I recently flew to Australia to get to Papua New Guinea (PNG). It was quite a learning experience. I am a fan of the Virgin brand now. I recently took a Virgin train in the UK (great experience), and I had a great time flying Virgin Australia.
I flew into Sydney, then on to Brisbane -- and from there to Papua New Guinea. I will discuss my nightmarish experience in trying to get on my Air Niugini plane at Port Moresby (ranked next-to-worst city that you'd want to live in by a recent study) later. But first, some of the good news.
If you are in Australia and flying domestically, then you can't go wrong by flying Virgin Australia. I flew Virgin Australia both ways, from Sydney to Brisbane and back again, and each time my experience with this airline was just great. I flew business class using my Virgin America Elevate points, and it was a great deal and just an awesome experience in all respects.
I flew Virgin America to Las Vegas a year ago. It was my first time flying. I applied for a Virgin America credit card when booking my flight to Vegas, and I received about 11,000 points in my account after spending $1000 in three months. I then forgot about this small number of points in my account, until this trip came up. When planning my trip, I realized that my points in my Elevate account could be used to buy a ticket for my travel within Australia, from SYD to BNE.
Virgin America is a partner with Virgin Australia, like American and Qantas. It has a separate frequent flyer program from Virgin Australia, whose program is called Velocity. I called Virgin America and learned that a coach seat from SYD to BNE would cost AUD $95 (about US$73) and a business class seat would cost AUD $699 (about US $511). If I used points, then a coach seat would cost 3500 points and a business class seat would cost 6000 points. I had 11,000 points in my account, so I chose a business class seat.
This turned out to be a great deal. I got two free checked bags instead of one (my third bag cost AUD$35), and I was amazed by the pleasant and comfortable experience throughout. I was able to enter the VA lounge in Sydney, which was just splendid. The VA lounges offer a full hot breakfast, plenty of space, and private shower rooms. I had the best coffee I've ever had in an airport, prepared by a professional barista at no charge in the VA lounge.
The Virgin brand's service is exceptional. I have a few examples. I flew into Sydney in October on a United flight. After clearing customs in Sydney, I had to catch my Virgin Australia flight. This was no problem whatsoever. Virgin had a domestic transfer desk right after I got out of customs in the international terminal (Sydney's two terminals are a 15 minute drive apart, impossible to walk). Even though I had flown in with United, all I had to do was check my bags in at the VA domestic transfer desk, then board their bus to head to the domestic terminal. It could not have been easier.
Once on the flight, I noticed that Virgin Australia staffs are exceptionally well trained. Flight attendants kneel down to talk to you at eye level or beneath you, rather than standing and talking to you so you are staring at their crotch (which an arrogant EMT did to me a few years ago). The gate agents give you back your boarding pass with both hands, very politely.
On my way back home, I flew from Brisbane to Sydney. Once in Sydney, I realized that I needed a way to get to the SYD international terminal. The agent at my arrival gate told me that there would be a shuttle bus, and I could get a voucher at the baggage services desk by baggage claim 3. When I got there, they already knew my name, that I was coming, and instantly gave me a voucher and told me where to go. THAT is good service.
Did I mention that Virgin Airlines points are a great deal? After my first flight, my Virgin America Elevate account had only 5300 miles in it. I wanted to use up my miles, so with the help of my travel agent, I was able to pay $52 to buy 1000 miles. I then used another 6000 miles to buy a business class seat from BNE to SYD.
This was all super awesome! -- being able to fly business class using so few miles, and being able to eat a hot breakfast along with a cappuccino before getting on the plane.
I am a huge fan of the Virgin Airlines brand now.
Sydney Airport Needs to Turn on the Air Conditioning
I've been carrying a watch with a thermometer on it, so that I know how hot it is on a boat or in an airport. I leave it off my wrist, and I've compared it to other thermometers, so I know that it is accurate.
Well, on my way out of the Sydney airport, at the X-ray checkpoint, I realized that I was really hot, sweating while standing and waiting for my bag to be X-rayed. The temperature was 83 degrees F. I mentioned this to two separte security folks who escorted me for "additional screening" and each of them instantly agreed with me.
One guard even asked me to write in to the airport authority, since working in the heat was a big problem for them. She stated that the airport did not care about whether the security guards were comfortable or not, but that the airport WOULD care if passengers complained. So I am complaining: Sydney airport, you keep your terminals far too hot. 83 degrees in a place like an airport is just too f****ng hot!