Fifteen Days in Australia
A Trip to Sydney, Cairns, Melbourne, and Diving the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea
- United Global First Class Lounges – Washington-Dulles and Los Angeles
- United Global First Class Los Angeles to Sydney
- Sydney: Days One and Two (Arrival, Walking Tour, Manly Beach, and Darling Harbour)
- Sydney: Days Three and Four (Sydney Opera House, Taronga Zoo, The Rocks, Bondi Beach, Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens, Woolloomooloo, and the Sydney Fish Market)
- New Year’s Eve at Sydney Harbour
- Virgin Australia Economy Class Sydney to Brisbane to Cairns
- An Evening in Cairns and a Flight to Lizard Island, AU
- Spirit of Freedom Live-aboard Dive Trip (4-night Coral Sea and GBR)
- Qantas Economy and Business Class Cairns to Sydney to Melbourne
- Two Days in Melbourne and the Park Hyatt Melbourne
- United Global First Class Sydney to San Francisco
We awoke after a long night out for New Year’s Eve in Sydney to finish packing for our flights to Cairns. After checking out from the Sheraton on the Park, we took a cab through a sleepy downtown Sydney out to Sydney’s Kingsford Smith International Airport for about AUD $35. Check-in was relatively uneventful despite the morning rush at the terminal. The check-in agent advised that we check our bags since they were deemed to be a “borderline” size for a carry-on. We used these bags as carry-ons for our entire trip over on United, but went ahead and followed the gate agent’s advice anyway since we were each allowed a free bag with our “saver” fare.
We proceeded through security and grabbed a bite for breakfast in the food court of the domestic terminal T2. I made a few phone calls to wish folks on the East Coast of the USA a Happy New Year, and by that time boarding had commenced. Virgin Australia boards its planes from the front and rear. Due to our seat assignments behind the wing, we boarded through the rear set of air stairs, while the front rows boarded through the front door using the jet bridge. Our plane was in the “old” livery, as the side of the plane still read “Virgin Blue” — the former name of the Aussie incarnation of the Virgin brand. The airline was re-branded in 2011, and it joined then “V Australia” and “Pacific Blue” to form what is now “Virgin Australia.”
Virgin Australia (VA) 939
Sydney (SYD) – Brisbane (BNE)
Aircraft: Boeing 737-800
Wednesday, January 1
12:00 PM – 12:30PM
We settled into our seats – the window and aisle seats in row 25 (A and C), hoping that the middle seat did not fill up. We got lucky, as the door closed shortly thereafter with a relatively light load. The cabin was clean with hints of purple hues in the bulkhead partitions. Unfortunately, I found the legroom to be lacking, as I had some very limited pitch to fit my 6’4″ frame. Luckily, this would only be a short flight.
There was an in-flight entertainment (IFE) screen at each seat, but upon arriving to my seat, it indicated that the satellite was temporarily down. I hoped that this was simply because we were still at the gate. Unfortunately, the IFE was inoperable the entire flight with the exception of a moving map display. That was pretty disappointing.
We taxied for quite some time before taking off from Sydney. As we climbed out, we were blessed with magnificent views of Sydney Harbour and downtown on a beautiful New Years Day.
Shortly after takeoff, a basic drink service commenced. This was a very standard beverage service, similar to what you’d find on a domestic flight in the US. I spent the majority of the time on the flight looking out the window at the foreign (to me) Australian coast. Before I knew it, we were descending into Brisbane where we landed on-time.
We were set to have about a 70 minute connection in Brisbane, but when we went to our gate for the flight to Cairns, it was clear that things were not on-time. This allowed for us to have a more relaxed lunch in the food court of the terminal.
The delay was extended four different times until we finally were called for boarding around 3pm – about 80 minutes behind schedule.
Virgin Australia (VA) 785
Brisbane (BNE) – Cairns (CNS)
Aircraft: Boeing 737-800
Wednesday, January 1
1:40 PM – 4:00 PM
Once again, we boarded the rear of the aircraft via air stairs. This airplane; however, was in the new Virigin Australia livery — a much fresher look that’s constitutes the majority of the Virgin Australia fleet.
This flight to Cairns was pretty much identical to the earlier flight to Brisbane – only an hour or so longer. There were a couple of basic drink services from friendly flight attendants — again, nothing out of the ordinary. The IFE screen was once again dysfunctional, which was again disappointing. The pitch in the economy cabin was pretty bad — just as it was on the first flight. Once again, the highlight of the flight was the view, as we had a great view of some portions of the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest as we flew into Cairns in Northeast Australia. We made up some time from the delay, and arrived about an hour later than scheduled despite the initial 1:20 delay.
Overall, my experience on Virgin Australia was pretty comparable to a domestic flight on a legacy airline in the states. There was nothing really special about the experience, to be honest. The legroom was pretty bad, but that’s the case with most airlines in economy these days. The price was right, as were the flight times, and those were the ultimate drivers in choosing these flights. Though there was nothing really wrong with the flights, I do think the domestic Virgin Australia experience is a notch below that of the often raved about Virgin America in the US.