I can hear you now – not another Qantas Review!!! – But stay with me, its small and short – this is actually the regional arm of the airline – QantasLink and I’m travelling on one of their the newly refurbished Boeing 717-200’s in Business Class, something new for the airline. These narrowbodied rear mounted twin jets are making a resurgence with the carrier with the new inclusion of a Business Class cabin. This rather short afternoon flight is a new sector for the aircraft type as the regular Canberra – Sydney – Canberra service have been operated by QantasLink’s turbo-prop Dash 8’s and Qantas’ 737’s. Previously, a fleet of thirteen 717’s have been operating an Economy only service in central and Western Australia.
The new building at the chic Canberra Airport was pretty quiet when I arrived for my 4.00pm flight and by using the Quickcheck self service check-in kiosk, I had my boarding pass in hand within a few minutes arriving at the airport.
The Boeing 717-200’s are operated by Cobham Aviation on behalf of Qantas’ regional subsidiary QantasLink. The Cobham Aviation aircraft, crew, pilots and engineers all work under a long term contract that has recently included and extention until 2018, opening new routes and crew bases and increasing the 717 fleet up to 18 aircraft. These aircraft and staff work under the QantasLink branding and is the only third party airline to do so.
The aircraft operating the Canberra to Sydney flight today, registered VH-YQT, was the 16th Boeing 717-200 delivered to the Cobham/QantasLink, arriving late October 2013. The refurbished plane, leased from Boeing Capital, first took to the skies in 2004 with US carrier Midwest Airlines. Midwest operated 25 of the Boeing variant from its hubs at Milwaukee and Kansas City with this particular aircraft returning to Boeing Capital in September 2008 prior to airline ceasing operations and merging with Denvers Frontier Airlines. In September of the following year, the aircraft was leased by Click Mexicana, the low cost and later regional carrier of Mexico’s Mexicana, until they ceased operations when Mexicana filed for bankruptcy in 2010.
After almost 3 years of storage, the aircraft was repainted and refurbished with 12 Business Class seats and 98 Economy Class seats and leased to Cobham Aviation’s for QantasLink services.
Boarding was on time and the service from the Cobham staff in QantasLink uniforms efficient as I was shown my Business Class seat 1D in the forward cabin.
The 12 grey leather recliner seats with diamond shaped stitching looked striking as I entered the cabin and were comfortable with a generous 37″ / 94 cms of seat pitch in a 2-2 configuration. The Economy Cabin, not pictured, features 98 seats with a considerate 31″ / 78.7cms pitch in a 2-3 configuration.
With not many other aircraft departing from Canberra, our flight made an on time and nimble departure from the fairly dry and brown looking City below. As we took to the skies, the captain made the announcement we would be cruising at a rather lower than usual 19,000ft due to the shortness of this sector.
Entertainment is offered by iPads issued by parent carrier Qantas, located in every seat pocket in both classes, with what the airline says is over 200 hours of entertainment with movies, TV shows,music, radio and games. Being such a short sector after I flicked through the iPad I popped it back into the seat pocket.
As soon as the seatbelt sign was extinguished, one of the cabin crew came to my seat and asked, in that Qantas Business Class way “will I be joining them for afternoon snack”. Obviously I would be, and within seconds I was handed a plated salad of beetroot, gorgonzola and candied walnuts garnished with fronds of dill. This was such a delicious simple dish, both savoury, salty and sweet that worked quite well – in fact I plan to make something similar at home! The meal came with a warm Turkish roll, desert cake with lemon syrup and a 300 ml bottle of Mount Franklin water. Tea, coffee and wines were also offered by the crew.
A white wine was poured into a glass and as I finished the salad – savouring each bite of that gorgeous salty and pungent gorgonzola – I heard the crew member tell the gentleman sitting adjacent me that they would need to start collecting the glasses as we were about to make our decent onto Sydney. I quickly finished that baby glass of wine and my sweet lemon syrup cake before the order was given for seats upright and tray tables stowed and mine was politely cleared.
Flying over the green urban sprawl of Sydney was strikingly different compared to the dryness of Canberra where I had taken off mere 30-something minutes earlier.
Everything was wonderful on this flight, the service impeccable from a crew where the Business Class product is new, the food and wine enjoyable. After a smooth landing, on this great new addition to the Qantas family, I was in the terminal, looking back at the small jet, seemingly dwarfed by the aerobridge and a Jumbo jet in the background, 13 minutes early at 4.42pm – see told you this would be small and short! 😉