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allrite
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Capital Connect: The New Old Virgin To Canberra

Mon Aug 22, 2011 1:32 pm


.

How much difference does a new name make? I've flown the Sydney - Canberra route quite a few times over the last few years, but last time it was in a red aircraft the airline was called Virgin Blue. Now the signs at the airport say Virgin Australia. What's more, an email sent a couple of days before trip tells me that the service is now called "Capital Connect" and we get newspapers and snacks on board. Just like the Qantas services, except that Virgin Australia is Officially In at the moment while Qantas is On The Nose, at least if you listen to the press and many on this board.

In times past I have preferred the professionalism of the Qantas services, but when I went to book my flights via our corporate provider I couldn't really muster up a reasonable justification for the higher Qantas fares on the way down. There was a better timing argument for the return, which will be on a QantasLink Dash-8 Q400. I was hoping to use my complimentary Qantas lounge access anyway, before it expires, just for the hell of it.

A couple of days before my flight I wanted to check my booking online, but the Virgin Australia website wouldn't let me. I phoned their call centre, to be told by "Princess" with a Philippine accent that we couldn't check in online with government bookings, which some of my colleagues disputed. Come the day before my flight and I tried anyway, managed to check in and select a seat, but then not be able to print the boarding pass in Chrome, nor access the booking in Firefox. At least, with a government booking, I apparently had access to their priority check in queue (who is sucking up to steal government contracts off Qantas?).

Woke up early, caught the train, waved goodbye to my tearful son (and poor wife who had to calm him) at Wolli Creek, then changed to another to the Domestic terminal. Strolled up to Terminal 2 and was waved over to a just occupied priority check-in desk, one of two. Boarding pass printed out I quickly passed through security, bought an aeroplane sticker book for little Alex from Kaboom!, a Herald for myself (weekly TV guide), then strolled over to gate 32.

22-AUG-2011
DJ634
SYD-CBR
EMBRAER E170
VH-ZHE
SEAT 6F
DEP: 0805
ARR: 0900

After families, the infirm, premium and priority passengers the rest of us were asked to board the E170. Virgin Australia are supposed to be getting rid of these, but I'm still scheduled to fly up to ROK in one in October. The ATRs will take over many of the flights between Sydney and Canberra in future. I wonder how popular these will be, considering that anecdotally many passengers prefer DJ's and QF's jets to the QantasLink Dash-8 turboprops, though my one experience of an ATR would suggest that their cabin is more comfortable than their Bombardier cousins. Whether the fact that the ATRs are slower will make any difference is uncertain considering that the jet schedules are actually longer than the Dash-8s to Canberra!

E190 in foreground, our E170 background

Legroom was fine

I initially sat in the wrong row (not the first time I've made that mistake), but moved apologetically upon discovering my mistake. A tiny young man with Hillsong hair introduced himself as Daren the cabin manager. Then the captain came over the PA to apologise for the delay in departure due to some technical issues. Technical issues??? But this wasn't a Qantas or Tiger flight!!! Quick, somebody call the media, the unions, anybody!

The cabin is almost full, I only see a couple of spaces in the front row of the eight red premium seats. The interior and exterior of the aircraft are still Virgin Blue, with the same old tired blue leather seats for the rest of us.

Cabin

The Australian newspaper was distributed to anyone that wanted it. I'd be careful handing out News Corp material to certain people in Canberra if I were you Virgin Australia, or don't you expect Senator Conroy to fly with you?


.

The new Virgin Australia Luke Mangan menu has very few choices on it.

Karmarama juice sounds nice, but Pepsi haters will be disappointed

So we taxied out towards the main north-south runway and stopped and waited while a procession of flights landed and took off in front of us. It was quite a sight watching aircraft ranging from another DJ E170 to a SQ A380 pass in front of us. It was now half an hour from our departure time.

Newly painted Virgin Australia 737-800. Had a nice sight of their A330 taking off in front of a rainbow

Air Niugini 767? in between the V Australia 777 and Atlas Air 744 at the freight terminal

Virgin Australia 737-800 lands in front of a Singapore Airlines A380

Passionate Wings to Culture. Huh?

Eventually our turn arrived and we quickly launched into the air, turning south across Botany Bay, closer to the coastline than normal. Seatbelt lights were soon extinguished despite us still climbing at a steep angle. The announcement was made that we would be served a light refreshment but that "for our passengers travelling elsewhere on the Virgin Australia network please note that the service is only available on Capital Connect flights in and out of Canberra."

Enjoy the E170 shadow while you can

That pot of gold is very valuable right now

How is that sucking up to government going?

We pass through the clouds and are tracking down the coast, before making a south westerly turn in towards Canberra. Much of the landscape was obscured, but it's still pretty outside.

See the sea

Above the clouds

Finally, the service begins from the front, and possibly the back. They get to our row, then stop. Daren presses the call button. I think they've run out of hot water for their tea. A rolled up table mat/rubbish bag with cutlery is haded over, along with a cardboard box with a picture of Coffs Harbour's Big Banana on the front hides a big hunk of banana bread. Ah, bananas. That makes it premium food then? Is the Big Banana Australia's most expensive piece of real estate right now at $14 per kilogram? (though it's been getting cheaper lately)  Bit blurry sorry

Big Banana!

Why use Danish butter?

It was quite nice and well appreciated seeing as I missed out on breakfast.

I ask for juice, over the hot alternatives or water. A small bottle is given to me, along with a plastic cup containing ice. I begin eating, but the service is still stuck. Then the captain announces that we have begun our descent. No choice now but for them to toss the banana bread to the other passengers. They are still going when the captains switches on the seatbelt light and tells everyone to return to their seats.

Turning and descending

Nice idea feeding us, but poor execution. The actual flight time is around 25 minutes - there is no time for dawdling. How much time was wasted putting ice into cups? On Qantas they just give you the bottle on these flights.

Unbelievably, it looked like one of the premium passengers had been handed a video player to watch during the flight. What's the point?

We approached Canberra International Airport (though there are no scheduled international flights there) from the south, through brilliantly bright clouds and over a landscape only just emerging from the bleakness of winter. It was a surprisingly smooth descent (only a few bumps) for Canberra. As we taxied towards the terminal I could see a new Costco warehouse next to the existing Brand Depot. Pay $60 membership each year for a palette of cheap toilet paper? Umm, no thanks.

Googong Reservoir

Molonglo River

Turning off the runway

We were about five minutes late despite the long wait in Sydney. It just shows how much padding is required for Sydney Airport.

The new terminal still has the Canberra Airport facade in front. I noticed another DJ E170 parked on the tarmac with stair access, but we were headed for the aerobridge. The Virgin Australia area was a little inconvenient to exit from, but the new Canberra airport is still quite attractive. Unbelievably there was no queue for the taxis. First time ever in Canberra for me.

Terminal

So what do I think of the new Virgin Australia and its Capital Connect service? A bit try hard for me right now. Somehow the DJ crew lacked the professionalism that is the hallmark of Qantas services that I've flown on in recent times. But I'm happy that Qantas now has a competitor to keep them honest. Give Virgin Australia a bit more time and they should improve. It will be interesting to see what effect flying the ATRs on the route has, but I would miss the jets, especially when those summer storms blow in.

I'll try to do a quick post the return leg here in a few days, as a matter of comparison.

[Edited 2011-08-22 06:54:57]
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palmjet
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RE: Capital Connect: The New Old Virgin To Canberra

Mon Aug 22, 2011 2:17 pm

Allrite - thanks very much for your latest report and pics.

Nice to see what all the hype is about with the new Capital Connect branded service. I really loved the EM170 on my CBR-SYD flight a couple of years ago. It seems quite ambitious to provide this level of F&B service on what is always a very short sector. I wonder whether over time, they will streamline this to ensure they don't get caught out, like what seemed to happen on your flight.

I will be interested to see how the ATRs go. I really like them as well. Might just have to book myself on an ATR operated service over the Christmas break, when I am due to be back down under.

Cheers and thanks again! P/jet
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signol
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RE: Capital Connect: The New Old Virgin To Canberra

Mon Aug 22, 2011 4:56 pm

Good, quick report, thanks.
Really, on such a short flight, you'd think they'd forego the niceties - portable TVs for premium passengers? They'd barely have time to boot up! Our local 25 minute hop to AMS has "service", a sealed juice cup and an individually wrapped biscuit - no choice. KL have that right!
What is "Hillsong hair"? I know Hillsong is a church...
And for comparison, how would the train compare on a Sydney - Canberra trip? It's only a couple of hours isn't it, would that save much time for checkin, security etc?
Thanks again
signol
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allrite
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RE: Capital Connect: The New Old Virgin To Canberra

Mon Aug 22, 2011 8:50 pm

Quoting Palmjet (Reply 1):
It seems quite ambitious to provide this level of F&B service on what is always a very short sector. I wonder whether over time, they will streamline this to ensure they don't get caught out, like what seemed to happen on your flight.
Quoting signol (Reply 2):
Our local 25 minute hop to AMS has "service", a sealed juice cup and an individually wrapped biscuit - no choice.

On my previous Qantas flights between SYD-CBR they usually provide a wrapped bakery product like a brownie or small muffin in the morning and snack like chips or chocolate nuts in the evening, along with a bottle of juice/can of soft drink/beer/bottle of wine (alcohol on evening flights). So far as I can recall, no coffee or tea. But it's done efficiently. Even then, on return flights they have had to suspend service a number of times due to weather issues. Despite having three attendants on the small E170 jet there was too much dithering to finish the service, plus serving in individual cups is just ludicrous for such a short sector.

Quoting signol (Reply 2):
What is "Hillsong hair"? I know Hillsong is a church...

It's my term for heavily jelled hair teased towards the centre. It was very popular with young males on Australian Idol, where many of the contestants seemed to attend the Hillsong church or others of their ilk.

Quoting signol (Reply 2):
And for comparison, how would the train compare on a Sydney - Canberra trip? It's only a couple of hours isn't it, would that save much time for checkin, security etc?

The scheduled time is 4 hours 20 minutes from Central (shorter from my nearest station) and there are only a maximum of 3 services a day. It's a pretty ride that I used to take a lot as a student and would enjoy catching again, but it doesn't suit my work/family requirements. This is a segment that is crying out for a proper fast train, though that would bypass some of the best scenery unfortunately.
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shnoob940
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RE: Capital Connect: The New Old Virgin To Canberra

Tue Aug 23, 2011 12:34 pm

QF offered me a muesli bar and a water or juice on my flight. Good of DJ to finally serve free stuff, but I think they should do it on all flights and make it BOB for other things. I am going to miss the E170s and the 737-400s that run to CBR and back.

gibbo
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allrite
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RE: Capital Connect: The New Old Virgin To Canberra

Thu Aug 25, 2011 5:15 am

I like artificial banana essence!
 
MSS658
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RE: Capital Connect: The New Old Virgin To Canberra

Thu Aug 25, 2011 7:36 am

Hi


Nice trip report, thanks for sharing it with us. Amazing that you got something to eat on such a short flight.


Greetings
Marc
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allrite
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RE: Capital Connect: The New Old Virgin To Canberra

Thu Aug 25, 2011 11:27 am

Quoting Shnoob940 (Reply 4):
I am going to miss the E170s and the 737-400s that run to CBR and back.

It's funny how they put their "unwanted" jets, including the 767, on that run, though I've now caught a couple of QF 738s on that route now.

Quoting MSS658 (Reply 6):
Nice trip report, thanks for sharing it with us. Amazing that you got something to eat on such a short flight.

You are welcome! I've done so many on this route, have to find a new hook each time. Food and drink is good so far as I'm concerned. Usually in such a rush in the morning that I don't get breakfast when flying out and a drink is needed after the dry Canberra air on the way back.
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Ryanair!!!
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RE: Capital Connect: The New Old Virgin To Canberra

Fri Aug 26, 2011 4:14 am

Quoting allrite (Thread starter):
Nice idea feeding us, but poor execution. The actual flight time is around 25 minutes - there is no time for dawdling. How much time was wasted putting ice into cups? On Qantas they just give you the bottle on these flights.

Unbelievably, it looked like one of the premium passengers had been handed a video player to watch during the flight. What's the point?

Indeed very bad execution. I believe the flight time between CBR and SYD is rather similar to KUL and SIN. A video player? How much entertainment could one possibly consume in 20 mins? Then again, Virgin is trying to differentiate themselves from QF and as you say, this service is new so give it time to settle.

Quoting allrite (Reply 3):
Give Virgin Australia a bit more time and they should improve. It will be interesting to see what effect flying the ATRs on the route has, but I would miss the jets, especially when those summer storms blow in.

For sure, with the ATRs, it would be a more comfortable flight time for the crew to serve passengers properly. And for passengers, a better view from above as the cruising altitude is lower.
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ba319-131
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RE: Capital Connect: The New Old Virgin To Canberra

Fri Aug 26, 2011 6:43 pm

Nice report, thanks for sharing.

Quoting allrite (Thread starter):
A couple of days before my flight I wanted to check my booking online, but the Virgin Australia website wouldn't let me. I phoned their call centre, to be told by "Princess" with a Philippine accent that we couldn't check in online with government bookings, which some of my colleagues disputed.

- I don't see why there should be a difference in the bookings to stop you accessing it online, seems like a system error more than anything.

Quoting allrite (Thread starter):
E170. Virgin Australia are supposed to be getting rid of these

- So I hear, never lasted long, bad call to aquire them in the first place?

Quoting allrite (Thread starter):
Nice idea feeding us, but poor execution. The actual flight time is around 25 minutes - there is no time for dawdling. How much time was wasted putting ice into cups? On Qantas they just give you the bottle on these flights.

- Seems QF have it right, sometimes less is the right product.

Cheers

Mark
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allrite
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RE: Capital Connect: The New Old Virgin To Canberra

Fri Aug 26, 2011 10:08 pm

Quoting Ryanair!!! (Reply 8):
I believe the flight time between CBR and SYD is rather similar to KUL and SIN.

Except that there's rarely congestion around Canberra!  
Quoting Ryanair!!! (Reply 8):
A video player? How much entertainment could one possibly consume in 20 mins?

I've seen many try to use laptops, though the captain once said "don't bother!" over the PA.

Quoting ba319-131 (Reply 9):
I don't see why there should be a difference in the bookings to stop you accessing it online, seems like a system error more than anything.

I've had issues with other airlines where you can't check in online... infants, special rebookings etc. Sometimes it depends on the booking class. Can't manage these corporate bookings online as you need to call the booking agent to change them on your behalf. Same thing with Qantas. Very annoying!
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shnoob940
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RE: Capital Connect: The New Old Virgin To Canberra

Fri Aug 26, 2011 11:53 pm

Quoting allrite (Reply 7):

It's funny how they put their "unwanted" jets, including the 767, on that run, though I've now caught a couple of QF 738s on that route now.

Have they flown a 767 on the route? Gee, thats different. I just like the 737-400s and when I fly QF domestic, I always fly a -400. I just wish they would stick them on more BNE-ISA flights.
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allrite
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RE: Capital Connect: The New Old Virgin To Canberra

Sat Aug 27, 2011 11:33 am

Quoting shnoob940 (Reply 11):
Have they flown a 767 on the route?

The early flight from Melbourne to Canberra is a 767. With a cursory look at the timetable I can't seem to find any other 767 flights there. The rest are various Dash 8's, 737-400s and 737-800s from Sydney and Perth.
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abrelosojos
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RE: Capital Connect: The New Old Virgin To Canberra

Sat Aug 27, 2011 4:10 pm

I have not been to Australia for ages and plan on doing so this year - must sneak in the ATR run I think.

Thanks again for the report - and as you said, it is great that Virgin Australia is trying. I do appreciate the thought of a meal service on short flights like these.

Saludos,
A.

PS: The decision to buy the E70 was poor thought of - CASM is significantly higher for these stage lengths and VA thought it could get the price premium - it did not, and they are on their way out.
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