With overseas travel mostly curtailed, I jumped at the unique opportunity when Qantas announced its own ’flight to nowhere’. With only 150 seats available and even fewer windows seats, I knew I had act fast and booked a ticket within minutes of the sale.
Business class tickets were $3787, premium economy $1787 and economy were $787. My trip was in a rear economy class window seat.
The flight departed from the Sydney Airport Domestic Terminal. The pre-flight festivities included a live performance from Shannon Noll and Iva Davies, memorabilia auctions, a mini cocktail stand and a themed photo booth. Most of the passengers had arrived early and the lounge was quite full. The breakfast service in the lounge was more personalised than usual with roving attendants taking coffee and food orders and bringing them straight to your seat.
Being a review of “Great Southern Land”, I’ll cover aspects of the flight itself in lieu of the economy class hard product.
The aircraft was a 2-year-old 787 (VH-ZND, named Emily Kame Kngwarreye) featuring a unique Indigenous livery. Once onboard, the flight crew gave an overview of the planned flightpath whilst cabin crew distributed menus and other amenities.
Each seat had a commemorative cushion (which all passengers were encouraged to take home)
Additionally, there was a gift bag for each passenger, containing a variety of souvenir items.
Excitement was building amongst the passengers at being able to finally get a dose of ‘cabin fever’. We were indeed delighted to hear that the aircraft would descend to around 2000ft-4000ft above ground and perform orbits to give passengers on both sides a low and close look at the iconic landmarks.
Right after departure from Sydney, the flight took an orbital route around Sydney Harbour.
The weather was certainly generous on the day. The only minor cloud cover from the whole flight was near the Whitsundays.
The flight then tracked up the east coast and flew over popular destinations such as Port Stephens and Byron Bay, giving a view of the idyllic beaches and coastline.
Heading further up north towards the Whitsundays, the flight passed the Sunshine Coast and Hamilton Island. The locals at Coolum Beach on the Sunshine Coast had a makeshift “Visit Us For Real” message laid out on the beach.
The IFE was off for the whole flight. There were however, some light entertainment by Qantas Pathfinders, who are a group of current and former cabin crew who perform shows for charitable causes.
As the flight reached the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef, the aircraft slowed and descended down to 4000ft. From the low altitude, window seat passengers certainly got a sense of the scale of these reefs.
A local marine expert was patched in over the PA so that passengers could hear firsthand about ongoing biodiversity and conversation efforts.
The flight then headed inland towards the Red Centre, and this gave a view of contrasting auras. Desert browns slowly transitioned to sandy reds.
The lunch service on this flight consisted of a standard economy menu. The crew happily provided free flowing drinks, as well as the usual Qantas long haul economy staples, such as Weiss bars, hot chocolate, Tim Tams and Lindt.
I had the ravioli (the lamb had run out) accompanied with a chardonnay. The meal was average and on-par to the usual economy catering.
Flying over a large inland salt water lake (Lake Amadeus)
As the aircraft neared Uluru and Kata-Tjuta, speed and height were again reduced. At an altitude of around 2,000ft, Emily flew multiple orbits around these UNESCO work heritage sites.
This time around, the general manager of the Uluru – Kata Tjuta national park was patched in via sat phone to describe some the heritage and culture significance of these landmarks.
The aircraft flew low and slow and was subjected to moderate turbulence caused by the convection of the hot desert air.
Despite this, all passengers were avidly admiring the view and busily snapping away photos.
In my view, the 787’s larger windows offered great vantage points, even to those sitting in the aisle.
After the orbits in the Red Centre, Emily then set course homeward bound. The route detoured slightly to fly over Lake Eyre, another inland, salt lake.
By late afternoon, the flight had arrived back in Sydney.
As the flight neared its end, messages of praise were passed on via the PA. The crew did a great job to maximise the viewing opportunity for all passengers and it was revealed that they had carefully planned the flight path for weeks. The cabin crew were praised too for keeping the service positive and enthusiastic, especially during these challenging times.
It was hard to fault any of the scenic aspects of the flight. The opportunity to witness up close the beauty of Australia’s iconic landmarks was a truly unique and fantastic experience.
Editor’s note: make sure to check out Ke’s Instagram highlights for videos of the experience!