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I been back from Bali, too

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks since I made it back from Bali safe and sound. I arrived back into Adelaide at about 6 am Saturday morning with a 1 day turn around to get some sleep and see the family before a conference started on Sunday. This time I had a fair bit of work to do at the conference between one thing and another. Plus trying to learn something from the speakers.

The flight back from Bali was rather a different experience to the flight up. We had the rare opportunity of an on tarmac boarding experience, no doubt related to being a small airplane and not orange either. Walking on the tarmac and being so close to landing planes is pretty exciting for an aviation fan. Yes, while waiting to get on my Jetstar flight that AirAsia flight landed and turned off the runway right behind us.

Bali airport has a good range of amenities to use before your flight – eateries, bars and such. I opted for a second tier lounge courtesy of the Priority Pass membership that comes free with a Credit Cards. This membership includes 2 free lounge visits a year that I rarely get to use, so this was a great opportunity to cash in. The lounge was actually very good, with a  balcony area, basic hot and cold food, beer wine and spirits, plenty of power outlets (need adapter) and a nice enough shower. I only called it second tier because they didn’t have BinTang!😮😆  They didn’t offer toiletries for the shower, just a towel; this is pretty normal so make sure you have soap and toothpaste.

After a few beers to relax for the flight, I took a stroll around Bali airport with a plan to arrive early to the gate. Our flight was departing from Gate 6A, and that “A” bit seemed a bit unusual. Sure enough I arrived at Gate 6 to find a big airplane that was going to Melbourne, there was no obvious 6A.

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Gate 6A – bus gate

Almost exactly as I noticed the sign pointing to the gate an announcement was made telling us to go downstairs for Gate 6A. After a short walk I was in the basement ready to board the bus that would take us to the plane. I made the second bus, once at the aircraft boarding took about 15 minutes. There was at least another bus load to get on as we waited for a while before more people joined us. The flight was rather full.

Once on board there was a rather interesting experience to find someone sitting in my seat. There was a bit of a discussion on this point including some confusion about seat numbers, or letters to be more precise. “B”/”C”. “What someone sits there in the middle?” Turns out the guy was my seat buddy in the middle seat. There was genuine shock to learn that he was the person who was going to be sitting in that middle seat.

It was also interesting that a crew member came over pretty quickly to see what was happening. The seat buddy was travelling with a bit of a group, with dad in the “A” seat and mum a few rows in front. I later wondered if they were the reason for the wait on the tarmac, it was an interesting flight. Dad and son did not leave their seats at all during the 5 hour flight. At one stage I even got up for about 10 minutes to give them a chance at a toilet break. Nada!

They also left the reading lights on for the entire flight, even while sleeping. Leaving reading lights on during an overnight flight is pretty disruptive. The poor lady in the row behind with two young children certainly had a few problems. Other than being a bit strange, my seat mates didn’t bother me. They could be excused as new flyers who just don’t have on board experience. It takes a bit of time to experience the annoying things to learn not to do them to others. Feet tapers and seat grabbers are totally annoying. This week the guy in the seat behind not only had to grab the seat to get up, but also just randomly grabbed my seat about 4 times during a 90 minute flight, perhaps he had worms or something. People tapping their feet along to music send reverberations through the entire seat. Needless to say I take extra care to not tap my feet nor grab the seat in front.

Regardless of all the little things soon enough a flight is over. So it was with the return from Bali. Again no complaints about the Jetstar service or meals. Being a night flight there was no indulging beyond the included meal, masaman beef curry. After arriving back in Adelaide immigration and baggage claim was painless. I was back on the ground, at home and a week off from flying to attend the conference.

‘Cause I been to Bali too

It wasn’t on Qantas flight 20, but Jetstar flight 127. Transport prices have also changed a bit since Redgum released that song in 1984. They paid $20 to ride in the back of a truck to Kuta. (According to the Reserve Bank of Australia that would be worth $58 today) A private pick up to Sanur set me back $32, and that was expensive! Of course, a ride in the back of a truck would’ve been more fun.

The Jetstar flight does deserve some comment. I thought it was going to be badly crowded with no leg room and DVTs randomly attacking everyone on board; not to mention smashed people randomly punching on – it’s Jetstar flying to Bali! Turns out things were not that bad, the flight wasn’t that packed with a number of spare seats all around. Comfort was also helped by a last minute decision to stump up $33 for an exit row seat. Even better that the middle seat remained empty for the flight.

The decision to move from row 20 was made when I noticed that both of the other seats were full. It was a bit of a strange one as there were a couple of other rows behind row 20 that had 3 empty seats. We’re probably getting into that strange human behaviour of trying to get to the front of the bus at all cost. Certainly on a domestic flight in Australia with no checked luggage the front of the plane saves time – It takes about 20 minutes for everyone to get off a single aisle aircraft. (think 737, A320)

Everything changes if you have checked luggage, you need to wait for that to come out! Case in point was waiting for at least 20 minutes at the baggage carousel on arrival into Bali. That nice lady from row 1 was still there after my bag was delivered. That sort of waiting time, after arriving at baggage claim, can be pretty common at Australian domestic airports. An empty middle seat will beat any benefit of quick disembarkation if you have to wait for luggage. The couple in my original row certainly seemed to enjoy my decision to move, perhaps I should’ve asked them for a donation towards the exit row fee.  lol.

Overall the flight to Bali wasn’t as bad as expected. The seat buddy was a really good guy, and also the first person Ive seen get on a plane with only a woolies green shopping bag full of stuff. The crew were friendly, helpful and professional. The meal came out after about an hour or so – Beef Teriyaki – it was quite decent for airline food. Also a little tub of ice cream to finish off, and the coffee arrived just in time to “partner” with the ice cream. Still an A320 for 5 hours from Adelaide to Bali isn’t that much fun.

The flight was booked with the Plus Bundle that Jetstar sell. This bundle comes with 20kg luggage, free standard seat selection, a meal and qantas points. All of those items can be purchased separately, except for the Qantas points. Running the numbers, the  bundle was $70 for items that separately cost  about $58. That means I paid $12 for 7800 Qantas points, which is a pretty good price – $0.0015 per point. Of course, as a Qantas platinum I do get 100% bonus on points, but even $0.003 per point is a pretty good price. I skipped the “convenience fee”, really a fancy name for a credit card fee, by using a Jetstar Mastercard. I also found out that Jetstar give a 10% discount for on-board purchases with this card. I had to get a beer mid flight, as the thimble of water and the coffee that comes with the meal just didn’t cut it.

Certainly entertainment is needed for this flight, as even with all the formalities of service there is plenty of empty time. I read a book most of the way, with a quick switch to iPad during the meal. Time passed and we were landing in Bali in the late evening, it was a long walk to the long wait for luggage, but soon enough I was other side checking about 1000 signs to find my driver. And now you can’t impress me, ’cause…

Weekly warrior

The earlier blog posts allude to my weekly road trips. They don’t really involve roads, rather planes and it’s a lot of boring flying. I live in one Australian capital city and decide to work in another city. There are some great benefits such as enjoying the lifestyle of a smaller capital city and the pay of a larger state. The work is also interesting, varied and challenging. Always a bonus. My employer is also happy to let me work a compressed week, meaning a 5 day work week in 4 days. The boring bits are mostly around flying between two cities every week. As a bit of an aviation geek this doesn’t exactly offer a whole range of new flighting experiences, there is definitely a routine involved.

A typical week starts on Sunday afternoon with packing of the luggage, definitely hand luggage only. Pop in the work attire, decide if I need some casual clothes for the week, gather the laptop charger, wallet, watch, car keys and set it all up near the front door. Lay out the corporate “uniform”: suit jacket, pants (not necessarily matching), smalls, shoes and belt, but thankfully no tie. Then it’s time to enjoy the evening with the family. Bed by 10pm or 11 pm, or perhaps a coffee at 11 which means bed at midnight. Regardless of the hour I’m mostly up and at ’em 10 minutes before the alarm set for 4 am. Quick shower, throw on the “bag of fruit” and out the door to hit the “frog and toad” by 4:25am.

Monday morning, early, is truly a magnificent time to be on the roads of a smaller Australian capital city. No other cars on the road, all the green lights, set the cruise control and make sure to slow down for the 1 fixed speed camera. All of this means after 17 km I’m driving into the airport carpark about 20 minutes later. A short walk to the terminal, do the security formalities and I’m at an airline lounge when it opens around 5 am.

I fly enough to be able to fairly comfortably get “free” (nothing in life is really free) access to both the Virgin Australia and Qantas lounges. This is the point at which the mystical thing known as “status” comes into play. Status is how the airlines get you to keep handing them money. After 100 flights it is possible to just scrape into the good status area, even when taking the cheapest possible options. That status make it possible to maintain the current flying routine, the small extra comforts of status make it bearable.  This means that I’ve got fairly good at finding flights that let me top up that status bank for relatively low cost.

The upshot of all this status nonsense is that I walk into the complimentary lounge to find a coffee waiting for me. At 5 am coffee is about all I really want. There isn’t really that much in the way of breakfast in the lounge; a toasted sandwich if you’re bothered to make it, pancakes out of a packet, or perhaps a hard boiled egg. Skipping the self made breakfast gives time for a quick flick through a newspaper while drinking the coffee. After a little while it’s time to wander out to the airplane to battle the crowds to get on board.

Boarding is another activity where the beast known as status comes into play, this time via priority boarding. Virgin Australia, for all their other faults, have priority boarding perfected. Qantas have priority boarding as a written benefit, but the Qantas staff are mostly indifferent to the whole idea of looking after passengers branded as valuable. Totally agree that it’s not very egalitarian (wankerish even) but this is another of those small things that make the weekly routine bearable – get on with minimum fuss, stow the luggage and sit down. I’m definitely not better than anyone else, I just  give Qantas lots of money and I don’t want to be bothered stuffing around week after week.

Once on board a large number of people sleep given the early hour. I’m a sucker for the In Flight Entertainment(IFE), and will switch on a movie if those are available. The competition between Virgin Australia and Qantas means that the number of aircraft with movies is increasing. In fact I think there are only 3 planes left, with Qantas, that don’t have IFE. I’ll save discussion of the relative merits of various versions of IFE for another time. Usually I’ll be 75% into a movie when it’s time to land the plane and get off to work. I’ve developed the bad habit of dropping into the Qantas lounge in Sydney after my flight for a quick coffee.  I can’t do that with Virgin Australia. After such formalities it’s time to get the train to work; and then work, work, work – must get in those 40 hours a week. In between work times I crash at a hotel, keeping a bag of essentials in the office. Sometimes, rarely, I sit in a public house and type away at this blog. I’ve also been known to catch up with some other frequent flyer types mid week.

In general, the working week turns into a blur and soon enough it’s Thursday afternoon, AKA home time. The target is to leave work at about 5:30pm to end up at the airport no later than 7 pm via a random combination of walking or buses and the train. Back into that mystical lounge for a beer and airline food, but more importantly wifi and a nice seat, to end up arriving at home around 10:30 pm. It’s not a pretty schedule, but it keeps me off the streets. Friday morning rolls around and the weekend begins with me driving the kids to school, followed by picking them up and enjoying time with the family. Oh and possibly checking a few emails on Friday.  Get to Sunday afternoon – rinse and repeat.

Baggage!

It has been a while since the last post. A few things have made me realise that there are a few views happening around here. Consider me suitably apologetic for the lack of posts. It has been busy, but then everyone is busy. Perhaps a long time in the planning, but I’ve been thinking about baggage.

In my line of travel, weekly return flights, baggage isn’t good. The domestic, Australian, flights are mostly done with hand luggage only. I can imagine the rolling eyes already. But I’m not one of those massively oversized, roll-a-board toting people you see trying to jam their bag into an overhead that is clearly way too small. You know the type, and I know the type. I even take piccys of the extreme examples. But I’m not them, I travel well within the limits for hand luggage – 105cm and small laptop carrier both under 7kg. 105 cm and 7 kg are the magic numbers. Qantas allows 2x 105cm bag @ 7kg or 1x 115cm. Virgin Australia allow something similar but only 1 bag and a small personal item. I’m pretty proud to stick within those limits as I work hard to be “legal”.

I’m sure, by this stage, many of you are thinking; “why bother? Sneak over the limits, no one will know.” It’s not because ‘I’ll know’, no trite cliches here. Sticking within the limits is the price that has to be paid for the benefits gained in hand luggage only travel. Waiting for luggage to come out at the other end is time consuming, in some airports it can be upto 30 minutes before your bag appears on the merry go round. Even if it is only 15 minutes at the end of each flight, with 100 flights a year that’s 25 hours!

The flip side of all this is that checking luggage into an airline is usually an experience. Silly mistakes when trying to bag drop, who knew that you only print one bag tag per bag? They track these things? As always checked luggage is an experience, the family holiday in 2015 was no exception. In this case the experience was remarkable damage my suitcase. The trip had barely begun when the damage occurred. In fact we had a short hop from Adelaide to spend a day in Sydney for Comicon, before the next flight to New Zealand. The damage happened between Adelaide and Sydney.

It’s hard to know how to start to describe the damage, it wasn’t a little rip or tear. Those things wouldn’t rate a mention. I’m sure we’ve all seen those wheelie bags with the pull up handle on the extending metal rods. Someone managed to put a dent, a crease even, in the handle rod. Yes you read that correctly, the handle rod – singular! The managed to crease only one of the handle support rods. Not both, only one. That is a truly astounding feat of precision damage.

Looking at the damage that kind of crease has to involve a decent bit of force. Force that was precisely applied just to that one side of the bag. A hit that had to have been made by a fairly narrow edge. It is almost impossible to imagine how that happened. If something big hit it, both sides would be damaged. Maybe a forklift tine, but are baggage handlers trusted with forklifts?They also did the damage with the handle retracted since the guide tubes inside the suitcase had matching damage.

What did they do? This one will have to go into the annals of unknown mysteries.

The damage was reported immediately on arrive to Qantas in Sydney. Report early and report often. This was a simple process including the collection of the some paperwork. Once I returned from the holiday Qantas baggage services in Adelaide provided the details for their approved repair and the suitcase was back on duty within a week. Just in time for a trip to South Korea.

JQ 787 VH-VKI

Experience Jetstar’s 787

I’ve just taken my first long flight on a Boeing 787, in this case Jetstar’s 787. I have previously experience the 787 on a short 1 hour hop between Sydney and Melbourne. The most recent flights were part of a trip from Melbourne to Bangkok and return. Much longer flights on the 787 from Melbourne to Singapore (approx 7 hours), and Bangkok to Melbourne (approx 8 hours).

Being Jetstar there are numerous add-ons to purchase with the base airfare. I added the Plus Bundle which included pre-selected meals, standard seat selection, flexibility to change flights and earning of Qantas points. about 4 weeks after I booked Jetstar added 20 kg of checked in luggage to the Plus bundle, along with a price increase. The bundle is fairly good value with the inclusions, but the airfare starts to get upto the same cost as the cheapest flights with Qantas, or perhaps other full cost airlines. The one key difference is that the Jetstar Plus bundle fares are rated as Economy when earning Qantas points, whereas cheap Qantas airfare are rated as discount economy. Of course, Qantas don’t have Boeing 787s, as all the shiny new planes were given to Jetstar instead.

Ample legroom

Ample legroom

I also took the option to pay for an upfront seat on my long Jetstar flights. 10G on both flights. Boring maybe, but that is the name of the game. This seat has ample legroom, which had both positives and negatives as I later found out. This is the front row of the economy section of the aircraft. In front of row 10 is the wall to keep the riff raff out of the business cabin. The different seat set up in business means that 10G, and 10C don’t have a wall all the way in front of them. There is a bit of extra stretch out room. Overall, the seat was well worth the $25 fee.

The rest of the row 10

The rest of the row 10

Aside from the excellent legroom row 10 is in a mini cabin in with the business section. There are the 3 business class rows, then there are about 27 seats, in staggered rows and there there is a galley area behind that with aircraft doors. The doors are the most interesting aspect. Jetstar often uses the door behind this mini cabin to do boarding and disembarkation. They also hold the rest of economy to allow business class to get off the plane. That means those people in the mini economy cabin have to get off the plane, first, to let business passenger to get off. Who doesn’t love a quick exit from the plane. If they use the very front doors there is still a pretty quick exit.

Of course, row 10 is one of the last rows to actually board the aircraft. Perhaps that is a slight negative but you have to take the good with the bad. A more significant negative is that Jetstar seem to like to store their crap in the overhead lockers above row 10 – headphones, amenity packs, blankets. This wasn’t an issue on either of my flights as the overheads are pretty big.

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That’s the thing about a 787, it is a wide body aircraft. It also has plenty of overhead storage as a result. The marketing material also tells us that the aircraft is made from the latest composite materials, making it lighter and stronger. The strength means that it can be pressurised at a lower altitude which makes for a better environment for passengers. I’m not an engineer, but I did step off the overnight flight feeling semi-decent.

The engineering with advanced materials also gives us much bigger windows. They are at least double the size of other equivalent aircraft windows. This gives a much better view to the outside.

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 There windows don’t have the old pull down window shades, instead there is an electronic filter built into the window. This is pretty cool because it does block out the sun, while also allowing people to look outside if they wish. Not to mention so pretty spectacular effects with full sun shining in.

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The aircraft and the hard product together make for a good flight, even on an 8 hour overnight return from Bangkok. Jetstar offer buy on board entertainment with latest release movies, the usual 3 episodes of TV shows plus music. There were free radio stations available. It all seems to be pretty good value for $10, this might even be cheaper if purchased in advance. I didn’t try the entertainment as I have plenty of material on my iPad. The point of using low cost carriers is to be low cost. The couple of times that I have compared Jetstar with a full cost carrier like Qantas adding all the extras often gives a very similar cost. Unless you’re flying to be on a particular type of aircraft, like a 787, it is always worth checking out the full cost comparison between airlines.

The Jetstar included meals were of decent quality. Meals must be pre-ordered. The funny thing about the meal is that it comes with a “cold beverage” and a hot drink. It turns out the cold beverage is just a crap little tub of water. Water is provided free on the flight anyway. I would’ve expected at least a soft drink as a free cold beverage.

There are a range of snack foods available, not to mentions drinks. Some of the other passengers might have spent more on drinks and snack that the extra cost of flying with Qantas.

That gets me onto some of the travel companions on the flight to Singapore. They were clearly excited to be starting their holiday in Singapore. This was rather a negative really with all the yelling with each other about the food to order, the movies to order, who paid for what seat, which magazine to read now.  This gets into another negative of my seat, there was a group of people who decided it was a good idea to stand in that nice space and have a discussion for a couple of hours. It’s hard to be down on the excitement of holidays, but it really would’ve been nice if they waited patiently for the 7 hour flight to finish.

Still the excitement lift the mood on the flight to an enjoyable party atmosphere. The 787 is a great aircraft, even that would be worth flying with Jetstar again.

Plane Boring – Welcome to my world

if you’re reading this it may very well be because of my poor spelling or grammar. My spelling and grammar is pretty poor at the best of times. But I hope you won’t be disappointed to find this is primarily supposed to be a travel blog. Travel is exciting, going off to brand new places, exploring the world. But, sometimes, some of us get stuck in the plane boring world travelling each week for work. Staggering onto that 6am bus to work on Monday morning, or getting that last bus home at the end of the week.

Economy seats all feel the same.

Economy seats all feel the same.

Don’t get me wrong, I”m lucky to be able to travel, and I do sometimes have those exciting trips to new places. No complaints here, except when having to pay for the airfares. But there is a bit of a same-ness about it at times. Especially those times I get onto the same plane and sit in the exact same seat. Yes, I do spot planes.😮 Anyway, after 5 years at this gig perhaps there might be some entertainment. I hope you keep reading, even if only to pick on my spelling.