With a rich history dating back to the 1920s, Qantas Airways has long been regarded as one of the safest and most respected airlines on the planet. It is currently Australia’s largest air carrier, with flights to Africa, the U.S., Asia, Europe, and the Pacific region. As of late, however, any press about QF is largely negative. The media has been having a field day with recent incidents involving Qantas, and it could be argued that public perception is taking a turn for the worse. Whether or not this is warranted remains to be seen.
Booking with Qantas was based strictly on schedule, and really nothing else. QF’s website is user friendly and very informative. Unsurprisingly, purchasing our e-tickets was a relatively seamless process.
After flying down from Cairns the night before on DJ, we had stayed the night at the Holiday Inn Airport Hotel. It was nice enough, but they charge a fee to use their airport shuttle. This is not a typical practice in the States, so I was somewhat surprised about this. Anyways, we ended up just taking a taxi at the crack of dawn to the international terminal at SYD.
Check-in went smoothly, and the agent was very friendly. She gave us all window seats on the right side of the aircraft, telling us that we would have the best views during the approach into Queenstown.
Clearing passport control and security was painless enough, although I was selected for extra screening which was a first for me.
The walk to our gate was a lengthy one, but I enjoyed checking out the local traffic in SYD. There were a few international flights departing at this time, including an Etihad A340.
Our 737-800 sat in what appeared to be in a corner by itself, and the gate was essentially isolated from the rest of the terminal. The boarding area was downstairs, on the ground floor.
Boarding began on-time at about 8:35 AM, and we walked across the ramp to our 737-800.
Date: 27 March 2011
Airline: Qantas Airways Limited
Flight: QF 121
Aircraft: Boeing 737-838
Aircraft Reg: VH-VXI
Departure City: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Departure Airport: Kingsford-Smith Airport (SYD / YSSY)
Unscheduled Stop: Dunedin International Airport (DUD / NZDN)
Arrival City: Queenstown, New Zealand
Arrival Airport: Queenstown Airport (ZQN / NZQN)
Scheduled Departure Time: 9:05 AM
Actual Departure Time: 9:15 AM (15 minutes late)
Scheduled Arrival Time: 2:00 PM
Actual Arrival Time: 6:30 PM (Estimate: 4hr 30 min late)
Load Factor: 40% (Estimate)
We were greeted by a somewhat cold cabin-crew member, definitely lacking the enthusiasm and warmth of Virgin Blue based off of first impressions.
Initial impressions of the cabin were good. The seats were comfortable, the cabin was well-maintained, and the aircraft honestly seemed brand-new.
During boarding, many people tried to change seats due to the light load. Our crew was not pleased, and reminded us many times to stay in our assigned seats for takeoff, but that we were free to move around after departure. Ironically enough, the only other airline I’ve seen such a policy enforced is TAAG Angola!
Departure time came and went, and the captain came over the PA to welcome us aboard and explain that we are waiting a key to the IFE system. I found this somewhat odd, but oh well! Pushback commenced 10 minutes late, and we were graced with the presence of John Travolta during the safety video.
Taxi to runway 16L was quite lengthy, and takeoff was uneventful. Immediately after departure, our aircraft banked left, which I assume is what the SID calls for. Despite the significant cloud coverage, the climb-out was fairly smooth.
After reaching our cruise altitude, breakfast was served. I was pleasantly surprised that QF actually serves meals on such flights. I wonder if it will last…
A movie was shown on the drop-down LCD screens, although I cannot recall the name of it. I instead decided to stretch out across my row of seats and take a nap. It’s amazing how comfortable a flight can be with a light load.
Our pilot eventually announced our descent into Queenstown, and warned us that the approach would be a turbulent one.
The speedbrakes were used for nearly the entirety of our descent, and the captain did not lie. This was one rough descent! As one who enjoys turbulence, I could not be more satisfied!
As our aircraft was initially established on its final approach, everything surprisingly smoothed out. I was actually expecting a relatively uneventful landing. However as we neared the ground, it began to get increasingly turbulent. The aircraft then suddenly yawed severely to the right and then back to left, while dropping significantly. This was followed by full-thrust and an immediate upward pitch. I had just experienced my first aborted landing.
Video – including aborted landing announcement + landing in DUD (click on image):
We shot back above the cloud layer, and the captain came over the PA about 10 minutes later to explain the situation. He said the weather in ZQN exceeded our aircraft’s certified landing parameters, and a missed approach was therefore executed. He said that they were evaluating the weather conditions in Queenstown, and that we would either be trying another approach into ZQN or diverting to Dunedin (DUD). He also assured us that they would not attempt to land in any conditions that would compromise our safety.
After about 15 minutes of straight flying, I figured that a second landing attempt into Queenstown was unlikely. My assumptions proved to be correct when the captain announced that we would in fact be diverting to DUD.
The cabin was secured for arrival yet again, and we made a much smoother approach into DUD. The landing was a rough one with a bounce swiftly following; however, I was just thankful to be on the ground.
The cabin crew told us to stay seated with our mobile phones switched off until they found out what the airport’s policy regarding mobile phone usage is. This differs from the USA, where we are allowed to use mobile phones while the plane is taxiing to the gate.
After about 10 minutes at the stand, the captain announced that mobile phone use was permitted, and that we were free to move about the cabin as long as the aircraft remained parked. He said that he would keep us updated, and that he was going to speak with QF operations.
Roughly 15 more minutes passed, and the captain said that QF operations would prefer that we continue to ZQN by plane, rather than by bus. Because there is a night curfew at ZQN, the captain stated that we could only wait until a certain time before we would be stuck here at DUD.
NZ flight also diverted:
Shortly after this announcement, the first officer walked through the cabin, answering any questions we had. A very nice and professional gesture if you ask me! The cabin crew served water during this time, and were quite friendly. Instead of hiding in the galley, the F/As were out in the cabin talking with passengers.
A family sitting across from me then told the purser that their final destination was in fact DUD, and asked if they could possibly disembark here at Dunedin. After consulting the cockpit crew, the purser returned to say that they were allowed to disembark, but must do so immediately. The family was swiftly escorted off the plane, and their bags were removed from the cargo hold. I’ve never heard of this happening when an international arrival diverts to another airport, so I did find it a little strange.
After another 50 minutes or so of waiting, the captain came over the PA to announce that the weather had improved in ZQN, and that we would be departing shortly once the “paperwork” was completed. Apparently we needed new weight / balance data since that family had been allowed to disembark. He also informed us that since DUD is not a QF station, Air New Zealand would be handling our departure. The paperwork was to be faxed to Air New Zealand, and then delivered to our aircraft.
Well about 30 minutes later, the captain said that were still waiting on the paper work, but that we should receive it momentarily.
Another 20 minutes or so passed by, and the paperwork was FINALLY delivered. This extra waiting time was quite frustrating. The cabin was prepared for departure, and the safety video was again shown. Taxi to the runway was quick, and we were soon on our way to ZQN once again.
The flight back to ZQN was very short, and descent began after about 15-20 minutes in the air. The final approach felt very much like the first one, with lots of drops and yawing. However, this time we landed smoothly in ZQN, much to everyone’s relief. The flight landed approximately 4hrs 30min late.
Video of our windy / turbulent landing into Queenstown (click on image):
We disembarked via the forward airstairs, and the weather was indeed awful. It was cold, rainy, and very windy. I was not dressed appropriately for this at all, so I ran to the terminal while the ground staff laughed at me (I am serious). Immigration took forever, and we were out of the terminal approximately 30 minutes later.
I was pleased with my Qantas experience, and found that the situation was generally handled with professionalism. While flying in extreme weather conditions, it is definitely reassuring to know that a well-trained crew is at the controls. This diversion was obviously out of the airline’s control, and I was thankful to have arrived safely into Queenstown at the end of the day. However, the airline should’ve known that by letting the family off in DUD, it would cost us another hour delay. I realize that Qantas was trying to be helpful to this family, but it ended negatively affecting everyone else. Despite this out-of-the-ordinary flight, I would confidently recommend Qantas to anyone else.
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[Edited 2011-07-13 16:42:08]