The Meal

Oh Qantas, that meal. You have made an old man so happy. Well I’m not quite that old – yet. I’ve still got more than a month to go before I hit 39, not of course that I’m counting or anything of the sort. But I digress. My point is, the meal Qantas provides on this flight today is something like a trip down memory lane. The smell, the appearance and even the taste of the food bring back fond memories of carefree adolescence, when the mere prospect of getting on a plane would give me sleepless nights for at least a month in advance with excitement and when a hotmeal in Economy Class on a sector of 90 minutes was considered perfectly normal in Europe and only the really dodgy airlines would stoop so low as to use – dare I say it – plastic instead of proper plates and cups.

There is a choice of beef pie with green beans and mash or sweet and sour chicken with steamed rice. I go with the beef and I really must say, it’s quite delicious. On the tray there is also a bun with some butter, a small packet of tic tacs, a small bottle of still water and a very rich Belgian chocolate Brownie.


To drink I have a sparkling apple juice. And I am even given the full can!


The tempo of the meal service is swift and efficient. The crew leave enough time for everybody to finish their meal, but without keeping you waiting an eternity for them to remove the tray.

After the meal I count two drink runs with still water from a tray. Not bad.


Arrival in Perth is twenty minutes ahead of schedule. I’m looking forward to being back in a time zone with no half hours, it’s just all so confusing!


In Perth I’m staying at the Crown Metropol. The hotel is somewhat out of town, but at least I have a good view of the city from my room. The hotel was chosen more for its close proximity to the airport than anything else.


Qantas, Economy Class – B 737-800: Alice Springs to Adelaide


Airlines: Qantas
Boeing B 737-800
Economy Class
13A, window on the emergency exit
From: Alice Springs
18. August 2013
Arrival: 14:50


Transfer in Alice Springs

I just arrived in Alice Springs from Uluru. I like the airport, passengers are allowed to walk the short distance from the terminal to the aircraft and vice versa.

The Lounge

As you enter the terminal through the arrivals channel, the Qantas lounge is located on the left hand side, adjacent to the Qantas gates. The place is quite full when I arrive, with the flights to Melbourne, Brisbane and Darwin leaving ahead of my flight to Adelaide. In fact it’s so full it’s standing room only initially.


Eventually the place clears as the flights are called for boarding. I find a place to sit and enjoy some of the sandwiches on offer.


It looks like the flight is going to be pretty full. I am the last one to board, mainly because I’m busy taking pictures. Eventually the gate attendant aka one of the flight attendants catches up with me and we have a nice littler natter about her job and the differences between working in aviation in Australia and in Europe.


As I board she takes my suitcase off me and stows it in one of the Business Class bins. Which is kind of ironic, given that I wanted to travel in Business Class on this leg but the booking engine never showed an availability. Eventually I figured the flight simply didn’t have a Business Class cabin.

The Cabin

Originally I was booked on 14B, which is the middle seat on the second emergency exit row of the Boeing 737-800. Fortunately though, it turns out that the three seats on row 13, the first overwing exit row, are all completely free. So I quickly settle into 13A. The flight attendant places another gentleman on 13C, apparently they must have two persons on each side sitting on the emergency exit, and we have an empty seat between us. I’m happy!


The cabin and seats are very clean and modern. The only thing I don’t really like is that the colours are very dark and give the cabin a somewhat gloomy appearance.

Every seat is equipped with a video screen in the back of the seat in front. From what I can tell the selection is more or less the same as on the long-haul flight I took from Tokyo to Sydney.


The flight is slightly delayed departing. Apparently the inbound arrived on time but there were no stands available and the aircraft had to wait for one to become available.

But the delay is no more than 15 minutes or so. We taxi out. There is a further, brief delay as we wait for a Boeing 717 to land, backtrack and eventually exit the runway. And then we’re off.


The weather for most of the flight is nice. It’s a smooth flight and a cloudless sky right until we reach Adelaide. That’s when it gets windy and the weather deteriorates rapidly, with heavy showers in the area.


The Meal

To eat there is a choice of either an apple or a chicken sandwich with spinach and Dijon mustard. I go with the latter. To drink I have a still water and a cup of coffee. Qantas provide you with a rubbish bag for your meal. I think this is a really neat idea and certainly something they should introduce in Europe.



As previously mentioned, the weather deteriorates rapidly as we near Adelaide until eventually we make our final approach in the most horrible weather. It’s a very bumpy approach and it’s raining cats and dogs.


It’s only after I reach arrivals that I realise I’ve left my camera on the plane. So I head upstairs again to departures and explain the situation to the guys at security. I ask if I might be let through again to try to retrieve my camera. Fortunately it’s no problem at all. I go through security and immediately head for the gate my flight arrived at. The aircraft is already in the process of boarding for its next flight. Fortunately my camera has already been found and is sitting on the counter. I show the gate agent my passport and she hands me the camera. Thanks a bunch.

I’m not actually staying in Adelaide on this trip. Instead I’m heading out of town into the Barossa valley. No, I’m not a wine connoisseur. I just want some peace and quiet, which is exactly what I find at the Barossa Pavilion, a lovely B&B located about an hour away from Adelaide in town called Lyndoch.

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


Airline: QantasLink (National Jet Systems)
Aircraft: Boeing B 717
Cabin: Economy Class
Alice Springs
18. August 2013


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.



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.



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!



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.


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.


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.


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.



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.