Wednesday, April 27, 2011

UPDATED HOTEL REVIEW – Accor Hotels Formule One Hotel – Sydney Airport

This recent plane spotting trip was for a weekend - 2 nights all up - unfortunately it came with a lot of bad weather in Sydney. I flew with Virgin Blue and a Trip Report can be found HERE.

I again stayed near the Airport at the Formula 1 Hotel (read a previous Review HERE), and again requested a room on the 6th floor. I was given room 632 - which is in the new wing of the hotel - and at the end of the corridor which has the large window that overlooks the NSW Air Ambulance and the General Aviation apron as shown below.

The room itself didn't have the best views of the airport due to the fire escape staircase being right outside and next to this room - this was disappointing. I could only see the GA Apron - as can be seen in the picture below - and the nearby fast food outlets.

I am thinking that Room 633 which is opposite 632 could be a much better room where a lot more action would be seen.

The hotel was very busy during this weekend stay - the reception desk is open 24-hours a day - and from what I could see and experienced, the staff were very patient and handled everyone (including me) in a very friendly and helpful way.

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 – mine is pictured below – this room features only double 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 Hotel.

Monday, April 25, 2011

TRIP REPORT – Brisbane to Sydney to Brisbane – Virgin Blue Airlines (ERJ190/B737-800)

Trip Report – Brisbane to Sydney – Friday 18 March – Virgin Blue Airlines – DJ958 – Embraer E-190 – VH-ZPK.

This trip was to do some spotting and catch up with family. After my meeting ended at 12pm I ventured to the airport to check-in for my 4pm flight. I used the Virgin Blue Quick Check-in Kiosk, and with a simple swipe of my Velocity card, I received my boarding pass. I was seated towards the back of the plane (again!!) in row 22.

I then had a look at the nearby departures board and noted that my flight was not scheduled to leave until 5pm. Did this mean more spotting time in Brisbane?? So I went upstairs in the Brisbane terminal, through security and took a seat and watched some planes.

I decided to have a walk down the new centre finger (Common User Terminal) redevelopment whilst it was empty. It looks very nice - as shown below - despite some construction still occurring.

It looks like the gates are operational with Tiger Airways, Jetstar, Alliance Airlines, Aeropelican, Sharp Airlines, Skytrans, and Pel-Air (REX) flights all departing from this part of the terminal. I also got a big surprise when I ventured the toilet in this area... Plane spotting opportunities abound!!

I discovered my flight had then been put back a further 15 minutes and saw that in fact all flights to Sydney were running late - poor weather in Sydney was the given reason. I tried my luck to get on an earlier flight that was now also delayed.

It was 3pm and the lovely Virgin Blue staff member got me a seat on the 3.30pm flight which had in fact been rescheduled to depart at 4.00pm. So I was essentially leaving on time!!

Embraer E-190 VH-ZPK arrived on gate 41 to take us South. Boarding started about 3.45pm – we were greeted by Virgin Blue staff in their lovely new uniforms – and by 4pm we had started push back. Shortish taxi to Brisbane’s Runway 01. With the departure to the North, a sweeping right turn had us heading South.

Some good views back to the West over the Port of Brisbane and Brisbane Airport, and further to Brisbane City. Soon after Archerfield Airport came into view, before we disappeared above the clouds. We wouldn't see the ground again until long finals into Sydney.

I was seated in row 10, on the right hand side with a nice view out the window of the wing. The Embraer E-190 is fairly roomy for my 6-foot plus frame - as shown – it’s not very spacious, but I wasn’t cramped up as I can be some bigger planes!

The seatbelt sign stayed on for about 20 minutes and then eventually the food and drink trolley came out. Problem was it only just made it past me in row 10 before descent had commenced and they ceased the service. On descent though, the Captain advised that holding was required to sequence us into Sydney and we were allocated a landing time of 5.30pm. That was about half an hour late for this particular flight... But on time for me according to my original booking!! Holding was done and off we headed to Sydney. Long final approach to Runway 16L with nice views over the airport as we were on finals.

Long taxi past the tower mound viewing area and the control tower and onto the Virgin ramp and parking beside another Embraer and a Boeing B737.

We ended up parking a bit later than expected at 5.45pm. There were some very unhappy passengers that got off the plane and missed flight connections, but I was happy with the Virgin Blue service in that I got Sydney pretty much by the time that I had expected!!

PS - I was greeted by this lovely billboard at the entrance to Sydney Airport while I was walking to my hotel!! I stayed at the Formula One Hotel at the Airport, and a Hotel Review can be found HERE.

Trip Report – Sydney to Brisbane – Sunday 20 March – Virgin Blue Airlines – DJ957 – B737-800 – VH-VON.

Some really poor weather for the couple of days of spotting in Sydney.

I drove back to the airport and dropped off the hire car. Up to the Virgin Blue Self Check-in Kiosks. Nice an easy and received my boarding pass for the flight to Brisbane.

On this occasion, I didn't bother asking for an exit row seat. I had Seat 7A – on the left side of the plane.

Took a couple of more pictures from the terminal but ended up buying some late lunch and then sitting and waiting for my flight. I was sitting at the correct gate, until, as was happening with most of the Virgin Blue flights this afternoon, there was a gate change. So everyone trudged down to Gate 34 - where VH-VON has parked - but there wasn't much seating left! So I, along with lot of other people, stood and waited for the boarding call which came about 10 minutes after the scheduled departure time.

I ended up being one of the final passengers to board and found my seat after shoving the backpack and camera bag into the overhead locker. Surprisingly plenty of overhead locker room, despite this flight being pretty much full. And it was full due to an earlier flight to Brisbane being cancelled - the two ladies beside me were supposed to fly earlier in the morning, but had to wait at the airport all day!

Legroom is okay on the B737-800 - certainly more roomy and comfortable than another B737-800 operator in Australia!!

So push back ended up being 45 minutes late with a seemingly pointless paperwork delay - I say pointless because no-one came to the plane with paperwork and no-one seemed to be taking anything off the plane. One good thing about a delay of this length though, is that it seems that Virgin Blue’s CSM’s are allowed to turn on the AVOD for all passengers FOR FREE!! What a nice touch – especially if there is something good on TV!!

Off we then taxied to Sydney’s Runway 16L. It is a fairly long taxi, but we were fortunate to get a rolling start with quick take off. Lovely views over the Kurnell refineries and Botany Bay, and then a series of turns to head out over the ocean. Then, a series of left turns had us then heading North toward the Gold Coast and then Brisbane.

Through a little bit of low level cloud although it seemed to be clearing up from the last couple of days poor weather - that'd be right!!

The seatbelt sign went off after about 10 minutes and the cabin device began. I bought some fancy new chips, chocolates, and a drink.

With the afternoon sun shining in, the window shades came down for the remainder of the flight.

In all this turned out to be an uneventful flight that went by quite quickly. We started our descent over the Gold Coast – according to the in-flight map anyway! Soon after, the seatbelt sign came on as we started to fly through the cloud that was over the top of South East Queensland.

We broke through the clouds at about Logan and turned onto the Runway 01 ILS overhead Archerfield. Touched down in Brisbane about half an hour after the scheduled time. Many apologies from the CSM about the delays - I believe he said because of weather delays earlier in the day.

Straight off the back of the plane and into the end of the Virgin Terminal - which as pictured, is undergoing some construction work - and to the hire car company for the evening drive to my accommodations.

In all – despite the delays – which are obviously NOT Virgin Blue’s fault – which some passengers don’t believe – these were a couple of enjoyable flights on Virgin Blue. Their product is really high quality and new uniforms are looking really nice and adding a sense of high-end professionalism that is a feature of a system that is becoming a major airline. Some people will still knock the user-pays system, but remember this is still a low-cost airline, and remember you always get what you pay for!!