Between two homes

Thank heavens for mobile phone boarding passes! The connection from the bus ride back from Bell City to Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport was tight and I raced through security and down to the gate as quick as I could, making it well prior to boarding.

Virgin Australia’s home in Terminal 3 was in a sorry state, looking temporary and under construction. I was too eager to return home to spend time admiring the airport.

Rudolf the Red Nosed Virgin

Boarding was via stairs front and back, being seated at the front meant that I was in the last group to board. I was too fearful of more Virgin Australia scoldings so I didn’t take any photos from the outside.

Unlike the flight up, which was in a new Virgin Australia 737-800, this aircraft still had the old red exterior. I find it quite ugly, but the new livery is awfully bland.

Despite the old exterior, the inside was a mixture of old and new. The purple perspex divider between business and economy made an appearance, but not the purple mood lighting. The seats had been reupholstered with the dark grey faux leather and red, purple and pale grey headrests. However, they retained the tiny seatback screens with their Foxtel feeds.

The first thing I did was to change the screen to the flight map feed. The map itself is quite poor and constantly interrupted with advertising, but it’s better than nothing. I never find much to watch on cable television anyway, but on a longer or night flight it could be a welcome diversion. Unfortunately, there was no music to accompany it over the audio system.

After a long wait we taxied out to the runway, taking precedence over a Tiger Airways flight that had left the terminal first. It’s difficult to believe that Virgin would want to acquire this low cost airline with such a dreadful reputation without rebranding it.

Under silvery skies of high cloud we launched into the air and over the pale brown-gold plains of outer Melbourne. It is such a different city to Sydney. The landscape is so flat and broad, the colours khaki and pale yellow over Sydney’s dark greens, red roofs and blue waterways.

Our flight path followed the Hume Highway almost the entire way to Sydney. So familiar was I with the highway that the flight map was virtually redundant, despite the cloud early in the flight. I love this countryside from the ground and, in the red gold and stark shadows of the late afternoon light, I loved it from the air too.


Thrown into sharp relief were towns nestled among the hills, avoided by the highway, the Molonglo River carving out at path through the granite hills, irrigated green on either side.

The crew came through serving drinks. I think alcohol might have been free for this service, but I just had a glass of water. Again, I would have appreciated a small snack, like on Qantas, but it was either full-fare or buy on board for such.

I was surprised how soon we began our descent, shortly after Yass, though it was a gradual decline in altitude. High above the Earth I was happy. The scenery was so much more interesting than the northern plains. It was a textured landscape, rich in memories of holidays and sneaky meetings with the girlfriend who would be my wife.

Suddenly we were at the great sandstone walls of the Blue Mountains, red in the smoky light, like a barrier to our destination. Though we came from the southern extent of Sydney our flight path took us all the way up to the northern extremities, over shimmering rivers and waterways that reminded me of evening arrivals into Bangkok.

Holsworthy Army Barracks

The undulating dark green bushland of Sydney suburbia was an amazing contrast to the brown flatness of Melbourne. We swung south again, taking us right overhead of my workplace and Alex’s childcare, though he had already left for home.

This is my favourite approach to Sydney Airport, with magnificent views of the CBD, the Harbour Bridge and evening reflections off the glass skyscrapers, over rapidly gentrifying inlets losing their industrial port status. Lower and lower, over the model railway setup of the container farms and across the threshold of the airport, landing on the main runway.

A slow taxi to the gate, perhaps airport congestion again. Along the way I spot the complete set of Virgin aircraft (or those soon to be), the Tiger A320, the Skywest ATR, the mainline Embraer, 737, A330. Despite a perfectly good flight, I still feel that Virgin Australia lacks that intangible class of Qantas, but that’s a personal opinion.

In this perfect light after a perfect flight those widebody aircraft parked at the International Terminal called for me to join them on a great adventure. But so did a desire to return to my family, and so I rushed as fast as I could down and out of the terminal to the train for home.

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