December, 2011

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On the road again…

Well I only just got back a couple of weeks ago from my last jaunt, and plans are underway again to be back up in the air. This time though I am not going to give away much till closer to the date but it involves 4 different airlines (across two weekends), 1 new aircraft type, 1 new class of travel, 2 new airlines and my first ever same day turn.

Bah stuff it! I will tell you now!

So after my bonus from the middle of the year was still burning a hole in my pocket I got to thinking what is a nice quick trip I can take that can easily fit into my available leave (ie none) and with the rest of my schedule. Problem being I barely get my roster a week in advance so I canned the idea. Then a few things happened.

1. The roster for work got released up till middle of February…
2. I got it back in my head about the original plan
3. I started reading about some stuff about new aircraft being used on some services and aircraft being subbed in on others.

My mind got ticking and ticking, could I do it, should I do it. I looked at timings and everything and the plans just looked like it wasn’t going to work, so I scrapped it.

Come boxing day though, things had changed, one of the airlines released a sale, someone else gave me a workable tip and things started to fall into place.

So here is the map of my upcoming journeys:

Map

Now it may look fairly stupid but bare with me here. One thing ever since Emirates released their fit out of their A380, I have wanted to do is fly in their first class cabin. Private Suites, Dom Perignon but the piece d’resistance is the onboard Emirates Spa. This may sound fancy and all but to put it simply. It’s a shower! Onboard the aircraft. So you can shower at 35,000ft. The shortest and cheapest A380 route is pretty much SYD-AKL and AKL-SYD and they let you use the shower during this time. Now SYD-AKL is costed at the Aussie Rates (ie extortion) but coming back the other way as I have previously talked about it BARGAIN!!! To make things even better, Emirates released a sale! dropped the price by nearly $250! Love it!

So that was one segment booked in, then I just needed to position myself to Auckland. Even though the flight the night before leaves at 630pm (cutting it way to fine getting out of work on time etc) I decided to do a Same Day Turn in Auckland. So I was going to fly from Brisbane to Sydney… via Auckland. I would have 4 hours on the ground in Auckland. Plenty of time to relax and enjoy the Emirates Lounge. Then due to the curfew in Sydney I would be overnighting at the Sofitel Wentworth (hello A|Club platinum status) then back home in the morning the next day (To get back in time for Superbowl on the monday).

Then on the next Sunday I would be doing my first ever intentional same Day return. I would be flying from Brisbane to Rockhampton and come straight back again (after 2 hours on the ground). I would be flying up on Virgin Australia’s new ATR Service operated by Skywest and returning on Qantas flying an Alliance Airlines Fokker 100 (operating for Qantaslink). Pretty good little trip to tick a few new things off my lists. So all up the travel looks like this.

04Feb – Brisbane to Auckland – Virgin Australia – Economy – 737-800
04Feb – Auckland to Sydney – Emirates – First Class – A380
Overnight Sofitel Wentworth Sydney (probably do my first ever hotel Trip Report after seeing what the status gets me)
05Feb – Sydney to Brisbane – Virgin Australia – Economy – 737-800
12Feb – Brisbane to Rockhampton – Virgin Australia (Operated by Skywest) – Economy – ATR-72
12Feb – Rockhamton to Brisbane – Qantaslink (Operated by Alliance Airlines) – Economy – Fokker F100

Excited!!!!!!!!!

The Feast!

Wow… what a fantastic day today. Good food, lots of good thoughts and family. What more can you ask for. Been slaving away the last few days in the kitchen cooking up a storm. This year I decided (well a few weeks ago) that I would not be buying chocalates or anything for anyone. It was more a time to do something I haven’t done in quite some time. I was going to make all the goodies and make them I did. Mini Peanut Butter Cups, 3 different kinds of chocolates, Peppermint Patties, cookies that the girls just love and lots of love. All wrapped up (well boxed up) into small packages just for the girls, and they all loved it!

Then for lunch today I made sure that I could cook some healthy things, but still fit in some of the more naughty things. Todays lunch would have some very healthy salads (and lots of it) but still have some of the good stuff on the side. Fresh Baked Dark Rye bread (my favourite and the family likes it to). Roasted Pumpkin & Beetroot salad, Grilled Vegetable Salad, Moroccan Carrott Salad & a lovely Tomato salad for something a bit refreshing. Add to that some roast chicken, roast turkey, ham, prawns tonight and a home made Cherry Chutney (yeah I made chutney!) and the lunch was just awesome.

Topped off with a pre lunch snack of Warm nuts, Diet Coke with Lime & nibble of licorice all sorts (or a few) and you have a great meal. Soon to be topped off by some Plum Pudding, Custard and some after lunch treats!

YUM YUM!!! why not drool yourself!

Xmas Cooking 2011

Book Review: Dreamland – Raven Strike

Less than 5 days for a book… love it!

Raven Strike

This book is Raven Strike by Dale Brown. Just a quick review this time to interrupt my normal book reading process (wait till I show you how many I have on my shelf yet to read) as this one came in from the library to Dad and he was in the middle of a book and I had it timed pretty much spot on with a book finished, so might as well pick up another one!

Dale Brown is commonly reffered to as a “Techno Thriller” author. All of his books are kind of a mix of like War, Mystery & Technology all rolled into a neat little package, and this book does not dissapoint. Part of his Dreamland series it is not to bad really. A Bit short but then this is more one of those books you would pick up for a flight and then finish it by the time you step off at the other end 12 or 14 hours later. In true Dale Brown fashion he manages to condense an entire ending of a book into like 10 or 15 pages which always bugs me but to be honest, his books are enthralling.

A fantasitc mix of futuristic aviation and military hardware it just keeps me glued to the book and I always love to read them. When you read about robotic Gun platforms or UAV’s that link up to a mothership which is a modified B2 Bomber I mean seriously how can you not like it! I won’t spoil some of the goodies in this book that are dreamt up for just this book alone but there was some serious Avgeek drooling being done!

All in all a good break from my usual reading.

Looking Back at a Year Full of Travel…

Well as the year comes to an end, I was looking through my flight log book and lordy have I done some flying this year. I mean anytime you put a crazy round the world into the mix, thats gonna mean a lot of flying (well unless your just doing it the easy way but i mean what person like me would). Add on all the work flying, all the personal flying and all the extra lovely flying i’ve done, man has it been a LOT!

So heres some of the stats:

Miles Flown: 64028 (That is Butt In Seat Miles not miles/points earned)

Segments Flown: 39

Longest Segment: Brisbane-Los Angeles – 7161m

Shortest Segment: Cooktown-Cairns – 106m

New Airlines: Air Canada, Emirates, Skytrans, Swiss International Airlines, Lufthansa, bmi, ANA, Asiana, Singapore Airlines, V Australia

New Aircraft Types Flown: Airbus A380, Boeing 747-400ER, Boeing 737-500,Embraer E190,Boeing 777-300ER, DeHavilland Dash 8-100, Aerospatiale ATR-72

New Airports: Vancouver International (YVR), San Francisco International (SFO), Chicago O’Hare (ORD), New York City La Guardia (LGA), London Heathrow (LHR), Zurich International (ZRH), Paris Charles De Guale (CDG), Berlin Tegel (TXL), Seoul Incheon (ICN), Hong Kong International (HKG), Singapore Changi (SIN), Christchurch Internationl (CHC), Queenstown (ZQN), Cooktown (CTN)

Airlines Flown: United, Virgin America, Virgin Blue (aka Virgin Australia), Qantas, Air New Zealand, Air Canada, Emirates, Skytrans, Swiss International Airlines, Lufthansa, bmi, ANA, Asiana, Singapore Airlines, V Australia

New Countries: Hong Kong, South Korea, Switzerland, France, Germany, United Kingdom, Singapore

Through all of that travelling I managed to earn quite a number of Points credited to my Star Alliance account with Aegean Airlines and get gold status, which I then used to status match to Virgin Australia and that makes all of those flights so much more comfortable. All I need is some status with Qantas and I would be set!

All in all it has been an amazing year really. Heaps of travelling, some very unique flights and experiences and some that I wish i could continue at times! Hopefully next year will be just as huge, but probably not, maybe some new airlines to tick off my list!

For anyone interested here are my Trip Reports as posted on Flyertalk this year for some of the journeys:

From Brisbane to Sydney for Anzac Day.. the Long Way
Around the World on a Star – *A J RTW
Ticking a Bucket.. List… Domestic City Hopping in Aus

Ticking a Bucket.. List… Domestic City Hopping in Aus

Introduction

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).

Qantas Airways
QF8
Brisbane to Sydney
0745-1015
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.

Virgin Australia
DJ846
Sydney to Melbourne
1400-1535
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!).

Virgin Australia
DJ331
Melbourne to Brisbane
1400-1510
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.

Conclusion

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 ;)

Book Review: An Ace of the Eighth

Another book down in less than a week, but this is what happens when mal travels.

IMAG0071

The book is An Ace of the Eight by Norman “Bud” Fortier. The book is another World War 2 story about aircraft (surprise suprise). This time it follows a pilot who flew fighters for the Eighth Air Force in Europe during the war.

The Eighth is that famous unit you always hear about in movies etc as they were the first American’s to fly over Europe and also had all the big names like Doolittle, Spaatz and I believe a few famous actors were pilots in the eighth.

This book follows a pilot who started off flying P47 Thunderbolt and moved onto Mustangs. This saddened me a little as by the cover art when I chose this book figured it was mainly about the “jug” but obviously wrong.

Still a good, but detailed book about a fighter pilot over Europe but a different perspective to previous reads as pilots of the Eighth were stationed in the UK so this means that each evening they were able to return home to their base (pending weather of course) and able to at times be safely well away from the War raging in Europe.

This is not a bad book, but just was not what I was expecting! Still a good read though.

Ticking off a bucket list…

Well I just got back from an “Eventful” weekend. I had decided a while back to use up a few free nights I had in Melbourne and I decided it was time to try and tick something else off my bucket list. Firstly it was going to be flying down on a Friday which meant I could use Qantas’s lovely tag on flight from BNE-SYD on a 747-400. Of course they also added on the fact that you can upgrade from the cheapest air fares. HELLO bargain basement airfare to Sydney in Business Class! ($100 + 8000 points).

This could mean I could tick off my bucket list item of flying Upper Deck on a 747! YAY!! It was a very memorable flight (expect a proper trip report in the next few days/week) and a weekend that really was full of ups and downs.

Full of catching up with friends, lots of good food (Brasserie Bread’s new location in Melbourne, Richmond Hill Cafe & Larder with the most amazing breakfast!) and my highlight of the entire weekend. I got to meet a Childhood Idol. Iain Hewitson was someone as a child who was an idol to me. I remember watching him cook on TV when I was really young and saw the food he was making, he was jolly and funny and happy and the food just looked good.

That was the start of a love/passion for food (which still continues now even though i have to be different) and it was always a dream to go to his restaurant “Tolarno” in St Kilda. Sadly a few years ago it closed but now he has a new Bar in St Kilda being “Barney Allen’s” The food was damn good and plentiful and pretty cheap! No Mains over $20! But after a big meal of good food, as I was paying the bill I noticed someone sitting at the bar. I said to the waitress who was serving me “Is that who I think it is?” “It sure is!”

It was Heuy himself!!! I couldn’t believe it. So acting like a little school girl, I got to meet the man himself, get a photo and act like a little child again. It was the highlight of my entire weekend, a few seconds. The whole ticking off the bucket list got put back behind me, that paled in comparison! So if you check out the link below you will see all the photos but best of all, theres the photo of me with my Child Hood Idol…

O and after telling him that he was the reason I got to loving food his reply was “so its all my fault is it” which he said with his trademark grin!

Bucket List Weekend

Book Review: A Cooks Tour

This book had set on my shelf all to long, but the temptation finally got to me.

A Cooks Tour

The book is A Cooks Tour by Anthony Bourdain. A TV chef who does no cooking but yet has several tv shows under his belt. All he seemingly does is travel and eat. God I wish I was him.

Bourdain started his career a chef. He worked, he drank, he smoked. All the time just getting the stories that would end up making him famous. His first foray into writing was the ever popular ‘Kitchen Confidential’ which pretty much described some realities of the real world that chefs lived in. What follows is this book.

With the success of his first book he managed to talk his way into a second book deal (this one). The concept was easy. Get paid to travel and eat his way round the world finding the perfect meal.

However after killing a pig in Portugal, eating a cobra heart in Vietnam or trying Fugu in Tokyo he finally realises that perfection is not something you can find but more and endless process. If you ever found perfection it would be the end of the search and a real failure.

This book is something that just resonates to me. To do the two things I have always loved doing (eating & travelling) just screams to me. Even now with my different life I still think that the journey is half the fun of something and working towards that new experience that one desire to find that perfect meal or that new taste is what life is all about.

Getting to experience new tastes, new sensations in far flung places will always be a goal for me so this book hit home perfectly. A great book for that holiday read you know you need.

Book Review: Roger Ball!

Latest book has been finished, after a round of twitter polls the last book was really decided on by everyone else, The selection was a Modern Book, Non Fiction and the first one of those on my shelf that night was this one.

Roger Ball

The book is Roger Ball! Written by Donald E Auten. This book is decidedly deceptive. The title doesn’t really tell you what it is about, and the it’s a Biography not an autobiography (which is what I normally enjoy reading, but this time it wasn’t my choice really.

The term Roger Ball! is a unique naval aviation term. When a pilot is landing his aircraft onto the deck of an aircraft carrier he uses a optical device commonly referred to as the “Meatball” or simply the “Ball” to orientate himself to ensure he is landing correctly and safely. As they approach the ship the pilot replies to the ship that he is on track after the command “Call the Ball” the pilot would respond that he can see the ball and is on track, “Roger Ball.”

The book is actually about Hawk Monroe Smith. A former US Navy Pilot/Rio (Radar Intercept Officer) who was also a Commander of the famous Topgun. The book follows Hawk, pretty much from his process of learning to fly as a RIO, and then his time as a pilot and on through the process of becoming the Commander of Topgun. I really enjoyed this book. “Hawk” is the kind of person that you can see yourself liking instantly. Someone you would follow to the end of the earth, someone who is a natural leader, something I wish I was.

Hawk started off his Navy career as a RIO in the F4 Phantom, a Vietnam era aircraft that was my favourite from that era. The thing just looks menacing! Beautiful lines and fast as hell but it had one fatal flaw. After years as a RIO, Hawk was invited to train as a Pilot, something he had always wanted to do (me to actually… but not off the back of an Aircraft Carrier).

With a Career that spanned time as an F4 pilot, then as a “test” pilot in the F4, then working on the F14 project and then to work as the XO (Executive Officer) of Top Gun and then to become the Commanding Officer of TOPGUN it follows each step with great depth of the events that happen with each and every movement. The focus of the whole book is really on his time at Top Gun.

Hawk was the target of things that almost destroyed his career yet he showed the tenacity and the leadership to not let it affect him or his attitude towards his staff and his work. I don’t know how he did it, but I wish I could handle things the same.

The book is very thorough and very well written. It is an awesome read and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I had pictures in my head full of dog fighting phantoms (or tomcats) prancing around the sky battling Migs or other aircraft. It was like the movie TOPGUN battling out in my head (makes me want to watch that movie again so badly). Unfortunately HAWK was not at TOPGUN during the time of the movie era.

Anyone who is interested in Naval Aviation or even a keen like of the movie TOPGUN should read this book.

Hassle Free Christmas…

So my plans for a hassle free christmas are fully underway right now. I am intending on making this christmas as hassle free as possible with minimal fuss on the shopping, card and food front.

At the moment I have already sent off all my christmas cards that needed to go out for overseas destinations so that has been done and they are winging their way off to foriegn lands that should arrive well in time for christmas.

On top of that I have just about finished my christmas shopping. I have one present left to buy (For my dad and he is the hardest person known to man to shop for) and then thats all done! I have pretty much been trying this year to follow in with a new hobby of mine which is chasing points. I have earned quite a haul of frequent flyer points (mainly with qantas) this last 18 months and this christmas I have been trying to make sure that I maximise the points earned as much as possible.

The biggest one for me this year was ditching the Visa i have with NAB. Even though its linked to my Amex it only earns me 1 point for every $3 i spend. This is crap! as the Amex is pretty much 1:1 where as 1:3 is just no deal! So after churning a nice pretty new Woolworths Mastercard which earns Qantas points at 1:1, this is now my backup card. So any time i spend over the shopping period where I can’t use an Amex, I use the mastercard and i don’t lose out.

Secondly I am trying to buy online where I can. Velocity Points (the FF Program for Virgin Australia) has a deal going with the Westfield website at the moment (right in time for christmas shopping) with 4 points for every one dollar spent with them. So i can double dip my way to christmas presents. So if I spend $100 on something on the westfield site (they only accept mastercard or visa) i earn 100 Qantas Points for using my Credit card and then earn another 400 velocity points! HERRO BONUS!

In total so far this christmas I have managed to rack up 2000 points combined across all the programs just by shopping. Bonus for me!! That ticket in Qantas First is looking all that more closer!