Route: Melbourne to Honolulu
Terminal: After not flying anywhere for over a month it was an exciting prospect to head back out to the airport and get airborne again. Truth be told, I think I was a little too excited tweeting about every step of the way, from the train station near home, getting on the skybus, arriving at the airport, you get the idea. Even though I knew check in only opened 3 hours before departure, we ended up there about 3 and a half hours before wheels up. As check in was open for the previous Bangkok flight I’d thought we may as well try our luck, to quickly find that there is no bending of the rules around here so we waited grabbing a coffee for the 3hours pre departure time to come by.
The international departures hall at Melbourne is one of my favourite, which may be largely biased due to it being my home port but I’ll explain what I like about it. Firstly, it’s clean and well laid out with several old school clicker boards displaying departing flight information before a series of check in counters. Recent renovations have moved a few duty free stores to add further check in counters, which were the ones Jetstar were using this afternoon.
Secondly, if you’re connecting from a domestic flight there are no pesky buses or trains to catch, the international terminal is located smack bang between the Qantas and Virgin Australia terminals in the one building complex. This means that it’s just a short walk to connect to or from an international flight in Melbourne, reducing your minimum connection time or leaving more time to enjoy one of the lounges, speaking of which, that’s where I wanted to be.
Arriving back at the Jetstar check in queue right on 3 hours a nice queue had already formed, moving at a snails pace. Trying to eavesdrop on the check in conversations ahead of me I worked out the the delays were partly due to the bulk of travellers being relatively unfamiliar with the Jetstar process, and the other half due to the number of documents required at check in. My usual check in process involves a quick scan of the passport, weigh of the bags, issue of the boarding pass followed by a welcoming “enjoy your flight” before heading towards security.
This wasn’t the case today, with each passenger being required to present proof of ESTA (the visa for people under a visa waiver program), name and address of hotel for the first night, itinerary and then the usual passport. A lot of this seems unnecessary, but at the same time I can understand why Jetstar do it and other airlines don’t. From what I’m aware, most of this information is used / required as part of the pre departure information that is sent across the pacific to the US to determine if you can or can’t be boarded. I presume the recapture of this information at check in reduces delays at boarding from people who get a denied boarding message due to a lack of information provided.
I’m also under the assumption that other airlines have much easier access to this information, and thus can preempt it, and not require proof of everything from each passenger. Alternatively, other airlines may be willing to cop the fine/pay for the deportation of passengers who fail to enter at the border, whereas Jetstar probably don’t want to use thier budget for such expenses.
Check In finally complete, and another tweet from JetStar, we moved across to international departures, boarding passes checked and into the standard queue for security. No Platinum priority treatment here. As we approached the mid way point we were pulled aside for a random explosive check to which Cam suggested it was because I was dodgy looking, to which the security lady quickly responded, “no, it’s because he’s cute” which was a nice addition to the ego.
After passing that random selection without loosing my phone number to the lovely but not my type lady, we were able to skip the remainder of ten queue and go to the crew line, at which I was randomly selected to use the full body scanner. New legislation recently passed no longer gives passengers the option of having a pat down instead of the full body scanner (unless medical conditions exist) so unlike the US, the machine appears more automated and much faster, skipping the general screening queue, and being present with a big green screen saying “Ok” on the other side.
The queues pretty much disappeared once at Customs with several counters open and everyone clearing very quickly in the new and much more modern departures area. A short walk through the duty free shopping mall to the centre of the terminal, up a lift and into the Qantas First Lounge ended that part of the arrival process. The Qantas First lounges are definitely worthy of a review of their own so I’ll post that later, in the meantime, after a three course lunch the old school departures board clicked over to boarding and we headed back downstairs to gate 7 for boarding.
Departure: Boarding hadn’t yet commenced when we arrived at the gate, however a long line had already formed so like sheep we joined the line and waited for something to happen. A few minutes later boarding for business class and those sitting at the rear of the plane was called, so I took a seat by the window and waited till the “all remaining passengers are now invited to board” announcement was made. I must admit that the boarding by rows is actually a really efficient way of boarding the aircraft.
Despite having a face to passport to boarding pass check being complete no less than three times, and clearing security, another US rule means that passengers can get randomly selected for further security screening at the gate. Thus any flights going to the US have temporary screens places around the the boarding area allowing security to conduct another face to passport check, and potentially further screening. Like most people, we thought that after passing this point we surely thought passports wouldn’t be needed again, however sure enough the queue ground to a halt as everyone got the passport page out for a final passport check when surrendering your boarding pass to the airline agent – just in case someone managed to change identities in that 10 metres from the last check.
We boarded through door 1L, walked through the small Business Class (aka Star Class) cabin and found our seats. The beauty about being in the last group for boarding was that it was only a few minutes before the final door was closed and we were ready to push back. The captain introduced the crew and informed us that the copilot would be doing most of the flying today, and that he was aiming to fly a little faster to try and get us in a bit early today.
Our taxi took us to the northernmost point of the airfield, and after a Virgin Australia 737 landed we made a long yet seemingly casual take off roll and climbed out of Melbourne towards the south. A few climbing right hand turns later we were back to where we started from, albeit much higher as we passed the airport overhead and headed towards Sydney. The overhead screens occasionally reminded us of our position during the flight, which roughly tracked over Noumea, to the north of Fiji then across the equator towards Honolulu.
Seat: 27 J & K. The seats and the aircraft as a whole wasn’t what I was expecting after taking a Sydney to Melbourne flight on a JetStar A330 a de months earlier. The cleanliness was seriously disappointing with lots of crumbs and dirt from the previous guest on both the seats and ground around. A section of the cover for the seat tracking on the floor is also only half attached and the safety cards in the seat pocket are well worn and due for a replacement. I know this is a budget, low cost carrier but general cleanliness and maintenance should not be an opt in extra so this was rather disappointing.
The seats themselves however are dressed in a dark grey leather and offer a reasonable amount of legroom for economy, with my knees having some space and Cams knees (at 6’4) not being around his ears. The base padding is comfortable enough for the first 4 hours or so after which it seems to compress down and feels quite hard. The backrest has a thinner padding, feeling like the tray table from the person behind me is in the centre of my back. The headrest on the aisle side moves quite freely and is easily adjustable however the window side is very stiff and hard to get comfortable. You can however rest your head against the wall paneling as there is a window missing, while the remaining window provides a view onto the engine and if you look backwards a little, the wing.
The seat is relatively comfortable for a budget airline, the legroom is sufficient and it doesn’t feel overly claustrophobic. Each seat has a reasonable recline too meaning its not impossible to get semi comfortable. But like all longer haul flights, any economy seat is going to get a little cosy after a while. Not that you’ll need it on a flight to Hawaii, but there is a small coat hook attached to the seat in front of you, should you have the desire to take away any feeling of space you have with your jacket.
Aircraft: Airbus A330-200 (VH-EBA). I have a feeling that this is one of the original A330’s that came across from Qantas when JetStar first started using the type; I’ll try and check that but the style of the interior seats suggests its an ex Qantas bird. The forward section of the cabin is host to Jetstar’s business class in a 2-2 configuration before opening up into two much larger cabins with 2-4-2 economy seating configuration. If you’re in either business or economy, and sitting on the aisle, watch your elbows as these aisles are seriously narrow. However you can lift up both the centre and aisle armrests, making it easier to get in and out of the seats.
There are plenty of overhead bins available, each trimmed with a continuous orange stripe running the length of the cabin. I’m quite surprised that despite being one of the last to board, and the lack of any free checked baggage allowance, there is still ample room for our two small bags in the overhead locker above our seat. There were a lot of people checking bags back at check in so I’m guessing JetStar are making a fair few dollars out of the baggage fees on this route.
IFE: In a serious disappointment, this aircraft lacks seat back inflight entertainment, despite it being advertised on the Jetstar web page as A330’s offering seat back entertainment, similar to what I’d seen on my last much shorter flight on one of these JetStar birds. Having prepaid for entertainment, I was curious as to what we would get, but after not too long iPads started to be distributed around the cabin. Fortunately we had pre booked as shortly after they started distributing these around an announcement was made that the allocation was exhausted and that there would be none available for purchase on this flight. They would however be offering some entertainment on the overhead monitors for which headphones ($3) were available for purchase.
At first sceptical that the iPad would last the full flight, the back up battery meant it remained at 100% charge the whole flight. Each iPad was loaded with a selection of movies, tv program’s, some games and some audio channels/cd’s although none of the audio content was very new. I watched a few movies and several episodes of the new normal and modern family during the 10ish hour flight. I was cautious not too watch all of my favourites as I suspect the content won’t have changed much between this flight and the return flight home so wanted to save some for the longer return flight.
Overall the iPad provided a decent selection of content for the flight duration, however it was annoying that you had to have your tray table down to rest the iPad on, and the angle wasn’t easily adjustable to get a good view. A cradle that attached somehow to the seat in front would have been a much better option. I would have preferred the seat back entertainment however the iPad did help pass the time, without which the overhead entertainment looked pretty ordinary and would have made the flight a lot less bearable and very much like the old days of travel (I’m talking the mid 90’s).
Meal: JetStar offers a Café service on board with a limited range of snacks and meals available for purchase via credit card during the flight. The other option for meals which can save some money is to pre purchase a meals pack when you make your booking. Although after a 3 course meal in the first lounge just before boarding we probably didn’t need dinner, given I wanted to try out their full service and we had already paid, we got dinner.
One of the benefits to pre-paying is that you get a better choice from meals that are available on board. For the dinner service we had a choice of chicken curry with rice and vegetables, beef stroganoff with potato’s (which was more like a casserole really) and a vegetarian option, which appeared to mainly consist of mushrooms. The crew were helpful in the selection by peeling the tin foil off and showing each meal to us, which reminded me of how Cathay Pacific shows off its meals in business class, albeit these meals didn’t really compare to Cathay obviously. We went for the chicken and beef options.
Even after the great lunch in the first lounge, I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of the food. Sure it’s economy fare, but it wasn’t bad and was probably very similar to any other economy hot meal. Perhaps my expectations were exceeded as I was expecting a horrible meal like I’d experienced on AirAsia the last time I flew on an LCC. The main difference is that its not served on a tray, nor does it come with a side salad or a dessert. Our pre-ordered meals come with a hot and cold, non alcoholic beverage too. Shortly after the main meal service the lights were turned off to allow for some sleep on this time travelling overnight flight.
One advantage of having to pay for everything on board, is that you don’t over eat or over drink just because its there like I often find myself doing when flying. However we did find ourselves buying a few soft drinks on the flight as 10 hours in a dry cabin without fluids is a mistake. Bottled water is available for sale if you don’t want to risk drinking from the on board drinking fountain, which is free. I drank from it once, that was enough.
About 2 hours before arrival the lights came on and a breakfast meal was served. I know every airline does it to make sure the cabin is well and truly ready for landing, but 2 hours is a long time before landing to eat breakfast. Especially when that equates to 3:50am on your destinations clock. Even an extra 40mins later would be great. Again there were 2 options for hot breakfast, being scrambled eggs, with sausage and bacon and a quiche with mushrooms and bacon. If, like my other half, eggs aren’t your fancy, bring your own breaky as you wont be satisfied with either option. We ended up with one of each, with me eating the egg components and Cam eating all the sides.
I like eggs, but there is something about the reheating process that just doesn’t work that great. I’d actually much prefer a cold breakfast, maybe like some muesli or something else that works best when its had some time to just soak in itself for a few hours. Another hot and cold beverage accompanied the breakfast, and about an hour after everything was cleaned up we began our descent into Hawaii.
Arrival: Our on time departure, and our first officers heavy foot (or more likely favourable winds) meant that our arrival into Hawaii was earlier than expected, with the island still sleeping through a winters night as we touched down 20 mins early. As it was dark, views were limited to the lights of Honolulu just before touchdown, followed by watching the airport gradually wake up as we taxied to our gate. On arrival we disembarked via Door 1L, where we were directed up the escalators where the crew said buses would take us to the international terminal and immigration. However, like sheep we all just followed the people in front that just walked along the corridor instead, and shortly afterwards arriving in the immigration hall. Although you could have taken a bus (if it were there) it’s really not necessary as the walk isn’t far at all.
Immigration and Customs clearance was very polite and efficient however the baggage carousel used was grossly undersized for the number of bags on the flight, however the staff cleared the jams pretty quickly and it wasn’t long before our bags were in hand and heading out through Customs for a taxi. I was somewhat amazed that from docking at the gate to getting into a taxi was complete in under 20minutes. Try achieving that at LAX!
Crew: The main cabin crew were mainly Malaysian while the business cabin crew, in their bright orange jackets appeared to be mainly an Aussie crew. I’m not sure how JetStar operate the flight but it looks like the crew are provided by JetStar Asia, perhaps on a wet lease? Anyone who knows how JetStar crew the A330’s for Hawaii feel free to pipe in and explain it to me. Regardless of how the airline crews the aircraft, the crew were great. Perhaps it’s the buy on board model and maybe even incentives for good sales, but no request seemed to be an inconvenience and all call bells were answered extremely promptly and purchases delivered fast. I’m sure everyone has experienced pressing the button and being greeted by a grumpy crew member who wants to know why you’re disturbing them before, but there was none of that on this flight.
The crew were definitely an on demand service, so if you want something you really need to press the button as unlike other airlines other than the main meal services and the odd snack sales aisle pass, the crew keep to themselves. Overall I couldn’t find anything to fault the crew on, they operated well within the JetStar LCC business model and were helpful and there when you wanted them.
Overall: Despite having some rather major reservations on taking a low cost carrier on a semi long haul flight, I was pleasantly surprised as to the service on board the aircraft. The check in process in Melbourne however was a shambles and I don’t really understand how the home port can be so inefficient, however that aside, once on board the service was good. The key I think to flying with them is to set your expectations correctly. The time old phrase, “you get what you pay for” is definitely true. If you go in with expectations of the first class lounge service continuing on board, you’re going to be severely disappointed.
However if you are looking to save some money and some time, the direct flight from Melbourne to Honolulu will be an attractive option. I bought my airfare during the launch sale, and once I added baggage, frequent flyer points, meals and entertainment it was under $500 return per person making it an unbelievably good price. In comparison to today, if you look at the base JetStar fare it’s cheaper than Qantas, however once you add on all the add ons, which really I don’t think you’d be smart not to add for a long flight, the fare difference is only about $250. The A330 is probably a more comfortable aircraft than the 767 Qantas use and it’s a direct service too, but it begs the question, is JetStar really that much cheaper? I’d say no, but it is a lot more profitable for the Qantas group.