Cockpit Visit

Arriving into London Heathrow on Monday afternoon we were invited to the cockpit on landing for a photo opportunity. During the flight Dee-Anne and I had spent some time in the back galley of the upstairs economy section talking with the various crew members and were looked after superbly by them. I can’t praise Jimmy and Eugene enough for putting up with us when the rest of the cabin was sleeping or watching movies on QF9. It’s times like this flight where I am so happy to be a frequent flyer of Qantas.

The Quest for Platinum

If you are reading my blog it should come as no surprise to you that travel is a big part of my life. I enjoy it. I also enjoy the perks that come with a lot of frequent travel and even strive to attain those perks. A few years ago, this took me right to the top echelons of the Qantas Frequent Flyer program when I attained Platinum One status. The year that followed was certainly worth it, in my eyes. This entry isn’t about aiming for that level again, as I just don’t have the time or money for that. However, I recently dropped back to Gold, having been a Platinum (or higher) frequent flyer member for the last 4-5 years. I was happy and ready to accept that fate, when a double status credit offer appeared in my inbox and suddenly all bets were off.

Over a long weekend in April I took 12 flights that placed me back in the Platinum arena for the next two years. Where I go from there is unknown and is not important. This entry serves as a record of that journey in pictoral form. I don’t think anyone needs to know what it cost, except to note it was extremely good value. 

Retro Roo to Longreach

Today I took a charity flight to somewhere I visit quite often, Longreach. This flight was booked back in early September for the princely sum of $737.80 (B737-800 reference to those in the know), but as the proceeds of the flight were going to the Western Queensland Drought Appeal, it was certainly not too lavish.

For me to make the flight, I started my day on the Gold Coast at 02:30, driving to Brisbane Airport to catch the first Qantas flight down to Sydney at 05:00. The early start only started to catch up with me halfway home to Sydney, and on my final flight of the day.

To say I enjoyed the day would be an understatement. Even though I’ve been to Longreach many times before, going with friends was a whole new experience, and I enjoyed pointing out various things that I’ve picked up over the years. Of course, it was also good to see everyone at the museum I see every year, who wondered why I was back!

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The festivities started in the Sydney Business lounge with a few speeches, Bloody Mary’s and a truly awesome performance by Leo Sayer. There was encouragement to dress up in 70’s style… however I decided to play it safe and just go smart casual, as a lot of the other flyers did. Though that’s not to say some didn’t get into it, and of course the flight and cabin crew all dressed up!

Leo Sayer, Catriona Rowntree & Flight Crew

Cabin Crew

Flight Crew in the Catalina

The flight crew certainly enjoyed themselves in Longreach, though my favourite part of the day was during the auction on the flight back to Sydney. Several items were offered, with crew spread evenly down the aisle to spot buyers and relaying the message to the front. The last item was an original acrylic on canvas of the Retro Roo, painted by Kate Fraser, an FO for Qantas. It was valued quite high but bidding was off to a slow start when out of nowhere came a PA from the flight deck for a higher bid. No one was expecting that but it seemed to breathe a little new life into the bids, though they ultimately bid higher yet again to win the painting in the end.

Qantas Retro Roo inflight Auction

The menu for the day wasn’t bad either. I especially enjoyed the Cosmopolitans as a pre-departure drink from Longreach.

Qantas Retro Roo Menu

No trip would be complete of course, without a goodie bag. All passengers were given a retro-inspired satchel with a retro-luggage tag, QFM lanyard, retro-hat and shirt.

Goodies

Lastly, but certainly not least, keep an eye out for me in the Channel 9 series “ready for takeoff” on Friday nights, as I signed a release and was on camera!

Catalina Display Launch Dinner

Just 6 months ago I was in LRE for the last QFM AGM with Dee-Anne. Due to a change of financial year reporting for the museum – so they don’t split in half their busiest time of the year (winter) – I was back to hear how they had been and more importantly, to stay on a little longer for the launch of a new display the following night.

Consolidated PBY Catalina "G-AGIE" looking out at the sunset
Consolidated PBY Catalina “G-AGIE” looking out at the sunset

They were still painting right up until the afternoon of the launch dinner, but they did an amazing job getting everything together. To complete the display for future visitors to the museum is not just the paint job, but some seats have been installed inside, with subs positioned along the skin of the aircraft to give the sound and feel of being inside a working Catalina. It’s really a very cool experience.

Aircraft Name "Antares Star"
Aircraft Name “Antares Star”
Aircraft Tail "4"
Aircraft Tail “4”
Aircraft registration "G-AGIE"
Aircraft registration “G-AGIE”

A slightly larger collection of photos was posted to Flickr.

Qantas Family Day

You have no idea what time I had to get up for this event. My day started at 02:30 and I was on the road by 03:00. However I got to the airport just prior to the lounge opening to be greeted by a very welcome surprise, my operating aircraft would be VH-XZP, the newest 737-800 in the fleet and painted in a special livery from the past. Dubbed Retro Roo, I’m sure you can see why.

In Sydney I had another hour or so to kill before meeting up with James and his family, for the event in a hangar conveniently placed adjacent to the terminal.

Inside we were given the ability to virtually run amuck on VH-OGM, a 22-year-old 767-300 that will be retired from the fleet at the end of this month. In fact, I’m on the very last flight, appropriately named QF767. Next to her was VH-OJA, a 25-year-old world record holding 747-400. You see, back in 1989 this 747 flew the longest non-stop flight, LHR-SYD in 20 hours and 9 minutes.

So I met a #B767 Fleet Captain, thank you for having me @qantas

A photo posted by Sam Heathfield (@samh004) on

It was an interesting day, getting to see AFP equipment, firefighting equipment, two planes and all their secret spaces, like crew rest areas, flight decks and doing it with people who enjoy it as much as I do.

A Proposal

Today I proposed to Dee-Anne. It’s been a little over 23 months since we started dating and I’ve known for a while what my feelings were.

It wouldn’t be like me if I didn’t have some flying-related, Qantas influence on how it went down, so it’ll come as no surprise that I was assisted by the wonderful Platinum One team to get the proposal printed on the boarding pass. I wasn’t sure how it would go down, but thankfully it was a positive, and drinks followed in the lounge and plane, as well as several announcements congratulating us, much to our combined embarrassments.

Just proposed to @chiickax Thank you @qantas for printing the proposal on the BP! #qantas

A photo posted by Sam Heathfield (@samh004) on

Australia to Europe

I started my journey to Europe on Wednesday the 11th June, and although I got there on the 12th, I spent the next 24 hours travelling to the first actual pit stop, Florence.

Dee-Anne saw me off, driving me to the airport and then herself home. I didn’t get an upgrade, but the seat next to me was blocked and I had the First class lounge to look forward to in Sydney. The food there was well worth the 14 hours in economy I was to suffer on the way to Dubai. I think I nearly had an upgrade at the gate, but after some typing into the computer, there was no seat change for me.

First lounge delights

I ended up having 3 starters, the buffalo mozzarella with roasted red capsicum, grilled sesame tuna with red cabbage & salmon tartare. As none of the mains really interested me, I finished with the chocolate croissant bread and butter pudding, which was to die for! Along with some Champagne and a massage, I was well prepared for economy.

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The flight turned out to be fairly easy to survive, with another frequent flyer onboard, and a combination of sleep/talking to the FA’s a productive way to pass the time.

Emirates impresses

At Dubai I had another massage, and another impressive dinner, octopus carpaccio, saffron cashew chicken & umm ali (a traditional Egyptian dessert, about as local as I could find – that was amazing). Only downside was the top Champagne offered was simply Moët.

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At the gate for the final flight to the UK my boarding pass beeped though, providing some respite in the final 7 hours being in the comfort of business class. Having only travelled economy on the A380 in the past and other than on an A330 to Perth trying a skybed in the day, I’d never really had the experience of sleeping in one. Unfortunately, not a lot that’s positive, other than it being lie-flat… I found it very exposed to the aisle, very little privacy. Still, better than economy.

With the flight on time, I met mum at arrivals in Heathrow, she having arrived on an earlier flight from Hong Kong. The Tube to St Pancras took an hour… but once there we had a bite to eat, and even some Champagne, while waiting for our Eurostar connection to Paris.

In Paris, we had to change stations in just over an hour, and with the traffic it was a tight connection, but we made it from Gare du Nord to Gare de Lyon, and onto the Thello overnight sleeper to Milan, which now we’ve experienced a 4-berth, would be happy to avoid doing again! Cramped and awkward would sum it up.

Cramped 4-berth
Cramped 4-berth

Luckily the train from Milan to Florence was much nicer, higher speed (we reached 292 km/h) and we didn’t have to sit next to strangers. It did mean we arrived well before our checkin time though (to the apartment), but that’s another story.