When my girlfriend Molly and I first started planning our trip to Australia, I was skeptical that we would find any award availability in a premium cabin. With flights from the west coast to Australia averaging 15+ hours, premium cabin awards are extremely difficult to find, especially for more than one seat. During the several weeks that I searched, I rarely found any coach availability on desirable flights, and no premium cabin award space at all. Finally, one fateful Saturday afternoon, I hit the jackpot. I found two seats in First Class on Qantas, using Alaska Airlines miles. Score!
Eight hours on a Saab, am I crazy? You bet! – Photo: Jacob Pfleger | AirlineReporter
On my last trip to Australia, I was fortunate enough to experience the “Centre Run” with Airnorth; a series of flights through the centre of the country. Now while this was an exciting adventure, there is an even more crazy series of flights that can be done in outback Australia. I am referring to the Regional Express (Rex) Milk Run.
This milk run serves a series of remote communities in the Australian state of Queensland. In total, it is a series of seven flights — yes you read correctly, seven. It originates in the capital of Queensland, Brisbane, and flies all the way up to Mount Isa, a major resource town in northwestern Queensland.
Record rainfall made for an interesting flight in more way than one – Photo: Jacob Pfleger | AirlineReporter
The flights are operated by a Saab 340 turbo-prop, and it is possible to book a ticket from Brisbane-Mount Isa. The price is approximately US$300, which is very affordable given that it includes seven flight sectors and close to nine hours of flying. So on my most recent trip “down-under” I was once again questioning my sanity when I booked this trip (something that is becoming a frequent occurrence on my trips to Australia of late).
Airnorth operates a fleet of E120 Brasilias on the “centre run” and shorter regional routes – Photo: Jacob Pfleger | AirlineReporter
Following my excellent flight on Airnorth’s jet service from Cairns to Darwin, where I got my first real taste of outback flying in Australia, I was left longing for more outback adventures. When I was planning my trip to Darwin, I came across the “centre-run” operated once again by Airnorth. This was the perfect opportunity for me to not only get my fix of outback flying, but also to experience the Embraer E120 Brasilia for the first time – an increasingly rare aircraft type. At one point in the booking process, I did have to question my sanity. Due to time constraints, I could only do a flight same day return, meaning that I would be flying over 1600 miles in nearly eight hours on a turbo-prop in the Northern Territory’s wet season. Needless to say, my AvGeek mentality took over and I booked the flight without a second guess.
A long way to go in a turbo-prop – Image: Great Circle Mapper
The “centre run” (or “milk run” as referred to by the locals), is a three segment flight from Darwin (DRW) in the top-end to Alice springs (ASP), in Australia’s Red Centre. On the way, the flight stops at Katherine (KTR) and Tennant Creek (TCA); both are key regional communities located on the Stuart Highway which stretches across the continent from Darwin to Adelaide. The route was re-launched in September of 2014 as part of the Northern Territory government’s commitment to developing air services to remote communities. In order to maintain this essential air service, the route is currently subsidized by the government.
An American Airlines 777-300ER (N720AN) bound for SYD on the inaugural flight pushes back from Gate 41 at LAX.
Less than a week after covering American Airlines’ launch of their new Los Angeles-Sydney service, I found myself onboard Flight 73 on a last-minute holiday down under. The route featured American’s flagship Boeing 777-300ER, with my personal-favorite business class seat. In spite of holding status on both American and Alaska, which would entitle me to at least a little bit more leg and elbow room in coach, I willingly (!) chose to sit in a regular economy seat for a 15-hour flight… and managed to survive. A feat made even more impressive (or harrowing, depending on your point-of-view) by the fact that I was accompanied by my wife.
Now, I’d like to claim credit for taking one for the AirlineReporter team and be able to gloat for making the trip, but I’m not as magnanimous as my colleague JL, who flew a Spirit Airlines Bare Fare “for science.” There were very strategic, practical, and self-serving reasons for booking seats behind the curtain instead of in front of it.
I’m splitting my experience into two parts: first, about why I chose economy (this time), followed up with my actual flight review of American’s economy service to Sydney.
All Nippon Airways (ANA) has returned to Sydney after a 16-year hiatus, operating their Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport. A stand-out from any other inaugural flight, the ANA Star Wars jet made its debut appearance in Australia’s largest city to celebrate this special event, as well as the upcoming film. As an avid Star Wars fan, I was compelled to be present for the arrival of this work of art.
As exciting as the prospect of ANA returning to Sydney was, the highlight for me was the aircraft tour shortly after arrival.
The R2-D2-style seat covers are a cute addition to the aircraft
After a period of rushing around issuing visitor passes to the media crews, the bus had us out at the runway 15 minutes prior to the arrival of the Star Wars Dreamliner. I was also made aware that people had flocked to the airport to witness this spectacle, with all the usual aircraft spotting areas full. Spotting at Sydney Airport can be a challenge to even the most experienced AvGeek, with runway selections seeming arbitrary at times. Fortunately on this occasion, the plane landed on the runway we hoped for.