Wednesday, March 28, 2012

TRIP REPORT - Gladstone to Brisbane to Gladstone - Virgin Australia Airlines (Skywest Airlines) - ATR 72-500

TRIP REPORT – Gladstone to Brisbane – Tuesday 28 February – Virgin Australia Airlines (Skywest Airlines) – DJ1712 – ATR 72-500 – VH-FVM.

Shane T in Gladstone recently went for a ‘joyride’ on the Virgin Australia (Skywest Airlines-operated) ATR 72-500 service from Gladstone to Brisbane and back. He kindly shares some of his thoughts, as well as some lovely pictures from the flights and while spotting at Brisbane Airport!

First point to note is that Gladstone Airport has plenty of parking, so it was easy to find a park! Inside the relatively busy terminal, I was able to checkin and received my boarding pass. I was assigned seat 8A – on the left (port) side of the ATR.

Through the security check-point at Gladstone Airport – installed to coincide with the ATR services starting – and I proceeded towards Gate Three which is on the ‘lower’ of the two parking aprons at Gladstone Airport.

Soon after, ATR 72-500, VH-FVM, which is the newest ATR flown by Skywest Airlines for Virgin Australia – arrived from Brisbane. I noted that it was nearly full with 65 passengers disembarking at Gladstone.

The flight to Brisbane boarded and departed from Gladstone Airport on time at 8.05am. The ATR was about half-full, and I was seated (in 8A) directly under the wing, and adjacent to rear section of the engine on the left side of the plane.

Despite inclement weather departing Gladstone, the flight was relatively smooth. After departure, we climbed quickly, and soon we were established on our cruise above all the clouds.

Light snacks were served, of which I didn’t take one, having had breakfast from a local drive thru!

Descent was smooth and uneventful, and minutes before landing in Brisbane, I noticed that the trailing-edge of the wings were extended to the full 30 degrees - as shown below!

The flight arrived at Brisbane about 10 minutes early at 9.15am – we had made good time!

Time now to negotiate the very narrow stairs - a lot harder to get off then get on! Walk across the tarmac and into the Brisbane Domestic Terminal - albeit downstairs!

After about a 45 minute turn-around in Brisbane, VH-FVM departed southbound from Brisbane to Port Macquarie (as VOZ1766) with about 30 passengers on-board. It did not return to Brisbane for the rest of the day.

While spending the better part of the day planespotting in Brisbane - I noticed Virgin maintains a busy schedule for the ATR's servicing the Gladstone, Rockhampton, Emerald and Port Macquarie routes out of Brisbane. The aircraft spend little time on the ground before getting airborne again. Good to see the aircraft are busy and taking a productive roll within the fleet of Virgin Australia.

Also at Brisbane, I noticed the two all-white Fokker F-100 aircraft that Virgin Australia is utilising on the Brisbane to Cairns, Rockhampton, Proserpine / Whitsunday Coast, and Newcastle (Williamtown) sectors. I managed a shot of VH-XWN parked at the Virgin terminal, and noted the other, VH-XWM, also flying during the day.

If the rumours are correct, I am looking forward to seeing a Fokker F-100 in Virgin colours. I think that they will look good. It’s also good to see plenty of Fokkers flying all over the Australian skies these days. I like the F-100 because i like rear-engined jets like the old DC9's and MD80's (aka Boeing 717). Favourite plane of all time definitely remains the 727.

TRIP REPORT – Gladstone to Brisbane – Tuesday 28 February – Virgin Australia Airlines (Skywest Airlines) – DJ1715 – ATR 72-500 – VH-FVH.

After enjoying a good day of planespotting at one of Australia's busiest airports, it was time for my return flight to Gladstone on VOZ1715. I went downstairs to the Virgin check-in area, and was able to pretty much get my boarding pass straight away.

After studying the configuration of the plane during the flight from Gladstone, I requested seat 6A which would put me closer to the propellers - a favourite view of mine. Fortunately, the seat was available and so was ready to board for the journey home!

I went back upstairs through security at Brisbane Airport, and approached the gate area (Gate 50) and noted that the oldest ATR flying in the fleet – in the form of VH-FVH – was to take me home.

Boarding commenced, and this return flight to Gladstone was at full capacity, with only a single empty seat. It’s great to see Virgin is achieving good load factors on the Gladstone route and one hopes it means the airline will maintain services to the Central Queensland port for the long term. Competition on Central Queensland sectors can only be a good thing for the travelling public.

Like the morning flight to Brisbane, we departed to Gladstone on time at 3.50pm. In fact I noted most of the Virgin ATR flights to and from Brisbane throughout the day were running on time or close to schedule – it was a good day!

After a fairly uneventful flight North – including another snack service - we landed back at Gladstone Airport on time at 5.10pm.

Overall, my impressions of the ATR are most positive. I found the aircraft to be quiet inside, and relatively comfortable with ample legroom on the inside - comparable to the Q400. I did note however, that the steep stairs that passengers get on and get off at the rear of the plane, do require caution, particularly when exiting the plane. I would most certainly fly in the ATR again!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

HOTEL REVIEW – Accor Hotels Formule One Hotel – Melbourne (Tullamarine) Airport

I have been to the Formulae One Hotel at Melbourne (Tullamarine) Airport once before and was reasonably impressed with its location and cleanliness.  One must remember though that this chain of Accor Hotels is very much for the traveller or the budget concious, and for the fairly cheap price for a room each night there are very limited facilities available.

That said the Formule One Melbourne Airport is a stones throw away from a McDonalds Restaurant, as well as a service station with shelves full of food and drinks and other grocery items.

And, of course, the Hotel is about a 10 minute walk to the Melbourne Airport terminal building.  It should also be pointed out that despite being 'an Airport Hotel', the Formule One doesn't actually have an Airport view!

As mentioned in the other reviews of Formule One Hotels, the room is small – probably smaller than the other Formule One Hotels I've stayed at – in fact the ‘bathroom’ is merely a shower and toilet in a ‘cupboard’, with a wash basin in the corner of the sleeping area – as shown below.  This was a bit awkward for my 189cm frame!

The bed is quite comfy – although care must be taken not to bump one’s head on the overhead bunk!  The room does feature air conditioning and a nice little flat screen television.  The room I was in this time was also quite clean.

Car parking is free, and a continental  breakfast is available at the Hotel each morning for a small charge.

One last feature to mention is that the Formule One Melbourne Airport now offers free wi-fi Internet to all guests – what a welcome addition to the facilities!

In all, I do enjoy staying at the Formule One chain of Accor Hotels.  Granted there aren’t many facilities, but for the price and location, it allows me as a plane spotter to have a nice spotting holiday close to the airport, as well as food and drink places.

Monday, March 19, 2012

TRIP REPORT - Brisbane to Melbourne - Qantas Airways - Boeing B737-800 - Business Class

TRIP REPORT – Brisbane to Melbourne – Wednesday 4 January – Qantas Airways – QF617 – Boeing B737-800 – VH-VXH.

This trip was my opportunity to see how the upper class live! I've always travelled in the Economy Class section of an airplane - although I have recently travelled in Virgin Australia’s Premium Economy section (Trip Report HERE) – and I've always thought that the Brisbane-Melbourne sector would be about the right flight time and cost to try a Business Class flight. Looking online, I was very pleasantly surprised to see that for around 20000 Qantas Frequent Flyer points - yes I know that is a lot – plus some payment for taxes - I could see what travelling in Business Class is like.

Overall, I was quite impressed, but was consistently thinking that on the whole, the cost - about 8 times a standard economy fare on this sector - is probably a little steep for the overall experience.

I had earlier flown to Brisbane from Mackay on an Alliance Airlines operated QantasLink flight (Trip Report HERE), so had my boarding pass for this flight and thus simply walked through the Brisbane Domestic terminal to the Qantas section. The departure gate was down the end of the Qantas Domestic terminal in the CityFlyer section.

I was assigned seat 2F. The Business Class section of the Qantas B737-800 has 6 seats in a 2x2 arrangement. At first glance, the seat is very spacious, and it is a lot wider, especially when compared to the seats in the economy cabin of a Qantas Boeing B737-800 - which are in a 3x3 arrangement. Legroom was quite ample as well.

The other passengers in Business Class were a mix of crew, older people, and one famous cricketer who happened to be sitting next to me!

Push back started a little late due to late bags and connecting passengers.

Taxi was via Bravo and as we followed a B777-300 out, Air Traffic Control (ATC) made us taxi all the way to the end of Runway 01 - so it was a longer taxi than normal.

Cabin service started as we taxied, with a glass of water or juice offered in a glass actually made of glass! Then a hot towel was offered. The rubbish was collected and we strapped in for departure to Melbourne off Runway 01 at Brisbane.

After the usual series of right-hand turns that is the Laravale SID out of Brisbane, we were over the Southern suburbs including Brisbane City and Archerfield, where Brisbane’s general aviation Airport could be seen. A lovely clear day!

Wine and nibbles came out next, with the choice of red or white wine. I went with the red - a nice Shiraz - and apparently a new addition to the menu. One good thing about this glass of wine was that it was 'bottomless' with the two cabin crew assigned to Business Class constantly on call and refilling nearly empty glasses! Bottles of water were also offered.

After a couple of glasses of wine, lunch was served with the choice being a salad with prosciutto or chicken and cous cous. I went with the hot chicken meal which was accompanied by a slice of fresh sour-dough bread and a mini-muffin for dessert! See picture below.

This was a lovely meal and certainly different to what was being offered up in economy – which looked like a simple muffin snack and the usual tea/coffee service.

I settled back to complete a bit of work on my laptop while my glass of wine was still being refilled! There were also some nice views of rural New South Wales and Victoria.

Descent commenced into Melbourne Airport and the captain came on and stated that we had made good time and would land about five minutes early. It seemed like a long slow descent with only a couple of right-hand turns before we turned left and thus were established onto finals on Runway 16 at Melbourne.

Off the runway, past the crossing runway, and then taxi to the Qantas terminal past the Virgin Australia terminal and International terminal where most of the afternoon heavy jet departures were parked.

Being up the front of the aircraft, I was off the plane fairly quickly. The Qantas terminal at Melbourne consists of two terminal fingers, and our arrival gate was about half way down the Western finger. At the end of the finger, there is an exit and so I proceeded downstairs to collect my bag, which, even though it had business class labels and tags, still was one of the bags to come out last! All up I waited about 15 minutes. I also collected my hire car from the nearby desks.

As I said, in all honesty, I probably can’t justify paying the substantially more money to fly Business Class, unless of course, it is a special occasion to take the flight! Sure, the service, and the food and drink are of a lot higher standard then what I would normally receive in the economy class section, but I question whether it is worth the extra money? Business class would of course be much nicer to take on longer and overseas flights, of course, I would much rather sit in a Business Class seat and receive much nicer meals over a 4 or more hour flight than I would have received in Economy Class!