Melbourne to Cairns on Virgin Australia
When booking the flights in Australia, it was hard to find anything even remotely close to a good deal between Melbourne and Cairns. Virgin Australia flew non-stop from Tullamarine (the main airport) so I decided to go with them, but first I had to get to the airport.
Skybus Airport Shuttle to Tullamarine
Otherwise well planned Melbourne transportation system fails when it comes to getting to and from its airports. For no apparent reason there are no trains or trams going there so the only choice are the bus shuttles monopolized by Sita at Avalon and Skybus at Tullamarine. Both depart from the Southern Cross station, a major transportation hub in the heart of Melbourne's CBD. While $20 charged by Sita for an hour ride to Avalon seems more or less reasonable, the $17 charged by Skybus for a 20 minute ride to Tullamarine is pretty outrageous. Also, while Sita uses coach-style buses to go to Avalon, Skybus uses a mix of essentially city busses with luggage racks installed and mini buses for off-peak times. Besides being expensive, the ride was uneventful and we did get to the airport in about 20 minutes.
Virgin Check-in and Tullamarine Airport
Skybus dropped us off at the arrival level of the airport and I found the layout to be a bit confusing with check-in desks located on the third floor, while the gates were on the second floor. The fact that there were no signage for check-in gates on the second floor contributed to my confusion so I went up, then back down, then up again, and then up once more to the third floor. Once again, I was not able to check-in for my flight online because I reserved an exit row seat (at additional cost of course, but I figured it would be worth it on a three hour flight). Unlike JetStar, I was not even able to check-in using the self-service kiosk at the airport so I had to wait in line for the counter. Otherwise, the security lane was empty and soon after I was at gate G2, taking advantage of the free WiFi from the nearby Beachculture store (official airport WiFi is not free).
We boarded more or less on time with front half of the aircraft using the jet bridge and the folks seating in the back rows having to go down to the tarmac and then board via stairs at the back of the aircraft, similar to my experience with JetStar so it seems like getting a seat at the front is preferable when traveling in Australia. Inside, the 737-700 looked a bit dated with noticeably older seats and a bit extra more legroom in exit row as compared to JetStar's A320. Each seat had a small TV built into it just above the tray table with multiple free channels available and a few offering prepaid movies.
Taxi was quick and with no line for takeoff, we were soon off the ground for a three hour flight. Being the LCC, Virgin offers a small menu of snack, sandwiches, and drinks for sale, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that water and coffee were still free. After flying through a few bumps on takeoff, the rest of the flight was smooth. My TV kept flickering so I turned it off while working on the blog and the only other annoying thing I found was the half-arm rest by the exit door.
Getting to Cairns
Surprisingly, there is no public transportation available at the airport per se. The airport is privately managed and only companies that have contracted with them are allowed on the access road so the city buses do not come here. Effectively, people are trapped into using expensive shuttle options or even more expensive taxis. Yey… I had to cough up $12 for a two mile / five minute ride to my hostel on Sun Palm Transport shuttle. As I found out later, a slightly cheaper option is to prebook a shuttle with FNQ Airport Shuttle which 'only' costs $10 for one person, $15 for two, and so on.