Sunday, June 22, 2014

Australia September 2013 - Qantas Airways 1851 Economy Class (CNS → AYQ)

***This post is part 17 of a full trip report. The index can be found here***

On the day prior to leaving Cairns, I reserved a seat for the FNQ Airport Shuttle through Travellers Oasis. While the discounted pickup service from the airport was only $5 AUD, the return journey was the standard $12 AUD. With my flight scheduled to depart at 7:30 am, I was asked to wait at the front of the hostel by 5:30 am to ensure we had plenty of cushion.

Typically, shuttles make their rounds throughout the city, picking up passengers from multiple hotels and hostels before heading to the airport. However, just like the pickup service four days earlier, I ended up being the sole passenger. In the end, it took less than 15 minutes to get from the hostel to the Domestic Terminal check-in counters. Needless to say, I had more than enough time to spare.

Cairns Airport

It was still dark outside and not yet 6:00 am, so I wasn't terribly surprised to see the entire check-in area deserted. After printing out my boarding pass at a self-service kiosk, I carried my large backpack over to one of the agents manning the bag drop stations, where it was tagged to Ayers Rock and sent on its way. I then made my way over to the security checkpoint, where a short line and friendly (or perhaps sleepy) officers allowed me to get through in less than five minutes.

Self-service check-in kiosks

Bag drop and service counters

Empty hall

Security checkpoint

Once airside, I was greeted with a more lively atmosphere. There were plenty of souvenir shops, quick-service restaurants, and people milling about. I picked up some gifts, and then bought myself a greasy breakfast from Hungry Jacks (the Australian Burger King).

With so much time to spare, I was hoping there would be complimentary WiFi throughout the terminal, like almost all the other airports I had visited so far in Australia. That was not the case, however, and I soon found myself pulling out a credit card to pay $3.65 AUD for an hour of wireless internet access.

Airside shops and restaurants


Breakfast at Hungry Jacks

Departure gates

Dining area

Approximately half an hour prior to our scheduled departure time, boarding was called at Gate 15, and a line quickly formed. Jet bridges were not used for these gates, so after my ticket was scanned, I followed a long hallway out to the tarmac. While it was announced that electronics were not to be used outside the terminal, the rule was loosely enforced, and many passengers stopped to take photos before boarding the aircraft via stairs.

Gate 15

Boarding via stairs

Boeing 717-200

Qantas 1851 (Operated by QantasLink)
Boeing 717-200
Cairns (CNS) - Ayers Rock (AYQ)
Friday September 27, 2013
Departure: 7:30 AM (scheduled) / 7:22 AM (actual)
Arrival: 9:55 AM (scheduled) / 9:39 AM (actual)
Duration: 2h 55m (scheduled) / 2h 47m (actual)
Seat: 7A (Economy)

Qantas operates an all-economy Boeing 717-200 on this route, and despite the aircraft's already limited capacity (125 seats), I was somewhat shocked to see that fewer than 50% of the seats were occupied after boarding was complete. Much like the flight I took from Hamilton Island to Cairns a few days prior, Qantas enjoys a monopoly on this route, and with fares reaching as high as $600 one-way year-round, it's easy to understand how they can continue to operate it with such poor load factors.

It is somewhat rare to see 717s these days. In the United States, only Southwest (AirTran), Delta, and Hawaiian still flies a fleet these discontinued airliners. The seats are arranged in a 3x2 configuration, with 30-31 inches for pitch. Note that seats in rows 17 and higher have the smaller pitch.

Seats 7A and 7B

My window seat at 7A was very comfortable and seemed quite new. In fact, it looked like the aircraft had been refitted with new interiors recently, although I wasn't 100% sure. The seat next to me remained empty, as did the two seats in front of me and the three seats across the aisle. Needless to say, this was a very comfortable and roomy flight!

Empty neighbor seat

31-inch pitch

With so few passengers, boarding was extremely efficient, and we soon departed eight minutes ahead of schedule. As expected, the take-off roll was one of the shortest I'd ever experienced. We had a smooth climb out of Cairns, along with spectacular views of the airport and coastline after a banked turn to the left. 


Cairns Airport from above

Cairns coastline

After reaching cruising altitude, flight attendants went to work preparing for the breakfast service. As with all of my previous flights on Qantas thus far, snacks, meals, and drinks were complimentary. Since the CNS-AYQ route clocks in at just under three hours, a full meal was provided.

I was really impressed with the offering, which included scrambled eggs, potato cake, sausage, and ham. We were also given an apple and flaxseed muffin, a package of trail mix, and a container of apple juice. Not only did the food taste great, but the portions were also quite generous. Although, if you paid upwards of $600 for this one-way flight, I assume a full meal would be the least of your expectations! Afterwards, flight attendants came by for a second round of coffee and tea service.

Full breakfast


We experienced a smooth ride throughout the flight, and the weather outside remained cloudless and beautiful. As we approached Ayers Rock Airport, the landscape noticeably changed, and it became very easy to understand why this area is known as the "Red Centre" of Australia. In addition to the red terrain as far as the eye could see, there were also a number of peculiar white formations, which I assumed to be the result of dried lake beds.

The Red Centre

Peculiar formations

Dried lake beds

As we began our descent, the captain came on and announced that Ayers Rock (Uluru) was visible from the left side of the aircraft. Luckily, I had chosen my seat well and was able to witness this extraordinary monument from above. Even from a distance, the rock looked enormous, jutting out prominently in an otherwise flat desert landscape.

Ayers Rock (Uluru) from above

There were some strong crosswinds and turbulence as we reached Ayers Rock Airport, but we landed without incident and proceeded to our designated location out on the tarmac. Security was relaxed here, perhaps owing to the fact that the airport is operated by Voyages Hotels & Resorts, who also has a monopoly on all the accommodations in the nearby town of Yulara. After taking a few photos of our aircraft, I entered the terminal and waited for my backpack at baggage claim.

Arriving at Ayers Rock Airport

Entering the terminal

Rental car facilities were conveniently located next to the baggage claim area. I reserved my economy car in advance through Hertz for a somewhat reasonable $77.17 AUD including taxes and fees. However, be aware that almost all rental companies in Ayers Rock include a maximum limit of only 100 kilometers, and any additional distance driven will be charged $0.25 - $0.35 per kilometer.

This means that if you plan on visiting The Olgas (Kata Tjuta), which is located approximately 53 kilometers southwest of Yulara, you will definitely go over the limit. I had already planned on doing so in advance, so I wasn't terribly shocked when the total cost of the rental increased to $127.52 AUD when I returned my car the next day.

Hertz car rental

Toyota Corolla hatchback

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