Sydney 2018 Toxic Custard newsletter

Cruising home like a rock star

Backdated. Posted 26/5/2018

Last morning in Sydney; almost time to go home.

After checking out of the hotel, we headed back to the gallery to see if Sunday morning was a better option for looking at the Archibald Prize finalists than Friday had been.

On the walk, the last of the half-marathon runners were coming through, including one old bloke, jogging along to the encouragement of passers-by and event organisers.

Art Gallery of NSW

Ibis at Art Gallery of NSW

First, a bite in the gallery cafe for breakfast, while trying to keep the ibis away from our food. They didn’t seem spooked by the fake owl.

Then we looked around the exhibition. Some great works, both the Archibalds and finalists from the Wynne and Sulman prizes, also on display.

Funny Hahas and Bloody Galahs - by Craig Handley - at Art Gallery of NSW

From there another walk across the park and a poke around the shops for a bit.

Back to the hotel to pick up the bags, then we headed for St James Station — drawing another bum card, as again due to works we went around the City Circle the wrong way (but hey, that Circular Quay view!!) and had to change at Central for the Airport line.

View of the Sydney Harbour Bridge from Circular Quay station

Sydney Airport - Domestic Railway Station

No matter, back at Sydney Airport in plenty of time, no thanks to a faulty escalator at the Domestic station.

Flying home Business Class

As I mentioned, we ended up flying back Business Class on points.

The following may seem trivial to people who usually fly Business, but as someone who has only previously flown Economy, I found it an interesting contrast.

The Virgin lounge was pretty busy, and apart from the complimentary food and drink, perhaps little different to the public areas of most airports these days. WiFi and power for a laptop and somewhere to sit are pretty common.

The really luxurious place in the airport is something I’ve only heard about (and don’t expect to ever see inside): the Qantas Chairman’s Lounge.

Perhaps more advantageous than Virgin’s lounge was priority boarding, skipping the queue. Mixed feelings: guilt for jumping the queue, rock star for walking straight in, but fraud for doing it on points!

Priority boarding queue at Sydney Airport

And once aboard – the seats are certainly much more spacious. And personal service – would you like a drink before we take-off, Mr Bowen?

We got a good view as we took off, but you can get that from any window seat.

Taking off from Sydney

Of the eight Business Class seats in the plane, four were taken, four were empty.

Being much a bigger seat, you get more window. And at the front of the plane you get a better sense of what’s going on, as the flight crew chat among themselves, and you can see the pier closing and moving away before the plane pushes back.

Cruising in Business Class

On the way up to Sydney in Economy (departing 7:30pm), we’d been given a packet containing five cracker biscuits and five slices of cheese.

Coming back in Business Class (departing 4:30pm), it was a full meal with a choice of options – I went for the Moroccan lamb jaffle. On a real plate, with real metal cutlery and a cloth napkin.

Business class meal on Virgin

After landing, one of the hosties positioned herself in the aisle to make sure us high flyers got to leave first, without the hoi polloi from Economy getting ahead of us.

And at the baggage carousel, my bag came out super-quick thanks to the Priority tag they’d put on it. (My usual suitcase is actually small enough to take as carry-on, but I generally prefer not to schlep around the airport with it. Plus I had some liquid in it — I’d bought a bottle of hot sauce at the farmers market to take home.)

Priority luggage allowed me to leave the terminal several minutes quicker, and get on a Skybus sooner (I only just caught it), with an earlier train connection home. So it got me home more quickly. Maybe only ten minutes earlier, but it helped.

Some people yearn for the olden days of air travel. The glamour, the personal service.

This of course was a time when most people couldn’t afford to fly at all. But for those who did, there was more space and better service.

Clearly you can still have it — to an extent — if you’re willing to pay for it.

But it’s not cheap. Checking Virgin’s web site, flights to Sydney start from $125 in Economy — for Business Class you’re paying at least $499 (for a Business Saver fare).

I could get used to travelling Business, but my budget isn’t likely to allow it very often. Perhaps I’ll aim for the occasional points upgrade.

Back in Melbourne

Straight onto a Skybus back to the City. Unlike the slow trip on Thursday night, this was a quick 23 minutes, at full speed along most of the freeway. It could have been a minute or two faster if there was traffic light priority when the bus left the freeway at Footscray Road.

Then straight onto a train home — noting that since the removal of seats around the doorways, there are very few spots in the Alstom Comeng trains where you can sit, and have your suitcase with you, but out of the way.

Back in drizzly Melbourne - Southern Cross Station

After a few days of sun in Sydney, I was back in drizzly cold Melbourne.

But with such a relaxing flight home, it didn’t matter a bit.

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

10 replies on “Cruising home like a rock star”

I’ve enjoyed your brief Sydney holiday posts. It truly is a wonderful city to visit, and I won’t add the usual qualification Melburnians normally make. In your photo from the plane is Port Botany, but on the far side of the inlet where the sandy beach is visible, is La Perouse, the destination for the last Sydney tram in 1961 before returning to its depot, stripped of some if its fittings by tram fans, I seem to remember. One does ponder at times what Sydney might be like now if it kept its trams. It would have adapted, I am sure.

Great report. A lamb jaffle! Wouldn’t have imagined that.
I’d love to see the Archibald paintings. What a great trip. You did a lot in a short space of time

Dang, I’ll have to go see the exhibition, then.

It’ll probably take me 40 mins on my bicycle from my home in the west end of Glebe to the Art Gallery, which is not much longer compared to going there via a bus or two. Although I’ve been quite lazy in riding my bike – the biggest reason being the hilly roads compared to Melbourne. Some people are spooked out with having to negotiate traffic, but I find it not being as bad – there are back streets where I can ride to stay out of traffic, and there are a number of roads (eg Sussex Street) that traffic is both slow and few.

As a Sydneysider (and a former Melbournite), I sometime use Firefly or Countrylink XPT when I go down to Melbourne to visit friends for the weekend, departing Friday night and arriving Saturday morning. I guess it does its job for the amount that I pay, and it’s generally cheaper than a plane (generally $90; $45 on sale; conversely up to $130 on busy nights). On the other hand, I’ll have to fly back up on Sunday due to work the next day. Public transport from the airport isn’t much better, to be honest. I still kind of find the Airport access fee for Sydney Trains ridiculous, for starters. The other thing is that there is only one bus service that comes every 20-30 mins – for such a key destination, there should be at least 3 or more. (Heck, I wouldn’t mind if the Light Rail gets extended from Dulwich Hill to the Domestic Termial via Sydenham.) It’s hardly any wonder why there are congestion problems around the airport.

#Hisashi I agree the train access fee for the airport in Sydney is excessive. If the (mooted) Melbourne airport train has a large access fee attached, no one will use it.
BTW, Melbourne people are Melburnians.

I remember seeing off freinds on their return back to Sydney, and often, we would say, they would land back in Sydney before we got home in Cranbourne where we where living then.

While I flew to Adelaide recently in the very early am for a funeral, I rode back on Firefly overnight that night. I enjoyed the bus so much, I am thinking of getting one of those seven day passes for Greyhound. I think at the time, the bus was $70 versus $300 for the plane. I much enjoyed the coach ride back.

@Roger, there’s no doubt Skybus and Sydney’s airport rail are both expensive. But lots of people use them. Of course the market share would go up if the fares were lower, but both already get quite a few people.

If Skybus was replaced by a train tomorrow, you’d have roughly 6 x 90 people an hour using it just for starters, even if the price was the same.

As a regular user of both, I can say that if Melbournians expect the train to be better than Skybus, they are probably in for a big disappointment.

Once the roadworks are finished, it is not going to be faster. 3 of my last 4 trips on Skybus have been around the 22-26 minute mark, with no slowdowns on the freeway. The traffic light near the Costco seem to not work properly, though. The train would still be pretty useless for anyone on the northern side of Melbourne, due to lack of connectivity.

The whole Melbourne airport operation seems to be geared to Melbournians going OUT of Melbourne ( to the Gold Coast, Sydney, overseas, wherever), rather than people coming INTO Melbourne. People who have their own cars at their disposal are always going to prefer to use them. From where I work, at outer southern Melbourne, you can drive to the airport in well under 2 hours compared to 3.5 hours by public transport, so why wouldn’t you ? And none of the people where I work even have a myki.

And as Daniel mentioned, travelling on any of the Melbourne trains with even a small suitcase seems to be awkward.

@enno: I just realised, at least the Skybus fleet are all dedicated for airport users. I just remembered that the other problem with Sydney’s train is potentially having to compete for space with commuters – and one of the main reasons why I think the access fee is ridiculously high.

Frankly, I think this is a bit of a red herring. You regularly see comments online for newspaper articles about the airport or public transport, with people complaining that there is no “special storage” for luggage on Sydney’s airport trains. These comments seem to come from people who never actually use public transport in Sydney, but once used some kind of special airport service, overseas.

I’ve only ever used one “special” airport train overseas, and that was the Shanghai maglev. I’ve been to maybe a dozen cities which have “ordinary” trains. On the Shanghai maglev, there is a small space for luggage, where the suitcases get piled up in a stack about 9 high. Now think about it. How would that work if there were any intermediate stops, that is, everybody is not getting out at the only stop, at the end of the line. How would you retrieve your suitcase if it is at the bottom of the pile?

People are also somewhat concerned about bags being stolen when they can’t see them. This is also a much smaller risk, when there is only one stop, at the end of the line. If the skybus had multiple stops, I’d be much more concerned about someone nicking my bag if I could not see it. I would not leave my bag out of sight on any service – bus or train – which had multiple stops.

Sydney airport is only 10 km from the cbd, compared to 20 km in Melbourne and 30-60 km for many overseas cities which built new airports in the 70’s and 80’s. This amplifies the need for high-speed, luxury, and expensive trains to downtown. For a 12 minute trip in Sydney, you can manage to stand, if it happens to be rush hour. If you don’t like it, take a taxi. Sydney benefits from direct access to the city circle as well as direct access to the Campbelltown and Sutherland lines. Most cities make do with the regular metros. I can assure you, it is a bit annoying to arrive somewhere, very tired, and have to stand for an hour on the metro. But 10 minutes ? It’s not much of a problem. I predict Badgery’s Creek is going to be very unpopular.

Sydney trains have a big space near both ends of every carriage ( except where the driver’s cabin is ), which is good for prams or luggage or bicycles or surfboards or shopping trolleys, as well as for about 20 people standing during rush hour. It’s a multipurpose space. There is plenty of room to sit or indeed stand in this area with your suitcases on the floor. The demand for special luggage racks is weak, at best. They have them on the skybuses and most people having difficulty hoisting their bags onto them.

There is only a few trains a day which are packed out before they get to the airport. In peak hour, most of the Campbelltown trains don’t go through the airport. The trains only come from Revesby. And, passengers from the airport to the CBD are getting on those trains before the people from Mascot and Green Square get on. And, quite a lot of the passengers taking the train from the airport to the CBD in that short period of the day, are business day-trippers from Melbourne who most are not bringing their jumbo suitcases with them, and have the option of taking a taxi on the company’s dime. I’ve arrived from overseas during the morning rush hour and never had a problem.

I agree with Enno on this.

On an 8 car Sydney train, there’s a 16 doorways and platform-level areas you can use. At all times except the top of the peak, I’ve found space hasn’t been a problem.

And meanwhile, because the Airport stations are on a line that serves numerous other destinations, this justifies the frequent all-day service needed to attract passengers. Which is why every time I’ve used it, there have been plenty of people using the airport stations — despite the premium fares.

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