Friday, March 18, 2011

South Eastern Australia crazy day trip

All the way back in November I did something that some people will say is slightly loopy. The plan was to fly Melbourne, Sydney, Coolangatta, Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne. Five flights in one day.

All the flights were bought a couple of months in advance. The first three legs were on Jetstar and last two were on Virgin Blue. All up the cost was $350, averaging $70 per flight which to me is pretty good value.

Maps generated by the Great Circle Mapper - copyright © Karl L. Swartz.

This post was really intended to be posted on an aviation forum, which I haven't done yet (although I will soon), so there may be some abbreviations or bits of jargon that don't make sense. I hope it does make sense. FYI OOL is the IATA airport code for Coolangatta airport.

This is how the day unfolded unfolded.

That morning I was up after 5 and well on my way to the airport by 6. I parked at the long term carpark and caught the bus to the terminal. Having checked in online I joined the rather long (by Australian standards) queues for security straight away. Once through I sat down in the food court for a few minutes and watched the aircraft movements out the window. After deciding not to buy anything to eat I made my down to the gate lounge area used by Jetstar and Qantaslink. At this time of the morning most of the bays were used by overnighting Jetstar aircraft. Of note was VH-VGP in Powderfinger livery.

The Powderfinger plane awaiting it's first flight for the day.
Airbus A320 vh-vgp, one of Jetstar's more recent aircraft

Gate 30
STA 0710 ATD 0725
STA 0835 ATA 0910
Seat 4F

Boarding was announced a few minutes before it was due to start and people immediately formed a long line. I waited until a few minutes after boarding was under way when things died down. I then joined a much shorter version of the line and strolled out to the aircraft. On the way out I took a few snaps of the aircraft, only to be told off by one of the ground staff manning the flag tape. I made sure they weren't refuelling first, but it seems they don't like it either way.

Walking out to my first ride for the day.
Jetstar A320 vh-vqg

On boarding and after saying hello to the cabin crew I immediately found my seat at 4F. I usually sit a little further back so this mornings flight would be a bit of novelty. I chose this seat due to the worry that I need make the connection to my next flight. If I make this connection then the whole day will be fine.

The view from the window, Qantas 767-336 vh-zxd, one of 7 former
British Airways 767 aircraft in the fleet.

Eventually people stopped coming through the door and it appeared we were ready to go. Only that the door stayed open and the crew were just standing around. After a few minutes the captain came on the PA and announced that due to ATC delays in Sydney we couldn't depart for another 15 minutes. At the time I didn't know what this would mean, but I still had plenty of padding to make my next flight. Soon enough the doors were shut and we taxied all the way around for a runway 34 departure and took off at about 0725.

A very full looking Lake Eildon.

Just passing Canberra, you can sort of make out a built up area
to the right of the image, Lake George is the large lake in the middle

It was an uneventful flight until just after we passed to the north of Canberra the engines spooled back and we began to make a right hand turn. The F/O announced that due to weather we would need to hold for half an hour. And so I became very familiar with the landscape of the southern highlands. I noticed that a DJ 737 was chasing us around the holding pattern.

My patch of the Southern Highlands.
We flew over this spot aboutfour times.

Eventually we continued descent towards Sydney and landed on runway 34L. We arrived in to gate 53 at 0910 only ten minutes before my next flight was scheduled. Lucky for me I had checked gate allocation the night before so I knew that my OOL flight would leave from gate 55 the next gate along. When we pulled in there was no aircraft next door.

Better late than never, one last shot of my first ride for the day.

Escaping into the terminal I made my way to the nearby FIDS to confirm that the inbound flight that forms the OOL flight had not arrived. It seems all arrivals were subject to the same half hour delay.

A Japan Airlines 777-200ER in One World alliance livery.

Both JAL and Qantas are members of One World
along with airlines such as British Airways, American
Airlines, Iberia and Cathay Pacific among others.

The Qantaslink/Jetstar/Tiger side of T2 at Sydney airport.
My next flight is departing from the gate just to the left.

Looking the other way, not quite as busy.

I wandered around the Jetstar gates for a while and watched my next ride pull up at gate 55. By now the gate lounge was overflowing and there was nowhere to sit so I went up to the end of the pier to wait for a few minutes. When I came back another long line had formed even before the previous passengers had finished disembarking. Again I waited a few minutes before joining the queue. While waiting though I noticed the clientele on this flight were quite er... different to those on my previous flight .

Gate 55
STD 0920 ATD 0950
STA 0940 ATA 1015
seat 6F

Jetstar a320 vh-jqx, will fly me to Coolangatta.

Close up of her nose. The silver paint on the nose
cone is quite different to the body.

On boarding I found both my neighbours were already seated and a full overhead compartment. The woman in the aisle seat was reluctant at first but was eventually kind enough to remove a piece of her families luggage (a tiny child size backpack that was occupying a space much too large for its minuscule dimensions) so I could fit my backpack in.

Once seated, this was the view out the window.
There are at least 7 long haul aircraft in this shot.

While Taxiing out first we passed this Emirates A380

Then we passed this Singapore Airlines A380.
As this was a few days after the QF32 incident at Singapore I
later learned this aircraft was being recalled to Singapore
for checks on it's engines.

Soon the doors were shut and our full load was on it's way too OOL. We taxied all the way to 34R which is the furthest runway from anywhere all the way out in the middle of Botany Bay.

After driving all the way out to the middle of Botany Bay
we had to wait while this Qantas 737 landed before lining
up for take off.

Take off was accompanied by screaming kids, but otherwise the flight was pretty unremarkable. I enjoyed watching the scenery out the window the whole way. We had an interesting view of Sydney's eastern suburbs and flew out to sea for some way before coming back inland from somewhere on the Central Coast.

Climbing out over Bondi Junction and past Bondi Beach.

Passing overhead Watsons Bay.

North Coast of NSW. I think this is Forster.

We touched down on runway 14 at OOL after a scenic approach past Surfers Paradise. This time the women behind me nattered through the whole thing. Myself I like to sit back and take in the experience, rather than talk. Each to their own I guess.

Approaching Coolangatta, past the high rises of Surfers Paradise.

Passing Broadbeach, you can see where I stayed in Feb 2009.
The shiny gold building glinting in the sun is Conrad Jupiters Casino.

Gold Coast urban sprawl.

Burleigh heads.

Houses close to the runway. I bet they have a great view of the
ocean and of course the passing aircraft.
Touchdown! On the runway.

On de planing the first thing I did was have a bit of a look around the terminal as the last time I was here it was still under renovation. It really is quite a big airport now. Having found a toilet and relieved myself I could now concentrate on my main mission. The mission being that I promised myself I would walk over to the beach. So I followed my nose across the car park and across the highway to the beach.

Not really beach weather. Looking North.

Looking South.

The beach was deserted other than myself and the surf life
saver looking after the water between these flags.

These trucks are shifting sand around the beach.

I remember reading about this in 2009. All the sand builds up
here because they dredge the entrance to the Tweed River just
behind the headland in the background. The sand builds up here
and ruins the famous Kirra surf break which is approximately
where the trucks are working further down the beach.

Getting back to the terminal I was somewhat hot and sweaty, so after passing security I sat down and enjoyed the air conditioning for a few minutes.

From memory my flight back to Sydney was formed by an arrival from Newcastle. I didn't see it arrive as it was at the farthest bay which is hard to see from the terminal. Judging by the number of people around this flight would have considerably fewer people on board.

Gate ?? The leftmost one?
STD 1115 ATD ?
STA 1345 STD ?
seat 9A

It's an engine. Trying not to think about what happened to
QF32 a few days before. I would not like to be sitting next an
engine when fan blades start flying about.

After the short walk across the apron I could see I was about to board VH-VQL. I was quite pleased to see a light load, and the middle seat in my row remained free. It was apparent that many of the other passengers were connecting from the A330 which had arrived from either Tokyo Narita or Osaka Kansai earlier that morning.

We seem to be sharing the apron with only one other aircraft, a
Virgin Blue 737-700.

With the Virgin Blue 737 gone, we can now see a Jetstar A330
about to return to Japan.

Going out the same way we came in.

Somewhere in NSW. The southbound flight went a lot
further inland than the northbound flight did.

This time we took off on 32, retracing my tracks back past Surfers. Again this was a quiet flight, and once again I enjoyed the scenery pass by out the window. I particularly enjoyed the approach into Sydney for a landing on 34R, as it is not an approach I've done before. We came in from the north over the Hawkesbury River and across Sydney's northern beaches heading out to sea overhead Manly. I was on the wrong side to see any harbour/city views, but it was still good. Eventually we turned around and landed on 34R the same runway I departed from earlier in the day. After a long taxi we docked at gate 56.

The Hawkesbury River

Sydney's Northern beach suburbs.

A lone cloud.

Overhead Manly.

On final passing the beaches near Kurnell and Cronulla.

On the runway and slowing down (hopefully) with everything hanging out.

Leading edge slats at the front, spoilers on top, and unseen
at the rear of the wing the flaps will be fully extended.

Reverse thrust? Check.

The black grid at the rear of the engine are the ducts that
direct the thrust forward when the engine cowling
slides back to produce reverse thrust.

At the gate. Next door is a Qantaslink Q400.

A closer look reveals it is VH-QOB, which I
later flew on in February 2011.

This was the my big break of the day, I had a few hours to get some lunch, take a rest, and just watch some planes for a while. I made my way to food court and had some food and then I wandered down the Virgin side of the terminal and sat in the lounge at the end overlooking the airport. It is here I noticed but totally discounted the clouds building to the west. Eventually it was time to move to gate 35 for my next flight, DJ654 to Canberra.

My ride from ool to syd, VH-VQL again.

On checking I found out that I had previously flown on
this aircraft in August 2008
from Melbourne to Launceston.

A Virgin Blue 737-800 at the gate in Sydney.

Virgin Blue
Gate 35
STD 1535 ATD 16 something
STA 1430 ATA 1715
E 170
seat 9F

That's my plane. The jungle jet that will take me to
Canberra. The bald man is the chief
cabin crew member on the flight.

Then it began to rain, and there was thunder and lighting, and
somebody's bag got wet.

Sitting in the gate lounge I noticed the dark clouds gathering and realised it was about to rain. Boarding went ahead on schedule and we were all settled in and almost ready to go when we were informed that a thunderstorm was passing over the airfield and that all activity on the apron was suspended. Sure enough the guys loading the luggage all sought shelter, leaving the convener in place. After a few minutes a passenger nearer to the front rang the call bell. He told the cabin crew that he could see his bags had been left beside the conveyor and were getting very wet. The captain then came back and spoke to the passenger before returning to a locker at the front of the aircraft and donning a fluro yellow raincoat. Out the window I saw the captain retrieve the bags and take them away under cover with the rest of the yet to be loaded baggage. On returning to the aircraft the captain was quite visibly angry about the situation, and suggested that the passenger make a complaint. Cudos to the captain as that sort of thing is not really his responsibility.

Looking a bit brighter, maybe we can go soon?

Our departure time came and went and the storm still hadn't cleared. By now I was stressing about not making my connection in Canberra, it was a tight one with only half an hour between arriving and departing flights. I was considering asking to be let off, but I stayed, hoping we would go soon. Eventually the lightning cleared and activity on the apron resumed. We took off well after 4pm. I was hoping that my outbound flight from Canberra was delayed too.

Glad to be in the air again.

The E170 landed at about 1715 and docked at one of the aerobridges. At an adjacent gate to us there was a 737 that I was really hoping was my flight to Melbourne. Unfortunately this was not the case, it was going to Sydney. As my flights were on separate itineraries I was doubtful whether Virgin Blue would do anything other than issue a new ticket at great financial cost. So I set about finding internet access in order to weigh up the options, one of which was hiring a car and driving back to Melbourne. Alas this was during the dying days of the old terminal and there was no working internet kiosks or wifi available. So in the end I approached the Virgin Blue service desk.

Really I was a bit embarrassed about my situation and was reluctant to say why I'd missed my flight, although when I handed over my boarding pass and they checked my booking, they knew straight away. Much to my surprise they said it was a mis-connect (even though it was two very separate bookings) and offered to rebook me and waive the fare difference. I was however re-routed via Sydney as the flight I was meant to be on was the last flight of the evening to Melbourne. All I had to do was pay the $50 change fee. I was extremely grateful. The bonus for me was that I got to fly an extra leg.

One last shot of "Little Miss Sunshine Coast" the E170 that
flew me down to Canberra.

Once again this is a double for me, having flown on this
same aircraft in March 2010 between Canberra and Sydney.

Virgin Blue
Gate ?
STD 1900 ATD ?
STA 1940 ATA ?
E 170
seat 13C

The one problem with being stranded at Canberra right before the new terminal was to open was that there was virtually nothing to eat or drink in the old terminal, even less than usual. I was looking forward to getting to Sydney's T2 and wider selection of food. After watching what seems like and endless stream of Qantas 737s departing and arriving, DJ669 to Sydney was eventually called for boarding.

It really did seem like there were a lot of Qantas 737s
coming and going while I was waiting. This is one of them.

A dash 8 Q400 on the runway.

My saviour, another E170. Ironically after proclaiming my love for
these aircraft Virgin Blue has begun withdrawing them from service.

They are being replaced with ATR72 turboporps from around April
I believe. It's not all bad as Virgin Blue is still taking delivery
of the larger E190 which are just as nice to fly on.

I was glad to see another E 170 at the gate, the E jets are fast becoming my favourite aircraft to fly on. This would be my 3rd flight on an E 170, and I've previously had two E 190 flights. I was in 13C, my first time in an aisle seat all day, but by this stage I didn't really care. Compared to the last flight I was super relaxed and think I managed to nod off for a few minutes, between catching views of the sunset through the large window to my left (even though there was one occupied seat between me and said window, try doing that on a 737!). All too soon we landed on 34L and taxied into gate 33.

Dinner time! I went straight to the food court to get something to eat, not that the selection is very good, certainly better than Canberra though. Tried to find a table near the window, but all the seats were taken or people had left all their rubbish behind. Actually the place was a mess. Clearly the cleaners had their job cut out for them.

Heading back to gate 32 where I thought my next flight, DJ 894 to Melbourne, was departing from I noticed it was no longer listed. Just as I began looking for a departures screen an announcement was made about the gate change to gate 31 opposite.

Virgin Blue
Gate 32
STD 2115 ATD ?
STA 2245 ATA ?
seat 15F

My sixth and final (and unplanned) flight for the day.
Virgin Blue's 737-800 VH-VOM to take me home.

It was a full gate lounge again, and I managed to find a seat far away from the door. Once again a massive line formed well before boarding. I'm not sure why people are so keen, all seats are pre allocated and the flight will still only go on time. I waited a long, long time for the line to go down before joining it. I say line but there was a time when it deteriorated into a scrum about ten people wide, with many more experienced looking travellers seeming to just cut the line completely. It was When I boarded it was apparent just how full this flight was. I was lucky enough (or not as it turns out) to score an exit row window, but as space in the overhead compartment was non existant by the time I got on I reluctantly took my bag to my seat knowing I would get pulled up for it in an exit row.

Now I'm not sure what the correct etiquette for exit rows is, but the two suits already occupying the row refused to stand, and so I blundered on through to my seat. I tripped on the first suits foot and landed with full force on the second suits foot. I would have thought it was polite to stand up and let someone in, but then that would mean putting down your iPhone for 30 seconds, and we can't do that, can we? Looking back I was probably quite tired and emotional by that stage, which is probably why I tripped, but I still don't think that excuses these men from standing up to let someone in .

Eventually the flight attendant came around checking things and noticed my bag (and that of the man next to me I might add). I can't recall where she put it, but I know it was no where near where I was sitting. As the flight attendant went through the emergency exit safety drill it appeared that the more experienced fliers around me were totally ignoring her instructions and continued swiping at their iPhones. Again during the general safety demo no one around me was watching, just swiping their fingers around on their screens. If anything it is a courtesy to watch even if you've heard it a thousand times before. Besides I don't want some dope who doesn't pay attention to be the difference between myself, friends or family getting out of an otherwise survivable event. Again the suit on the aisle kept his iPhone on the whole flight, including during take off and landing.

I guess I needed to rant about that. The rest of the flight was pretty good. Although the guy next to me didn't look too well. I'm sure it wasn't a broken foot though. He spent most of the flight with his head between his knees though, which isn't a good sign.

I have no idea what runway we landed on, as I was totally beyond it by now. We landed a little bit ahead of the scheduled time of 2245. Being a rather quiet night that would be expected. On disembarkation I was one of the last off due to being in the middle of the plane and found my backpack in an overhead bin somewhere towards the front. Within minutes I was on the bus to the car park.

Driving home was pretty bad however as I got caught in the road works on the Western Ring Road, in theory the journey should have been just as quick as that morning, but I walked in the door just after midnight.