I just completed a trip down to Brisbane. I'll post the transpacific details later, but wanted to share the experience on Virgin Blue. No photos - I've got to remember to travel with a camera!
DATE: 16 SEPT 2007
AIRLINE: Virgin Blue
FLIGHT: 217 SYDNEY-BRISBANE
AIRCRAFT: BOEING 737-800
AIRCRAFT NAME: Bondi Babe
My flight to Brisbane was not booked with my United transpac flight, so after exiting Customs and Baggage Claim, I walked outside of the terminal over to the Virgin Blue Transfer Lounge. There I would check in for my flight and get the transfer bus to the Domestic Terminal. It was about 0700 Sunday morning and there were two young women manning the counters in the Transfer Lounge. I was quickly checked in and given seat 16A, a window. I had to pay $15AUD for the Transfer Bus, which is about the same as you would pay for a cab between the two terminals. I then stepped outside to wait for the bus, as it was a beautiful early morning in at Sydney Kingsford Smith. The bus soon arrived and those of us waiting jumped on and we made our way over to the Domestic Terminal.
Arrived at the Domestic Terminal by 0730 and found a quiet Virgin Blue terminal. Security was simple, effective, and unobtrusive (TSA - take note!) I then meandered around the Terminal and made my way to gate 32. Initially looked like a light load but by 0830, it was clear we would be full. At 0840, an announcement inviting all passengers to board was made. Those seated in rows 1 - 15 would board through the forward jetway, whilst those of us in rows 16 and up, would cross the tarmac and use the stairs. There's something exciting about crossing the tarmac and boarding a plane via the stairs. So I joined the queue and made my way outside and up the stairs. Two male flight attendants were at the top of the stairs, doing destination checks, and pointing people to seats. I was greeted by name and pointed to my row. I settled into my blue leather seat as the plane quickly filled. Seat pitch was comfortable. The plane was equipped with Virgin Blue's Live2Air in-seat TV service. It costs $5AUD to use and given that I had been flying for close to 19 hours, I chose not to buy and try and catch a quick nap.
We quickly backed out and a live safety demo by the friendly crew began. It was a long taxi to the runway, but it gave a chance to see a long parade of arriving wide-body aircraft. Very cool. Once at the end of the taxiway, there was no waiting for other planes and we were airborne. The Cabin Supervisor made an announcement about the service, which was strictly Buy-On-Board. A menu could be found in the seat pocket. Shortly thereafter, the four flight attendants were in the aisle with two carts, offering the service. From what I could see, there were a lot of takers on this morning flight.
Descent started at about 1000 and we made our way down to Brisbane. The crew made several passes through the cabin during the flight and were very friendly. We landed on-time, as I recall, and we taxied over to Brisbane's Domestic Terminal. Baggage was quickly delivered.
DATE: 19 SEPT 2007
AIRLINE: Virgin Blue
FLIGHT: 222 BRISBANE-SYDNEY
AIRCRAFT: BOEING 737-700
AIRCRAFT NAME: Bizzie Lizzie
I was picked up from a downtown Brisbane hotel at 0730 and my driver assured me we would arrive at the Domestic Terminal within 30 minutes, and true to his word, we did. I walked into the Virgin Blue terminal and found a massive queue for both checkin and bag drop. I immediately questioned the wisdom of cutting it close - which was not unfounded. I got to the head of the queue by 0820 and when I told the agent, who was again unfailingly friendly, that I was on the 0900 to Sydney, she told me that the flight had been cancelled as was the next flight to Sydney and that they were terribly full that day. I told her that I had to catch a 1420 flight to San Francisco. I also explained that my records had been booked separately and that's why she didn't see my connection. She was understanding and picked up the phone and started making calls. After a few minutes, she told me that they were trying to get me on QANTAS, but they were pretty packed as well. She asked me to step back while she checked in another passenger. A few minutes later, she called me back up and said they had me on the 1100 to Sydney. It would get me into Sydney at 1230 - some time to spare before my UA flight back. She also put me in 1C so that I could make a quick dash off the plane. I thanked her for all her help. It was now about 0900, so I headed up to Security and the Domestic terminal. After clearing Security, I saw there was not much to do in the Domestic Terminal. I sat down near my gate when I heard my name being paged, asking that I go to the Virgin Blue Lounge. I headed over there and was invited to wait out my time there. Very nice of Virgin Blue. The Lounge was quiet, comfortable, and it made my morning.
I headed for the gate at about 1030 and found that it would be a full flight once again. A general boarding announcement was made at about 1045 and everybody jumped up. I was impressed that we managed to depart only about five minutes late. Carly, the Cabin Supervisor, made the announcements as we taxied out. A word about Virgin Blue cabin staff - some of the most friendly crew I have ever encountered. Clearly, they enjoy their jobs and seem invested in making a difference. Carly's flying partner, Beck, was also delightful. It was a quick taxi out and then we were airborne. Once again, Buy-On-Board and the four flight attendants went to work. This flight was a quick one too. As we were descending, after the flight attendants were seated, a call button rang. A passenger sitting on the window at about Row 4 had taken ill. It had been a bit warm on the plane and the descent was a bit bumpy so that may have done it to the passenger. Carly wound up getting up with a deadheading flight attendant seated near the ill passenger to assist as we rapidly approached Sydney. Aside from cranking up the air nozzle to max and throwing some cold towels on, there was not much to do. But it seemed to be handled very professionally. We then landed and made our way to the gate. As we taxied, the passengers in the first six rows were asked to remain seated so that the flight attendants could get the bags down from the overheads and distributed to the right passengers - again, a very impressive customer-focused move! Good on ya, Virgin Blue.
At the gate, the flight attendants first moved the ill passenger to the door and had her step right on to the jetway as soon as the door opened. They handed me my bag and gave me the green light to run as well, knowing that I was connecting internationally. Two folks from Virgin Blue were waiting on the jetway for me and took me straight down to baggage claim. My bag came off a little after 1300 and I was off to grab a cab to the International Terminal.
Knowing that UA870 was closing at 1355, I was completely relieved to find no lines as I made my way to the United Counter. I was checked in by 1325. More on that flight, as well as the flights down to Sydney, in another post.
Congratulations to Virgin Blue, though. Outstanding, friendly service throughout. I'll be eager to give V Australia, their new international arm, a run when it begins service next year.