Melbourne airport is very quiet at 4:30 am.
Even with the aid of online check in to reduce the mandatory lead time, you still need to drop your bags an hour prior to departure, so there I was in a barely functioning airport. Few of the usual food amenities are open at that time. Even the outgoing customs desks had just two operators who seemed more interested in talking to each other than in the people they were processing. Time to install those “Smartgates”, Melbourne. Anyway, I was there to take the 6 am flight back to Auckland. Not just any flight, but the inaugural flight of Jetstar’s Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner which will be on the Melbourne to Auckland service for the next month. I went past the windowless departure lounge to find a place where I could see the apron, and there, in the pre-dawn darkness was VH-VKA, the very same aircraft whose engine change I had photographed a week earlier. She gleamed in the apron lights with a little added lustre from a waning crescent moon and a distant star.
My seat was in the front row of the business cabin, and as I put my carry-on bag in the large overhead lockers, I could see that the cockpit door was open and that there were a lot of four-ringed captains on the flight deck, including the airline’s chief pilot. I asked the one who was standing outside in the forward galley if I could take the shot of the preparations for departure. It’s an amazing cockpit, though the glare from outside lights reveals the need for a good soft cleaning cloth to wipe the fingerprints off the glass of the Head Up Display (HUD).
The front bulkhead row has nowhere to store carry on items, so for take-off until the seat-belt sign went off, my camera had to remain in the overhead locker, and I missed the best of the magnificent spread of Melbourne’s lights. I am not sure where we were when I could finally retrieve my camera, but I think it was somewhere over the Eastern suburbs of the city.
The Dreamliner cabin is tall and open, even on a high-density low-cost carrier such as Jetstar. The big windows, with cabin pressure regulated to a mere 6,000 feet instead of the more usual 8,000 feet, and humidity set to 15% instead of the usual very dry 4% gives a much more comfortable experience. This shot was taken from the entrance to the rear galley looking forward over 314 economy seats and 21 business seats.
Our arrival over Auckland was covered in cloud and I think I caught a glimpse of the surf at Piha as we crossed the coast. We flew over the city and came in from the East to touch down ahead of schedule. Since this was an inaugural flight, the traditional archway with water cannon from the crash tenders was provided. I struggled to get a shot that included the water without obscuring the tender.
Of course it was a good public relations opportunity, since Air New Zealand’s first 787-9 delivery is still several months away. Local media were on the apron all kitted out with orange fluoro jackets. An Airbus A320 which normally serves this run sits behind them preparing for a trip to Sydney.
With the excitement of that trip over, it was home to Wellington. I was in the domestic departure lounge about to board the plane to Wellington when I realised I had left my iPad on the 787. I went back down to the check in counter, and explained my stupidity to the team leader of the Jetstar ground staff. “We’ll get it for you,” she said, and sure enough, just as they were about to shut the door on the Wellington-bound A320, a member of ground staff came panting up the outside stairs of the air-bridge with my iPad. Excellent service, team. Thank you.
So now I am at home again, glad to be here, grateful to Catherine and Mark for their generosity and hospitality, and ready to resume normal service.
It’s a beautiful day.