Why is status important? To be perfectly honest, to someone in my position it probably isn't. I simply can't fly enough or expensively enough to earn the kind of status where the real perks kick in. But I do fly enough that the little privileges are welcomed and I do genuinely enjoy flying Qantas and Jetstar. The fact that virtually every employee of theirs that I meet speaks of their pride for working for them also helps engender a sense of loyalty too.
I would have had those points had the last trip to Singapore worked out. Instead I got as far as Melbourne and headed home. On Virgin Australia. So only ten points out of the required fifty earned there.
I like airlines, I love travel, but as time passes I struggle more and more with a fear of turbulence that threatens to ruin the experience. In many ways the anticipation is worse than the event itself. I know I shouldn't fear, I know I can cope. So I try to face that fear, to ensure that it doesn't stop me.
But I also do my best to avoid the situation where I can. That means avoidance of adverse weather.
I scry the weather maps, the turbulence forecasts. It's November, storm season, when hot moist air forms towering cumulonimbus full of severe updrafts and downdrafts, when walls of roiling clouds envelop whole cities.
I know this. I've seen it happen right outside my office window, watching a grey hell engulf Sydney, aircraft disappearing from their usual flight paths as they circle, waiting for the storms to pass.
|Massive storm front strikes south of Sydney|
Plus there are at least two cities to concern myself with along with all the skies between those two. An origin, a destination. And then they swap, time passing between them. Time for a change to pass through or a late storm to develop.
There is an added complication that my times are limited due to work and family commitments. A day trip is preferred, a night away at most. But short trips mean reduced points earn unless one is willing to pay for the highest fares.
I'm not going to try for a 8 hour flight only to turn straight back. That didn't work out for Singapore. New Zealand or Perth? Tempting way to use the Jetstar credit from my last trip, but ultimately I'd be flying for points and not to see anything. If I'm going to do that it's got to be short.
As they say, first world problems!
After the ferocious storms, a couple of gorgeous November days pass me by. Long contrails streak across clear skies, their paths untroubled by breezes. I prevaricate, identify some other days from the long range forecast that should be suitable.
It is a Tuesday as I step out of my house in the morning and set off towards work. As I wait at the bus stop I see the skies are clear and calm and think, today is a good day to fly! I check forecasts and then fares on my phone as the bus makes its short trip to the station and find myself quickly booking return Qantas flights to Melbourne. Along with the 50% bonus I registered for it should take me to within 10 points of Silver Status.
Unfortunately, Qantas only permits you to select seats after purchasing the ticket (I prefer Jetstar's way of letting you do it first). On the way down I'm in seat 40K, near the back of the wing but still close enough. But on the way up it's 48K too near to the rear.
It's too late to check in on my phone, but my train passes by the airport station, so I hop off there and check in through the kiosk, hoping that better seats will appear.
|Terminal 3 and kiosks|
I'm quite early, so I go to the Qantas Club and take out my laptop to do some work.
I've had breakfast and I'm not really hungry, so I limit myself to drinks and nibblies (I love licorice allsorts!). Anyway, I know I'll be fed on the flight and I've got another Qantas Club to look forward to in Melbourne.
The windows are facing out towards the Qantas Jetbase and the northern gates of the terminal. I spot the Qantas Retro Roo and then the Retro Roo II appears, it's 707 scheme unveiled only the day before. Qantas 95 year birthday has just passed and they have been celebrating. Inside the lounge are glass cases containing Barbie and Ken dolls dressed with old uniforms. No pics sorry.
Let me apologise now for the quality of photos in this report. I only had my phone with me.
|Retro Roo from the Qantas Club|
|Retro Roo II|
|Retro Roo II|
I'm fortunate in that I can work anywhere there's an internet connection. I even hold join a team meeting via video conference, though mostly on mute.
It's time to head down the the gate. It's crowded and there are few free seats. It's not long until boarding begins and I am near the back of the queue. We move forward and I am soon walking down the long glass walled jet bridge, trying to feel excited.
|Welcome to Sydney, but advertising New Zealand? You can't even fly there from this terminal!|
|VH-EBD, or what you can see of her.|
The aircraft is VH-EBD. Last time I flew her she was in Jetstar colours. Now she has been returned to Qantas. Most flights between Sydney and Melbourne with Qantas are on Boeing 737-800's. That's what I'd flown last month. But I'd picked an Airbus A330-200 flights thinking that their larger flight would make for a smoother flight and for the minor novelty of it. I say minor because I feel like I've done more A330 flights than 737-800s, certainly in recent times!
VH-EBD has not yet undergone the latest refurbishments with the swanky new business class seats and other enhancements. However, there have been some largely cosmetic changes from its Jetstar stint with the standard hexagonal grey Qantas seat covers replacing the black leather economy seats, except for the adjustable headrests. No more orange highlights either. The seats are comfortable and the legroom sufficient for my stumpy limbs.
|Out the window|
|Cabin shot with safety briefing|
In the seat pockets are iPad Minis which can be hooked to the rear of the seat for comfortable viewing in flight. There are also drop down screens for the safety video and news updates.
I've just downloaded the Qantas streaming app for my phone, but this aircraft isn't equipped for it. No matter, I was just curious.
I have a brief browse through the offerings on the iPad, which can be used throughout the entire flight, though only mounted during cruise. On a flight of roughly an hour there's not much point in watching a movie and I'd rather look out the window. The soundtrack selection in the audio section was typically pathetic, full of musicals and pop music. This one area Qantas consistently fails with. I tried the Mad Max Fury Road album, but couldn't get into it. No matter, I have thousands of tracks on my phone.
The first officer is a talkative one. He announces that the front door is now closed and that we are waiting for the last of the cargo to be loaded. This takes longer than expected and his next announcement is to apologise for the late departure, but that we should be able to make up much of the time. However, due to gusty winds at Melbourne there is only one runway open which may cause a delay. And not to worry about the wind and the bumps because aircraft are designed for it and we'll be completely safe.
Gusty winds? Who said anything about gusty winds? And that's not reassuring to me. Yes I know the aircraft won't crash but if it gets to the point of me worrying about that then I'll be having the ride from hell inside.
Too late now. I'm stuck inside.
Okay, I'm calm. It will be fine for a while. And anyway, when I flew into Melbourne in March there were big wind gusts and it was okay. True, I was in a 787 with its advanced turbulence suppression technology, but it will be fine.
The weather now couldn't be better. Beautiful clear skies with only the slightest hints of cloud in the distance. Though there is a bit of chop in the waters of Botany Bay that surround the runways, indicating a stiff breeze is blowing.
|QantasLink Dash 8 Q400|
We have a long taxi out to the southern end of the third runway for a takeoff towards the north. As we lift off from the ground the large aircraft makes a sharp bank to the right and we head out over the coast in exactly the wrong direction.
|We have liftoff!|
|Looking back over the airport runways and Botany Bay|
|Heading out to sea|
Once out over the blue sea we make another right hand turn until we are align with the coast and heading south, hugging it for a while before turning inland, crossing the coast again over the city of Wollongong.
|Looking back towards Botany Bay and Cronulla|
There is a bit of chop as we fly over the textured landscape of the Southern Highlands. The crew come through the cabin serving meals. I was impressed with the breakfast on my last flight with Qantas and I am looking forward to what's in store for us today.
Except that it's steak and mushroom pie.
Not a large nor exciting meal either. Disappointing.
My neighbour also rejects the meal.
|Scattered cloud inland. The wing needs a touch up of paint|
I just request a can of Coke, which is duly served. The crew member returns shortly afterwards and offers an apple instead of the meal. I appreciate that but decide to go without. After all, there will be food in the lounge.
Below is Lake George, an ephemeral brown waterless expanse. I should love to see it absolutely full again. I wonder if I ever will.
|Empty Lake George|
Canberra passes far beneath us and I think of my colleagues down there. The cloud below is increasing and in the distance I can see what looks like high cloud, even perhaps some cumulonimbus. Though it takes longer than I expect, the clouds are indeed waiting for us at the Victorian border and there are a few bumps as we pass through their upper reaches.
|Canberra from above|
|The cloud is changing|
|Heading south and the clouds are getting higher|
The border also signals the start of our slow descent into Melbourne.
There a glimpses of granite mountain tops and bright blue reservoir lakes beneath us through gaps in the cloud, but they disappear beneath an even carpet of white towards which we are approaching.
|Through that lot|
More bumps as we pass through them, white and grey, a grey-green-dull yellow landscape below. The seatbelt lights are switched on, but there is no cheery announcement from the cabin manager that "The captain has switched on the seatbelt lights in preparation for landing." only a terse "All passengers and crew please bet seated." from the first officer.
That's not good. We were obviously hitting the weather.
|Descending towards the clouds|
It isn't the worst turbulence I have ever felt, but it is pretty bad. The aircraft is obviously fighting hard against the gusting variable winds at times. Up and down, up and down the aircraft bucks. Our approach will be from the south, first passing over Essendon Airport, and the A330 struggles to make its turns against the wind, to keeps its course all the way until we touch the tarmac.
|Over greater Melbourne|
|Western Ring Road intersection|
|Looking back towards Essendon Airport|
|Taxiing towards the terming|
|Qantas Airbus A380|
I feel a massive sense of relief to be on the ground again.
The First Officer welcomes us to Melbourne and apologises that Melbourne ATC has delayed us.
There is the usual tour of the different aircraft types, international and domestic, parked along the way. I'm barely taking any notice as I'm now desperately in need of another form of relief.