Saturday, January 23, 2010

HOTEL REVIEW – Accor Hotels Formule One Hotel – Perth Airport

I stayed at the Formula One Hotel Perth Airport once before and thought it was okay. I have also stayed nearby at a little more expensive motel, but decided to save and go with the cheaper Formula One again in January 2010. After this last time though, I will never stay there again!

I flew in with Virgin Blue in the early evening - a Trip Report can be found HERE - and picked up my hire car and drove to the Hotel where parking is free and there is ample room to find a carpark.

On the previous occasion, I arrived into Perth about 9pm to find the reception closed – there is no 24 hour reception here! There is a machine outside the locked door that, with a swipe of the credit card used to prepay the booking, you are issued with your room key which will also access the building.

I arrived earlier this time and found reception still open, so received my room key from the girl behind the counter.

The problem came when I entered the room – there was a fairly strong odour – like a public toilet – and much to my surprise an automatic room deodoriser that sprayed air freshener every couple of minutes – essentially I felt like I was staying in a public toilet!

I also found that the window in the room did not seal properly, and being in the middle of a hot dry Summer (January), the draft that came in through the unsealed window was quite warm and meant the air conditioning didn’t really have much effect on the room (pictured below). To make matters even worse, the TV could not be used properly as the remote control batteries were dead, and the buttons on the TV are almost inaccessible due to the security measures used by this Hotel chain in their rooms.

Reception couldn’t or didn’t want to help – I was told there were no other rooms available – the hotel was full – this was probably the truth as these hotels are usually pretty busy. The girl couldn’t even find batteries for the remote control!!

Overall, I was not impressed. I had the feeling the room had not been used for a while and had been badly soiled by a previous guest. While appearing to be clean, the room did have a strong odour about it, and as mentioned some facilities were not up to scratch.

Friday, January 22, 2010

TRIP REPORT – Virgin Blue Airlines – Brisbane to Sydney to Perth to Brisbane – Boeing 737-700/800

13 January 2010 – DJ966 – Brisbane-Sydney – B737-800 – VH-VUS

I had just landed in Brisbane from Emerald (there is a Trip Report HERE), and I was due to fly out to Sydney at 5pm. As I only had carry-on baggage (my camera bag), I tried my luck and managed to sweet talk Virgin Blue into getting me a seat on the 4.30pm flight – free of charge – for this time only!! Cool I thought – more spotting time in Sydney!

I managed to fly on one of Virgin’s newer planes, and was assigned an isle seat towards to back (Row 23). The flight was just about full with a few spare seats here and there. Took off on time and climbed to 39000 feet for the journey South. In flight service trolley came out and I purchased a coffee and crackers and cheese – total $6. A nice afternoon snack.

Unfortunately, the weather in Sydney was deteriorating – storms and rain showers over the airport which meant 30mins holding over Scone (NSW). Seatbelt sign came on, and after all the orbits, we headed to Sydney and landed Runway 16L. Very cloudy and showery outside, but a smooth enough descent and landing. After the long taxi back to the Virgin Blue terminal, I grabbed some food and drink inside the terminal and then checked the arrival screens and discovered that this flight ended up landing only 9 minutes ahead my original scheduled 5pm flight which, by that time, had already landed!!

Overall a pretty good fight with Virgin Blue – it left me looking forward to my other flights over the next few days!!

14 January 2010 – DJ565 – Sydney-Perth – B737-700 – VH-VBR

After a good day’s spotting in Sydney from the Domestic Terminals, I proceeded to the Virgin Blue check-in area in T2 and had a boarding pass in about 30 seconds! The automatic check-in booths are great – first time I had used them – punched in the confirmation number – picked my seat – viola! Although, I did then go to the check-in supervisor’s desk to enquire about an exit row seat and was pleasantly surprised to have the choice of all six in our B737-700. Chose the window at 12A.

Flight left on time – departed from Sydney’s Runway 16R with a right turn over the Blue Mountain – some lovely views! Flight attendants made two passes with the food and drink cart – I decided on a couple of snacks and coffee and water. Live-to-air was up and running – swipe your credit card and over 20 channels from Foxtel are avilable. I settled for some cricket from overseas! Overall, it was a great flight but for the live-to-air mucking up about 20 minutes out of Perth with only half the channels working.

Virgin operate from Terminal 3 at Perth, which is also where Skywest, Tiger Airways and Alliance fly from. Facilities on the domestic side of the airport have been improved since I was there last, with a walkway joining T3 to the Qantas Terminal (T2). I got my hire car and straight off to the Formule One Hotel – Perth Airport for the night, where a review can be found HERE.

15 January 2010 – DJ473 – Perth-Brisbane – B737-700 – VH-VBR

After a big day at Perth Airport where spotting is pretty easy from the International and Domestic terminals, I returned the hire car and proceeded to the Virgin Blue check-in area. With no counters open, I tried the check-in booth again, and again, it was easy to retrieve my details and boarding pass! Finally, the supervisor’s desk was attended and I asked the lovely supervisor about an exit row seat and was given one - she actually advised me that CASA requires Virgin Blue to fill these seats despite Virgin not selling any at all for this flight.

Through security and to the waiting area, which was quite busy with frustrated passengers waiting for a delayed Tiger Airways flight… which wasn’t coming any time soon!! Through the window I noted 14 Virgin ground crew working on their inbound EMB190 flights - it took them about 20 minutes to have all passengers and bags off followed by daily engineering then it was towed away to parking for the night – impressive turnaround!!

VH-VBR turned up and this would be the second time in two days that I was in the same seat of 12A. A fast turnaround from the Perth ground crew has us on the plane and pushing back on schedule. Take-off from Perth’s Runway 21.

I noted a few other people must have also asked about sitting in the exit row as row 12 was now FULL!! It was also amazing to see how many people on both these Virgin flights asked about being re-seated in the empty premium economy seats - all received the same answer - "no sorry not today"

Unfortunately soon after take-off it was noted that VH-VBR’s live-to-air was still broken - still only half the channels available. I advised a flight attendant and was told this was the *first* anyone had advised the crews of problems during the day. The crew tried two resets on the system but it was still not fixed. As per Virgin Blue policy, a broken live-to-air system meant all passengers got those available channels free for the entire flight.

The night owl flight to Brisbane was reasonably full, and the Virgin Blue service was fantastic – not only trying to get the live-to-air working, but the food and drinks service was very thorough and professional – they did two passes again – one for ‘dinner’ and then another about 45 minutes out of Brisbane.

The flight arrived into Brisbane about 10 minutes early – got to love tailwinds – and we disembarked about 5.35am. Off to have some breakfast before I fly back to Emerald about 10am (a Trip Report for this flight can be found HERE)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

TRIP REPORT – QantasLink (Sunstate Airlines) – Emerald to Brisbane to Emerald – Dash-8-Q300/Q400

13 January 2010 – QF2401 – Emerald-Brisbane – Dash-8-Q300 – VH-SBI

The Emerald Airport terminal is about to be redeveloped (a large three-stage project), and while the current terminal is still operational, there are some obstructions at the outside drop-off area. From the outside it looks like they are constructing a mirror-image of the current terminal. This will be the new check-in area and airline offices. A central part will be the new terminal lounge. Paid parking will also be introduced shortly – I probably am enjoying my last time of free parking at Emerald Airport!

Check-in was smooth as always, although the terminal was quite busy with a full flight on this sector. I made a request for and was given an exit row seat (Row 12) and realised that this flight would be in a ‘Classic’ Dash-8 as opposed to the newer Q400 series. VH-SBI arrived to take us to Brisbane – a surprise to see a Q300 still on this service with most now operated by the larger Q400 aircraft. Boarded quickly and left on time. I managed to squeeze my large camera bag in the overhead locker – QantasLink restrict carry-on to 4kg of which I was probably over!

An uneventful flight – snacks (a bag of nuts and water) and tea and coffee were served about 10 minutes after take off by the two lovely flight attendants. Touched down pretty much on time and with no checked-in baggage was through the terminal and off on my next flight to Sydney with Virgin Blue (a Trip Report for this flight can be found HERE).

16 January 2010 – QF2404 – Brisbane –Emerald – Dash-8-Q400 – VH-QOU

At the conclusion of a big weekend of plane spotting I was ready to fly back home. After my tiring flight from Perth, I remained airside at Brisbane and was able to check-in at the Qantas passenger information desk on the upper floor at Brisbane Airport. After breakfast and some more spotting, I went downstairs to the QantasLink lounge and waited for my flight. A busy part of the terminal with several other regional flights leaving at the same time.

That said though, this flight to Emerald was about half full.

I received a seat toward the back of the plane – about the last row of passengers as five unaccompanied minors joined the flight and sat in the back two rows. The poor flight attendant had her hands full entertaining the kids for the hour and a half flight – I think she only raised her voice once!!

VH-QOU is a fairly recent delivery for QasntasLink and the it still had the new plane smell!! The Q400 is quite roomy and despite not receiving an exit row seat (Row 1 and 2), I had plenty of room for my six-foot frame. The flight was uneventful with snacks delivered about 15 minutes after take-off which was via Runway 01 with the right turn and overfly of Brisbane Airport. We landed in Emerald 5 minutes early – with a quick taxi to gate – straight off and to the car for the hours drive home and a nice warm shower!!

A couple of great flights with QantasLink. I was surprised at how roomy the Q400 seats are with plenty of space to stretch my legs.

Friday, January 1, 2010

TRIP REPORT - Brisbane-Seoul-Tokyo-Anchorage-Fairbanks-Anchorage-Tokyo-Seoul-Brisbane with Korean Air, Northwest Airlines, Alaska Airlines

Wednesday 28 June 2006

Korean Air - KE814 - Brisbane-Seoul(Incheon) - A330-300 - HL7554 - Seat 32A then re-assigned to 40F (isle)
Brisbane push back: 0845 (all times local) Gate 82
Take off: 0905 Runway 19
Cruise: FL360 (36000ft) then FL380
Seoul(Incheon) touch down: 1740 Runway 33R
At gate: 1750 Gate ??

Checked in reasonably early but didn’t manage to secure an exit row seat – they seemed to go to all the parents with little kids… Asked about a seat with extra legroom – received 32A – a window seat – but at the gate a call came over for me to approach the gate staff who gave me a new boarding pass and seat 40F – an isle with no one next to me so I could stretch out. Push back was 5 minutes late but got into Incheon on time. Flight was smooth enough with the seemingly usual turbulence over the equator. Breakfast and dinner were served – I had both of the ‘Western’ options of omelet and then beef. Korean Air service was friendly and very professional. I was most impressed with this flight. Seoul was reasonably clear and taxi was quick to our gate – didn’t catch which gate we pulled into but it was out on one of the two satellites so we had to make a long walk to immigration. I joined the line of a new immigration officer and stood there for about 15 minutes and didn’t move so changed lines and was processed in about 10 minutes.

Straight through customs and then transfer to the Hotel Zeumes in downtown Incheon for the night before flying to Seattle tomorrow.

Thursday 29 June 2006

Northwest Airlines - NW008 - Seoul(Incheon)-Tokyo(Narita) - A330-200 - N856NW - Seat 10H (exit row isle)
Seoul(Incheon) push back: 1105 Gate 43
Take off: 1130 Runway 15R
Cruise: FL410 with 170km/h tailwind (our groundspeed 1035km/h) the FL310 due turbulence
Tokyo(Narita) touch down: 1320 Runway 16L
Engine shutdown: 1335 then towed to Gate 21 At Gate: 1340

Incheon was very foggy today and I thought that flights may be delayed but unlike Australia where there would be chaos, Incheon is a CAT III airport!! After lining up for check-in I got to the front of the line and the assembled security guards (all women) took my e-ticket and passport away and they had a discussion about me. They came back and asked numerous questions of my travel intentions and then I had all my bags searched. Turns out that being a non-US citizen and traveling to the USA via another country aroused a lot of suspicion. So after that interrogation, I checked in okay – got an exit row seat for the hop to Narita but had to settle for a window to Seattle. Through security then immigration, I was able to photograph every plane that was parked at gate and saw no security, only airport employees in the airside areas.

Boarded about 30 minutes before departure and we were able to push back 5 minutes early. Exit rows were full of babies being transported to the USA for adoption. Northwest service was very professional and friendly. Crew ensured that all instructions were heard and adhered to (it is illegal to ignore them!) Tokyo was clear but hot – pity I didn’t have the camera out as we taxied to gate as I saw two JAL soccer planes and the Malaysian B777 dream machine!

Thursday 29 June 2006

Northwest Airlines - NW008 - Tokyo(Narita)-Seattle(Tacoma) - A330-200 - N856NW - Seat 15A (window)
Tokyo(Narita) push back: 1530 Gate 21
Take off: 1545 Runway 16R
Cruise: FL370 then FL390
Seattle(Tacoma) touch down: 0820 Runway 34L
At gate: 0830 Gate S1

A couple of hours at Narita but sadly it was very hot so walking around Terminal One and taking some photos was a bit sweaty and then there was the heat haze… Through the transit security check easily and then to the lounge where I heard some murmurs of a cancelled Northwest flight. I think it was a jumbo service to Detroit so there were a lot of unhappy passengers checking at each desk for spare seats… but our flight to Seattle was (apparently) already full. There were numerous announcements for passengers from other Northwest flights to transfer to other airlines flights to the USA, so assumed that was Northwest trying to offload booked passengers to make room for the passengers from the cancelled Detroit flight(?). Anyway, got onboard our flight and had a nice young guy heading home to Seattle sit next to me. We chatted a lot about Australia and Seattle and his holiday through Europe but he had the foulest smelling sleeping tablets, of which he took a couple and was straight to sleep! Short taxi at Narita and soon off over the Pacific. Northwest A330s have AVOD so settled back and watched some movies and listened to music. Meals were again a choice of Asian or Western foods – dinner and breakfast. The Northwest service on this long sector was not as personal as the Korean Air service however the cabin crew were always professional and were more experienced.

Landing into Seattle on time and since we were the first International arrival for the day, we started the US Immigration and Customs people into action!! Easily through that (bags in about 5 mins after arrival) and then was able to re-check my bag straight away up to Anchorage. Caught the driver-less train to the South terminal for the next flight and eventually getting to Alaska!!!

Thursday 29 June 2006

Alaska Airlines - AS99 - Seattle(Tacoma)-Anchorage - MD-80 - N981AS - Seat 22F (exit row window)
Seattle(Tacoma) push back: 1055 Gate C9
Take off: 1110 Runway 34R
Cruise FL320
Anchorage touch down: 1340 Runway 14
At gate: 1345 Gate C3

There was a small tech problem with our machine so we got away about a half hour late. Funnily enough though the passengers didn’t get too grumpy… this might have been because of the fantastic Alaska Airlines rep behind the desk… and it meant I could do some more spotting – Seattle was bathed in sunshine!! Heaps of different US airlines and some International services including China Airlines Cargo that landed. Sorry no details of the flight as I slept all the way - the exit row seat was very comfortable – but I did note that the three cabin crew for our flight were a lot older than crew that I had so far. We landed at Anchorage on time after a long slow descent and a wide right base. Straight off the runway and to gate, bags came out about 15 minutes after we arrived.

Stayed at the Barratt Inn in Anchorage and would recommend it for the price – even got a free upgrade to a deluxe room!

Spent the Friday spotting at Anchorage Airport from 7am to 7pm – sadly it was a cloudy day with light rain showers – spent the morning at the Runway 14 end and had landers in front of me. Runways changed after lunch so went around to the South Air Park to get landers 7L/R and Runway 32 departures.

Sunday morning went to Merrill Field and had the run of the airport with a couple of pilots who showed me around… basically saw all the present aircraft and took about 100 photos.

Sunday afternoon I walked home from Anchorage Airport (had to return the cute little Chevy hire car shown above) to the Motel via Lake Hood/Spenard. Spent time at Alaska Air Taxis, Rusts’ and the USAF Auxiliary so there were heaps of photos to be had. Then spent time next to the ‘runway’ and got buzzed by several arrivals and take-offs – spectacular views. Didn’t manage to get around to the sealed strip though – no doubt more photos could have been had there to but by the time I got back to the motel it was 10pm and I was very tired!!!

Monday 3 July 2006

Alaska Airlines - AS89 - Anchorage-Fairbanks - MD-80 - N962AS - Seat 22A (exit row window)
Anchorage push back: 0707 Gate C6
Take off: 0720 Runway 7L
Cruise FL230
Fairbanks touch down: 0800 Runway 1L
At gate: 0805 (very quick!!) Gate 3

Day-trip to Fairbanks today – booked these flights online myself through the Alaska Airlines website – pretty easy! At the Anchorage terminal, I checked in manually (Alaska is big on electronic and quick check-in with bag drop) and got an exit row seat. Through security reasonably easily and straight to the Anchorage Observation Deck for some early morning photos (Runway 14/32 and the parallel taxiways can be seen from this small area on the top of the Anchorage terminal) and breakfast!

After take off, the pilot came on and advised that since we would be making good time to Fairbanks we would do some sightseeing over Mt McKinley but as would happen it was covered in cloud. Mt McKinley reaches 20,000ft into the air so the views would have been spectacular. This flight had 20 passengers on it so service was very personal. Again the three cabin crew weren’t young, but I chatted to all three who were fascinated that I would travel half way around the world to photograph planes!!

Fairbanks was cloudy but dry. Visited all the major operators on the Western side – Everts, Northern Air Cargo, Frontier, Arctic Air, Brooks and was lucky enough to be invited airside to take photos – most were also surprised that I would come all the way from Australia to photograph their aircraft! Met my contact from the East side who took me on a tour of that side – since it is not secured I could basically go where I pleased – heaps more photos to be had!! Went to Fairbanks city for lunch and a look-around and then returned to the airport for my flight back to Anchorage.

Monday 3 July 2006

Alaska Airlines - AS112 - Fairbanks-Anchorage - B737-400 - N708AS - Seat 14A (exit row window)
Fairbanks push back: 1930 Gate 4
Take off: 1940 Runway 19R
Cruise FL350
Anchorage touch down: 2020 Runway 14
At gate: 2025 Gate C1

Finally back in a Boeing (ha ha!!) Again to my surprise a small number of passengers (about 50) and three middle aged cabin crew – one female crew member had a very plasticized face and raised a couple of eyebrows amongst waiting passengers and the disembarking crew. This was an uneventful flight – no views of Mt McKinley again due to cloud so chatted to the crew who again loved chatting to an ‘Aussie’.

Back in Anchorage and straight back to the motel to pack for the long journey home. I Stayed at the Barratt Inn in Anchorage and would recommend it for the price – even got a free upgrade to a deluxe room!

Alaska has been magnificent!!!

Tuesday 4 July 2006

Alaska Airlines - AS14 - Anchorage-Seattle(Tacoma) - B737-700 - N---AS - Seat 13A (exit row window)
Anchorage push back: 0752 Gate C1
Take off: 0800 Runway 32
Cruise FL390
Seattle(Tacoma) touch down: 1205 Runway 16R
At gate: 1210 Gate D8

The start of the long journey home… Had my bags checked all the way through to Seoul despite changing planes and Airline Companies in Seattle – I was a little concerned… Security was easy again and spent about an hour in the observation deck. Goodbye to Alaska and again we had an older crew of three. This flight was full and it was interesting to note how ignorant some Americans are as despite the ‘fasten seatbelt’ sign being lit, at least a dozen passengers got up to go to the toilet… at least the crew saw the funny side as when we leveled they happily announced that “you can all now go potty!”. Into Seattle on time and de-planed and played dumb and double checked that my bag would be right going to Seoul… all seemed okay so got the train over to the International (South) terminal. Cleared US immigration using a new self-service kiosk arrangement that they have – very quick and easy. Spent a couple of hours spotting but sadly the views in the South Terminal are not the crash hot… but I still got some photos and Seattle was again bathed in sunshine!!

Tuesday 4 July 2006

Northwest Airlines - NW007 - Seattale(Tacoma)-Tokyo(Narita) - A330-200 - N859NW - Seat 11A (just behind the exit row!)
Seattle(Tacoma) push back: 1442 Gate S9
Take off: 1500 Runway 16L
Cruise FL360 then FL380 then FL390 then FL400 then FL390 then FL280 (all this due turbulence)
Tokyo(Narita) touch down: 1625 (Wednesday 5 July) Runway 16R
At gate: 1630 Gate 23

This was the flight I was not looking forward to with the time changes… we got away from the gate on time but then had to wait in traffic for take off clearance but once away we were soon established over the Pacific and heading for Japan. Over flew the southern part of Alaska but couldn’t see anything outside due to cloud. Also didn’t spot any North Korean missiles that were being fired that day as we were heading towards Japan and then South Korea… We were served dinner and then breakfast and again I opted for the ‘Western’ choices. Also managed to have a power nap during the flight but basically spent the flight watching movies and listening to music again on the AVOD. Crew were again very professional but could have been a little bit more friendly. Arrived into a very wet Narita would have become visual less than 1000ft.

Wednesday 5 July 2006

Northwest Airlines - NW007 - Tokyo(Narita)-Seoul(Incheon) - A330-200 - N857NW - Seat 29J (yay an exit row window!)
Tokyo(Narita) push back: 1850 Gate 26
Take off: 1915 Runway 16R
Cruise ?? Don’t know – fell asleep…
Seoul(Incheon) touch down: 2125 Runway 15L
At gate: 2130 Gate 46

The time-zone change and jet-lag really hit me at Narita – especially after walking all through Terminal One trying to take photos off all the present United and Northwest aircraft in the wet conditions. Don’t know much about this flight as I fell asleep very shortly after take off and woke up directly overhead Seoul (about 10 mins out of Incheon). I can tell you that we were in a big queue for take off behind an Air New Zealand B777 and the JAL Soccer B777.

Landed and through immigration a bit quicker this time around! To the baggage reclaim hall and the wait for my bag… And eventually here it came! Wow! A bag checked from Alaska to Seoul and it made it safely – very impressive!! Through Customs and found the transfer to the Zeumes Hotel again for a big sleep!!

Thursday 6 July 2006

Korean Air - KE813 - Seoul(Incheon)-Brisbane - A330-300 - HL7587 - Seat 46H (exit row window - yay!)
Seoul(Incheon) push back: 2028 Gate 26
Take off: 2058 Runway 15R
Cruise FL310 then FL370 over Australia
Brisbane touch down: 0656 (Friday 7 July) Runway 19
At gate: 0705 Gate 82

Heading home… thought about touring around Seoul but alas it started raining so went to the airport in the hope of being able to check in. To my surprise Korean Air said I could check at any time for any of their flights… fair enough – checked in and was through security and immigration in about 15 minutes – little security checks – I didn’t even have to remove my (Colorado) shoes and belt. Burger King lunch in the airport and then to the end of the satellite closest to the runway for some photos.

Again at no time was I challenged by any official about taking photos… the cleaners were about the only curious ones and even took a couple of photos of each other with my camera! Had a couple of flights board near the gate where I spotted including one to Mumbai… interesting to see some of the interpretations of carry-on luggage!! My Korean Air flight was great – exit row window seat so enjoyed heaps of room to spread out and had a small bloke next to me – so there was some bonus room too!! Enjoyed the Western dinner (again!) of steak and then settled back and to my surprise fell asleep. Pretty much slept through to the northern tip of Australia. Had the ‘usual’ turbulence over the equator and by the flight tracker took quite a few track changes during the flight. Breakfast of an omelet (the Western option) was served and then landed into Brisbane and home.

With the Brisbane 'rush hour' of morning flights, the wait at customs was unbearably long – a great welcome to Australia!! Suppose though this is because *every* passenger is now scanned either by hand or x-ray.

Overall, a great holiday, I am so glad that I have been to Alaska. Going through Seoul to the USA was frowned upon but for the price and ease of travel (immigration/customs), I’d do it again. All flights were great and I would recommend Korean Air, Northwest, and Alaska Airlines to travel with.