Battle of the little jets

“Relax,” says Sempai Neil when I try to demonstrate my kata. “You’re too tense Andrew!”

Too right was I tense!

I shouldn’t be. The weather today was perfect. The weather tomorrow predicted to be the same. Turbulence should not be an issue. But an anxiety is not rational. It is a sense of dread, a tension.

The night is a bit disturbed and I wake before the alarm sounds at 5.20 AM. But I wake feeling more relaxed than when I had shut my eyes. I take the dog out to do his business and give Alex and B cuddles before stepping out into the sunrise and off towards the bus stop.

On a domestic flight like this I’d normally put sleep and family time ahead of time at the airport, but this flight has been booked through our corporate supplier and I can’t check in online. Our team is moving in the organisation and a meeting was scheduled to talk to our new friends. My two Sydney colleagues were flying down and I didn’t have much choice but to join them on the same flights.

Our cheapest flight policy meant that I had to book Virgin Australia for the flight down, but fortunately Qantas was in the price range for the return. Virgin versus Qantas, the Jungle Jet versus Mr T Tail. It was time for another battle of the airlines on the Sydney – Canberra route.

I arrive at Sydney Airport’s Terminal 2 with about an hour to spare and quickly checked in via the Virgin automated kiosk. Then straight through security and I have plenty of time to find some breakfast. The range of eating options at the T2 food court are reasonable, but in the interests of saving time I just grab a breakfast wrap from Red Rooster. Then I sit down by the window to watch the airport operations and get into the mood.

I meet my two colleagues at the gate. Unfortunately the view of the aircraft is obscured by the jet bridge. Having flown the Embraer 190 a few times before I know what it looks like. A slim, pencil-like fuselage, thin wings and even thin winglets the end. A more fragile appearance than the more robust Boeing 737 and A320 that populate the rest of the terminal, a bridge between those jets and the ATR72 turboprops that complete the terminal set.

Boarding of the aircraft is via the front jet bridge and the rear stairs. I take the latter, but dare not pause to shoot photographs lest I get scolded. Inside the aircraft is two by two dark grey leather seating with red or purple headrest highlights. The legroom is good, as is the width, but the height of the cabin is definitely less than on the larger jets. I don’t mind. I feel cosy.

This EMB-190 is equipped with Virgin Australia’s streaming service, accessible via an app on my phone. The only thing that interests me of their selection is the flight map, which seems to have us continuing on a straight line west after Canberra.

We head out the southern end of the third runway, a safety demonstration along the way. The aircraft bumps and bounces excessively, as it sometimes seems to do in the air. It does not inspire confidence.

The takeoff feels powerful and we soar into the air, quickly turning right so we have views of central Sydney before turning across the coast.

We level out at one altitude, let a Qantas A333 fly over us, then return to our ascent, continuing out to sea before heading roughly parallel to the coast.

The cabin crew quickly hand out snacks and drinks. The offerings are disappointing. It is not just the tiniest muesli bar I’ve ever seen, but it also contains honey so I don’t eat it. Similarly, the only drink options are tea, coffee or tubs of chilled water. I opt for the latter. The passenger next to me takes tea, but there is something wrong with it, too hot perhaps, and just before descent the crew get him another.

These flights are so short that you barely reach cruising level before the descent begins. The land below us has an overlay of morning haze and we are lucky there have been no delays due to fog.

The view up along the Molongolo Valley and towards the Brindabellas is as pretty as ever, the snow capped Australian Alps visible in the distance. Then the buildings of Canberra city appear. Our descent is very slow, something I noticed while watching an EMB 190 land at Sydney Airport the other day. I am happy, for this is turning out to be a very smooth flight.

No problems with turbulence on that flight! I am still happy to be on the ground though.

We wait in the terminal for half an hour until another colleague from Melbourne arrives. This gives me a chance to recharge my phone at the “business area”. I spot the new International Area, which will have its first flights as a transit from Singapore to Wellington in a few weeks.

Good on Canberra Airport. Its beautiful facilities, though sparse, deserve those flights.

Once we all meet it is time to catch a taxi in to our meeting, which lasts from 10 until 4. The meeting room has no windows and there is no chance to escape it during the day. I find the lack of natural light and view depressing. I don’t cope well with long meetings.

So I’m not in the best of states by the time we return to the airport. Two of the group are flying Virgin Australia back down to Melbourne, the original three of us returning to Sydney on Qantas. Once we wave goodbye to the others I guest the Sydneysiders into the Qantas Club lounge using my membership and a spare invitation card.

I’m not sure they had ever been in a Qantas Club lounge before, but the one in Canberra is quite nice. I have a hot soup, much needed drink of Coke and some licorice allsorts, me being the only one in the family who eats them.

Far too soon it is time to leave and board the aircraft.

I am looking forward to the Boeing 717, my previous flight to Canberra in one was very good. I had checked in online using the Qantas app on my phone and there were no issues scanning it.

Business class

The app had allowed me to change seats and now I had a two seater to myself in row 16, just ahead of the exit row and the wing. There were earphones packs on the black seats, but I could see nothing to plug them into. Then the crew mentioned iPad Minis in the seat pockets, I had none, but then said they were having issues with them and we should use the streaming entertainment app instead.

I start mine up and, though it lacks a flight map, I am far more impressed with the range of entertainment. Finally they have a decent soundtrack in that category, with John Williams conducting the Boston Pops.

Unfortunately I discover that the Qantas app can’t play in the background, so I can’t take photos with my phone and listen at the same time. Photos won. Next time I’ll bring more devices.

After the safety demonstration the take-off roll is surprisingly long, then we are powering up into the sky. The sun is shining into my window, light reflecting off dams and creeks and the camera refusing to focus externally on the hazy sky.

I’m feeling every small bump and it’s not nice, despite this being a very smooth flight. In not time the cabin crew are quickly serving the snacks – an egg and lettuce sandwich on wholemeal bread – and drinks including free alcohol and, in my case, soft drinks.

I can’t eat the whole sandwich, the bread is a little dry, but I gladly take more drink. On the whole a more reasonable spread than on Virgin.

Then the crew are back collecting the rubbish and we are beginning our descent. The first officer announces that we expect to arrive twenty minutes early!

Below us and wind turbines on very slowly turning in the calm air. The great sandstone ridge walls of the Blue Mountains and Warragamba Dam follow.

Which approach today, I wonder? From the north or south?

The question is answered as turn south at the Holsworthy Army Base. I see our suburb out of the window, then beyond that to Sydney city as we cross the coast at the Royal National Park before turning back in to align ourselves with the runway.

A couple of loud and sharp bumps briefly give concern. They must be related to the gear and flaps deploying.

Another slow descent as we drift down over Kurnell and Botany Bay, the red Sun setting in the hazy skies to the West.

The day has come to an end as we touch down on the tarmac. For many others, across there in the International Terminal, their adventures are just about to begin. But I am happy to be stopping here tonight.

It was another almost perfectly smooth flight. Which was better, the jungle jet or the 717? I think the latter has more character. Judging their ride is impossible, my mood is too different. Qantas won on service and entertainment, they just feel more professional, but Virgin did okay.

It certainly demonstrates to me that I am the problem. Fortunately solutions exist, if you are prepared to work at them.

I farewell my colleagues and catch the train to Padstow. When I arrive I am greeted by bright orange flames coming from a van parked opposite the bus stop.

The fire brigade soon arrive to extinguish the fire, then police and ambulances appear. Fortunately the driver seems uninjured, but the road is now blocked and no busses can stop.

I miss one diverted bus and have to catch a much later one from a bus stop down the road. I arrive home much later than I like to a delayed dinner.

So now I have some homework. Learn to relax, Andrew!

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