Canberra to Sydney
Regional Express, ZL336, Saab340B VH-RXE, Seat 3A
ETD 1700 ETA 1750, Pushback: 1703 Gate 8, Takeoff: 1710 Runway 17, Landing: 1748 Runway 16R, At gate: 1752.
Photo © Jay Piboontum
This flight went totally as planned. Booked out a couple of days prior to departure, I was expecting it to be full, but in the end a number of free seats were available. I suppose it’s not surprising on a key business route where passenger loadings fluctuate to the very last minute.
I was seated on the single side of the aisle as I always prefer – by now I know all the Rex staff (I work for Canberra Airport management) so I always get a good seat and an invitation to the lounge. The lounge is the old Ansett Executive lounge on the ground floor, and is very small, intimate and comfortable, though it lacks the stunning airside views of the old Golden Wing lounge which tragically still remains empty.
Rex catering has sadly declined considerably since their launch where superb gourmet food and champagne was offered as the “capital shuttle” service. Now all you get is a packet of crisps and water, although Champagne, tea and coffee is still offered. Not too bad for a 30 min turboprop ride – you wouldn’t get that in the USA!
The flight attendant was young, attractive and very bubbly. However she happened to know one passenger in the front row and proceeded to chat loudly and joke (flirt?) with him the entire trip, despite both of them talking about their respective husbands/wives :-o I have no problem with a F/A chatting with someone they know but in this case it left other passengers feeling they were low on the priority list, which is frankly not on, considering their job is to serve other passengers…
The flight was smooth and coming in on Runway 16R in late afternoon meant stunning city views of Sydney, which though I would hate to live there, must be one of the most picturesque cities on the planet, especially from the air.
We landed and taxied quickly to the gate after dodging a couple of Virgin B737s. The movement area is very busy at this peak time of day, especially being a Friday.
Gulf Air, GF149, Airbus A340-313X A40-LG, Seat: 48A
ETD 2145 ETA 0400, Pushback: 2203 Gate 61, Takeoff: 2218 Runway 16R, Landing: 0408 Runway 20R, At gate: 0416.
Photo © Tobias Rose
(no photos of this exact aircraft on the database)
I had plenty of time to spare in Sydney. As Rex does not have a dedicated international connection shuttle like Qantas, I needed to collect my baggage (they also don’t have interline with Gulf Air – only with a select few international carriers) and take the train across to the International terminal. But my bag wasn’t heavy, I had plenty of time, so it wasn’t a hassle, despite the fact I object to paying $5 for a one-stop short train ride to the International Terminal. With the prices they charge, no wonder they complain about lack of patronage.
Gulf Air check-in was still closed when I arrived, so I headed over to the free internet booths and checked emails, news etc. It wasn’t long before I headed back to the check-in row and found the counters about to open. I checked in and got my pre-allocated 48A window then after a quick Subway dinner, headed through the Customs/Immigration checkpoint.
The aircraft arrived pretty much on time at the gate, which promised an on-time departure. Gulf Air’s reputation of late flights had made me a bit wary, as the last thing I really wanted was to miss my connection in Singapore (granted, I had 3.5 hours!!!) or worse miss the Sydney curfew deadline. However, with 45mins to go, 15mins before boarding, the aircraft’s crew was still sitting in the gate lounge with the passengers, not the best sign that we would be boarding so soon. And indeed it was nearly scheduled departure time before we commenced boarding. However, the flight being very empty (147 pax total) meant that boarding was very quick and pushback was only about 20mins late.
I’m not sure if you could call it good or bad service, but it seemed that there was no preparation for takeoff at all. One moment we were boarding the plane and passengers standing around and the next minute the plane was on pushback. I think there was one announcement but the voice over the PA was incredibly soft and inaudible.
The aircraft was in poor condition. The headrest of my seat came clean off and the armrest was broken. Thankfully there were plenty of seats, so I moved further back. Also, one or two channels of the video inflight entertainment (including the movie I was wanting to watch) were showing heavy static and unwatchable. The aircraft seems to be one of the ex-SQ A340-300s – they hadn’t even bothered changing the fabric on the seats, which was unmistakenly SQ. The one positive is though that these aircraft were fitted with IFE. I understand some of the GF A340 fleet still only have main cabin video screens.
It took forever for the bar service and finally the meal to be delivered – I would have preferred it to be a little quicker on a night flight to allow a bit more sleep. When the meal came, not only was my choice not available, but the serving size was quite pitiful. Actually quite disappointing I thought. There was a salad, small tray of hot food and a roll. No dessert.
One good thing was a small inflight amenity pack. Not too keen on the light blue colour of the offering, but it’s what was inside that counts and on an overnight flight the eye-covering and socks are quite welcome. It’s amazing that quite a few airlines don’t bother offering such things these days.
I then tried to sleep a few hours before the cabin lights came on for a yoghurt and fruit breakfast – once again quite unsatisfying. Not long after that, we glided into Singapore and landed not far off schedule.
SriLankan, UL316, A330-243 4R-ALC, Seat 12A
ETD 0735 ETA 1050 (scheduled via KUL), Pushback: 1240 Gate D32, Takeoff: 1253 Runway 20L, Landing: 1414 Runway 22, At gate: 1417.
Photo © Charles Ryan Teo
After checking my flight was on schedule and getting my new boarding pass to Colombo (plane was to operate via Kuala Lumpur), I dozed off for a couple of hours until it was time to head to the boarding gate.
The flight was quite lightly loaded and once the boarding gates opened, we were all strapped in quickly. Initial impressions were impressive, spotless aircraft, nice cabin tones (colours), high-tech IFE system, smiling crew.
After a few minutes the captain came over the intercom to announce the flight details but also broke the news that we would have a one-hour delay to fix a minor technical problem, but that after that we would be on our way. Nothing too serious. In the meantime, the crew handed round hot towels, and then proceeded to bring round some drinks and snacks, which I assumed to be the catering for the short SIN-KUL sector.
However an hour went by with no update from the captain. After about 1.5 hours, some passengers (myself included) began to get a little edgy and asked the cabin crew for updates. They claimed to know nothing, which of course just wound the passengers up more. It was clear something wasn’t right with the right-hand engine, as the cowling was up and a host of engineers poking and prodding at the inside. Hardly inspiring stuff! At the two hour mark, the purser came on, saying that all passengers had to disembark, as well as all luggage, as the aircraft needed to be taken to a remote bay for engine runs to see if the problem was fixed.
So, we all disembarked and entered the boarding gate area again. There, KUL bound passengers were told they would be transferred to Singapore Airlines flights whereas Colombo bound passengers could go and have some breakfast at the terminal café. Revised departure time was 1200, but a UL ground staff member told me it was only a 50% chance of this occurring – otherwise, the plane would be grounded and we could only be flown to Colombo the next day.
After a rather bland sandwich at the café, we headed back towards the gate for more waiting. Staff were scurrying around, looking concerned and confused. My thoughts were that as long as the plane was away from the aerobridge, there was a problem, and if it came back all was well. As it ticked towards 1200, I was getting worried, until I saw a UL ground staff representative give a big thumbs-up across the room. Whew… Departure would not be at 1200 but would be before 1300.
And indeed the aircraft arrived. Also, rather than operating via Kuala Lumpur, the service was now to be direct, saving us a precious hour or two.
Back on board, the captain came over the intercom and apologised but said he hoped we understood that safety was paramount and that the delay was necessary on those grounds. And without much further ado, we pushed back and headed off.
Again the hot towels came round (a nice touch that many airlines don’t do anymore) followed by a belated breakfast. I was impressed that UL had three choices on their economy menus, all listed in a very beautiful menu that was handed around by the crew.
IFE consists of a large PTV with a huge range of video and audio entertainment, not to mention computer games. Also the forward and underbelly camera. Not video-on-demand, but everything else you could want in an IFE system. Further, laptop recharge ports were available at certain spots in the cabin. One could see that the airline was half owned by Emirates and the influence showed. Not having flown Emirates on a scheduled service myself, I would have to rate UL as the best airline I have flown in regards onboard service (forgetting the delay and associated lack of information).
The flight lasted just over three hours and went like a flash. I watched a movie and slept a bit, before we glided in over central Sri Lanka, gaps in the clouds affording lovely glimpses of the island through the window (and via the belly camera), before we came into land on Runway 22 at the airport. Colombo Airport is small, with all aircraft parking on 2 large aprons. No aerobridges are in place, although a new terminal finger seems to be under construction, which would seem to offer aerobridge access. Off the plane it was straight onto busses into the terminal. Passport control and baggage collection was very fast, though the area was small, which makes one wonder what the scene must be like when two full flights arrive at once. Then it was out into the arrivals hall, for the beginning a wonderful week’s holiday in Sri Lanka.
I will post on the return trip if anyone’s interested… It’s basically the reverse of the outbound, except for a last minute airline change from Rex to Qantas on the final Sydney to Canberra sector.
Comments and questions welcome.