Saturday, February 26, 2011

HOTEL REVIEW – Comfort Inn The Rose Motel – Mackay

The Comfort Inn The Rose Motel Mackay has always been one of my favoured places to stay in Mackay. The Hotel is located on Nebo Road (the Bruce Highway), about 4km from the Airport, and about 4km from the City Centre.

Facilities at the motel are quite good with both standard (featuring one bed - top photo) and bigger deluxe rooms (with two beds and a lounge - underneath) available. Both types of rooms feature air-conditioning, TV with free cable TV channels, as well as tea and coffee making facilities. 

A coin operated laundry, and a Mediterranean styled pool area with BBQ facilities, are also available for motel guests.

The motel boasts a restaurant, which opens for breakfast and dinner, and room service is available. There are also other places to eat nearby to the hotel, including fast food, Asian food, and the popular Shamrock Hotel (a pub) across from the hotel on the other side of the highway.

For plane spotters, the hotel (like most hotels on Nebo Road) boasts superb views of aircraft either taking off from Runway 32, and on final approach to Runway 14 at Mackay Airport. The photo below, taken from the hotels pool area, and over the roof of the motel, shows a Virgin Blue B737 arriving on Runway 14 at Mackay Airport.

So with its convenience, reasonable rates, and comfortable and always clean facilities, the Comfort Inn The Rose Motel Mackay will always be my first choice for accommodation in Mackay.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

TRIP REPORT – Mackay to Brisbane to Mackay – Jetstar Airways (A320) / Virgin Blue Airlines (ERJ190)

Trip report – Mackay to Brisbane – Monday 3 January – Jetstar Airways – JQ883 – A320-200 – VH-VQK.

With most of the state of Queensland affected by devastating flooding, we had our driving holiday plans scuttled, and so it was necessary to fly to Brisbane from Airlie Beach to attend a friends wedding. Unfortunately at the short notice we needed the flights, there was only a limited availability out of Proserpine with only the most expensive seats available - $400 plus one way each person!

We decided to check Mackay and much to our surprise, most flights from Mackay to Brisbane were still available in the cheap bracket. The downside was a 2-hour drive from Airlie Beach to Mackay Airport South along the Bruce Highway.

Our outbound flight was with Jetstar, which meant we needed to be at the airport by around 9.15am to meet their half-hour check-in requirement. So we hit the road early and after a good drive we parked at the Mackay Airport Secured Undercover Long Term carpark – cost about $14 per day.

No-one in the check-in line so straight up to the counter. Bags checked-in and an unsuccessful enquiry about seats with extra legroom. We were assigned an isle and centre in the three-abreast seating of this Jetstar A320 aircraft - no windows available - and a telling off from the check-in agent to use the Internet to check-in early for a preferred seat! Fortunately, Jetstar's leather seats are quite comfortable and roomy enough for my 6-foot frame - except for when a back-rest is put on your legs!

Time for some overpriced breakfast from the Airport café and a walk around the Mackay Airport redevelopment site. A nice new newsagency to enjoy – “RELAY” – and plenty of boarding up where future shops are being built - as shown below.

Jetstar’s A320 VH-VQK arrived from Brisbane so we went through security – single line – which that took a some time while everyone had problems removing change and phones etc from their pockets!

We took our seats in the waiting area for the 9.30am boarding call - limited views to the aircraft parking area shown above. Our departure time at 9.45am came and there had been no announcements… until… it was announced we would be delayed by 15 minutes… and then… due to an engine problem… we would be delayed “indefinitely”.

Our plane was broken and we were going nowhere.

Turns out Jetstar ground crew had fixed the problem, but needed a licensed engineer to sign off on the work. Because there are none in Mackay, one was summoned from Cairns and it was announced that he would be flown down and due to arrive about 1.30pm, meaning we would hopefully be getting airborne about 2pm.

Jetstar handled this quite well – they kept all passengers well informed – in fact even the captain of our flight – who was obviously stuck too – came over the microphone to inform us all about what was happening. That was a nice touch.

Anyway, we went back to the main airport waiting area for some coffee and then lunch – again from the overpriced café – although selections were pretty limited due to the café being low on stock.

At 1pm we went back through security into the waiting area. At 1.20pm a small Cessna arrived and parked next to VH-VQK. An engineer popped out of the Cessna and into the A320. At that time we were invited to start boarding. As we approached VH-VQK at the front stairs, the engineer came down the back stairs and back in the Cessna and off they went… in all a 5-minute job for the engineer!!

So at 2pm, we were off – back-taxied and then rumbled down Mackay’s Runway 14.

It was a very bumpy climb through the clouds – the passenger with the window beside me bumped her head on the side wall at least twice – poor thing. I reckon the seat belt sign stayed on until we were nearly at our cruising altitude of 36000ft. Some pictures shown below taken out of the window - some of the flooding in Central Queensland can be seen.

Cabin service was very quick – suppose all the passengers had lunch in the terminal – although the alcohol was a popular option for some passengers!

The captain came on shortly before descent and advised us of our landing time and conditions in Brisbane. He then turned on the seat belt sign advising us that there was some ‘weather’ between us and Brisbane. A few bumps on descent – nothing major – but a very long final down the ILS and then touch down on Brisbane’s Runway 01.

We parked on Gate 29 (AKA Gate 37) which is one of the stand-off gates at the end of the centre finger of the Domestic Terminal at Brisbane which is being re-developed. This meant a walk along the tarmac and through a new ground level walkway and across an internal road before entering the ground floor of the Brisbane Domestic Terminal – right at the baggage collection carousel. Some photos below show this walkway and the developments taking place – complete with a new additional baggage carousel.

On the whole, it was a good flight, although the length of the delay did muck up plans we had for that day. I suppose engineering problems always crop up with airlines. In my opinion though, Jetstar handled our delay well – we were kept well informed – and they made every effort to get us away as quickly and as safely as possible.

Trip report – Brisbane to Mackay – Monday 10 January – Virgin Blue Airlines – DJ609 – Embraer ERJ-190 – VH-ZPA.

It was a very wet start in Brisbane and after driving through rain all the way to the airport we were glad to be under cover and in the terminal. Returned the hire car without drama and proceeded to the virgin blue check-in area.

We used the quick check kiosk (interesting to hear these maybe done away with soon) and we were assigned two seats in the very back row. Checking if other seats were available I could see that the Embraer ERJ-190 we were to fly on, was full.

I'm starting to wonder how airlines allocate seats as I seem to always now have seats assigned in the rear section of the planes I am travelling. Dropped the bags off and through security to enjoy a coffee and watch planes through the rain! Soon after VH-ZPA arrived on Gate 40 to take us to Mackay.

The rain had stopped and boarding soon started. We boarded via the tarmac and rear stairs. It was announced that push back would be delayed whilst connecting passengers joined us from another flight. Should be about a 5 minute delay.

We were actually ready to go at 10.50am, but once these passengers came and the plane was closed, we eventually pushed back at 11.15am, that was 15 minutes late.

Quick taxi to Brisbane’s runway 01 and we were airborne after a long and rough take off roll. Plenty of wind and bumps as we climbed, and the seat belt sign was off about 20 minutes into the flight.

The seats in the Embraer ERJ-190 are quite cosy but not uncomfortable. They are in a 2-by-2 configuration. It also helps when the passenger in front doesn't put their seat back onto you!

Several passengers were interested in the views out of the plane of the flooded areas of Central Queensland. The photos below show what Bundaberg looked like.

Cabin service was complete after about 10 minutes with not too many people buying lunch - we decided to wait until we arrived at Mackay as well!

It was fairly clear outside and as we commenced our descent there were some lovely views out to the Whitsunday islands, and the coal terminal at Hay Point with all the ships parked in the sea waiting to load, as shown below.

I'm sure the other side of the plane would have had the less pretty views of the flooded city of Rockhampton.

Soon Mackay Airport was visual out the left side of the plane and with a sweeping left turn were on finals and then touched down on Runway 14, about 10 minutes late. Plenty of apron works this week with drainage pipes being replaced, so a longer than normal taxi past the northern apron with the Pel Air Saab freighter and a nice surprise of a Convair 580 freighter of Pionair, We parked next to another Embraer, with this one coming up direct from Sydney.

We were one of the last off the plane with only the front stairs used at Mackay to disembark the plane – always. Into the construction zone that is the terminal and to wait for our bags which took about 15 minutes to come through in fits and spurts - connecting bags first - direct bags like ours, near then end.

Off the carpark, paid the big bill, and off for lunch. A great trip in the Embraer, enough room for my big frame, but I am getting a bit sick of always being allocated seats at the back amongst the screaming kids!