Virgin Australia's Capital Connect service (Canberra-Sydney)

Airline Review: Virgin Australia's Capital Connect service (Canberra-Sydney)

Route:
Canberra to Sydney
Airline:
(Virgin Australia)
Cabin Class:
Economy
Aircraft Type:
ATR 72
Flight:
DJ647
Seat:
1A

service:

meals:

seating:

overall:

What's Hot

  • Brand new, quiet aircraft
  • Free snacks and drinks for all passengers

What's Not

  • Boarding is a mess
  • Less friendly service than Virgin mainline flights

X-Factor

  • New plane smell
  • Exit row with no seatmate

Introduction

Recently visiting Canberra for a conference proved an excellent opportunity to try out Virgin Australia's new Capital Connect service between Canberra and Sydney.

These daily shuttle flights are operated for Virgin by Perth-based Skywest Airlines on new ATR 72-500 turboprop aircraft.

Capital Connect service replaces the previous "Capital Jet" service that Virgin operated using Embraer 170 jet aircraft; the route is now serviced with a mixture of the Skywest-operated ATR flights, as well as some Virgin Australia-operated Embraer 190 flights.

Check-in

Boarding passes are the low-cost airline receipt style, which felt less than premium.

Check-in at Canberra Airport operates similarly to other domestic Virgin Australia counters. There is a separate queue for 'premium' guests (Velocity Frequent Fliers at Silver status or above, or those with a flexi fare), web check-in is available one day before the flight, and detailed seat selection is available up to two weeks before flying for Velocity members.

Check-in staff were keen to point out the peculiarities of seating on the new ATR aircraft: unusually, boarding is done from the rear of the aircraft only, so passengers who want to make a quick exit when the flight lands should go for seats towards the rear.

Lounge

As the ATR72 flights don't offer a premium-level service, no tickets come with lounge access. But if you're a Velocity Gold or Platinum member you can make use of the decently-sized Canberra lounge with runway views.

This lounge hasn't been renovated along the same lines as other Virign Australia lounges, in fact it still carries the old Virgin Blue branding. A new Virgin Australia lounge will be one of the features of Canberra Airport's rebuilt Western Concourse Terminal when that opens in mid-2013.

Flight

The flight was called for boarding some 15 minutes late. After walking through the gate doors, we found ourselves in a sheltered holding area where we waited for a few minutes, before we were invited to walk out onto the tarmac.

From there, we queued up for the stairs at the back of the aircraft. Coralling the queue of passengers onto the aircraft was an excruciatingly slow process (even though the flight only had some 60 passengers), and I can imagine that this would be less than ideal on a rainy day.  

Once aboard, finding my seat was pretty easy (bustle past all the passengers until I reached the front). As I was in a bulkhead seat, my backpack needed to go in an overhead locker.  

These are quite small, so don't expect to fit a medium-sized suitcase in the compartments -- it seems as though ground staff are trained to spot oversized bags on the tarmac, and I saw a number of bags getting checked whilst we were queued on the tarmac.  

The flight itself was reasonably short -- 40 minutes (about 10 minutes longer than the same route operated by the former E170) -- and about 25 minutes in total were spent with the fasten seat belt sign off. Note that the ATR has a much lower cruising altitude than jet aircraft, and can therefore be subject to a lot more turbulence.  

For travellers who've been on other turboprop aircraft, you'll be pleased to know that the ATR is remarkably quiet after takeoff, comparing favourably to the Embraer E-Jets that service the route.

Seat

The seats on the ATR are comfortable, standard economy seats, but nothing to write home about. If you've got a seat in front of you, you'll be happy to see the seatbacks have been rearranged to increase the amount of legroom available, by moving the document pocket above the tray table.

There's no movable headrest on the seats (unlike with the new Virgin Australia mainline seats), and curiously there is no recline function, but for flights where you're only permitted to recline for 20 minutes, this really isn't a problem.

My seat, 1A, was an exit row seat -- one of two available to passengers on the aircraft (1C and 1D aren't allocated, as they are too close to the forward crew member seat), aside from a bulkhead, this gives an excellent amount of legroom.

Note that choosing row 1 also ensures that you won't get a second passenger next to you.

Meal

The famed Virgin Australia pumpkin dip was nowhere to be found, replaced by cheese and crackers.

For the short hop from Canberra to Sydney, we were served a snack of cheese and crackers, and the option of juice or water to go with it. This is served with a curious white fabric thingy, which upon opening holds a serviette, salt, pepper and a stirring spoon. 

The thing enclosing these actually turned out to be a rubbish bag, which I only discovered accidentally -- it's not labelled, and according to the flight attendant, not many passengers figure this out at all.

Free snacks are served on all of the Virgin Australia/Skywest ATR services, as well as Virgin Australia services between Melbourne and Canberra, and the Embraer 190 services between Sydney and Canberra.

Entertainment & Service

The ATR72s have no in-flight entertainment available, which for the short flights the aircraft handles is understandable. On the plus side, the windows are surprisingly large for such a small plane, so you'll get a good view.

In terms of service, things were a little patchier. It's clear that you're flying with Virgin Australia -- the planes are painted in Virgin colours, the boarding pass says "Virgin Australia" and the flight attendants wear Virgin uniforms (in fact, the only sign that Skywest have anything to do with the service is the Skywest logo on the crew's name badges) -- but things are slightly different from normal.

Announcements are sound overly factual and authoritative, rather than the conversational announcements that you'd hear on mainline Virgin flights.

It's obvious that the crew don't have the same level of training in customer service as their mainline counterparts, and the differences in approach are slightly jarring, but not the end of the world.

 

14 Comments

  • AirportAddict

    AirportAddict

    29 Jan, 2012 10:11 pm

    Do they have the random coloured head rests on these? the red, grey and purple ones? or are these only on the larger aircraft?

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  • chrisjrn

    chrisjrn

    30 Jan, 2012 07:15 am

    Nope, the seats are a solid grey.

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  • AirportAddict

    AirportAddict

    30 Jan, 2012 10:00 am

    What is the reasoning behind it? will they have the other seats in future?

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  • chrisjrn

    chrisjrn

    30 Jan, 2012 10:20 am

    Because they're using a completely different model of seat, designed for turboprop planes.  They actually look pretty good, and modern, and are pretty comfortable.  Here's a photo of my seat 1A...Christopher Neugebauer, CC-BY-SA

    And then, for comparison, seat 1B.  You'll note the literature pocket at the top -- this increases knee room, which means that even though the pitch is less than that of the 737-800 with new seats, there's actually a lot more space than the 737 seats.  Christopher Neugebauer, CC-BY-SA

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  • AirportAddict

    AirportAddict

    30 Jan, 2012 10:52 am

    Yeah thanks. Looks like the front row has more legroom or is it an optical illusion with the seat in front?

    Is the capital connect service run by 2 airlines?

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  • chrisjrn

    chrisjrn

    30 Jan, 2012 02:43 pm

    Definitely more legroom in the front (http://www.ausbt.com.au/the-best-seats-on-board-virgin-australia-s-atr-72).  The Capital Connect service runs entirely under the Virgin Australia brand, but the ATR72 flights between Sydney and Canberra are operated by crew from Skywest.  You won't notice much difference in-flight, as the crew wear Virgin uniforms, and don't mention Skywest at all.

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  • AirportParty

    AirportParty

    4 Feb, 2012 07:52 pm

    overall, you gave this trip fairly low ratings.

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  • AirportAddict

    AirportAddict

    4 Feb, 2012 07:56 pm

    When you have an entry at the back it it stupid. doors should always be at the pointy end dont u think?

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  • AirportParty

    AirportParty

    4 Feb, 2012 08:48 pm

    depends how much room it leaves for other activities

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  • AirportAddict

    AirportAddict

    4 Feb, 2012 08:52 pm

    sorry, let me re-phrase that. There should always be a door at the front of a plane.

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  • AirportParty

    AirportParty

    4 Feb, 2012 09:33 pm

    hmm, AA, i dont not agree with you hear? ewe say that doors should always bee at the front??.........HOWEVER, most planes do have a front and back anyhow, therefor it is like any plane minus the front door, which in reality is less capibly of the forces it must stand due to aerosmithic pressures. SO AirportAddict, would you like to re-phrase that again??

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  • AirportAddict

    AirportAddict

    5 Feb, 2012 07:06 am

    Well yes you are right. Most planes do have front and back doors but unfortunately the ATR 72-500s do not. 

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  • Kelvin

    Kelvin

    28 Jun, 2012 09:40 pm

    What's the big deal :p . 

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  • Robert

    Robert

    15 Jul, 2012 02:16 pm

    Living in the nation's capital, you are treated by airlines -- VA and Qantas -- like you're in Wagga Wagga or Bathurst, so lots of these noisy, cramped prop planes.

    Doing it once a blue moon is a Biggles-like adventure; every week -- as I have done for years -- becomes an unholy drag. Trying to target the uncommon jet service is no solution as it is often cancelled at a whim and passengers catapaulted into the prop planes.

    The worst part? Taking your seat and then watching the bingo that is over-sized passengers walking towards you, knowing that if you're unlucky enough to be their seat-companion, the already cramped conditions will be rendered sardine-like.

    Hardly loving treatment for people who do a lot of travel to and fro Canberra, often at the extremes of day owing to departments' increasingly stingey travel policies to avoid overnighters and instead rely on people travelling in their own time (very early in the morning or late at night).

    Thank goodness for that over-salted pumpkin dip, AGAIN, for my dinner (not!). 

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10 Dec, 2016 06:18 am

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