Domestically International: Flying the Jetstar 787


Flights! Action Camera!

Oh boy, this sucks. To the cabin wall, that is.

My first real chance to play with my new toy and my first flights on a Dreamliner.

I have a purpose. In a few weeks time I should be flying off to Japan. I don’t want to be a misery guts again with my fear of turbulence, but I’ve found that every time I have thought about an overnight flights that the anxiety returns. This isn’t good. I feel a sense of failure for not having confronted earlier this year, chickening out at the sight of storms to catch a bus back from Canberra.

So I’m going to catch that flight and stick to it, despite the forecast of strong winds and possible turbulence. And, inspired by the Qantas OJA flight and Pugsley’s work here I’m going to figure out how to use my new Sony Action Cam to make videos from aircraft.

There are an increasing number of 787 operators flying to Sydney, but I don’t have the time or money for an international flight right now. Fortunately, Jetstar run a couple of what I presume are positioning tags between Sydney and Melbourne. As someone who has flown Jetstar a lot over the past decade I was curious to experience their latest addition, but apparently bookings can be quite poor and it can be cheaper to fly empty, hence the earlier cancellation.

Given the day, I was surprised to see that it was possible to fly there and back on Jetstar 787-8s, something that doesn’t seem to be available on a consistent basis. So I booked it.

The flights depart from and arrive at the respective international terminals. Whilst it is possible to check in online for many international flights with Jetstar, domestic passengers must be manually checked in to get their orange “D” sticker on their boarding pass and check in closes an hour before departure. So it was an early morning for me.

There was no queue to check in and I was given both my forward and return boarding pass but, and I didn’t notice until too late, there was no “D” sticker on the return pass. This caused me a little grief later.

Watching passengers from the food court

Domestic passengers have their own lane through immigration in Sydney, but have to pass through the same security. Only photo identification is required however, not necessarily a passport.

Sydney’s International Terminal is undergoing yet another round of renovation with Heinemann having taken over the Duty Free service. Dick Smith are now responsible for the electronics and I couldn’t work out if they were shutting down the Sony section. I hope not.

The electronics section is looking a bit depleted

I tried to still the knot of anxiety building up inside my stomach and caught the escalator up to the Qantas business lounge. Might as well make use of my Qantas Club membership and get the breakfast I hadn’t yet eaten.

The entry attendant was curious about my 787 flights and enquired about their price – generally around the same price or cheaper than the standard Jetstar Melbourne flights.

The lounge was also afflicted by construction work obscuring some of the view on to the tarmac. It’s not the best spotting area anyway – insert First Class envy. There was a variety of breakfast foods available. I went for the hot food, but I reckon that there was a bit too much garlic in the sausages because I could taste it for hours afterwards.

View from the lounge

After breakfast I headed out to look around and enjoy the beautiful morning views of aircraft operations. Then I walked down to our gate.

My next long haul flight should be on a Qantas 747-400

I have to say straight up that I think the 787 is one good looking aircraft. The elegantly curved wings, the big chevroned engines and well shaped nose. And the Jetstar livery has to be one of the best on her with its silvery reflections off the body.

Asiana creeps up behind

Right beside our aircraft was another 787-8, this one belonging to Air India. Not such a great livery in my opinion, but certainly distinctive with its Mughal style window decorations. It taxies out, to be replaced by a colourful Asiana 772, one of the few 777s I’ve flown on.

Air India’s 787

Eventually it was time to board, no particular sequence being enforced, probably due to the light load. The cabin is a sea of black leather seats in a 3-3-3 configuration. I took my spot near the front of the left wing and have the row to myself.

A sea of black leather


I don’t generally mind the seating configuration as it means that my family of three can sit together by the window rather than the centre, which is how the A332s that the 787 is replacing are configured. I found the legroom fine, though no doubt the longer legged would complain. My issue was with the width. I am wider than I should be and just fit in. For family flights this should not be an issue and with two empty seats beside me no hassle for me on the outwards leg. But on the return…

I forgot the Qantas lounge dress code starts in April

The seats themselves were comfortable enough. I didn’t test the recline or the winged headrest, but definitely no complaints for an hour in the air.

Whilst many low cost airlines do away with seatback entertainment and even some full service carriers, including Jetstar’s parent Qantas, substitute screens with tablets and wifi streaming in many cases, I was pleased when Jetstar decided to install them in their new 787s. They are convenient, mounted around eye level and don’t require charging or preloading. The touch screens are clear and of a decent resolution, not ugly touch layer and are quite responsive.

Seatback screens

The selections are quite disappointing, few movies or televisions shows I’d really want to watch, but probably enough should I want some distraction in the middle of the night, and that is all I really ask for. The music choice was entirely dissatisfying with very little choice.

Jetstar also offers streamed entertainment to Apple devices. Unfortunately not for the more popular Android platform or laptops so I couldn’t test this.

Both the streaming and seatback entertainment is charged at A$10, but the most important channel for an A.nut – the flight map – is available for free. So that’s what I set it to, right at the gate.

Flight map

For other types of charging, the electrical kind, there is a USB port on the screen that I think can be used to display media files from, say, a flash drive (untested) and a power socket in between the seats (also untested).

The Jetstar Mag

I used a dashboard suction cup to attach my Sony action camera to the walls so that it could point out the window. It did mean that some window edges were visible in the video, but I wasn’t sure if I would get away with attaching it to the window proper.

A Sony AS100 Action Cam with suction cup mount

Due to the location of the window the setup was hidden by the seat, but the cabin crew, who all seemed to come from Asia, didn’t seem to notice or care anyway.

Now I was all ready to set out. Be still my nervous heart!

Blue mood lighting

After a manual flight and screen safety demonstration we taxied out towards the third runway for a take off towards the north. As we waited to line up with the runway the Retro Roo appeared behind us, my first ground view of the Qantas retro liveried 737-800. Then off we went, rocketing into the sky with our light load. Unfortunately, from my position, the massive wing flex wasn’t so apparent, though I’ve certainly seen it from the ground.

We’ll be farewelling another, or is it the last, A340 soon

China Southern

The CBD in the background

The Retro Roo

Almost ready to play the piano

We turned right, giving me some brief but fantastic views of the CBD before turning southwards over the ocean and along the coast towards Wollongong.


Look at that wing!

Out to sea?

Famous Sydney CBD

The seatbelt lights were soon switched off and the electronic windows suddenly dimmed. Locked at their second lowest setting, giving them a blue tint. Damn. But at least I could still see out. At the same time the mood lighting was changed from blue to dawn or dusk orange. Quite a strange effect and not really so appropriate for passengers who should be in a wakeful phase.

It’s gone blue!

Blue wing!

It’s like we are looking into an aquarium

Window tint control

Red in the morning, shephard’s warning

Anyway, there was a cloud layer below us blocking out most of the view and this is a route that I have been on quite often and could accept the lack of a view. Mostly I was trying to focus on relaxing my anxiety. As soon as we were in cruise the flightdeck announced that we were at 13,000 feet and that high winds could be expected on the lower levels as we approached Melbourne.

That made me anxious.

I listened to music on my phone. That was good.

Now the mood’s gone blue again

The crew came through selling food. I had purchased a “Plus” bundle with my fare, mainly for the points and the flexibility, but it also included $5 worth of food or drink. After my stay in the Qantas lounge I wasn’t particularly hungry, but I ordered the $5 muffin and hot beverage bundle, choosing the hot chocolate. I ended up not eating much of the muffin, which lead to a quizzical look from an attendant,  as I’d had a much nicer one at the lounge, but I did finish the hot chocolate, which was just your basic powdered sort, nothing special.

Banana bread muffin and Taboo hot chocolate

The cruise time was quite short and with thirty minutes to go we began our descent towards Melbourne. One of the great things about the flight map is the reminder of the time remaining to the destination. As the clock ticket down I would say to myself “only 15 minutes of bumps to go, only 10 minutes of bumps to go until we are on the ground.”


Tints gone!

Those bumps only began once we approached the lower cloud layer and to be honest, they weren’t so bad. And soon I was distracted by the sight of the Melbourne CBD as we curved around for an approach to the airport from the south.

Dark clouds threaten

Melbourne CBD


The lines don’t agree

Made it!

And here we are!

We landed with a heavy thump, a very hard touchdown. Melbourne has a few interesting airlines in attendance, including Royal Brunei and Sichuan Airlines, with whom I once caught an ERJ-145 in China. I also saw the Air India 787 having preceded us with its own domestic tag down from Sydney.

Hello again Air India!

It don’t matter if it’s black or white

Fire and water?

I have only passed through Melbourne’s International Terminal once before. You will forgive me for not taking much notice that time as I was without my wife carrying our toddler son who was ridden with a bad bout of gastro and we had just arrived after an overnight flight from Singapore.

This time I was in no great rush and a good thing that was too.

Both Sydney and Melbourne’s international terminals retain an older, darker, low ceiling design that their more distinguished international cousins have lost as they built airy cathedrals of steel and glass. I don’t mind, for these are not transit hub airports, but places where adventures start and end, places where passengers come and go but do not linger.

And unlike a normal transit airport arrivals and departures are separated by vertical height, unable to mix but for special circumstances. As I left there docking gate there were high glass windows overlooking the tarmac, but then we were into a dark warren of pathways to immigration and bag collection (I had none, of course).


Departure gate below


I now understand the complaints about Melbourne’s immigration queues because, yes, they were long, though we had a somewhat dedicated domestic and special lane. The Jetstar crew pushed ahead of us, seemingly in a hurry for their next flight.

Customs was worse, slowed by arriving Chinese and Vietnamese flights and no special path for domestic arrivals.

Once finally out the exit I did what I had to do for the day. On my return I went straight back to immigration. Inverse to Sydney, security comes before immigration in Melbourne and there is no special immigration queue. But at least here the queue was short.

I ran into trouble at the immigration desk as my return boarding pass had no orange D sticker for domestic. Eventually immigration adjudged me as telling the truth and stamped the pass.

Needing to do some work I hurried past all the shops and tried to find the Qantas lounge. The lounges are buried below the gates and disappointingly the Qantas Business Lounge has no outside views whatsoever.


Qantas Business Lounge

I found a quiet spot in the quiet lounge and setup my laptop and chargers. There were some nice snacks, lollies, crackers, lemon shortbread and soon the lunch buffet was opened. I had some creamy zucchini soup, roast chicken and salad and felt very satisfied.

But it was dark and I felt constrained inside the lounge, so I left for my departure gate. There were at least three Jetstar 787-8s on the tarmac and I saw the yellow and white Royal Brunei 787 take-off. It seems the airport is a bit of a hub for the type, as Sydney is for the A380.

I even spotted the Retro Roo again.

I actually missed my gate and went on to the next one, also hosting one of the JQ 787s. I explained the predicament about the missing D sticker, and it turned out they had some, but because immigration had already stamped my pass there was nothing to be done.

Walking to the gate

Our aircraft VH-VKH


Royal Brunei taking off

The other flight. Nice nose.

I realised my gate mistake when an announcement apologised that our flight would be departing an hour late. It seems that my phone already had the updated arrival time but the old departure time, leading to what looked like a longer than expected flight.

We still began boarding roughly an hour early. This time the flight looked crowded and passengers in the rear zone were asked to queue first. I was in the second tranche and was disappointed to find two passengers already in the aisle and middle seats. They were polite enough, but the lady in the middle was rather large in size, obviously unused to the contortions demanded by packed public transport and I spent the flight with an elbow in my ribs and her thighs crossing over into my line of seat from beneath the arm rest.

Red again

Too close for comfort!

I could see some breaks in the cloud, but it was still very windy outside. That flight down had given me confidence and I no longer felt quite so terrified. In fact I was feeling quite sleepy from the early rise and as we taxied out I drifted off into sleep until we were close to the main runway.

Retro Roo again!

There were bumps and shakes as we took off as the swirling air tried to play with us, but the 787 seemed to handle it really well. Perhaps it was the flexible wing, I’m not sure. I was fine.

Wing flex

Big turn

Approaching the cloud

Soon we were above the wind and heading home. The windows were darkened, but this time manual override was permitted. With the Sun reflecting off the wing and directly at me I dialed the light down and realised what a handy feature it was, far more flexible than mechanical shades and good for those that like to keep peeping outside.

I suspect some windows were stuck as at least one of them was at maximum darkness since take-off.

One window here is stuck blue, no mood

The Sun

At maximum


The crew, who sounded mainly Malaysian, seemed slow to get going. When they reached me, who again had a $5 credit, they seemed to have run out of some goods. I’m not certain they understood my request for Pringles (I wasn’t really hungry) as I got served nothing by the end. Not good, though not needed.

Down towards the cloud

Our flight time on this leg was a little less than an hour and with 20 minutes to go we began our descent into Sydney. Our descent through the cloud layer seemed even bumpier than in Melbourne, but again the 787 handled it with aplomb.

We curved over the southern suburbs. I suppose, if the wing hadn’t been in the way, that I might have seen our house. Then we flew out over the water and turned to approach the main runway from the south.


Curving around to face northwards

I watched the flaps deploy to a greater angle than I have noticed before and I wonder if that is due to the unique wing design.

Those flaps

Another hard landing, though somewhat softer this time and we were trundling to the gate.

Back in Sydney

Time to go!

It seems that 4.30 pm is a great time to arrive in Sydney’s International Airport. There are plenty of international flights departing around this time, but we seemed to be the only passengers going the other way, passing through immigration and customs with only the most cursory checks, most stands being closed. I suspect that, despite the aircraft continuing on to Honolulu, most passengers were doing a domestic run like me.

And then I was out and ready to go home.

I have to say that I was very impressed with the Boeing 787. Not only is it good looking on the outside, but it’s pretty cool on the inside as well. The cabin looks a little modern bland, but the electronic windows are useful. It was a bit difficult to judge the difference in cabin pressure and humidity after only an hour in the air each way, but I did notice some pressure differentials upon descent.

The JQ fitout is nice, if a little squishy. It doesn’t feel as low cost as Scoot or AirAsiaX, more like a middle of the road airline, which is quite okay for me. I would be quite happy to fly on the Jetstar 787 to, say, Japan in future.

I really enjoyed those flights. I’m not quite sure that I have rediscovered my love for flying again, but at least some of the edge has gone for now.

And I do like my action cam. You can check out my sped up YouTube video of the take-offs, landings and more. Or see the whole set of photos.

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