Hello Cocky: A bumpy Canberra trip

It appears that my recent farewell to the Qantas Boeing 737-400 was a little premature. A little more than a month later I found myself travelling to Canberra again and again just for the day.

I booked my usual flight QF787 from Sydney to Canberra and made it to the gate with boarding already underway, my check in completed over the phone. No surprise, but it was my old friend VH-TJR Cockatiel waiting for me at gate 8. She was the 737-400 that took me both ways on the “farewell flights”.

Cockatiel at gate 8.

We taxied out to the third runway and took off towards the north. When I had booked the flights the weather was predicted to be nice all day. Now the captain told us that we should expect some turbulence due to changing wind directions but they would try to give us a smooth flight.

Reversing out of the gate

Pursued by our shadow

Around the airport

Looking towards Sydney’s CBD

Famous beaches

Turning against the sky

We curved back over the Eastern Suburbs and out to sea. A grey cloud mass lay in wait, ready to provide a few bumps, but once over that it was back to sunshine. Our path tracked south across the Illawara coastline, clearly visible from above, and the Southern Highlands.

Approaching cloud

Smoother up there

Bye to the coast

Over the Great Dividing Range

Sandstone ridges

  The crew handed out packs of Charlie’s chocolate chip and orange Bikkie Bits and juices and were soon collecting the remnants as we began our descent into Canberra. Cloud, with tendrils almost touching the ground, hovered over the city and it was a bumpy ride down to the runway.




Cloudy descent

Leaving vapour trails

Braking off the runway

I was surprised to see the amount of work going at the terminal, thinking it finished during my last visit. Then I was off to catch a taxi to work.

I had hoped to return to Sydney early enough to pick Alex up from childcare, but then I received a message on my phone from Qantas that my flight back was delayed by an hour. It would have been a tight connection anyway, so B was already primed to go up and collect him.

In some ways I was a little glad to delay the flight. When I had booked them the forecast had looked pretty good, but now a cold change was primed to pass during the afternoon and I had no wish to be in it, especially in a turboprop.

A taxi delivered me early to the airport. As I wandered around I thought it a shame that there was no international service to this very fine building, so bright, clean and spacious. The shops were rather limited – even a limited international service in Malaysia would see many more retailers, but who would use them anyway? Eating options were limited, but the Tuk Shop Asian cafe looked quite reasonable, if I were hungry, which I wasn’t.

Across the tarmac I noted that the two government Boeing Business Jets were back at the base – I had spotted one in Sydney that morning. So the PM was back from his campaigning, two days after the election was called.

Hopefully not a sign of the weather!


Shops and gates

If I thought my delay might have been bad then the Virgin Australia announcement put things into perspective. They were cancelling flights and experiencing huge delays due to a meltdown of their Sabre reservations system. That after the previous day’s profit warning due in part to the system’s initial implementation.

My flight disappeared from the display board above gate 13 and I approached the Qantas desk to enquire why and to change my mobile phone boarding pass for a paper one. There I was told that they could squeeze me into the flight 878 which was currently boarding.

“Okay. Any chance of a window seat?”

“I don’t know. The aircraft is very full.”

But she did squeeze me in, right near the back. And guess what aircraft it was: Cockatiel, of course! I guess that’s all she does all day, shuttling between Sydney and Canberra.

Cockatiel arriving

I had mixed feelings being seated at the back, for this is where turbulence is felt the worst and the weather outside didn’t look too promising. On the other hand it was an aircraft which has flown me through storms before and seems to handle them pretty well.

What I was scheduled to fly

I fell asleep as we taxied out, not waking until the engines spooled up for take-off. We lifted off into grey and raining skies. From my window the rain below us appeared like thousands of short streaks flashing horizontally through the air, a quite remarkable visual effect.

RAAF Fairbarn

Up into the clouds


We soon emerged above the clouds and the flight smoothed out. The four crew members, more than compulsory for the number of passengers, began a snack service of parmesan biscuits with a tomato and basil dip. Really yummy. Below us sandstone ridges looked spectacular in reddish afternoon light.

Above the clouds

Snack box



The crew were still collecting rubbish as the aircraft started shaking and they started to hurry. They had just finished when the turbulence got worse, the seatbelt lights switched on and captain Leroy issued a terse all passengers and crew be seated immediately.

What followed was some of the worst turbulence I have experienced as we hit that weather front. Up, up, but thankfully not so hard down. Side to side. There were moments where the aircraft was briefly out the pilot’s control. I gripped the seat in front of me. We turned south and the shaking dropped, still with brief burst now and then. But with the knowledge that we would be landing very soon the anxiety was kept in check.

Dam and damn

Southern suburbs of Sydney

Across the coast

Despite the shaking, the scenery was gorgeous in this light as we swung back north and crossed into Botany Bay over Kurnell. A few more shakes and then a smooth, but fast, landing.

The weather

Royal National Park

Caltex Refinery, soon to be an import terminal


Third runway in the background


Captain Leroy stood at the cockpit door and acknowledged each passenger as they departed. Whether he normally did that or by way of reassurance for the turbulence I do not know. I thought to myself how amazing it was that despite the number of times that I have flown between Canberra and Sydney each flight has been unique and remarkable in its own way. Yes there was turbulence, but there were also wonderful views that somehow look different each time. Until next time…

A 767 heading out

Parking at the gate


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