If you’ve read any of my previous blog posts you’ll see that flying and aviation play a big part in my love of travel. After a year of lockdowns and international border closures I decided to get out and explore a bit of Australia. With my passion for aviation playing such a huge part in my life, I thought it was time to start this latest adventure at what many would call the birthplace of Australian aviation. So my first trip exploring Australia was to Longreach in outback Queensland. Longreach is a place I’ve wanted to visit for a really long time. Not, mind you, because it’s in the middle of outback Queensland, but instead because of its place in the creation of what is one of the worlds oldest and Australia’s largest airline, Qantas.
I was starting this adventure at the birthplace of Qantas, it’s only fitting that I’m flying Qantas to get there. Saying that, there aren’t any options other than Qantas who fly a mixed schedule to Longreach via either Barcaldine or Blackall depending on the day. I’ve looked at flying here a few times before but the prices have always been really high. One up side of the pandemic has been that the price of flying domestically seems to have dropped with lots of sale fares floating around. That said, flights for the next month are around $900 return, which pre-pandemic is almost the same as a discount ticket to Europe or the US. Anyway, I hope you enjoy this trip report of my flight between Brisbane and Longreach on board a Qantas Link Dash 8.
Flight Review Details
Airline: Qantas Link
Travel Day: 4 May 2021
I fly by the motto of ‘why fly direct when you can connect’, which generally means I get to experience more flying for only a fraction more, or sometimes less, cost. Flying this way also increases the risk that you won’t actually make it to your destination due to the increased likelihood of something running late and you missing a connection. My journey to Longreach started with a flight to Brisbane, which of course, living up to my motto, was done via Newcastle. As a result of flying by my motto, the risk of missing my connection was pretty real with my flight from Newcastle landing after my flight to Longreach started boarding. As a result, it was quite a rush to get to the gate after my incoming flight from Newcastle was running late.
I’d normally spend a bit of time exploring the airport and relaxing in the lounge, but instead it was a quick rush between gates. For a bit of background on Brisbane airport, the domestic terminal has piers with round ends connected to the main terminal building. Flights to regional destinations, such as my trip to Longreach, depart from the lower level of the terminal on the walkway to the pier, with a bus transfer out to the aircraft. While my flight from Newcastle arrived at the pier, fortunately for me, my flight to Longreach departed from gate 5 which is located in the middle of the pier that connects the satellite to the main terminal, making it a short run between gates.
On arrival at the gate, the bus out to the aircraft had already departed. I was the only passenger waiting to board. I had an oh sh!t kinda moment when, gathering my breath I approached the counter. (I should really do more cardio). This is where the service from Qantas was top notch and made the extremely tight connection a lot less stressful. The gate agent told me not to worry and after finishing off the paperwork for the flight, escorted me out through the gate to her airside car. She then drove me across the apron to the plane where I was the last to board. The agent even checked with the load supervisor to ensue my bag made it onboard. Once my bag had been loaded the crew came and let me know prior to closing the door. I liked the personal chauffeur driven transfer to the aircraft instead of the bus, and although I did miss my normal plane spotting time, I was glad to be onboard. I feel this personal driver to the aircraft door should become a future platinum perk.
The flight from Brisbane to Longreach, via Barcaldine is scheduled for 3 hours. The schedule has me arriving in Longreach at 14:10 in the afternoon. Using the great circle mapper, the distance is 998km including the stopover at Barcaldine. The first segment takes 2hrs and 5 minutes to arrive in Barcaldine at 13:15, followed by a 30min hop across to Longreach. This will be the longest flight I’ve taken on the dash 8 series aircraft so far. Despite our late departure (partially due to me, and partially due to storms earlier in the day), the captain advised that we still expected to arrive at Barcaldine on time. Time to put the foot down and fly!
Once my bag was onboard we were good to go and we taxied out to the new runway in Brisbane. It was my first time to use this new runway which opened in the midst of the pandemic on 12 July 2020. Hopefully it will speed up the arrivals and departures in Brisbane that were often limited by the single runway. We took off on runway 19R and made a right hand turn away from the coast over the suburbs of Brisbane.
The first hour or so of the flight had patchy clouds beneath us as we cruised along at 24,000 feet. As we got further inland the green tinge of the coastline gave way to the red dirt of central and then western Queensland. I’ve flown over this part of the world before on trips to Asia but flying 10-15,000 feet lower makes a huge difference as to what you can see as you fly by. The landscape is uniquely Australian and the vastness is something you have to see to appreciate. The only major waypoints along the route are are dry river and creek beds that scar the landscape like a claw running across hardened dirt. Towns are few and far between.
As with most regional flying in Australia, I was flying via Barcaldine on a Bombardier Dash 8-400. More commonly known as the ‘Dash-8’ Qantas fly 3 versions of the dash 8 series aircraft. There is the 200, 300 and 400 series all sporting the flying kangaroo tail. There is an operator of the -100 series in far north Queensland who I’m keen to also try one day to complete the set. The 400 series is the largest in the fleet with 74 seats in an all economy 2-2 configuration across 19 rows. There are 31 of these aircraft in the Qantas fleet, all flying under the Qantas Link brand but are each operated by a different subsidiary airline within the Qantas family. This flight is flown by Sunstate Airlines. This aircraft is VH-QOV and is named after Ballarat in Victoria. It was delivered direct to Sunstate Airlines in December 2009 making it 11.5 years old.
At check in I was allocated an exit row. Score!. This had me seated in the first row on the right side of the aircraft. My seat today was seat 2D. The seat is situated next to the forward emergency exit, diagonally opposite the main entry. Due to the emergency exit, all bags etc need to be stowed before take off. The overhead lockers aren’t huge, so you won’t fit a roll on in. Despite being the last to board, my backpack still fit. The perks of this prized exit row seat are the extra legroom that if offers at the knee level. However, as there is no seat in front of you, you loose the ability to slide your feed under the seat in front. This means some might find they have a constantly bent knee. That said, I’m average height so fit pretty easily into most seats.
There is one downside to this seat, from an avgeek perspective. Unfortunately for an aviation geek who loves looking out the window the window is quite a way forward making it more difficult to stare out the window all day. I had a bit of a cramp in my neck from leaning forward and gazing out the window for most of the journey. I also noticed that the engine noise is a quite a bit louder up here than my later flight down the back, but that’s pretty subjective and maybe not noticeably different.
The seat is quite narrow and there isn’t a great deal of elbow room so I found that my elbow got quite friendly with the gentleman sitting next to me. This is partially due to the table being stored in the seat arm, and partially due to the narrow seat. The seat itself is a leather covering and looks quite aged and not as clean as I’d like it to be given we’re in the middle of a pandemic. There is also a hard shell seat pocket in the bulkhead in front for the safety card and any small items. I like to carry a bottle of water with me and the hard nature of this pocket makes it tricky to fit much inside it. I sound like I’m complaining about the exit row, which I guess I am, but having spent years always trying to get these seats, sometimes its good to point out that its not perfect just because you have more legroom.
Let’s talk about the inflight service. Very shortly after take off the crew came through the cabin offering a light snack, tea coffee and soft drinks. The snack was a Springhill Farm twin pack of chocolate oat bar and a lemon and yoghurt bar. I opted for a can of coke, needing a bit of a caffeine hit after the early morning start. As this is the longest flight I’m taking today, it was a bit odd that it was the smallest meal served. I had planned to eat in the lounge before the flight. Due to that very short connection, I barely had time to make the flight let alone eat. As a result it meant I skipped any substantial lunch today. I would have thought a small sandwich would be a better meal for this time of day and flight duration, but the snack provided was sweet and tasty.
Unlike Rex who seem to be able to do a snack service on the shortest of sectors, there was no second snack service on the flight from Barcaldine to Longreach. Given the flight was full and the sector only 20 minutes I can see why they didn’t have time to get around to everyone. Overall the snack was, okay.
Stopover at Barcaldine
The flight to Longreach is supported by the Queensland Government and is used to connect the smaller communities of Barcaldine and Blackall (each with a population 1,400). Today’s flight went via Barcaldine and, despite our delay out of Brisbane, I landed 5mins ahead of schedule. About 10 people got off while the rest remained onboard as we collected new passengers. It seemed like everyone on the plane (I’m exaggerating) wanted to use the bathroom on the stopover, however the crew strictly enforced a rule of only 1 passenger queuing for the bathroom at any one time.
The plane was filled up for our remaining segment with a lot of passengers joining the flight. There seemed to be an issue with one passenger who had booked through to Longreach but wanted to get off in Barcaldine instead. After what looked like some long discussions on the ground in both Brisbane and Barcaldine, the lady re boarded the plane and ended up continuing on to Longreach. Of those that boarded in Barcaldine, most would be travelling on to Brisbane as this service flies a triangle route with the return trip running non stop from Longreach to Brisbane.
The short hop between Barcaldine and Longreach
Once everyone was on board, we taxied out onto the runway in Barcaldine ready for take off. We took off to the south and made a small turn to the right. The small township was visible from the right hand side of the plane. After the slight turn we then headed straight towards Longreach. It’s 107km by road from Barcaldine to Longreach airport which the Dash-8 managed to do in 20minutes compared to the hour and ten by road. While there wasn’t a huge difference in the landscape below, the vastness of the outback really began to sink in with large swathes of land with very little signs of life to be seen. It’s quite the contrast to a short flight in Europe where the view is of green fields with villages and towns as far as the eye can see. Out here its 50 shades of brown and the occasional road forming long straight lines across the land. The seat belt sign remained on for the duration of this very short flight, which now makes the long queue for the bathroom on our Barcaldine stopover and the lack of inflight services on this last hop make more sense.
Arrival at Longreach Airport
We landed on runway 22 which, for the aviation geeks is 1,936m long. This was more than enough for a dash-8. A 747 and 707 have landed here before. We touched down and then used most of the runway rolling along to the end. Once off the runway it is a very short taxi to the terminal. The main point of view as we taxied to the terminal was of the Qantas Founders Museum. The star attraction of the museum is a Qantas 747 and 707 which stand much taller than the terminal building I’ve just arrived at. After the engines shut down its a short walk into the fairly modern looking terminal with ‘Longreach Airport’ inscribed in bright orange letters on the terminal wall welcoming travellers to Longreach.
Once inside there is a small baggage carousel and rental desks in the arrivals area. As its a small airport there is no security screening meaning the terminal is pretty open plan. The centre of the terminal has a waiting room with a large window looking out onto the apron and the opposite end of the building is home to a few check in counters for the two airlines that service Longreach, Qantas and Rex.
While waiting for my baggage to arrive I got the impression that for many of the passengers on this flight this was simply a commute to work, with high vis clothing a prominent feature. There were also quite a few business travellers, potentially due to the Queensland Government holding a regional cabinet session during my visit. Then there was me. A solo traveller, excited to be starting my adventure tracing the foundation of Qantas.
Although I’ve flown the Dash-8 quite a few times with 25 flights on the type in the last decade or so, it’s been a while since I’ve travelled on one. I found it to be quite a bit louder than I remember which made filming and any audio recording pretty terrible. The service on the ground was great and I really appreciate what the ground crew did to get me on the plane. Once onboard though, the crew appeared a little apathetic towards passengers. I was surprised with how full the plane was, which made me wonder why this flight needs government assistance. The flight itself was comfortable and got me where I was going but didn’t match the level of excitement that I had for flying to a truely noteworthy place on the Qantas history map. I did however find the terminal impressive for a regional airport. With a headache on arrival, I picked up my hire car, bought some water and started exploring the remote country town of Longreach.