United UA815, Los Angeles-Sydney Fri 5 Apr 22.10- 6.40 (arr 7.4),. Seat 52A, Boeing 747-422 N190UA
Photo © Chris Coduto
For me as European, crossing the Pacific and the dataline is not very common (as we would usually go east for Asia/Australia and west to the America’s), but well, the United package was especially cheap and I didn’t mind to fly 50.000 km’s and make two stopovers in the US.
Boarding and passport and bags control was –like on all my US flights- convenient and fast. Either the US forgot about increased security, or they have streamlined the procedures so that you don’t have to be searched three times, or I looked less suspicious than on my trip last december.
The 747 boarded on time and we were in the air at 22.22. We took off over the sea so the lights of the coastlines were the last outside lights we would see for more than 12 hours.
The dataline phenomenon inspired me to philosophize about some Back to the Future like constructions, like missing a day in your life, being parachuted into the future or the past etc.
Just in the seat in front of me, a man in his 50s from Oregon who apperently never flew yet was acting like a baby, pushing on the F/A button every 5 minutes to tease the (patient) F/A’s, to ask for explanation of the seatbelt etc, so I ended up chatting (friendly) to him and babysit him a bit, explain how busy the F/A’s were and later that he wasn’t supposed to strip naked to sleep “Yes, but I am used to sleep like that?!” (My favorite artist and a beautiful friend also come from Oregon... I just throw this in before I get one star or hatemail from Oregonians).
Unfortunately there are no Private TV’s on the 747s and I noticed the (uninspiring) actual show of movies was different than announced in the magazines and different again from the announcemnets by the F/A’s. Flight was filled for about 75% so me and the guy on 52C were happy with the empty middle seat.
Unlike the European flights, the asian flight have printed menu cards with three choices for dinner. I chose the beef which was quite good. Around crossing the equator, we had some heavy turbulence, but soon after, about midflight, a big midflight snackbox was handed out. Even while most people slept, most of the cabin took and ate this box. It contained a huge ham and cheese sandwich (the bread was a bit dry and tasteless, like often with US bread), breadsticks, spiced butter, M&M’s and water which was quite good. One hour before landing, a breakfast was served. I chose the Cinnamon French toast and pork sausage with fruit. Actually it was some bread stuff soaked in sticky syrup, a bit messy and too sweet.
My hopes to see a glimpse of Hawaii, Fiji or New Zealand didn’t turn out as hoped, it just was a long dark night flight, the sun rose just before we landed at 6.21 (actual flying time 13.59) approaching from the sea. Immigration took about another 45 minutes. Still I can’t take officials wearing shorts seriously, can’t hardly believe they are actually allowed to arrest someone, for instance. Luckily I don’t even try to get in a position like that.
Virgin Blue DJ507 Sydney-Coolangatta Su 7 Apr , seat 19F, Boeing 737-800 VH-VOG
Photo © Ian Moy
After the immigration I transferred to the domestic area of Sydney ($3 for the bus, what is this, can’t you even transfer between terminals for free? Imagine the outrage if ATL would charge for their terminal train). I booked this flight on internet and always a pleasant surprise if you are actually on the Real Life passenger list when checking in. The Virgin Blue flights appeared to depart from a small temporary barrack, with a row of check in staff on one side (together with a desk for Hazelton). Luckily the row proceeded quite fast.
I liked the relaxed athmosphere all around Virgin Blue (with the "hello ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls" sort of announcements), their staff being young, friendly and helpful. The 737-800 looked great with its blended winglets, even huger than I expected, towering higher than the fuselage. It was a former CityBird 737 and the blended winglets were only attached last winter when it came to Australia, the only plane in the fleet with them yet. The plane was packed to capacity (180 pax and sure a lot of luggage to this holiday destination) but still it had a rocketwise take off over the city at 9.36. Wonder if the winglets helped to lift it off, I believe not. The cabin loogreen/yellow leathers seat The 4 F/A’s offered paid inflight service (I chose a coffee and muffin, but I could also opt for the $20 Branson book).
We followed the coastline to Coolangatta, which was very nice in the clear skies, and descended and approached over the water, made a quite low U-turn and landed at 10.30.
Qantas QF525 Brisbane-Sydney, Wed 10 April , seat 52K , Boeing 767-338 VH-OGV
Photo © Frank Schaefer
(coincidentally the same letters in different order as the DJ 737 above). Again a cheap (AUSD 77) flight from the Internet. Luckily the domestic pricings didn’t skyrocket (yet) now Ansett is gone. Brisbane was a bigger airport than I expected, I saw some interesting stuff as I came early to do a bit of looking around. We took off at 12.26. Flight was about half filled, the middle seats were mostly empty. I noticed the sound of the IFE was particularly clear and good. Unlike the DJ flight, this flight processed over land, the view was nice over the ever clear Oz skies. The F/A’s handed out the notorious lunchboxes which were quite good actually, containing salad/smoked meat sandwiches, fruit, a chocolatebar and a big bottle of water. Followed was a serving of coffee or tea (no cold drinks). We approached over the west of Sydney, turned around over the bay and landed at SYD at 13.34 again over the water.
A word about the flights which were not meant to be.... One thing I always try and like is get flights on old and rare aircraft. My detour to Coolangatta was aimed at visiting Twin Pionair. They use two of the last airworthy Scottish Aviation Twin Pioneers. I contacted the staff when I was still in Holland, and they were confident they could do some training flights when I am around which I could join (as there weren’t any regular sightseeing flights planned) but when I visited their base, they had to tell their boss didn’t allow it, it would be too expensive. The aircraft only fly about 30 hours a year but they’ll try to increase duties and business in the near future. Nevertheless they were very friendly and gave me a tour around their hangar to take pictures.
Then I tried to fly the fridayevening sightseeing flight on Dakota National Air, but on arriving in OZ I got an email that the flight was cancelled. Anyway, I still visited Sydney Bankstown Airport on thurday 11 April to spot the Super Constellation, Herons, HS-748s and loads of DC-3s there. I visited the office of Dakota National and they told me they had to cancel all flights for a few week as their chief pilot resigned.
Annoyed with no flights on oldies, I mailed to Shortstop/Air Nostalgia in Melbourne and I was still welcome on their saturdayevening flight. While originally I planned to stay in Sydney, I now decided to fly to Melbourne only for the weekend. It wasn’t hard to find last minute deals for AUSD 77 (only about US$40), on Qantas and back connecting on Kendell. Now I was the one who messed things up by turning up too late in Essendon to catch the flight. Have never felt so stupid in my life....
Qantas QF449 Sydney-Melbourne, Sat. 13 April, seat 52A, Boeing 767-338 VH-OGH.
We took off at 16.49 over the town, very nice view of the center. Unfortunately in our few blocks the IFE was broken down. We got another snackbox, this time a smaller one, containing breadstricks, chips and applejuice. A cold drink service (no coffee/tea) followed. We flew over land, I remember seeing Kinglake National Park. But then the weather deteriorated and we had to circle because of limited use of runways, so we landed in the rain and clouds in MEL at 18.03.
Kendell Airlines AN8524 Melbourne-Canberra, Sunday 14 April, seat , Saab 340B VH-EKG actual 10.19-11.26
Photo © Frank Schaefer
Kendell as former Ansett connector still used the further deserted Ansett terminal in Melbourne. I was happy to have this late chance to collect an Ansett boarding pass. I saw the departure screens had a message showing “Ansett thanks you for your loyal support. We will miss you”. Most of the terminal was closed by a row of seats because only Kendell had a few Saab (and Metro?) flights out of MEL. Some A-320s, were still parked on the terminal, although most of their aircraft were far away , before departure I spotted there a bunch of 737s, A-320s, 767s, 2 hulks of F-28s, a single BAe 146. We boarded right after 10. The interior looks hilarious, the seats covered with white woolen sheepskins, very 1970s. There were 12 passengers aboard, we took off at 10.19. The ride was comfortable, although it started to get cloudy again. The pilot (named Paul van Vliet, a very Dutch name) told us we flew at 28.000 foot at 550 km/hr. Service was coffee or tea, water and two small cookies. Landing in CBR was at 11.26.
Kendell Airlines, AN8514 Canberra-Sydney, Sunday 14 April, Saab 340, VH-EKK
While the connecting flight MEL-CBR-SYD was cheap (and the airline more than interesting) of course the times (waiting 5 hours at Canberra) were horrible. First I planned to do some sightseeing in town but as the weather was still gloomy and the town looked quite boring when I took a glance at it on approach before landing in ‘EKG earlier, so I decided to nap, spot and read at the airport, only getting the occasional Dash 8s and 146s of Qantas link and 737s of Virgin Blue.
This Saab looked a bit different, no windowshades, as it was a second hand Skyways-Avia plane (EKG was delivered new to Kendell), but again the strange sheepskin seats.
This time there were only 6 passengers. I hope Kendell gets enough revenue without feeding Ansett flights... We took off at 17.08. Weather was cloudy all the way up in the air so there was some mild turbulence and nothing to see outside. Service was coffee/tea, small cookies and water again, now with extra sort of party mix peanuts. When we broke down the clouds, I could see the opera house of Sydney on the left, and we landed at 17.51 and boarded through the spooky empty Ansett hall, with 7 Ansett 737s parked out of duty.
United UA816 Sydney-Los Angeles Mo 15 Apr 14.35-10.55, seat 49K, Boeing 744-422 N189UA
The lines at check in were horrendous, a few open desks also for the San Francisco flight leaving an hour earlier, both 744s filled to capacity. While I joined the queue around 12.10, I could only check in around 14.05 with others to follow. Luckily I didn’t loose my assigned windowseat. Still I even saw the last passengers boarding the aircraft around 14.30 so we were hardly late. The plane was filled to capacity, and we took off at 14.59, it seemed we went up quite sluggish, we proceeded first to the south, followed the coastline for a while before heading over the ocean, again with more daylight but still nothing else but ocean to see for more than 12 hours.
Dinner was served after 90 minutes. A baby shrimp salad and separate regular fresh salad, I chose the chicken kiev which was good, tasted like it was actually just baked. The dessert was a very sticky and too sweet toffee pudding.
Again a midway snackbox after 6 hours. It was a bit smaller (maybe because the eastward flight also is shorter???), containing a ham/fish sandwich, a lemon cookie, crackers, cheese and an apple. Breakfast was comparible to the earlier one, the cinnamon raisin French toast with bacon, added were apricot yoghurt, and melon, but on one way or another it tasted me a lot better. We approached over the center of LA, it was very nice to be able to see LA and LAX below, before turning around and approaching from the east. We landed at 10.42 (making a flying time of 12.43).
United UA890 Los Angeles-New York JFK Mo 15 April 13.00-21.20, seat 19G, offic 5.20
Boeing 767-222 N615UA
Photo © Mark Abbott
When I boarded, I noticed how small the 767-222 actually looked compared to the 777. Only about 30 rows of seats, I was just in front of the coach cabin. The plane was about 45% filled only. There were no PTVs. We took off at 13.26 to the west. We were over the Pacific for quite a while before turning back and procede via Arizona, Phoenix, Gallup, Salida (KS) to the NYC area. After 100 minutes, a good hot meal was served, I chose tandori chicken. Further again two salads (shrimp/regular), a roll, crackers and cheese.
The short selections on the pulldown filmscrean were nice, but oh no, not again Ocean’s Eleven ! That’s the drawback if you make 6 long United flights within aa month And a good reason to finish your book and magazines. One hour before landing another drink round and the ever small snackmix bag.
Tell me I have a morbid streak but when approaching the NY area, I found a boardingpass of the preceding flight in the seatpocket, UA159 departing from Boston to LAX at 08.30, the replacement flightnumber of UA175, N612UA which was the second aircraft which slammed in the WTC and I shivered by imagining the scenes aboard an aircraft with exactly the same coniguration and ammenities, 7 months earlier. Of course nothing happened although on the exact same moment (as I found out later), another 767-200 of Air China crashed in South Korea. We landed at 21.09 local.
United Express/Atlantic Coast US 7409 JFK-Washington IAD We 17 April 14.50-16.15, seat 8C, Jetstream 41 N308UE, actual 15.05-16.10 (65 minutes)
Photo © Tom Hildreth
I underestimated the time to get to JFK via the A-train again and only rushed to the check in at 14.25. Luckily I was allowed to board, I really would have messed up some appointments the next day in Amsterdam if I’d missed this one. It was a hot day in the east coast area, around 32C/90F, and the cabin of the Jetstream was hot too as the A/C doesn’t work when the AC is parked. A gawky but very friendly F/A welcomed the 12 passengers aboard. When a passenger said ‘my God, I didn’t expect such a small plane on this route’ (I guess she’d have heared this one before), she replied, ‘oh but this is a cute and comfortable plane. You know, we have some last minute plane swaps’ (yeah right, it are always J-41s and some Do-328s on this traject). But as it was my only new type on this flight, I was excited.
Maybe due to the heat, the F/A gave cold waterbottles before T/O. We started taxiing at 14.52 but it took 13 minutes till we finally got to the runway. We took off over water, Rockaway Island, turned to the west over NJ. The F/A later came around with 2 bags of Party Mix, some bars of sticky Quaker Apple Fruit Oatmeal and mints, but no new drinks. The air was clear, but the last half of the flight was very bumpy and shaky. I saw the lady who remarked the plane is so small clutching her armrests in a horrified manner and she probably thought “Never again, next time I’ll check the type and refuse to fly anything smaller than a 737” (not to fuel to Jetstream haters here, I blame the weather as I had particularly nice flights on J-31s earlier).
United UA946 Washington IAD-Amsterdam We 17 April 17.40-07.15, seat 35A, Boeing 777-222 N771UA, actual 19.04-08.01 (6.57 minutes).
As the weather deteriorated (clouds and fog) in the west, fewer runways could be used and we were caught in an afternoon gridlock. Even while we boarded in time, first we had to wait at a row of planes behind us, and then we cued up, moving a few feet per minute. Again the joke of other passengers: “what is this, are we driving to Amsterdam?”
For my 8th and last hot United meal of this trip I chose the pasta instead of meat options, which was quite good, ravioli and cheese sauce and two salads. The dessert was a vicious pie. The artificial orange colours probably hint as an attempt to pretend being an orange pie but actually it tasted more like toilet bowl cleaner. The route was over Boston, New Foundland to Dublin, Manchester and Amsterdam (as of always more southern than the westward routing).
One hour before landing, a small breakfast was served, an especially nice hot roll (my first good roll on a flight departing from the US), melon, a small can of orange juice. We landed in Amsterdam at 8.01. Overall I must say United was as adequate as ever, on these longer sectors no hint of cutbacks in service, like they have in shorter domestic flights.
I hope the report wasn't too long and too much focussed on the food on board... I am less interested in the pure technical aspects, sorry.