TRIP REPORT – Emerald to Brisbane – Monday 16 January – Virgin Australia Airlines (Skywest Airlines) – DJ1256 – ATR 72-500 – VH-FVH.
Well the day had arrived and Virgin Australia was finally flying scheduled services to and from Emerald in the central highlands region of Queensland. The addition of Virgin Australia provides much needed competition to QantasLink who have had a monopoly on these services for over 10 years.
I arrived at Emerald Airport bright and early, and found that Virgin had taken three of the six check-in counters at Emerald Airport. The check-in area was quite busy as the morning QantasLink flight to Brisbane was also open for passengers. I approached the counter and was greeted by a very friendly and enthusiastic staff member. In fact all the local staff, as well as numerous men in suits, were full of enthusiasm for the start of Virgin flights to and from Emerald.
I gave the check-in lady a good 'work out' too, ensuring my Velocity frequent flyer number was in the system, and then requesting a seat change from an aisle to a window. With a bit of help from some senior staff, who I would suggest were visiting, the seat change was done, and my bag was checked-in to Brisbane, and my boarding pass was received.
I spoke to a couple of the visiting Virgin hierarchy who informed me that I was actually the first ever customer to check in at Emerald Airport! I took a couple of photos around the terminal and then proceeded outside to grab a few photos of the ATR 72-500 arriving from Brisbane. In the meantime, the morning QantasLink Dash 8-Q400 VH-QOK arrived from Brisbane, and surprisingly was made to park on Gate 2.
Soon after, the ATR landed on Runway 24 at Emerald Airport, marking the start of competition into Emerald.
The ATR parked on Gate 1 and the passengers and crew disembarked through the back door of the aircraft. The ATR is a unique aircraft in that aspect, as passengers and crew enter and leave the plane through the back door, while bags and other cargo is loaded in the front of the plane.
With some media and other official welcoming to Emerald done, the first Virgin flight out of Emerald was ready to board. With the QantasLink flight boarded, there weren’t actually too many people left in the terminal to board the ATR. Boarding was done pretty quickly.
Inside the ATR - up a set of narrow rear stairs - older passengers I feel would struggle up and down these - and inside to a fairly small cabin in a 2x2 layout. There are 68 seats in these ATR 72-500 aircraft, and on this flight, we were about one-third full with mostly mine workers who had come off a night shift.
The seat I had - row 15 of 17 - was towards the back of the plane. Legroom and room in general was surprisingly good - certainly comparable to the room inside the Dash 8-Q400 cabin - although I do feel that the cabin in general is smaller. Enough room in the overhead compartments, although my large camera bag was a bit of a tight fit.
The air-conditioning unit was disconnected from the aircraft, and the ground power unit turned up and the long engine start process began. Eventually, the engines started about five minutes early and a little while after, the ground power unit was taken away. Right on eight o'clock “Virgin 256 Alpha” taxied away from the Emerald Terminal, and soon after, we were in the air off Runway 06 bound for Brisbane.
After a couple right turns we were heading towards Brisbane with some lovely views over the central highlands and coalfields and in particular, Blackwater.
The seatbelt sign was turned off about 20 minutes into the flight and soon after a complimentary snack and drink was served. This was a nice surprise, but to be expected as these flights are operated a Skywest Airlines – a full service airline from West Australia – even though for all intents and purposes, it is a Virgin Australia flight.
The Skywest Airlines flight attendants served a nice breakfast snack of a muffin plus a drink service and coffee and tea. A lovely morning snack!
Rubbish was cleaned away shortly after and we settled back for the one and a half hour flight to Brisbane - this is a little slower that the QantasLink Dash 8-Q400 flight time to Brisbane of just over one hour. Not much else happened on the flight until we started our descent into a very wet and windy Brisbane with the captain advising that we were to land on Runway 14.
The descent was horrible! There was consistent moderate and to at times severe turbulence - some patches were particularly bumpy - dropping the aircraft and throwing it from side to side. Eventually, things settled down a little bit and we were able to see the ground again. We were then advised by the captain that due to a heavy rain shower passing the airport, we were to make an ILS approach and landing on Runway 01 at Brisbane.
Long final approach past Brisbane city and over the Brisbane River and eventually a smooth touch down. Soon after we were off the runway and parking on gate 49 right next to another ATR which was preparing for departure. Down the small and awkward rear stairs and onto the tarmac and into the downstairs landside section of the domestic terminal. Thank goodness Virgin had umbrellas to use too!!
We were in the landside section as Emerald Airport is yet to have a security screening point installed. Our wet bags came out about 5 minutes later.
Disappointingly, it was not a busy flight, but still the overall experience was fantastic, and I was certainly looking forward to returning to Emerald later in the day on the ATR 72-500 - although I was hoping that the weather would be a little bit smoother that this flight!
TRIP REPORT – Emerald to Brisbane – Monday 16 January – Virgin Australia Airlines (Skywest Airlines) – DJ1261 – ATR 72-500 – VH-FVL.
After a nice day with family – albeit a very wet and miserable day weatherwise – I arrived back at the airport a couple of hours before our scheduled 4pm departure.
I checked in using one of the downstairs self-serve kiosks in the Virgin terminal at Brisbane Airport, and was even able to change my seat to a window in row 4. My bag was checked-in quickly as well, as there was no-one in the bag-drop queue!
Straight upstairs through the security check-point and through the showers, I was able to do a little bit of plane spotting. Soon enough, I proceeded round to Gate 50 where ATR 72-500 VH-FVL was waiting to take us to Emerald.
This flight was going to be a little busier than the flight in the morning, with around 50 or so people waiting to join the flight. After a small computer problem, boarding started about 15 minutes before departure. Luckily with being a small plane, boarding was quick – and done in two sections of the cabin – and once we were all seated and the back door closed, the extended power up and engine start process commenced.
After about another 10 minutes, we taxied away from the terminal, past the Toll Freight apron, and out on to taxiway Bravo for departure off Runway 19. After waiting for a couple of departures and an arrival, we were airborne about 10 minutes after 4pm.
A couple of right turns – some lovely views of the Northern suburbs and back to Brisbane Airport – and we hit the clouds. Certainly a lot smoother than this morning’s flight, but there were still a couple of light bumps. The seatbelt sign stayed on for a good half hour, but then finally we were above the clouds, and with one final right hand turn past the weather, we were on the way to Emerald.
Cabin service on this flight consisted of a nice snack – a sandwich – as well as a beer/wine and soft drink/water service. Coffee and tea came out shortly after.
Rubbish was cleared away quickly, and we settled back for the flight – fortunately, someone I knew was beside me so a good chat to them passed the time away. Descent started and the seatbelt sign came on pretty much instantaneously.
After 10 or so minutes, and some more lovely views over the central highlands, I could see Emerald Airport off to the right hand side.
A couple of right turns onto downwind, then left turns for base, and then one final left turn onto finals for Runway 24. Smooth touchdown, and with some moderate braking, we were able to exit the runway and taxi straight onto Gate 1.
Quickly off the plane and a stroll across the tarmac and into the terminal to wait for our bags which came out after about 5 or so minutes.
I really enjoyed the Virgin Australia / Skywest Airlines flight experience in the ATR 72-500. The Skywest Airlines flight attendants were very friendly and professional, and offered a fantastic service, complimented by a couple of nice snacks and drinks. As mentioned above, about the only concern I had was the really narrow stairs that passengers have to use to get on and off the plane – they are narrow and steep and were a little challenging even for me – they probably would be quite difficult for older passengers.
In closing, I wish Virgin Australia every success on their Emerald services – a quick look at their website and current prices for forthcoming flights would suggest that most flights – currently 2 each weekday and one Sunday flight – have few seats left. Obviously the $69 base fare has been snapped up, and certainly is a lot cheaper than the best that QantasLink has offered recently. It is great to have competition in the central highlands – although it would appear at this early stage that the average traveller does still need to get in early to score an ultra cheap airfare!