I had won a few free nights accommodation through work in Melbourne and needed to use them up before the end of the year. So after Qantas announced that you could upgrade their lowest fares now to Domestic Business, a plan was put in motion.
My bucket list has always had the item of “Sit on the Upper Deck of a Boeing 747” on it. That elusive upper deck, the inner sanctum of those privileged few. I had almost ticked this off during my recent round the world trip, however Asiana schedule changed the aircraft (again) so with no 744’s on my trip, this was still sitting there taunting me.
A plan was hatched though. Qantas released a nice cheap sale with fares to the southern states pretty good (about $95 to Sydney). This is where my plan started to take shape. I could pick up a nice cheap fare on QF8. A 747-400ER service from Brisbane to Sydney which was really continuing on from Dallas. With a lovely little 8000 point drop on the fare I could have a nice Skybed on the Upper Deck (and if I was lucky a Skybed MkII if the aircraft was a refit.
Then it was just a matter of how to get to Melbourne. As a newly status matched Virgin Australia Gold I found some nice cheap fares to Melbourne and back directly to Brisbane so I could check out the new lounge in Melbourne and the current Sydney Lounge. This was looking to be a nice long weekend away from the office, especially during the busy busy times.
The end itinerary was going to look like this:
09Dec – Brisbane to Sydney – Qantas – QF8 – Boeing 747-400ER – Business Class
09Dec – Sydney to Melbourne – Virgin Australia – DJ842 – Boeing 737-700 – Economy
12Dec – Melbourne to Brisbane – Virgin Australia – DJ347 – Boeing 737-700 – Economy
09th December 2011
Up at Stupid O’clock as this was going to be a very early morning to get me to the Airport to clear international security etc (even though on a domestic service) before the early flight down to Sydney.
Traffic was light and I was dropped off at the International Terminal for the 4th time this year (seem to be departing more from this terminal than from the domestic this year). The whole departures area was totally familiar to me this year, but for the first time I was heading down towards the Qantas Rows, an unfamiliar experience for me this year.
After wandering my way down to the Qantas row I was the only person in the Business Queue but both agents were already serving someone. Took a little while (a minute or so in reality) for someone to free up and then actually motion me over. I was checked in and given the usual “Domestic Channel” briefing to which I advised the agent “I’ve done this before, I know the drill” to which he liked this and asked me if I knew where the lounge was, to which I confirmed to him I did (have been there in the past when flying JAL).
With this done the total time at check in was less than a minute! I was off to the lounge with my boarding pass, bag tag and an express channel pass (which I wouldn’t need considering the D channel is the Crew Channel and is usually empty). Quickly down through “immigration” and towards the lounge avoiding all temptations of the duty free store.
Up and into the QP and was greeted at the door and advised to “Head on through the Glass Doors and enjoy my morning” I headed on through to the main lounge area. Not much had changed in 2 years on the outside with a very tacky looking painting still evident at the top of the escalators, however inside the lounge a refurb had taken place. It was looking all nice and fresh, shiny looking IMacs were set up in 2 separate sides of the lounge.
The usual morning foods were evident, some cereals, yoghurts, muesli, toasts, even pre made pancakes. The kicker though for me was the barista service. I had seen this at some of the Virgin lounges (Brisbane in the morning usually has a long line) but this just made my morning! A couple of long blacks and a bit of a liquorice treat should get my morning started (if I hide the liquorice it doesn’t count right?)
I wanted to get down to the gate early making sure I could get as much time experiencing the upper deck as possible. I wanted to be first up those steps! I went down to the gate nice and early and managed to snap a number of pictures of the aircraft before boarding was called. Luckily a newly painted Virgin Australia 777 pulled up at the gate next door so managed to tick that one off my spotting list to (only the ATR left in new livery now).
Brisbane to Sydney
Boeing 747-400ER (VH-OEF)
Business Class – Seat 18K
Boarding: 0725 (Gate 19)
Push Back 0757
Take Off Roll: 0810 (Runway 19)
Top of Descent: 0955
Touch Down: 1017 (Runway 16R)
Shut Down: 1026 (Gate 33)
With boarding called I was first down that line, down the air bridge and greated onboard. I was a little bit giddy! I looked around.. Damn Skybed Mk1s… the aircraft was not a refit bird. O well never mind! I turned right after Door 2L and their it was, the steps! Up the steps I went I was like a little boy again, just so happy to get to do something I had always wanted to do. I ascended the steps, snapped a few pictures and settled into my Skybed ready for departure, snapping pictures all the way really.
A Pre Departure beverage of either Strawberry/Apple Juice or Water was offered (took water as usual) and settled into the seat trying to get myself settled. The seat beside me stayed empty as the cabin filled (most of the upper deck was in fact empty by the time we pushed back).
No menu on this flight (although I did manage to see the menu from Dallas to Brisbane as it was left in the seat pocket). The Captain came on for a quick pre departure chat advising us of a short flight to Sydney but unfortunately a long taxi from the terminal up to Runway 19.
We pushed back pretty much right on time and started to turn towards Runway 19. The Qantas 747 from LAX was arriving just as we started to taxi off the ramp and it cleared the way for us. We headed off to Runway 19 ended up holding short behind a new painted Virgin Australia 737. We climbed out damn quickly as this was obviously a lightly loaded bird and the Captain was obviously not sparing the gas this morning as we were airborne barely before the Domestic Terminal.
As we climbed out leaving Brisbane behind the crew jumped up once cleared and started the service. First up was hot towels and then after a little while the meal service started from the front of the aircraft. Sadly by the time it got to me, I was informed bluntly “I hope you don’t want anything hot, because we don’t have anything”
Thinking that meant I had no choice at all, pretty much I was stuck with a bowl of “fruit” and some yoghurt and was offered some “Toast”. What was presented was a few pieces of melon and a couple of strawberries. A small bowl of yoghurt with what I think was honey and 2 slices of white bread (definitely not toasted). I did ask for some coffee to go with it, which thankfully was brought out piping hot and fresh from the plunger and after advising the crew to “keep it coming” they certainly did. Breakfast was a little bit disappointing for a “business class” flight, but to be honest, it was pretty much almost on par if not more than what I normally eat.
After a bit of turbulence during the meal service (and having my coffee pretty much cover the tray and the napkin) I decided to give up after 4 small cups of coffee (really the equivalent of one after spillages are taken into account), and just sit back because by this time we were pretty much about to begin our descent into Sydney. There was a little bit of cloud about around Sydney by this stage but not far out of the city we punched through the clouds. If I had of been on the left side I would have had a beautiful view of the harbour and the city but unfortunately I was not.
We descended into the airport touching down smoothly onto Runway 16R and around us was a bevy of heavies all either just arriving or heading off for the mornings (an EKA380 was off to Auckland and a UA 744 off to Melbourne). We taxied to the gate and there we sat, for quite some time, with the seat belt sign still on. We sat just off the gate, not able to do anything. The Captain came on to advise us that we had a last minute gate change and that they were waiting for the staff to come over to the gate we were sitting at, that as we were not yet safely pulled into the gate the seatbelt sign would remain on but he would keep us updated.
We probably sat about 10 minutes before they could shut down the engines and then let us out of our seats, but again we sat longer after this as we could move around but no gate crew still so that meant no aerobridge to let us off the aircraft. By this stage everyone on the upper deck had moved down to the lower deck and the main J cabin on the lower deck was quite packed with passengers.
Soon enough we were allowed to disembark and I snapped a quick shot of the F cabin still fitted on this aircraft (though soon to go I do believe?), the crew member working this cabin offered to take a photo of me in the seats if I wanted to but politely declined and decided to get my butt off the plane and through to baggage as I knew the lines would be quite big in Sydney to get out of customs due to all the heavies sitting at the gates at that time.
After making my way through what felt like the world’s largest duty free store without wanting to buy things (damn D sticker), I made my way quickly through immigration (about 4 people ahead of me in line) and by the time I got to the carousel my bag was doing laps, it seems priority tags do work for Qantas. After heading through to Customs, showing them my D sticker and then they took my boarding pass off me (noooooooooooooooooooooo a serious #avgeek does not let that usually happen) I was out of the sterile area, into the mass arrivals area, heading for the train to Domestic Terminal.
An expensive $5 train ticket, 10 minutes and a few sets of Escalators and I was heading up to Terminal 2 on the other side of the airport. After passing a picture of a Tri-Star on the wall advertising Sydney and the train connection (not that there are really any Tri-Star’s flying for commercial services these days), I headed for Priority check in.
Check in took all of a few moments by the Virgin Staff but for some reason I should of commented about the lack of Priority sticker not attached to my bag (something that would come to bite me later). After a quick security screening, a swabbing for explosives and a redress, I made my way into the Virgin Australia lounge at Sydney Airport for the 2nd time. I had made a short appearance here back in early October when connecting on the way back from Ayers Rock but that was just for a few moments to grab a drink and a place to have a private conversation with a friend away from the rest of the group.
This time I could have the full lounge experience after time to relax, enjoying some lunch and then lazily making my way towards the aircraft. I had my assigned seating in Row 3 all good to go in the hopes of a refit bird (the best seats now with the new fit out) and life was looking good.
The lounge in Sydney is apparently still in the old colour schemes but still looks quite good to me, is quite large and had quite a good amount of food, drinks and snacks available. I grazed over time for lunch with a sandwich, some soup, some nuts and plenty of salad to keep me going for the afternoon. I watched a bit of TV, read for a bit and explored the lounge.
About 10 mins before boarding time I wandered down towards the gate area and this is where the first part of the dreaded news came to light. “Your flight has been delayed approximately 30 minutes due to a late arriving aircraft, if you intend on leaving the gate area please return by no later than 1pm” Ok I can handle that, back to the lounge we go. After another round of drinks and some more nuts (god damn they were tasty), it was back to the gate but no aircraft still. This was not good. Another announcement was pending…
“Due to the late departure of the aircraft from Melbourne the flight has been till approximately 3:30pm as the flight has only just departed Melbourne” With that the scrum for the service desk began. I was 2nd or 3rd inline before they had even said they were offering rebooking of passengers to the next flight. What they said next did not bode well for me. “Those passengers without checked luggage will be given preference for accommodation on the next available flight” Ah CRAP!
I still waited in line but when I informed them that I had checked a bag I was informed I would have to wait for a supervisor, I asked how long and was told not sure, but then she saw my gold and instructed me to go to the lounge. No compensation voucher was given to me but everyone else had been given one to this point. Stupidly I didn’t say anything as I figured I would get one at the lounge (I didn’t).
Back to the lounge again I went and this time there was a nice big wait at the service desk as there was a number of lounge guests also on this flight. I waited my turn, was put on the next flight (aisle seat at the back or middle up the front, which do you think I went with) and was assured my bag was being transferred over (warning bells should of gone off at this point but they did not). Now I was totally over it all and just wanted to get up in the air, so after another few dishes of nuts (stuff it, they were good, and I was peckish) I headed back to the gate ready for boarding of the new flight, via a quick stop at the old gate to pick up my voucher I never received (was reluctantly given it, and when I looked at it was very happy to notice that it was valid on board as well!).
I double checked at the gate of the new flight that my bags were definitely getting transferred over and asked for a non-shopping docket boarding pass. I was assured again that my bag was definitely on this flight and a new boarding pass was handed over reluctantly.
Sydney to Melbourne
Boeing 737-800 (VH-BZG)
Economy – Seat 28D
Boarding: 1350 (Gate 33)
Push Back 1410
Take Off Roll: 1420 (Runway 16R)
Top of Descent: 1506
Touch Down: 1525 (Runway 34)
Shut Down: 1529 (Gate 5)
Boarding was called and this time there was a nice big queue thanks to the previously delayed flight, didn’t matter really. I knew the flight was going to be max so didn’t really matter when I was on board and since I was in an aisle at the back without too much hassle did not matter.
Today’s flight was the on board “Brett’s Jet” which was named after previous CEO of Virgin Australia Brett Godfrey. Thankfully even though on the outside this aircraft is in the old colours, it’s another sleeper! Yay! Gotta love it when you hop on board and its fitted out with the new seats.
Settled into the seat and as the plane filled up, this was pretty much a standard Virgin Australia flight. Pre-recorded safety announcement, taxi out, take off & wait for the seat belt sign to come off. Since I already had a drink with me (grabbed some on the ground cause its cheaper than on board) and settled in to read my book. Once the seat belt sign was off, out came the headphones and that made things all the more tolerable.
Service was offered first to those with flexi fares so they got their free meals, then they started to offer stuff for purchase. It was a pretty quick flight really, as they barely had time to do all the services before we were on descent into Melbourne.
Bit of a rough time coming in, getting bounced around quite a bit, the 3 guys on the other side of the aisle were holding on for their dear life (wasn’t that bad I’ve been in worse), and soon enough we were on final into Tullamarine.
With a bit of a rough touch down (maybe a bit of last minute cross wind) we started taxiing towards the gates.
Disembarked quickly through the back door and up the steps into the Terminal. Quick, easy, painless. Isn’t that what a flight should be like? This is where stuff just started going wrong. While waiting for my bag, I waited and waited, I waited some more. In the back of my head I was thinking “I bet my bag doesn’t come out at all”
Stupid me just should of carried on board rather than check the bag. Dumb, dumb rookie move. As I thought, the bag did not come out at all. This is the first time I had ever had a lost bag, after all those times of not even thinking about it, I guess it had to happen eventually.
After going up to the baggage service desk they just did not seem to care at all. It was very much a “If we find it.” There was no way they could tell where it was apparently, which was just crap. After being told that they would call me once they found the bag they would let me know.
So I jumped on the bus and headed to the city. After several phone calls during the evening and lots of wrong information provided I finally got my bag delivered to the hotel around 1030pm. Just dandy after being up since before 4am!
12th December 2011
After some meetings in the morning that just did not happen, I returned back to my hotel to grab my bag. This time I had intended on not checking the bag, was not going to lose it. A quick walk from Docklands over to Southern Cross Station to hop on the Skybus. As I walked up to the bus stop there was one just about ready to depart.
Within minutes we were pulling out of the station heading towards Tullamarine. Me I was head down in my book already and barely even noticed. Hell I barely noticed any of the ride out as I had headphones in and totally zoned out. After a bit of a rough weekend it was good to still be able to tune out.
I arrived at the airport way, way, way earlier than I should of. But as a Gold Velocity member, you have the ability to take the next available flight with no cost to change irrespective of the fare you booked on. So with my original flight scheduled for 6pm and me arriving at the airport roughly 1230 it was going to be my first test of this lovely benefit.
I headed up to the Priority Check in. Handed over my card and was greeted and after I was asked which flight I was on, I told her my flight but said that I would prefer to be on the next available flight if possible. After a few minutes and a lovely delayed computer issue (know that feeling thanks to work) I was moved onto the 2pm flight up to Brisbane (there’s a bit of a dead zone between 12 & 2 in Melbourne for flights it seems. This would give me plenty of time for a leisurely lunch in the lounge and some time to read.
As I was about to head off, they asked me the usual questions about sharp objects In my carry on and was asked if the one I had on my back was all I had. Next rookie mistake! I said no and pointed to my suitcase (which is carry on size). They then asked to weigh it and it was about a kg over the carry on limit (7kg). I was instructed I would have to check my bag due to the weight. Damn it! I said that was fine and did say that as long as the bag makes it to Brisbane with me on the flight that is ok. I was told it would not be lost this time and that they would ensure the priority tags went on this time.
I watched as my bag headed off on the conveyor with thoughts if I would ever see it again. I resigned myself to the 2nd rookie mistake of the weekend and headed off to check out the new lounge.
Melbourne & Brisbane are currently the only two lounges that have had the revamp since the rebranding to Virgin Australia has come into effect. I’ve seen the Brisbane lounge but it seemed awfully small, after being told I should enjoy this lounge as its quite a lot bigger and more spacious. They weren’t wrong.
I came through and instantly liked the look of the new lounge. To top it off, an old work colleague of mine was working in the lounge which was a total shock. She had just transferred recently to the lounge after working as Flight Crew for 4 or 5 years. So we had a good quick catch up. Then it was time to find a seat and start to relax.
The usual spread was out for lunch at that time, Salads, Sandwich fixings & Soup along with a tasty looking nut mix and some popcorn. After grabbing a spot by the window, a drink and some nibbles I sat down and read my book for a little bit. Going to avoid using the free Wi-Fi, mainly cause I just wanted to relax and enjoy the view.
As time progressed I had some lunch and they had the most delicious carrot salad out that I just could not get enough of, so much so I tried to get the recipe for it before I left but that failed to eventuate (thankfully my friend who works on the lounge is going to try and track it down for me!).
As I headed out of the lounge a bit early as I knew I would have to clear security since the lounge was landside not airside in Melbourne I was in a pretty good relaxed mood, my attitude had totally improved. After clearing security easily, managing to dodge the explosives swab this time while the guys were not looking, I started to wander down towards the gate after spotting a Shanghai Airlines 767 (don’t see them in Brisbane at all!).
Melbourne to Brisbane
Boeing 737-800 (VH-VUV)
Economy – Seat 27F
Boarding: 1337 (Gate 9)
Push Back 1358
Take Off Roll: 1411 (Runway 34)
Top of Descent: 1443
Touch Down: 1511 (Runway 19)
Shut Down: 1515 (Gate 41)
Arrived at the gate literally as they called Priority boarding so did not even break stride as I headed to the queue and was first through the gate down the steps. No Air bridge today for this flight and as I snapped a photo of my ride today, one of the staff started to have a go at me saying “Don’t you listen when we tell you no electronic equipment” to which my quick reply was “No one said anything when they announced boarding” which he promptly gave me a dirty look but by that stage my camera was off anyway and I was half way to the rear door.
Again I was seated up the back, but I had a window this time so did not really care. I got settled in however this time, my seat mates arrived shortly after. A mother and her young son. Just dandy! Now I don’t hate children, I don’t normally complain about other people on the flight, I just take my seat and go off in my own little world. This child was just totally on my nerves.
I was glued to the window watching the ground staff load the bags, trying to spot mine and then I saw it. My little suitcase with priority sticker on it, going up the belt into the aircraft. YAY! A repeat performance was not going to happen. Doors were closed pretty much a few moments before schedule and we pushed back on time.
As we started to taxiing out the child next to me was constantly kicking my bag or almost reaching out in front of me to look out the window. At this point I know I should have offered the child the window seat and just moved elsewhere, but I was just not thinking properly. I just sat back and tried to ignore him.
A long taxi all the way to the far side of the airport, which is always good for a bit of avgeek plane spotting. Lots of heavies on the ground with EK, TG, MH & SQ all on the ground. Lots of JQ and QF as well as you would expect. A quick take off with a bit of cloud around as we headed out above the clouds and started to climb towards home.
Once the seat belt sign was off, I was back in my own little world again, no IFE on this sleeper aircraft again (which the guy in the row in front spent most of the time complaining about) but that didn’t worry me. A good book, headphones and iPod does me just fine. Pretty soon once service was out, I decided to use up that refreshment voucher I had gotten on the way down. An $8 voucher got me a cup of coffee and a loaf of banana bread (which I promptly stashed for later as wasn’t at all hungry after gorging on carrot salad in the lounge) as we cruised north.
A very uneventful flight really, as we started to descend we got a good view of the Gold Coast and all the lovely surroundings on the clear day and approach over Moreton Bay towards runway 19. With a VERY hard landing we were shortly on the ground and taxiing towards the terminal.
When released from the confines of the flight, it was up into the terminal and straight to baggage claim where my bag was the 2nd one out. It may have made the flight but it made the belt upside down somehow. Didn’t worry me all that much really, I was just happy to see it. Bag in hand, I headed out to the taxi queue and was soon enough on my way home… a happy relieved traveller.
Would I do it again.. sure. Would probably prefer a longer route for the Upper Deck. Not quite sure if I prefer the Upper Deck over the Main Cabins. I mean sure its quieter but the main deck has more space and feels more open. At times the Upper Deck could feel a little claustrophobic.
The Virgin Australia lounges are fantastic! Especially Melbourne. It is going to suck if I can’t requalify for Gold Again (I might be able to, depends on what happens in the new year). The new Virgin Australia product will definitely be a game changer here in Australia. Can’t wait for it to be fitted fleet wide and all the new bits and pieces to finally come through (IFE being one of them).
This trip gave me the inspiration for some future craziness, it is still in the planning stages, but it could be a “Whale” of a time 😉