CHECK-IN I arrived at Terminal 3 of Sydney's domestic airport at 0830 for my 1015 departure on flight QF842 to Darwin. The departure time had originally been set at 1025 when I purchased the ticket back in January, but I was subsequently advised of the schedule change both by email and with a call from the Qantas reservations centre.
My travelling companion and I deposited our luggage at the automated bag drop (with a little help from a very cheerful member of staff), and we passed quickly through security. Two family members had come to see us off, and were also allowed to pass through security to join us, as a further security and passport check takes place at the gate prior to boarding.
We had been staying two hours north of Sydney the night before, so had left for the airport pretty early and hadn't had breakfast, so we went straight to the food court, where all four of us proceeded to get breakfast from different outlets and sit down to eat it together.
BOARDING The flight boarded from gate 5 (close to the food court) at 0955, where headphones were also given out, and we were in the air by 1025.
THE SEAT Qantas finished refurbishing 15 of its B767 aircraft last month (see online news May 24), which mainly serve domestic routes to and from cities including Adelaide, Brisbane, Cairns, Canberra, Darwin, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney, as well as one international route to Honolulu.
In business class the carrier has refurbished its seats with new leather seat covers and seat pockets, while in economy the seats have been refreshed, with new leather headrest and armrest covers. Both cabins have also benefited from new carpets, curtains and sidewalls, and walking through the aircraft it felt smart and spotlessly clean.
The biggest new benefit for passengers though is the provision of free iPads in both classes, configured to stream in-flight entertainment to overcome the lack of seatback screens on these aircraft. Presumably Qantas found this approach more cost effective than fitting seatback screens on aircraft that are due to be retired in 2015.
The devices were already in place in the seat pocket of every seat, protected by a bright red leather foldover cover branded with the Qantas logo. As soon as I sat down I got out my iPad to take a look at, but no content could be streamed until switched on by the cabin crew. I noted that my device had 78 per cent battery power left, and wondered when they got charged as there was no facility for this at the seat. We were warned by the purser that all of the iPads had built in tracking devices, just in case anyone was thinking of walking off with one.
The iPad cover is one of those that can be folded over to make a stand for the device when placing it on the table, but Qantas has also added a simple but ingenious strap to the back of each seat, allowing the passenger to slide the cover down through it to hold the iPad in place, thus effectively creating a seatback screen without the cost of fitting one.
Bizarrely though, the aircraft still had several old communal TV screens in both cabins - you would have thought these would have been decommissioned, but they were infact on during the flight and showing the Oscar-winning Silver Linings Playbook.
Seats in economy are configured 2-3-2 with a 31-inch seat pitch, and feature a fold down table and adjustable headrest.
WHERE TO SIT? Qantas has several configurations of its B767 aircraft, but on this one there was a smaller economy section towards the front of the aircraft (behind the business class cabin and before the toilets, so I would probably choose this for slightly more privacy. There are however two exit rows offering extra legroom, positioned in the front two rows of the second economy section. This particular flight was completely full, and as we hadn't managed to check in online we were assigned our seats, which were 36J and K in the second economy section.
THE FLIGHT Drinks were served as soon as the seatbelt signs were turned off – soft drinks are complimentary, while beer and wine are charged at AUD $6. Shortly after this the meal service commenced, with a choice of cheese ravioli or beef teriyaki along with a carton of water, a roll, butter, cheese and a mini chocolate bar. I chose the beef, which was not bad at all.
As soon as the iPad streaming came online, I began browsing the content. There was a fairly good selection of films – not the very latest releases, but recent movies like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Iron Lady and The Bourne Legacy. There were also plenty of TV programmes to choose from, including episodes of Modern Family, Glee, Downton Abbey and the US version of The Office, along with 17 music channels. There was also a News section, but at the time this just said "Coming soon". The streaming worked perfectly throughout the flight, with no buffering.
The superb Senna documentary and a couple of episodes of Family Guy helped to pass the 4 hours, 40 minute flight (yes, nearly five hours flying and we were still in Australia), and streaming was switched off as we began our descent.
ARRIVAL We touched down into Darwin at 1407 (scheduled arrival time 1425) and were quickly disembarked, with our bags arriving on the carousel around ten minutes later.
An open return on the Darwin airport shuttle service costs AUD $29 (with a sliding scale when travelling in groups of two or more), and the bus meets all domestic and international flights arriving into the airport. The journey to the city centre takes around 15 minutes and passengers can be dropped off at any accommodation within Darwin’s central business district.
VERDICT The cabin refurbishment is to be welcomed, but the new iPad service is the real boon here, and makes what is a long domestic flight feel far shorter.