Wednesday, January 26, 2011

HOTEL REVIEW – Budget Motel Chain – The Gold Coast Airport Motel – North Kirra

I’ve stayed at this motel on previous occasions, both by myself and with my parents. On all occasions, the owners – Tony and Sue – have offered high quality and reasonably priced accommodation and a very friendly and warm welcome that makes every stay at this hotel fantastic.

Despite being an “Airport Motel”, there are actually no views of the Airport from the motel. Its location is actually across from the Gold Coast Airport at North Kirra on Golden Four Drive (across the Gold Coast Highway). This means the airport is an easy 5 minute drive or 15 minute walk across these two major motorways.

The hotel is part of the Budget Motel Chain, and only has a 3-star rating. That said though, each room I have stayed is always presented in a very clean and tidy manner. The rooms are also serviced daily. In my opinion this motel presents to a higher standard than other 3 and 3½ star motels that I have stayed.

The Gold Coast Airport Motel provides a number of room choices with all of these having air-conditioning, a refrigerator, and tea and coffee making facilities. Room service to all rooms is also available, and there is a pool and spa at the property.

However, one of the main features of the motel for the traveller is that the owners offer a free pick-up and drop-off service from and to the Airport. They guarantee to meet all flights into Gold Coast Airport. For this service, you simply need to ask. Should you have a car, there is free parking with some undercover spaces available.

The Gold Coast Airport Motel is close to the beach and surf clubs, shopping centres, cinemas, restaurants, and it is just a 20 minute drive to Jupiter's Casino and Surfers Paradise. There is public transport at the motel's front door, with Surf Side bus links to Robina rail station giving you easy access to Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast.

I highly recommend the Gold Coast Airport Motel to enthusiasts as it offers affordable accommodation in a great location, directly opposite the Airport. With this convenient location and excellent service, you can be assured of absolute comfort, privacy and safety.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

TRIP REPORT – Whitsunday Coast (Proserpine) to Brisbane to Whitsunday Coast (Proserpine) – Virgin Blue Airlines (B737-700) / Jetstar Airways (A320)

Trip report – Whitsunday Coast (Proserpine) to Brisbane – Sunday 26 December 2010 – Virgin Blue Airlines – DJ1118 – B737-700 – VH-VBK.

With the prediction of flooding rain for the Whitsundays we left Airlie Beach early to head to the airport. The Whitsunday Coast / Proserpine Airport is about 10km out of Proserpine. All up it was about a 40km journey from Airlie Beach.

We got to the airport about 9am to be greeted by the cleaner and the sign below. The cleaner stated that the Virgin Blue staff will open the terminal when they arrive at about 12.20pm. This is a Whitsunday Regional Council regulation. With my wife heading home, it left me with a 3½ hour wait outside trying not to get wet.

Whilst sitting outside it was interesting to note that the airport currently has a very small carpark. It had quickly filled up, meaning most arriving cars had to park on grass or in mud and even in some cases illegally. This needs to be improved - do not drive and park here!!

Also, the terminal is currently undergoing a major redevelopment as shown below.

Several airport staff arrived around midday, as did some other early bird passengers. Right on cue at 12.20pm the doors opened.

There were about a dozen people there so check-in was quick and easy at one of the three desks. In fact for most of the time, the queue was never really long despite three or four buses arriving with groups of passengers from Airlie Beach and surrounding areas.

The simple canteen was quite busy - especially being lunchtime - and the limited seating quickly filled up. Some people were left standing with most of the outside seats wet or having smokers nearby.

About 40 minutes before departure Virgin Blue announced that passengers should go through the single security check point to avoid congestion. Most people did this and the security queue was never really long. Through to another seating area before proceeding past the works area and out to the tarmac and the plane – no aerobridges here!

There is basically one gate for arrivals and departures with the rest of the terminal closed for the redevelopment which should see more gates and bigger seating areas.

One of Virgin Blue’s Boeing B737-700s, VH-VBK, arrived for our flight to Brisbane.

Once boarding commenced so did another torrential downpour, but to Virgin Blue’s credit two large bins of umbrellas arrived for passengers to use to get to the plane. It was then interesting to note the Virgin Blue staff - who only service this one flight for the day - were then going about their duties in the pouring rain without any covering!! That's commitment!!

And then right as the front door of the plane closed, the rain stopped!

We started and taxied away on time and were quickly in the air off Proserpine’s Runway 11. Some good views of the flooding around the Bruce Highway before we disappeared into the clouds. The next sighting of the ground was on late finals into Runway 01 in Brisbane!

I paid for the extra legroom of Row 12 and was assigned the window with a clueless woman in the aisle next to me. Live TV was working fine too! Plenty of room - remembering the seats in Row 11 in front do not recline - something a young couple couldn't understand until I explained this to them after they accused me parking my knees in the back of their seats!

Just after an hour in the air, we were into a very wet Brisbane. Taxi to Gate 41 and then off the plane - in all we were dead on time! Bags came out quickly - but wet!

Trip report – Brisbane to Whitsunday Coast (Proserpine) – Friday 31 December 2010 – Jetstar Airways – JQ830 – A320-232 – VH-JQX.

With the Virgin Blue lunch time flight to Proserpine having only the flexible expensive tickets available, it was Jetstar that I had to take back to Airlie Beach. The downside was an evening arrival into Proserpine with scheduled touch down at 6.35pm local.

Like previous flights with Jetstar, check-in opened 2 hours prior to the scheduled take off time of 4.55 pm. I had already booked the exit row window seat of 12A, and was issued with my boarding pass and baggage tag using the automatic check-in kiosk at the Jetstar terminal in Brisbane (pictured below).

Through security and a wait to see one of Jetstar’s oldest Airbus A320s – VH-JQX - arrive to take us north.

Boarding commenced a little late through Gate 38 which is an aerobridge gate at Brisbane. The flight looked to be pretty full but everyone was soon seated and we ended up pushing back about 10 minutes late. We taxied out past the centre finger which is looking to be nearly complete, and then we later passed the main spotting spot at Brisbane - the Acacia Street "Loop Road" - some pictures below taken through a dirty window!

Take off from Brisbane’s Runway 19 with some nice views (although through the dirty window) out to the Eastern suburbs of Brisbane and Moreton Bay. The other side of the plane had the best view of Brisbane city! With the CORAL SID we completed our turn to the North to be greeted by the low afternoon sun shining brightly though the left side windows. Window shades down!

The seatbelt sign remained on for some time before the cabin crew started their cart service. This was quick with not too many purchases from the cart - I had the Pringles!

Everything was completed pretty quickly and after about another 10 minutes we started descent into Proserpine. The seat belt sign came on pretty quickly as well, with some big patches of cloud around Mackay and Proserpine, but all the way to touch down there weren't too many bumps.

After a series of left turns from overhead the field - which couldn't really see due to cloud - we were on a long final to Proserpine’s Runway 11.

We touched down a little late and after a back taxi along the runway we parked on Jetstar’s gate at the northern end of the apron.

Off the plane and into the terminal which was quite busy and hectic with about a dozen or so transfer, taxi, and limousine drivers all milling around with their passengers. After finding my wife we went outside to wait for my bags which come on a trolley to the baggage collection area for both airlines which is outside of the terminal.

With Jetstar’s container usage, the bags needed to be unloaded from these and placed onto the trolleys. This was a time consuming process and then of course the outward baggage had to be loaded onto the outbound flight as well! The bags eventually came through after about 20 minutes and then it was a free for all to get the bags.

Bags collected, it was time to hit the road with a slow drive out of the airport and pretty much all traffic headed to Proserpine with most continuing to Airlie Beach.

A nice flight with Jetstar. Although the current situation at Proserpine Airport, with the luggage collection described above needs to be improved. Hopefully this will occur with the redevelopment in progress. A baggage collection area with a carousel will be installed. To be honest, this facelift and the others can't the finished soon enough!!

In all, it will be interesting to see the final product of the Proserpine redevelopment - it is currently a small airport with few facilities - and only has two scheduled RPT flights each day - hopefully a bigger and better airport will encourage more airlines and destinations to come to Proserpine!!

Monday, January 10, 2011

HOTEL REVIEW – Quality Hotel Sheridan Plaza – Cairns

I had seen this hotel on Sheridan Street in Cairns during a recent trip up North and thought that I would give it a try as a "Plane Spotting Hotel". There are other hotels on Sheridan Street, in fact I stayed in another further towards Cairns City some years earlier, however this hotel is the closest major Cairns Hotel to Cairns Airport – about 2-3km to the terminal. And it’s also only 2-3km to the Cairns Central shopping centre.

This hotel is advertised as “affordable luxury”, and I would agree. This modern, 4 ½ star, boutique style Hotel is quite reasonably priced for a short-term stay. Our price also included a full buffet breakfast each morning in the main downstairs bar/restaurant.

The hotel has seen some recent refurbishments and features three types of rooms from deluxe (as we had shown below) to expansive suites.

What I like the best though, was that about half of the 74 rooms in the hotel have a view onto Sheridan Street from a private balcony (as we had). This provides almost unobstructed views to the some of the flight paths to and from the airport. The preferred runway for plane spotting from the hotel is Runway 33 in Cairns, when literally all aircraft pass by the front of the hotel on short finals for landing. I have found this runway is used a lot in the tropical summer months of December and January. Some pictures are shown below.

Should Runway 15 be in use, spotters can still see all departing traffic, although some of the smaller aircraft will make an early left turn before they actually reach the hotel as shown below.

The hotel has superb facilities, with a mini-bar, fridge, and tea and coffee making facilities in the air-conditioned room. The hotel also has a gymnasium, outdoor pool, free Internet Kiosk, guest laundry, and free undercover parking. The hotel staff were always friendly, and the ladies at the check-in desk provided great assistance to us in booking tourist day trips to local attractions.

There is a service station next door to the hotel, and being on a busy street does provide a fairly high level of noise that has caused some negative reviews of this hotel. However, I would recommend the Quality Hotel Sheridan Plaza as a good choice to stay for the aviation enthusiast.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

TRIP REPORT – British Airways – London (Heathrow) to Paris (Charles De Gaulle) and return – Boeing B767-300

14 September 2010 – BA306 – London (Heathrow)-Paris(Charles De Gaulle) – Boeing B767-300 – G-BZHB

After spending two wonderful days of spotting at the Renaissance Hotel (photos below), we arranged for the free Hoppa bus (included in the Spotters Accommodation package) to take us to Terminal 5. We must have just missed the bus as there was no-one waiting… so we waited about 20 minutes and along came the hotel guests, and then finally the bus!

Heathrow’s Terminal 5 is a HUGE place – and the home of British Airways. Check-in was really quick and easy at one of the many BA self-check-in kiosks (they are similar the Qantas terminals we have in Australia). We then proceeded towards a counter to drop our bags off. We were through this process almost straight away as we were ushered by a friendly BA assistant to an empty counter. Bags checked-in, although some rearranging had to occur as BA has a policy that no bag shall be over 27kg.

Through security and immigration – not much of a queue – although VERY strict and different screening procedures to Australia – we had to remove almost every lose article of our body/clothes/feet!

This is when we found Terminal 5 mind-blowingly huge… To the left and right were shops galore – and straight out front was a food hall – about 50 metres past that was the huge glass front and aircraft gates – see some photos below.

We wandered around and enjoyed a lovely fried breakfast at one of the restaurants. This was followed by some quick shopping, before we finally found our gate and a nearby seat.

Our gate was part of a ‘double gate’ – Gates 15 and 16 together – and of course, two flights were leaving through these gates at the same time – so things were hectic! Our plane - G-BZHB - is shown below waiting for us!

The boarding time came by and we eventually heard our call about 10 minutes later. Straight down the escalator to the ground floor of the terminal and out the gate and into our B767. The front was a business class setup (Club Europe Zone), with what looked like two sections of economy (Euro Traveller Zone) with different seat pitches.

We took our seats right at the back of the plane – Row 40 – and in the centre – no windows!

The overhead lockers were surprisingly quite small so packing bags in these were a challenge – problems were also caused by the amount of ‘stuff’ that some people brought on board!

We ended up pushing back pretty much on schedule, and soon after we started our taxi off to Runway 27 Right. A nice long taxi past the outlying sections of Terminal 5, and then past Terminals 1, 2, and 3. Plenty of interesting aircraft to be seen outside the windows – but alas were stuck in the middle of the plane!

Probably about 20 minutes after we started the taxi, we lined up and were airborne towards Paris – all up it is about a 40 minute flight.

After a few minutes, the captain advised that the cabin service could start and soon after the crew swung into full gear – I have never seen cabin crew work so fast! It was breakfast time and the crew got through the entire B767-300 cabin, handing out breakfast rolls and a cold drink in about 10 minutes.

They packed up these trolleys – and while we were still eating our breakfast – the crew had proceeded to start collecting the rubbish from the forward part of the cabin.

While we were eating I realised that we had already started our descent in Paris. Suddenly, the captain advised the crew that there was 10 minutes to landing – the crew looked at each other and shifted in to overdrive!

We finished the snack and our rubbish was collected. The cabin was then prepared – seatbelt sign on – cabin checks done – aircraft was on finals!! All seated in time for touch down on Runway 27 Right and a warm welcome to a sunny and crisp Paris!!

We then taxied across the field – past a new Air France A380 and several very exotic types and the various terminals at Charles De Gaulle.

We eventually got to our gate at Terminal 2A and were able to disembark. Through a couple of walkways – basically following the ‘crowd’ – and to immigration. Passport stamped and off to baggage collection.

Despite being about the only plane arriving into Terminal 2A, the bags came out after about 20 minutes waiting… Ours came – and was damaged – a nice big hole in the side of our nice new bag… Thanks British Airways!

Through arrivals and we found our transfer to our Paris Hotel.

17 September 2010 – BA303 – Paris (Charles De Gaulle)-London (Heathrow) – Boeing B767-300 – G-BZHA

So after a few lovely days in the French capital it was time to head to Rome, albeit via London (Heathrow). We arrived at Charles De Gaulle terminal 2A, and found a big group of people looking rather disorganized, and yes, that was the queue to check-in for British Airways.

It seemed that our flight to Heathrow was the only one leaving this part of the terminal this morning. Although I then noticed the Kuwait Airways check-in open next door. It was in its own secured portion of the terminal and was under armed guard. Passengers only permitted to enter… Not even this Aussie tourist in search of a toilet!

After finding that much needed toilet stop, (too much good food the night before!!!), the BA check-in queue was bigger and much more disorganised.

There was one issue I found with BA’s setup – the automatic check-in counters were placed near the queues so passengers were struggling to check-in – and this was an issue as the BA staff would eventually only take bags from those who had already checked-in… It was chaos!!

So after waiting about 10 minutes, I noticed a kiosk was free, so I seized my opportunity to check-in on one of the kiosks. Boarding passes in hand, we lined up along with everyone else, and then after about another 10 minutes, BA staff arrived and began collecting bags… But chaos continued… Suddenly 320 different lines of people were forced to merge into one 10m roped off line to drop bags… aaarrrrggghhh!!!

Eventually with boarding pass in hand, we got to hand over our bag and politely requested if it could be taped up a but seeing how BA ripped it during the inbound flight. We received a stern look and a telling off that we should have done something about it when we arrived, but the girl behind the counter found some tape and the temporary repairs were completed.

Upstairs through security and passport control. Pretty easy and quick in Paris – again, we had to remove virtually everything from our bodies.

Found our gate and found some food – we still hadn't eaten breakfast and there were no good food shops open – aaarrrrggghhh!!!

Boarding commenced pretty much on time and soon we took our seats by the window at about the middle of the plane on the right hand side. These seats seemed to be a bit roomier than the inbound flight. Again like the inbound flight, passengers struggled to fit their luggage in the overheads. This flight was also full.

As the sun finally came up over Paris we pushed back and commenced a long taxi from Terminal 2A to the other side of the airport to depart from Runway 27 Left. It was a pity the window was foggy as we taxied past some beautiful and exotic aircraft parked on aprons just ready for spotters to log (as shown below)!!

Take off was pretty quick, and after a series of right hand turns over the French country-side, we set course for the English Channel and on to London.

The cabin service was very fast again. We had a 45 minute flight time, and breakfast (a roll again) along with a drink was served, consumed, and packed up in about 20 minutes. By this time, we were descending into London Heathrow’s Runway 27 Right. Surprisingly there was no holding, and we proceeded straight into London. The photos below shown downtown London and the view to the South, as we made our final approach.

Off the runway and past terminal 3, it was a fairly quick taxi to our gate at Terminal 5. We taxied past several BA aircraft already parked, and after a short delay for another aircraft to get out of the way, we pulled into our gate. Some photos below show London Heathrow in the early morning.

Off the plane, and straight to the immigration queue. Passport stamped and bags collected. Out through the ‘Nothing to Declare’ door – and no quarantine officers – pretty surprising compared to Australia!

Off to find a taxi and a quick trip to Terminal 4 for our flight to Rome.

Overall I really like the British Airways product on this short haul sector. The only downside was the chaos that we endured while waiting to check-in at Paris. Perhaps arriving at the airport a little later might have meant less time waiting and less frustration – who knows? It was an experience that I have never experienced in Australia, and hope never to. About 10metres of roped off line doesn’t work with about 200 impatient and tired passengers, who want to check-in, drop bags, and find some breakfast and coffee.

On board both flights though, the cabin crew were thoroughly professional, and have obviously been doing this job well for a number of years. The quick cabin service didn’t seem to faze them, and at all times – even when trying to fit huge bags into the small overhead compartments – they remained calm and professional… Really impressive!!

I would definitely be happy to fly with British Airways again – although perhaps next time, I would try to check-in online – or before we got to the terminal – to save some time and hassle with queuing with the many other frustrated passengers…