Tuesday, July 20, 2010

HOTEL REVIEW – Accor Hotels Formule One Hotel – Sydney Airport

During a couple of recent plane spotting trips to Sydney, my wife and I stayed at Formula One Hotel which is located at Sydney Airport. During our most recent trip in June 2010, we requested and were given a room on the top level (six) of the building, and overlooking the Airport.

Incidentally, we flew with Virgin Blue, and a Trip Report can be found HERE.

The hotel staff have always been very friendly and understanding of this request – they indicated to me that they do have a lot of enthusiasts as guests. Incidentally, the reception is open 24 hours a day.

The hotel itself has always had good views over the General Aviation area of the airport, but these have been enhanced with the recent opening the hotel’s new accommodation wing. Several new rooms were added – and the walkway to the end of the Southern end of the rooms now provides even better views over the corporate jet parking area of the GA apron – see photo below.

There are also distant views over to the main Runway 16R/34L, and fantastic views of all aircraft and departing from the smaller parallel runway 16L/34R.

Facilities at the Hotel are basic – it is officially a 2-star hotel – and their market is for transit passengers who need a bed for a day or a night. The room is small – ours is pictured below – double bed and bunk bed with a closet style bathroom/toilet, which unfortunately floods when guests take showers. There is also a small TV and desk and chair. The windows are double glazed and keep out the aircraft noise!

On-site parking is available for a fee.

Breakfast is available daily in a sitting area on the ground floor of the hotel, and vending machines also provide ample selection of food and drinks for other times of the day. There are also nearby fast food outlets which also offer in-store free wireless internet connections!

Overall, for the enthusiast, this hotel is perfect for a one or two night stay, at most. For a longer stay near the airport, there are other airport hotels nearby that range from three-star to five-star. These offer better facilities, and some enthusiasts report that views of the airport are comparable to the Formula One.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

TRIP REPORT – Virgin Blue Airlines – Mackay to Sydney to Mackay – Embraer 190 / Boeing 737-700/800

Mackay to Sydney (via Brisbane) – Sunday 4 July – DJ600 – Embraer E190 VH-ZPD / DJ938 – B737-800 VH-VUE

Early flight out of Mackay – due to having the connecting flight the quick check-in kiosks didn’t allow us to check-in so up to the counter we went – checked through to Sydney with a 1½ stop-over in Brisbane. Boarded on time – departed straight out of Mackay – smooth flight – in-flight service came through fairly quickly as not too many purchases were made. The Embraer 190s have plenty of room for a big bloke like me - and with the 2x2 seating, they actually feel like you're riding in your own private jet!! We had a smooth descent and landing in Brisbane – arrived on time. Our aircraft VH-ZPD is pictured above at gate in Brisbane.

For the Sydney leg, we noticed our flight was running 15 minutes late and with a gate change. We ended up pushing back 20 minutes late – departed to the South with a smooth climb to cruising altitude. Shortly before decent the pilot announced that due to weather we were slowing, and allotted a landing time some 35 minutes after scheduled arrival – slow but smooth descent with great views out the right side over Sydney – landed Runway 25 (cross runway) - and then a quick taxi past the International Terminal. Ended up leaving the plane about 45 minutes after our scheduled arrival. Bags came out without much delay - and so we started to walk to our hotel, the Formule One Hotel – Sydney Airport - review HERE.

Sydney to Mackay (via Brisbane) – Wednesday 7 July – DJ925 – B737-800 VH-VUL / DJ613 – B737-700 VH-VBY (Virgin Blue’s 50th aircraft)

From arrival into Brisbane we were to have only 30 minutes before our departure to Mackay. We should have thought about these flights a bit more carefully, despite Virgin Blue offering this combination as a bookable pair. Again the kiosks wouldn’t let us check in so up to the counter we went. I asked about the connection time in Brisbane and was told there shouldn’t be a problem but that there were ATC delays due to weather… oh oh!!

Sure enough our flight to Brisbane was delayed – ended up leaving about 30 minutes late – but we were reassured a couple of times that our Mackay bound flight would be held in Brisbane as there were about 20 passengers on our flight that were connecting like us. Typically long taxi in Sydney and then an uneventful flight, although we did slow when approaching Brisbane due to the weather. The Mackay bound passengers were given permission to deplane first, but as we did, the plane operating to Mackay was pushing back from the gate, and then the CSM announced that unknown to her, the decision was made not the hold the flight. We landed some 35 minutes late.

So began a 5-hour wait and then a further 20 minute delay for our Mackay flight. Thank goodness for the Blue Room!! Eventually in the afternoon we took off for Mackay in Virgin’s 50th aircraft VH-VBY pictured above arriving at gate in Brisbane. This flight was full, and the amount of room in the B737-700 seems to be a lot less than Virgin Blue’s other aircraft – B737-800 and Embraers. Long final approach into Mackay with great views over the city. Our bag came out fairly quickly which was a surprise as other airlines operating into Mackay actually put bags onto the conveyor belt after they have actually loaded the outgoing flight.

Monday, July 12, 2010

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

With the monopoly that QantasLink has on this service, and the usually high load factor, I was surprised to get reasonably priced fares booked only a couple of weeks prior to the flights. QantasLink now operate between 4-5 services on this run each weekday, and 2-3 on the weekend.

Emerald to Brisbane – Monday 28 June – QF2413 – Dash-8-Q400 VH-QOT (pictured below departing Emerald)

Checked in at the new terminal counters at Emerald Airport – very fast with no other pax waiting – conveyor belt to the baggage area is loud though – had to walk past the construction zone to the old terminal waiting area – the new terminal waiting area is under construction and will feature security screening – there will also be a state-of-the-art QantasLink lounge for Qantas Club and Platinum and Gold Frequent Flyer members.

Flight to Brisbane left about 20 minutes late and was smooth and uneventful – full flight but plenty of room (I'm over 6ft tall and not skinny) - these aircraft are surprisingly roomy – light refreshments were served about 20 minutes into the flight, followed by tea and coffee – arrived in Brisbane about 15 minutes late – managed to make up some time due to favourable tail-winds at the cruise of 25000ft. In all, great service and another great flight from QantasLink.

Brisbane to Emerald – Wednesday 30 June – QF2406 – Dash-8-Q400 VH-QOU

I used the Quick Check-in facilities at Brisbane Airport – was assigned a window near the rear of the plane – checked the seat map and there were no other seats available – a full flight??

Boarded through the downstairs waiting area in the Qantas Domestic Terminal at Brisbane Airport – it was busy at this time with three other QantasLink flights and a Brindabella Airlines flight all departing about the same time – and then via the tarmac. Flight wasn’t full with just about every isle seat vacant – yet the check-in kiosk had the marked at ‘unavailable’??

Flight left on time but due to headwinds at cruising level 16000ft arrived into Emerald about 10 minutes late – light refreshments were served about 20 minutes after take off – followed by tea and coffee and the complimentary beer and wine service as happens on all Qantas and QantasLink flights after 4pm. Great service and a great flight with plenty of room again on QantasLink.