Today I’m leaving the tropical seaside of Townsville after an overnight stay. Last night I took a sunset scooter ride along the strand. It was a nice way to end the day and quoting Miranda Hart was ‘such fun’. I had a good night sleep and was up and ready for the airport at 6am. I discovered that there aren’t many Ubers or taxi’s operating in Townsville at that hour. I finally got an uber after a 22 minute wait – yes I timed it. Fortunately Townsville is small and there was no traffic. Once in the Uber I arrived at the airport in 10 minutes.
The terminal that greeted me was very quiet with few people around. I’m flying with REX and there was no queue for check in. At check in I was advised that today’s flight had only 6 passengers departing Townsville. That’s right, just 6 of us. Looks like today was going to be a very different experience when compared to packed long haul flights I’m used to.
So where am I going on this flight review? Today’s flight takes me to Mt Isa on what aviation geeks call a Rex Milk Run flight. Why we call it a milk run, when I assume no milk is actually carried is a mystery to me, but I digress. I’ll be travelling inland from the coast across North Western Queensland. I start the day in Townsville before flying across to stop in Hughenden, then Richmond followed by Julia Creek before finally arriving in mining city of Mt Isa. At least that’s what it is supposed to do. Unfortunately – and I’m one of the few people who would call this unfortunate – today’s flight will skip Julia Creek. This is because no one is getting on or off at Julia Creek, so we’re just going to overly it instead.
After clearing security the terminal emptied even more as the Qantas flight to Cairns boarded. I flew that route later on my trip and I’ll put a link to that review right here. I grabbed some quick breakfast from the terminal bar. Most of the gates are upstairs but the waiting area is downstairs surrounded by the bar cum cafe, a tech to go store, and the obligatory airport convenience store cum newsagent. Yes I’ve overused the word cum there a bit. Insert childish giggle here. I headed upstairs to the gate and watched the one cargo flight taxiing and the Qantas Link flight push back.
We boarded about 10 minutes behind schedule, but with only 6 of us to board we were all onboard within minutes of boarding commencing. As we were boarding the Qantas flight that had departed for Cairns was taxing back to the gate with mechanical problems prior to take off. Looks like I’ll be on the first passenger flight out after all. Its a short walk out to the Saab 340 aircraft where the same crew I had the day before from Longreach greeted me as I boarded.
The route I’m flying is another air route regulated and subsidised by the Queensland Government. While the destination is Mt Isa, it connects Hughenden, Richmond and Julia Creek to both Mt Isa and Townsville. This route is flown on Monday, Wednesday and Friday in both directions. I had booked the route specifically because it has so many stopovers to be able to visit as many regional airports as possible. As its subsided by the Government, it’s actually pretty affordable to fly this route with comparable (or slight cheaper) than the service Qantas fly either direct or via Cloncurry.
Unfortunately for me, as there was no one stopping at Julia Creek, nor anyone getting on we overflew Julia Creek so ended up flying direct from Richmond to Mt Isa.
On departure from Townsville we took off to the east, with a left turn we tracked up the coast for a few minutes. The 7:30am departure was great for those beautiful sunrise colours across the water and Magnetic Island just off the coast. We then made another left had turn and crossed the coast. The coastal landscape below was undulating and covered in trees with gorges relatively dry and lined with sandy river beds . The gorges wound throughout the hills. While this landscape looked dry, it was lush when contrasted by the dry and flat regions we’d soon be flying over.
Regional Express fly a fleet of Saab 340B aircraft to many regional destinations and my flight was operated by this type. The aircraft I was flying on was 25 years old after being delivered new to American Eagle in 1996. It went into storage in 2007 before being picked up by Rex in 2009. If you’re looking for the newest and freshest aircraft, this isn’t the one for you but, for a 25 year old bird it looks pretty ok. I know Rex are widely criticised for the age of their fleet, but there aren’t many alternatives available for these very thin routes. The cabin has 34 seats spread across 11 rows with 3 seats in each row except the last row which has a fourth seat making it like the back seat of a bus. In some aircraft the toilet is in the rear, however on this aircraft it is at the front of the cabin.
I, like many avgeeks have an obsession as sitting as close to the front of the plane as possible. I’d booked seat 3A when I made the booking for this reason (and paid extra for the privilege). However, due to the low passenger load, yes all six of us, I needed to be moved for weight and balance purposes. Hopefully that pizza I ate last night doesn’t push the plane out of balance. This landed me in the twin seats in 10C by the window. Given the low load I had the seat next to me free which allowed me to stretch out. Now I’m more familiar with the Saab 340B aircraft I actually prefer sitting down the back as anything in front of row 8 has an obstructed view of the scenery due to the wing and engine. Given my inflight entertainment is starting out the window watching the world pass by, a window seat with a good view is a win for me.
In previous blogs I’ve recommended to sit on the solo side seats if travelling alone. However if the flight isn’t full and you can snag 2 seats on the right of the aircraft, then I’d opt for the double seat side of the plane. There is a lot more room to spread out thanks to the armrest between the seats folding up and there being no centre bar between the two seats at foot level meaning there is a lot of legroom available to stretch out. I comfortably fitted both my bag and feet in the footwell and still have room to spare.
As I discovered later in the flight, the rear row of seats can become what is possibly the only flat bed seat on a regional aircraft anywhere. I tried it out later in the flight and found it quite a comfortable way to travel; or at least take a few photos.
The cabin was staffed by Latoya who did an amazing job making sure everyone was looked after. Latoya was the cabin crew member on my flight the day before from Longreach and I later learned that there are only two cabin crew based in Townsville. After take off out of Townsville we were offered the choice of sweet or savoury snacks followed by a tea and coffee service. Water was also provided. The sweet snack was a Carmens gingerbread oat slice, which was nice although pretty crumbly which made it a bit messy to eat on a flight. The savoury snack was salt and vinegar flavoured rice crackers. I went with the sweet snack because I love gingerbread.
After our first flight we were asked if we wanted any other snacks or drinks, with most of the cabin declining the offer. On the third flight I got another cup of tea and had one of each of the snacks. It was nice that they offered snacks on each of the short legs, even if they were kind basic snacks.
Stopover at Hughenden
The first stop on this milk run journey is Hughenden. For some reason I kept pronouncing this as hugh-ged-en instead of its correct way of hugh-en-den. Anyway, embarrassing myself aside it was our first stop. After landing in Hughenden, two of the six passengers deplaned. One of the passengers takes the flight every week and seemed to know the crew pretty well. On the ground the right engine was left running to allow for a quick turnaround. Apparently if children are getting on or off, they have to shut down both engines, which makes sense. Can’t trust those rugrats with fast rotating props.
With no new passengers joining us, the luggage was quickly offloaded, the first officer did a walk around of the plane to make sure the wings were still attached and within about 10 minutes we were taxiing out for takeoff. With a slight crosswind we were able to take off in the opposite direction to which we landed allowing us to be pointing in the general direction of of out next stop after take off. We barely levelled off before the now four passengers began our decent into Richmond.
Stopover at Richmond
It felt like we just joined the downwind leg of the circuit and flew the pattern into an easy landing at Richmond after only about 20minutes in the air. Again the right engine was left running to speed up the turnaround and this time the remaining 3 passengers disembarked leaving me as the only passenger onboard. I went to the front door of the plane to look at he tiny terminal building that would greet them before making the solo walk own the aircraft aisle to my seat. Time now for the private plane experience.
Private Plane Experience
After we left Richmond I was the only passenger in the cabin. At this point I felt like I’d just hired a plane to fly me somewhere important. It was somewhat eire being the only person on board, but Latoya served me some extra snacks and we got chatting until the the seat belt sign took her way for her duties. Turns out that she also likes watching travel and flight review bloggers online so we chatted those and how they managed to make a living doing it. If you’re somehow stumbled onto this review, thanks for the great flight. The original plan of this trip was to fly through Julia Creek and then drive back there later in the day. I wanted to not just fly through but actually visit some of these towns below. With no-one wanting to go to Julia Creek, it was disappointing to fly over. I guess I’ll have to try it again some other time.
The seatbelt sign came on as we began our approach into Mt Isa. I was given a personal thanks over the PA for flying with REX. We landed from the north and had a short taxi to the gate. The door was quickly opened and I thanked the crew for my private chauffeur service from Richmond to Mt Isa. I even asked and was allowed to get a sneaky photo of the cockpit which was nice. Being the only passenger I had a personal escort across the tarmac by the ground grew and out the gate and into the terminal.
There were no other flights arriving or departing and I was the only person in the terminal. My bag arrived shortly after on its short and abrupt solo journey around the carousel. My three stop come two stop journey was complete. While I was disappointed I didn’t get to land in Julia Creek, I’d soon see Julia Creek anyway as I picked up my rental car and started driving back the way I’d just flown. I’ll post my story of my drive to Julia Creek shortly.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this flight review of my journey from Townsville to Mt Isa onboard a REX Saab 340. If you like this kind of content, but don’t like to read, then you can check out my video review of this flight on my YouTube channel. Although if you’ve gotten this far, I’m assuming reading is your thing 🙂