Now You're Flying: Virgin Australia A332 Sydney to Perth
There was no particular reason to fly with a specific airline for my trip to Sydney, so I had selected Qantas for the outbound flight and Virgin Australia for the return journey. Virgin were no cheaper than Qantas but I thought I would give them a go to compare the service provided.
I had checked in by mobile so did not need to use the self-check-in or desks at the airport but could make my way straight through security. Departure was scheduled to be from Gate 42 with boarding commencing at 06:45. Time passed and an announcement was made that there was a "revised departure time" which would see boarding commence only two minutes before the original departure time. Still, the gate crew were welcoming and wished me a pleasant flight.
Virgin Australia VA551
Sydney to Perth
Aircraft ID: VH-XFG Terrigal Beach
Type: Airbus A330-243 Seat: 37K
STD: 07:15 ATD: 07:50
STA: 09:20 ATA: 09:25
First flown with test registration F-WWTU on 21st of March, 2013 and ferried from Toulouse to Melbourne on delivery, Terrigal Beach
was delivered on the 19th of April, 2013. The cabin is configured with 24 seats in Business and 255 in Economy.
Walking through the Business cabin the window seats look commodious enough and are angled to the window. In the main cabin, to provide some relief from the drab greys, headrests are a mix of colours.
The seats themselves are comfortable and have sufficient leg-room. I was also fortunate in that my seat neighbour did not spread too much or need a seat-belt extender.
In contrast to the flight from Tamworth when the crew were curt but the aircraft clean, today's flight appeared to have reverted to norm: the crew were friendly but the cabin was ...
On the seats were headsets for use with the in-flight entertainment and information system. I didn't check them out as I normally don't bother watching videos or listening to music, preferring to look out the window and follow the route map.
In the seat-back pocket was the safety card. This was also a bit grubby from frequent use, covered with stains that might have been chocolate, blood or who knows what.
The buy on-board menu was clean. Whether this is because it gets changed more frequently or because no-one ever buys anything, I couldn't say. In the area where I was seated, I didn't notice anyone purchasing any food or drinks during the flight and I restricted myself to the included meal service.
Out on the apron, the weather was a tad wet. Through the rain I could make out the AirLink Beech that had flown me to Dubbo a few days before. On the flight deck, the crew were checking that things worked, flaps up, down and so on.
While the Captain satisfied himself that all was as should be, in the cabin the safety video was shown. Virgin has chosen to be inventive and base its safety message on car racing at Mount Panorama. While in the video the Captain rides as a passenger and looks very uneasy, I did notice that the message includes the instruction to leave baggage behind in the event of an evacuation.
Passengers settled in for the flight as the aircraft began taxi. The cabin was brightly illuminated in shades of white, blue and purple.
Outside conditions remained bleak. As a Tigerair departure waited, a Singapore Airlines A380 came in through the dark cloud and rain; a Qantas A380 was under tow; and another Qantas flight incoming.
Soon it was our turn to enter the runway and the two RR Trent 772B-60 engines began producing the thrust needed to lift the aircraft into the murky skies.
After several minutes Terrigal Beach
emerged into the clear blue above the clouds. Shortly after, the cabin crew were busy preparing breakfast and started the meal run.
Time to lower the tray table in readiness for today's options. Ink, water and other stains are visible. Oh well, I was not going to eat the table and the food would be wrapped.
The options were a traditional breakfast of eggs, beans and bacon or a vegetarian meal. Having eaten before leaving for the airport I didn't fancy eggs and beans so I chose the latter. I still ended up with beans but these were served with a potato and zucchini fritter and spinach. A small chocolate chip muffin was also offered.
The first thing to note was that the packaging was smaller than that offered by Qantas. While the flying kangaroo offers boxes with square sides, Virgin's boxes have acutely angled sides so that the bottom is much smaller that the top. The portions are far less generous, being carefully measured so that much of the bottom of the box remains visible. Presumably to assure the passengers of the high quality of materials used in its construction. A cynic might conclude the deliberately small portions are designed to encourage additional purchases.
A second team came through the cabin bringing beverages. Available were tea, coffee, fruit juice and water. My request for both water and a coffee were cheerfully met.
After the meal was cleared, Mildura and Wentworth at the confluence of the Murray and Darling Rivers came into view. The Murray forms the border between New South Wales and Victoria, with Mildura being in Victoria and Wentworth in New South Wales. Before the coming of the railways, Wentworth was an important river port. Today, along with Mildura, it supports citrus and grape production.
From the air it's hard to imagine that during World War II, Lake Victoria was used as a training ground for the RAAF’s 2 Operational Training Unit. Six fatalities resulted from these activities and to this day two airmen and their aircraft remain missing in the lake bed.
At the centre of an area known for the cultivation of grapes, citrus fruits, tomatoes, vegetables, wheat and wool, the area around Renmark looks very different to how it looked when Captain Charles Sturt passed through the area in January 1830, as he navigated the length of the Murray from the Great Dividing Range to Lake Alexandrina.
Forming the Copper Triangle
, the towns of Moonta Bay, Wallaroo and Kadina in the north of Yorke Peninsula are today better known for agriculture than for the Cornish copper miners who flocked to the area in the 1880s. At the top of Spencer Gulf, Port Pirie and Whyalla lie in the distance.
Crossing the Eyre Peninsula the aircraft passed Sheringa on the coast, with views toward Elliston as we headed out over the Bight. The area is supported by barley and wheat farming with fishing for abalone and crayfish (lobster) and tourism being important industries.
In the distance I could see the narrow strip of mainland known as the Nuytsland Conservation Reserve. We crossed the Western Australian coast north of Israelite Bay and south of Balladonia. The south-east of the State was blanketed in cloud so I took advantage of there being no queue and went to the toilet.
The flight continued over country dominated by sheep and grain production, passing towns like Quairading, which grew after Jonah Parker banned alcohol in the nearby private townsite of Dangin. The town has an airstrip but there are no regular commercial flights.
In the distance, nestled at the foot of Mount Brown, York could be seen with Mount Bakewell to the north. York was the first inland settlement in the former Swan River Colony, when Ensign Dale escorted the first party of settlers to the district, reaching the Avon valley on the 16th of September, 1831.
As the aircraft passed over the Darling escarpment, the northern suburbs came into view. In the distance the Indian Ocean could be seen. By now the usual announcement regarding stowing of laptops and tables, turning off electronic devices or operating in flight mode, and ensuring that seat-belts were securely fastened had been made.
Our approach took us over the Swan Valley, home to wineries and orchardists, the historic town of Guildford and the Helena River.
On approach we passed some parked-up former OzJet aircraft and a few BAe 146 and Avro RJs from Cobham. These latter aircraft are used on mining charters to places like Murrin Murrin, Granny Smith, Darlot and Plutonic but are also available for specialist charter flights.
On the ground, while flaps and spoilers deployed to assist with breaking, an announcement welcomes us to Perth and expresses the hope that we had enjoyed the flight and that we would be back on board soon.
As the aircraft taxied to Terminal 1, on the apron in front of Terminal 2 were a couple of Saab 340Bs with Regional Express. Rex have been operating services to Albany and Esperance since the 28th of February, 2016.
Also parked was an Alliance Airlines Fokker 100, currently used on mining charters. In February 2016, Alliance Airlines entered into a partnership with Virgin Australia. The key terms of the Commercial Partnership were as follows:
* Alliance and Virgin Australia Regional Airlines would form a Charter Partnership to jointly grow their charter businesses. Existing charter contracts would remain with their current operator, with all new contracts to be operated under the Charter Partnership.
* Alliance and Virgin Australia Regional Airlines would enter into agreements to provide and procure services for each other on a preferential basis. This included, but was not limited to, aircraft procurement, spare parts pooling, maintenance and ground handling services.
Though still in the former Skywest livery, this Fokker 100 flies for Virgin Australia on routes within Western Australia, such as Kununurra and Geraldton. The latter destination was previously served by Fokker 50.
A few moments later Terrigal Beach
was aligning with the A-frame for arrival at Stand 148A (Gate 48A). Despite the delayed departure of thirty-five minutes, most of the time had been regained in flight and arrival was just five minutes after the scheduled time.
It didn't take long to deplane via the jet-bridge and soon I was inside Terminal 1 Domestic, which features a number of eateries, a bookshop and chemist. Then it was down one of the escalators (the other was "under maintenance") to the exit.
Outside it looked very pleasant with garden beds growing local plants that include Kangaroo Paws. It was only a short walk to the taxi rank and a ride home.
The friendly interaction with passengers from the crew on this flight is beyond dispute. But I did realise that in the world of aviation, LCC does not necessarily mean low cost carrier. In the case of Virgin Australia it appears to mean "less catering and cleaning".
The paltry size of the meals and the lack of any serious attempt to keep the aircraft clean may stem expenses and help the bottom line but they do nothing to enhance the airline's reputation as a quality carrier, despite their slogan "Now you're flying." Virgin may think that they can compete solely on cost but even there, on mainline routes Qantas is often able to offer lower fares while still providing a higher quality of service.
Up next, a surprise as I head off to Ravensthorpe with Skippers Aviation.Previous Trip Reports:Getting into the Spirit: Qantas A332 Perth to SydneyYour Personal Airline: AirLink Beech 1900D to DubboOur Heart is in the Country: Regional Express Saab 340BMotorcycles Galore: QantasLink Dash-8 300Q to TamworthDjawannasnack: Virgin Australia ATR 72 to Sydney