Singapore Airlines, Suites – Airbus A 380: Sydney to Singapore

Introduction

Two months have passed in the blink of an eye, and it’s time for me to start making my way back home again. I always find leaving Australia difficult, probably because it’s not so easy to get to, or at least not so quick. Of course, it doesn’t help that Australia is gradually moving into spring, which means that the weather during this last week has been gorgeous.

On my last visit to Australia, I had breakfast at The Pantry on Manly Beach on my last day. It’s where I decided that one day I’d be back. So I figure it’s a good omen if I do the same this time, in the hope that eventually I will return some day.

Getting to the airport

The regular ferry from Manly to Circular Quay takes between twenty and twenty-five minutes to make the journey. However, if you’re lucky or plan ahead, you might just end up on one of the old Manly ferries, which are slower and take about thirty minutes to make the journey. The Freshwater that you can see in the photo below is one of those old ferries. She makes her first journey from Circular Quay to Manly at 09h30 in the morning, and from then on every two hours. I enjoy taking the old ferry, it’s a far more pleasant and leisurely trip than than on the newer, faster catamarans which depart every twenty minutes.

From Circular Quay , the journey to the airport takes about twenty minutes by train or taxi.

Check-in

Singapore Airlines checks in on row F, which is more or less in the middle of the check-in concourse.

Singapore Airlines occupies the whole of one side of row F of the check-in counters. There are nine counters in total, of which two are for Suites passengers. My bags are checked all the way through to Paris, and then I’m on my way.

There is a separate line for First and Business Class passengers for immigration. But don’t hold your breath, because right behind immigration there is only one queue for security for all passengers. It’s rather long too, but at least it moves quite fast.

Behind security, you are ejected into a large duty free area with a wide offering of Australian products, including the fabulous TimTam biscuits and Vegemite.

On my way to the lounge, I spot my aircraft trying to hide behind an Air Niugini and a Speedbird.

Most of the airside retailers and restaurants are still closed, including Mc Donald’s.

The Singapore Airlines Silver Kris Lounge

Given the number of flights Singapore Airlines operates out of Sydney, it’s hardly surprising that they have their own lounge facility. There is one reception area for all passengers, and then those passengers travelling in Suites access the First Class section through a door on the right side of the reception desk.

The lounge is small and has an nice, intimate feel. There is a dining area as well as a few large, comfortable armchairs by the window.

Although there is an extensive buffet available, waiting staff serve you directly at your seat. First I have some dim sum and a beef pie.

Then one of the waiters brings me two duck pancakes and chicken satay. The pancakes are not very good. I’ve never been much of a fan of duck anyway, but the pancakes are just very stiff, hard and too chewy to be enjoyable.

The satay are good though.

Boarding

Boarding for our 15h00 departure starts at 14h30 from gate 57.

There is a separate queue for upper deck passengers. I pass through the gate and make my way down the airbridge. And that’s when it hits me with a pang that this is really happening and I’m about to leave Australia.

The cabin

The First Class Suites are located to your left as you enter the aircraft on the upper deck, right behind the galley. There are six suites in a 1 + 1 configuration.

The Suites are not quite as private as the Air France La Première seat because the walls do not reach all the way up to the ceiling and there are apertures in the door for crew to check on you. Nonetheless, it’s still quite private and quiet.

The main feature of the Suites, of course, is the bed that is separate from the seat.

One of my beefs with the Suite is that you have to swivel your seat around to face towards the door in the dining position. However, as can be seen in the photo below, that means that during the meal service you end up having to face the passenger sitting across the aisle. At least on today’s flight the Suite opposite mine remains empty.

The Suite offers a lot of storage space. Having said that, I also think there’s a lot of unnecessary space that seems wasted and hardly serves any purpose. Still, it’s a very pleasant set up.

Amenities

A set of B&O earphones, eye shades and socks are already at my seat when I arrive.

Singapore Airlines also offers a vanity kit to Suite passengers. Although to be honest, I think the Singapore Airlines vanity kit must be one of the most useless ones in the industry. Inside it are a scented candle and a small bar of hand soap. I mean, I get that the vanity kit is also intended as a small gift to passengers, but does it really have to be something that is so obviously useless? Shaving kits and toothbrushes are available in the two bathrooms.

The service

The crew on this flight are excellent and really just very funny in their interaction with passengers. Even so, they’re also very efficient and provide the kind of flawlessly elegant service that Singapore Airlines is known for. Throughout the flight, the crew use my family name each time they address me.

As soon as I step aboard, one of the crew helps me stow away my things and settle in, while the other brings me a glas of the Dom Perignon. Out of curiosity, I ask how many bottles of champagne they go through on an A 380 in one flight. They tell me they usually have six bottles of the Dom outbound from Sydney, and if that runs out, they still have the Krug as the backup.

The menu for the flight is already at my seat when I arrive. The crew come to ask if I have any questions about the menu and to let me know they’re happy to help me with the wine pairings. I tell them I’ll only be having sparkling water with the meal. The crew’s attention to detail is really quite impressive: at no stage of the meal is my glas ever empty.

The meal – first service

After take off, the crew come to take my order. I’m a bit undecided, so the green kebaya flight attendant suggests that I should try a bit of everything from the starters and then see how I feel about the rest as we go along. I mean, if you really insist… The meal begins with an initial drink service and a small ramekin of warmed nuts.

And then the table is set for the meal.

First starter: we start with the traditional caviar service. Each passengers gets a whole jar, which is served with blinis, boiled egg, chives, lemon and crème fraîche.

The crew pass through the cabin with the bread basket once only, which is good because otherwise I’ll only end up overdosing on the garlic bread…

Second starter: seared salmon with pickled kohlrabi. This dish is similar to the one I had the last time I flew out of Sydney on Singapore Airlines. This time around though, it tastes much better. Especially the horseradish gives the dish a nice zing.

Third starter: the pancetta soup. Now this dish is quite amazing. It’s a bit like a minestrone, but they’ve managed to make it more sophisticated and lighter at the same time.

Main course: chicken Sha Jehani style. For the main course I go with the Indian dish, which is chicken in a spicy gravy served with dhal and vegetables. This is a lovely dish and very fragrant.

Dessert: Orange and almond cake with custard. Oh my goodness, this is really just to die for. The custard complements the orange perfectly and the cake is perfectly moist and full of flavour. There are small pieces of caramelised nuts on the plate too, which give it a nice bit of extra crunch.

After all that, the red kebaya flight attendant comes to ask me if it’s okay for her to bring me the cheese selection. She looks rather crestfallen when I beg for mercy and tell her that I really, really couldn’t eat anything else because I’m so full. So we compromise and she asks me if then at least she can bring me some coffee.

After the meal I go to one of the two very large bathrooms at the front of the cabin to change into my pajamas, while the crew make up the bed for me to have a nap.

The bed is rather hard, which I find quite pleasant because its easier on my back and my two slipped discs. My only complaint is that for a guy my size the bed is just very narrow. It’s fine as long as you’re not moving. But every time I turn I’m very careful to make sure I don’t end up rolling off the bed.

The meal – second service

About ninety minutes out of Singapore the crew notice I’m moving around and ask me if I’d like them to remove the bedding. They also ask me if I’d like anything to eat before we land, so I’ll be able to go straight to bed on the connecting flight.

I decide to go with the seafood congee, which not bad. Although it’s also rather bland. For dessert I have a plate of fruit.

Arrival into Singapore

Our arrival into Singapore is smooth. We land and very slowly make our way to our parking stand at Terminal 3. I thank the crew as I disembark and they wish me a pleasant onward journey. I now have just under two hours to make my connection to Zürich. Sadly, Australia already feels far, far away.

Q Station North Head

In the very early days of the island colony of New South Wales, if a ship reported an illness or the outbreak of a disease aboard, the passengers would not be allowed off the boat and were quarantined at sea, off the Australian coast. Unavoidably, this meant that the ships’ crews didn’t really have an incentive to report any problems to the authorities because if they did, it usually meant a lot of additional costs that totally messed up the ship’s turn around and its journey home with revenue passengers and cargo.

In 1836 this lead to the establishment of the the North Head Quarantine Station, on the north side of the entrance into Sydney Harbour. If a disease was reported, all the passengers and crew were made to disembark at the quarantine station and had to remain there until there were no more cases reported among any of the ship’s crew and passengers. Only then was everybody allowed to leave.

The building in the two first photos below is the old boiler house, where passengers’ luggage was disinfected. Behind it were the showers, where passengers had to disrobe and wash until the onlooking authorities were comfortable that they were sufficiently disinfected as well. The shower facility can be seen in the third picture.

The quarantine station sprawls over a vast area at the tip of North Head and today is part of the Sydney Harbour National Park. Obviously, it not longer operates as a quarantine station.

The area is really beautiful, and there are many walks you can take around the park and what used to be the old army barracks.

Currently, the quarantine station operates as the Q Station Hotel, which is operated by the ALL Accor group. The old buildings have been converted into guest accommodation. The Australian government emphasizes that the purpose of running the Q Station as a hotel is to generate funds for the conservation of this historical site. This also means that when the place was converted into a hotel, management had to make sure that all modifications and updates to the buildings could be made undone, to preserve the unique character of the place.

I spend two weeks in one of what used to be the officers’ cottages.

The cottage has two porches, two living rooms and three bedrooms to accommodate a total of six persons. There is one bathroom with toilet, a shower and toilet and a separate toilet.

There’s also a fully equipped kitchen if you prefer self-catering.

Breakfast is served in the main building, just a short walk from my cottage. The old boiler house has been turned into an à la carte restaurant that sits at the bottom of a set of stairs with 236 step. So at least you get to work off some calories on your way back to your accommodation. Currently, the Boiler House restaurant only opens Wednesday through Saturday.

From the Q Station it’s a walk of about 45 minutes to Manly wharf. There is a bus. However, that runs only once an hour, and it doesn’t run very later either, with the last bus departing the wharf at 19h42.

I very much enjoyed my stay at the Q Station. For the purpose of my visit – the PhD – it was perfect. It’s quiet and secluded. And when you step outside to air the brain a little, the view of the sea is breathtaking.

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.

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

Introduction

How rude! 23 hours before my departure to Sydney, I receive two emails: one if from Air France and the other is from QANTAS. The email from Air France informs me that my flight to Sydney has been cancelled and I can request a refund of my FlyingBlue miles ticket. The email from QANTAS tells me that they’re working to rebook me and will get back to me within 72 hours. Great! A short while later another message arrives to inform me that QANTAS has found an alternative and booked me on the departure from Melbourne at 21h00 instead of 13h00. Alternatively, I can select another option under the ‘Manage booking’ tab on the app. Only, the other options are a departure at 06h00 or at 07h00 in the moring. So a refund it is. Luckily, I find an alternative flight on the Virgin Australia website, and it even has a better timing – with a departure from Melbourne at 14h00.

Getting to the airport

In Melbourne I was renting a flat in Southbank, very close to the Yarra river, the CBD and Flinders Street station. Check-out is at 10h00 in the morning. I then make my way with all my luggage to the southern end of the Elizabeth Street entrance to Flinders Street station. There’s a train from here to Southern Cross station roughly every ten minutes. The journe takes about four minutes and costs AUD4.60.

At Southern Cross I alight and change to the SkyBus for the airport.

The oneway ticket is AUD19. If you get a return ticket each way is slightly cheaper, meaning you’ll only pay AUD32.

The journey takes about 25 minutes.

Check-in

Virgin checks in at Terminal 3, which is the first stop on the Skybus. The SkyBus drops you off at arrivals on the ground level. Departures are one floor up.

Business Class passengers can either use the self-service check-in machines or one of the check-in counters, which is what I do. While the friendly lady checks me in, we have a little natter about the heat wave they’re having in Europe. While we’re at it, she tells me that weather in Melbourne is a bit like a woman’s mood: it changes four times a day but never the way you expect it too. I’ll take that into consieration, Ma’am. She gives me instructions to the lounge and sends me on my way.

The Virgin Australia Business Class lounge

The Virgin lounge is located right in between the E and F piers, before security. However, there are exits on both sides of the lounge that will eject you in a dedicated, segregated security- screening area for lounge visitors only.

The lounge is very big and not all that busy. It also doesn’t seem to be operating at full capacity, as not all the bars are open. There are also magazine shelves but no magazines, which I’m guessing is because of Covid19.

The large buffet is permanently manned, which makes it impossible to take pictures of it without getting the staff in the photos too.

The best feature of the lounge though, is the large window front that runs along the full length of it and that gives you good views of the ramp.

While I wait I track the progress of my aircraft. It’s running nearly two hours late on its previous flight from Gold Coast to Melbourne. Somewhere along the line, I notice there’s an aircraft change and our flight will now be operated on a different aircraft currently inbound from Hobart. That one will not reach Melbourne until 13h52, which means the 14h00 departure time is still not going to happen either way.

Once VH-VUS is safely on the ground and parked on its stand, I figure I might as well leave the lounge and go for a walkabout until boarding starts.

I reach gate 3 and they’re still unloading the cargo from the previous flight. The baggage carts with the Melbourne bound suitcases are already waiting, and I’m happy to spot my luggage on it too. The aluminium RIMOWA with all the stickers in the top left corner is one of mine.

Boarding

Eventually, boarding starts at around 14h35, which means we’re probably going to be running an hour late by the time we depart. Which actually suits me better. I step aboard as one of the last passengers. The purser welcomes me aboard, followed by “there you are”. Before I can even take my seat, she asks me if I’d like some sparkling wine or still water.

The seat

On my previous flight, I was seated on row 1. This time I’m on row 2. The seat pitch is geat. There is a large seat pocket and the seat has USB and electricity plugs.

The meal

I can’t seem to get it right. I don’t know, maybe the Aussies just struggle with my accent. On my last flight, the choice was between the chicken burger and a chickpea salad. I ordered the chickpea salad and all the purser understood was something with ‘chick…’, and immediately brought me the burger instead. Which was not good. So this time, the choice is between another chicken burger and a salad. The guy next to me orders the burger. And even though I clearly enunciate ‘salad’, all the purser hears is “same”. Only this time, I’m prepared, and I immediately correct her and specify that I want the salad.

And it’s a good choice. The salad comes with little pieces of rice-shaped pasta, rocket, pumpkin, bell peppers and a yoghurt dressing. It’s very nice. With that there is another packet of crackers with cheese and a chocolate heart. God, I’m missing Swiss chocolate right now…

Arrival

By the time we pull onto our stand it’s 16h10, so we’re running over an hour later. Which suits me fine, because I’m picking up the light of my life today, who will be arriving at 17h20 at the international terminal. My late arrival means a shorter wait.

My suitcases arrive very quickly. I then make my way outside to catch the complimentary Tbus that connects the domenstic terminals with the international terminal. The Tbus is orange, and you really can’t miss it. It runs every 15 minutes. The journey takes about ten minutes, depending on the traffic on the roads.

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

Introduction

It had always been a dream of mine that one day I would watch a performance at the Sydney Opera House. This weekend the stars lined up for me, and I was able to get a ticket to watch the last performance of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly. I tought it was a brilliant production. The whole cast were solid. But the soprano’s rendition of the fabulous Un bel di vedremo was literally a show stopper.

Getting to the airport

At 11h40 on Sunday morning I step of the ferry from Manly and walk the short distance to Circular Quay station, from where I can catch a T8 train to Sydney airport. The journey should take about twenty minutes to the domestic terminal.

As it turns out though, they’re working on the line today. So the station is closed and trains to and from the airport are only running as far as Central station. So instead, I walk a few extra steps and board the L2 tram from Circular Quay to Central station. The journey takes about twenty minutes and both the L2 and the L3 run to Central.

And then from Central Station I catch the train to the airport. All in all, the journey from Circular Quay to the airport takes me about 45 minutes instead of 20, but I’m good for time. So no harm done. On public transport in Sydney there’s no need to buy a ticket in advance. You can just badge in and out with your credit card as you go. The maximum amount you’ll pay for a whole day of travel is AUD16.

I alight at the stop for the domestic terminals, which serves both Terminals 2 and 3. Virgin Australia operates out of Terminal 2.

Considering how big Sydney airport is, the distance from the station to the check-in area is surprisingly short.

I’ve already checked in using the app, so I head straight for security. There is no separate queue for Business Class passengers.

The Virgin Australia lounge

It’s rather nice that in Australia, on domestic flights you only have to take out laptops, and not all your liquids as well. The entrance to the Virgin lounge is off to the right as you exit security. It’s quite busy, so I don’t take a lot of photos. The lounge has a wide window front overlooking the apron and the runways beyond – perfect for some plane watching!

There is a fairly large buffet with a selection of cold snacks, such as crackers and cheese, egg sandwiches, tuna wraps, and salads. There is also a choice of two soups.

At around 14h15 I start to get bored, so I figure I mights as well make my way to the gate. Boarding should start at 14h35.

Boarding

There is a separate queue for Business Class passengers and passengers travelling with children or with special needs. If you’re sitting at the back of the bus, you can actually take the stairs down onto the ramp and then walk across to board the aircraft through the rear door.

The cabin

Virgin Australia has two rows of Business Class. Each seat has an adjustable headrest. I think I prefer this seat to that of QANTAS simply because of the fact that the seat back is more upright. For my liking the recline of the QANTAS seat in the upright position is a bit exagerated.

The seat pitch on row 1 is good.

And there’s a small tray that can be pulled out of the armrest for a bit of extra space.

Service

The service begins on the ground with either still water or sparkling wine. Other than that, the crew are very friendly. What is perhaps the most noticeable difference to QANTAS is that Virgin seem to take the Covid measures a lot more seriously. As passengers board, they are reminded to put on their face masks and there’s also a recorded announcement reminding passengers how the face mask should be worn properly.

We move off stand just after 15h00 and make our way to runway 34R, which is quite a schlepp from the domestic apron.

We take off and make a sharp right turn towards the sea. In the distance I can see Bondi beach and the North and South Heads.

The meal

To eat there are two choices: a chicken katsu sandwich with Japanese mayo or a Morroccan chickpea salad. It is perhaps a tad unfortunate that both dishes start with chick…, because I actually order the chickpea salad. Only, what I end up with is the chicken. I don’t bother to point out the mistake. The flight time is only seventy minutes or so. I think I’ll live. also on the tray is a package of cheese and crackers and a small chocolate heart.

And what a dreadful meal it is. The sandwich is incredibly oily and the chicken has a revolting rubbery texture. Needless to say, I put the thing down after one bite. The crackers are good, though.

Arrival

Our approach brings us in right over the city, with St. Kilda visible in the distance. The weather in Melbourne is not as nice as it was in Sydney. It’s overcast and also cooler.

We make a quick taxi to Terminal 3, which is where Virgin operates out of here in Melbourne.

Getting into Melbourne from the airport

Right outside the exit from arrivals is the bus stop for the Skybus, which runs into Melbourne every ten minutes. The journey takes about thirty minutes to Southern Cross station and a one way tickets costs AUD16.

And… it’s a double decker bus. Suitcases are stowed on the lower level, and passengers sit on the upper level. If you’re sitting on the first row, you get some great views as the bus approaches the city.

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.

Jetstar, Economy Class – Airbus A 320: Sydney to Townsville

Introduction

In language testing, the Rasch model is used in psychometric measurement to determine the probability with which a minimally competent test taker will be able to provide a specific response to a particular test item correctly. This probability is interpreted as a function of the test taker’s actual language ability on the one hand, and the true level of difficulty of the item that the test taker is being subjected to and for which they must provide a response on the other hand.

As it happens, one of the leading experts on Rasch modelling is Professor Trevor Bond. Very kindly, Professor Bond has accepted for me to visit him in Townsville, QLD to pick his brain, and so that’s where I’m heading today. 

Currently, the only direct service between Sydney and Townsville is with Jetstar, QANTAS’ low-cost subsidiary. All other connections require a change of aircraft in either Cairns or Brisbane.

The booking process on the Jetstar website is tedious, especially if you’re using Firefox. In which case, you’re likely not going to be able to complete the booking. Safari works reasonably well though.

Getting to the Airport

To get to the airport, I make the same journey I did on Monday, when I flew to Melbourne. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. Because the journey by ferry from Manly to Sydney is just so beautiful and tranquil.

Check-in

Jetstar has an app, but obviously it’s not foreseen that people from outside Australia and a few Asian countries might also fly Jetstar. Which is why the app is not available for me to download onto my Swiss mobile.

You will receive a link to the web check-in page with the e-ticket confirmation you receive by mail and then one day before departure by SMS. But you will still have to print the boarding pass at home or at one of the self-service devices at the airport.

Jetstar operates out of domestic Terminal 2, along with all other domestic carriers except QANTAS.

Airside

My flight will be departing from gate 53, which is both good and bad. It’s good, because from gate 53 you have an unobstructed view of the aircraft on the approach. It’s bad, because really I should be reading up on objective standard setting in Professor Bond’s book without distraction, to brush up a little before I meet him. But it’s like a compulsion, every time I see movement from the corner of my eye, I have to stop and look up to check what airline/type it is…

Boarding

Boarding starts with a minor delay. As I pass the gate, the attendant checking my boarding pass asks me if I’m aware of the fact that I’m sitting on the emergency exit. I tell her I am, but her next question catches me slightly off guard, because she asks me when was the last time I flew and sat on the emergency exit? I do a quick think and tell her that must have been two days previously. And for some reason that catches her off guard. Eventually though, she smiles and wishes me a pleasant flight.

The Cabin

The cabin looks well-kept and clean. I’m not sure if it’s intentional, probably not, but the orange colour in the Jetstar logo, which also features in the cabin, seriously reminds me of easyJet. But maybe that just lies in the nature of the beast.

The seat is comfortable enough for a flight of more than two hours and the seat pitch on the emergency exit it good.

There are no video screens or electricity/USB plugs available for passengers on board this aircraft.

The Crew

There are five cabin crew on this flight. The young man standing by the emergency exits is kind of strange, because he looks preoccupied and rather unhappy. But I think it must be just his normal face, because he’s actually rather friendly and accommodating once the flight gets underway.

The Meal

The Jetstar website allows you to purchase a whole list of ancillary services, including seat reservations, ‘comfort kits’, and food. I order the sandwich trio online, which comes with a hot drink included.

The sandwich is good. It’s probably one of the better sandwiches I’ve had on a low-cost carrier, actually.

Arrival

The flight to Townsville takes two hours and fifteen minutes. The landscape on the approach is fascinating. It’s quite hilly and very green.

The airport sprawls over a vast area, mainly because it is a mixed military and civilian facility. The actual passenger terminal is rather small, with only a handful of gates and no segregation of arriving and departing passengers, which gets a bit tight during deplaning on a short turn around…

It takes me all of three minutes from stepping off the plane to arriving curb side, where I’ve arranged to meet Professor Bond.

Conclusion

There really isn’t very much I can say about Jetstar. They delivered me to Townsville safely. Other than that, the flight was unremarkable and calm. Pretty much like taking the bus actually.

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.

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

Introduction

Next year I’ll be going on sabbatical for six months. Right now, the plan is that I will spend at least part of those six months working and living in Melbourne – if they’ll have me, of course. So today I’m on my way to Melbourne to introduce myself to the people at the language testing research centre of Melbourne University.  

Getting to the Airport

This has got to be just about the coolest commute to an airport ever! My day starts at 06h00 in the morning, when I leave the house I’ve rented in Fairlight and make my way down to Manly wharf for the 06h35 fast ferry to Circular Quay. The journey into Sydney takes roughly thirty minutes to complete and includes some of the most beautiful and spectacular vistas of the Opera House and Hanger Bridge.

At Circular Quay, I transfer to the railway station for the suburban trains to Sydney airport. The station is just opposite the wharf at Circular Quay and the journey to the domestic terminal at Sydney airport takes just over fifteen minutes. The trains run to the airport run frequently.

Check-in

I alight at the station for the domestic terminal, which is one stop before the international terminal. There are two domestic terminals. Terminal 3 is for QANTAS, while Terminal 2 is for everybody else. I’ve already checked-in online using the Virgin Australia app, which is a good thing, because the Virgin Australia counters look very busy.

The Virgin Australia Lounge

And so I head directly for the security checkpoint. Access to the Virgin Australia lounge is on the right side, just as you exit from security. I’m not entirely sure to beginn with, but upon inquiry with the very friendly and helpful receptionist in the lounge, it would appear that as an Etihad Gold member I’m entitled to use the Virgin Australia lounge, despite the fact that I’m travelling on an Economy Class ticket.

But it turns out that a) the lounge is way too busy anyway, and b) the views outside the lounge are much better, with the sitting area of the food court located right by the windows overlooking the domestic apron.

Boarding

Boarding starts exactly on time, thirty minutes before departure. There is a separate lane for Business Class and priority passengers. If this were Europe, the moment the gate agent announced that boarding had started, there’d be a scrum to get on the plane. But here in Australia, passengers obviously have much better manners and just wait until their group for boarding is called.

The Cabin

The cabin of this aircraft is nice. It looks and smells new and with the grey seats it looks rather elegant. The aircraft also has those new style overhead bins that drop down, instead of the old-school bins you still find on many narrow-bodies, where the lid opens upwards.

There are non power sockets and no inflight entertainmennt screens either.

Seat pitch on the emergency exit is good. In addition, the flight is not completely full, which means that by the time boarding is completed, the middle seat next to me remains empty.

And then we have a problem. The captain comes on the loudspeaker to inform us that Melbourne tower has had to be evacuated and it is unclear if they will be receiving traffic any time soon. Eventually though, we push back with a delay of one hour. The flight time is announced as one hour and five minutes.

The Crew

The crew on this flight consists of five attractive, slightly oriental looking young females. Whoever selects the female crew for Virgin clearly has a type, because they all look the same and they’re all wearing way too much make-up. Other than that, they seem okay, if not exactly very warm.

In Economy Class, Virgin has a strange mixed service concept, the merit of which escapes me. Tea, still water and a protein bar are complimentary. In addition to that, there are various items to eat and drink which can be purchased on board. Payment is possible in cash or by credit card.

I order a Coke Zero to drink, which costs AUD3. The protein bar is a total abomination. It’s disgusting, which makes you wonder why on earth they even bother in the first place? Having said that, the bulging biceps on 13C seems only too eager to demolish his bar. Wouldn’t want to start losing muscle mass would we…?

Arrival

Eventually, we land in Melbourne at 11h35, only slightly behind schedule. I step outside and catch the Skybus heading for the city centre to Southern Cross station. The journey to the city takes about thirty minutes, and a return tickets costs AUD38.

Conclusion

This was my first time in Economy Class with Virgin Australia. While I like their branding and the design of their cabin, overall I thought they were a bit of a let down on this flight. Admittedly, the cockpit crew was proactive in keeping passengers updated about the situation in Melbourne, but perhaps that’s just it: I somehow got the impression that the cockpit crew seemed far more service oriented than the cabin crew, which somehow can’t be right.