Planes, wifi and customer service

I write this from a Qantas plane high above Queensland on my way to Cairns for work. I have gone in recent times from a weekly plane traveller to one with more of a sporadic use of my frequent flyer membership. That change in usage of planes for travelling has brought more sharply to mind the issue of connectivity on planes.

You see, when I was travelling weekly, I loved the down time that being unconnected from the world gave me: I could shut my eyes and relax away from the phone calls and emails and just spend time thinking. It was great and, at the time, I really needed that time.

Now though, the time spent on planes does nothing but irritate me. Forget for the moment the general lateness of planes coming out of Brisbane Airport (another 25 minutes late departure today) and the fact that if I don’t get an exit aisle seat sitting in economy class requires me to shape my body like an origami crane to sit with anything that resembles comfort. Those facts are things I have no real cavil with and have to expect from travelling on planes.

What really irritates is the fact that we still are forced on planes to shut down all electronic devices and are required to place all devices in flight mode. I understand the rationale: electronic signals might effect the navigational instruments on planes. I wonder though: is this risk an actual risk or an imagined one? Have you ever heard of a plane crashing and the reason given by the aviation authority’s is that someone broke the rules and was playing with his iPhone? I know I haven’t and, given that I do spend time on planes regularly, I am sure I would have remembered it.

Is the slavish devotion by airlines to the "no devices" paradigm more to do with customer service than safety? If that were the rationale it would be two fold:

1. I can think of nothing worse than sitting next to someone speaking on the phone for 2 hours so the fact that there is no phone connectivity does have the ability to improve my experience.

2. If I am not connected then I, as a passenger, can not jump online to whinge in "real time" about the service I am receiving which has the effect of sanitising the flight experience.

Those rationales are all well and good but is it too much to ask that I have access to my email whilst I am in the air? I know there are airlines in the US who have rolled out limited wifi services (I have seen people I follow on my twitter feed wax lyrical about them) and wonder why we don’t have the same on the "nations carrier"? If cost is an impediment I would gladly pay more but I suspect it is not cost that is the issue. I return to the customer service imperative noted about and wonder if a keenness for a lack of "live" criticism is behind the lack of a move to in plane wifi?

I know we are only 7 years into the iPhone age of doing business but airlines seem to be way behind in servicing their clients needs when it comes to business travel: if they weren’t I would be posting this blog immediately rather than when I take my iPad off flight mode upon landing.

That fact raises another question for Australian business travellers: wouldn’t it be nice to have a high speed train to get on for business trips? Again: I know I would pay a premium to get on a train: I would avoid the need for taxis to and from airports for a start and I am sure that such a train would have zero impediments on cellular use. I know Qantas would never let that happen but it is nice to dream about.

Shumpty on Tour: Day 4 … Warrnambool to Apollo Bay

Today was a relatively short run along the Great Ocean Road from Warrnambool to Apollo Bay. I have been to a number of places in the world that took my breath away but I have to say I am hard pressed to remember any place I have visited that has been as visually stunning as some of the sites I visited today.

I am going to be controversial up front here: I wasn’t impressed by the 12 Apostles. With its large kiosk, phalanx of tourists and large concrete jungle I found it to be just like most tourist attractions: crowded and boring.

Every other site I visited though made up for my disappointment with the 12 Apostles. Starting at the Bay of Islands right through to Loch Ard Gorge each site revealed absolutely breathtaking scenery. I was also left with a feeling of awe that some of the sites I was viewing were slowly being eroded away the constant pounding of the waves from the Ocean and that the next time I am down here (and I will be back) they may look different. The Ocean is just so relentless in its task and will ultimately succeed through repetition: a fair lesson in life there me thinks.

My absolutely favourite site of all of the sites I visited was Loch Ard Gorge. To get down on the sand, on my own and explore this fascinating site is something I will have with me for a long time.

For travellers of the Great Ocean Road I have a tip for you: do not stop your travels at the 12 Apostles! I recommend you push past it and go on to Warrnambool for the night and then return to the Road fresh and attack the sites in “reverse order”. You will not regret it!

I have posted a couple of photos from today at if you are interested in seeing some of the sites seen today.

Tomorrow is the final drive back to Melbourne and the plane trip home.

Shumpty on Tour: Days 1 and 2 … Melbourne

What a pleasure it has been to have a couple of a days in Melbourne before hitting the Great Ocean Road. Rather than do a usual travel blog for these two days I thought I would just do a “good, bad and ugly” for my time in Melbourne. After all, there are tons of travel guides for this place.


Hare and Grace Restaurant: The venue for dinner last night was my favourite restaurant in Melbourne and yet again it did not disappoint with the food being absolutely spot on and service exceptional. Only criticism is that it is a bit pricey.

Coffee: I confess that I had forgotten how good the coffee is in Melbourne. I haven’t had a bad cup yet and my favourite place so far is the Barbershop in Chapel Street.


The Weather: Pretty simple really this one as it has rained for most of the time I have been here. Indeed I have been told that this week will be the coldest week in November in Melbourne in 20 years. Enough said really.


Cab drivers: I tweeted last night about one experience with the cab drivers of Melbourne that is led to me issuing a formal complaint over overcharging. Frankly though I have not had a pleasant one yet and in the most part the cabs I have taken in Melbourne have been driven by surly gentlemen who think wet weather driving means you should drive quickly and change lanes erratically. Next time I will hire a car the whole trip.

All in all it has been a great two days in Melbourne but now the Great Ocean Road beckons. Next blog will be from Warrnambool.

The travelling Shumpty: some thoughts on Mackay

I have spent the last week in Mackay as well as three days of the week before. I confess that the last couple of times I had been up here had been flying visits for mediations and on a couple of cricket tours as a young bloke so these last two trips have really been the first times I have been able to run a considered eye over the city.

One gets some immediate impressions of Mackay on the flight and then car ride into town: it is flat, it is by the ocean and it is hot. Well more humid than outright hot but the statment still stands.

It is obviously also though a hub for the mining community with Moranbah not that far away and the travelling suit of many the tradition hue of orange and dark blue that forms most hi-vis outfits for work on the mines.

Having stayed down by the harbour and also in town over the last two weeks I am prepared to say that I actually quite like Mackay. It is a place with a relaxed feel about it coupled with some pretty good restuarants and accommodation that is both reasonably priced and comfortable.

My favourite restaurant in Mackay is Angelos. This is a wonderful Italian restuarant down on the harbour that serves some of the best Italian food I have ever had in one of the most relaxing settings one could find. I have been been back twice in the last two weeks and have had some excellent meals. A particular favourite dish is the gnocci with bolognese: you simply must try it.

I have been in Mackay for work so I have not experienced any of the touristy type attractions around town but, for what it is worth, I think it is a pretty relaxed place that if you were just looking to chill out and relax it would suit you down to the ground.

One final comment: the yard next to the airport is filled with vehicles no longer needed by the mining industry. It fills two, maybe three, football fields. That is a concerning sign, as if one needed one, that the mining bubble has well and truly burst in Central Queensland. One can only hope that centres like Mackay, which have built up infrastructure over recent times to deal with the influx of mine workers does not also burst along with it.

I will be back again next week and no doubt will again be at Angelos for a feed. As I always say: why upset a winning formula?

You’re in Perth, you have 16 hours before your flight and your original plans are no longer: what you gonna do?

The conundrum in the title of this post is what befell me today: having planned to be in Perth today for the 5th day of the Australia v South Africa cricket test match at the WACA I was left at a loose end given the early end of the test match before I arrived. I did not have a flexible flight so my only option was to come up with a way to entertain myself in a city I had never been to before.

As my brain is still on Brisbane time despite having been in Western Australia since Friday I awoke at 4am feeling more than a bit unwell. All the warning signs of a migraine hit me, most ominously my right eye was blurry, but the combination of drugs and a little more sleep seemed to work and by 7am I was wondering what I was going to do for the day. I basically had 16 hours before my flight and nothing to do.

Going against my usual policy, I first decided to spend as much time as I could in my hotel room before check out. If I had not have had some work to do I would have watched a movie but having work to do meant that it was not until 9:50am that I was ready to leave. I had already chewed up 3 hours of time and despite some serious negativity about the remainder of my day I sent off into a hot Perth day to eek out another 13 hours of fun before heading home.

My first thought was to head to the WACA and check out the very good cricket museum there as well as take the ground tour. Only a 500m walk from my hotel it was an easy stroll down Hay Street to the ground. Unfortunately, the museum was closed today and the tours unavailable seemingly because the WACA authorities decided to have a day off. I was irritated but I will say when I come back to Perth I will definitely do this tour.

Queens Gardens is just next door to the WACA ground and with its green grass luring me having spent four days in the red dirt of Port Hedland, I decided that I would spend my first couple of hours in my quest to fill time just sitting in the park. Basically alone the whole time, and taking the opportunity to call a dear friend I had not spoken to for some time, time flew by and I left the park feeling relaxed and with a plan in the back of my mind for the rest of the day.

What I did not know about Perth before ringing my parents to whinge about my predicament today was the free bus service around the city. The Cat service that encompasses three routes and arrives at the bus stop every 5 minutes during the week is easily the best way to get around town and seems, from my limited knowledge, to cover just about every place one would want to go on a lazy day in Perth.

My plan for the rest of the day was simple: I was going to walk around the shops for a while and then head down to the Barracks St Jetty and get on the ferry to Fremantle (another parental recommendation). My walk around the shops started at the Miller Street Mall and wound its way around St George’s Terrace until I was back at a bus stop and ready for my trip to Fremantle. For those noting the time, it was now 1pm and my time to be filled had dropped to 10 hours.

I had some time to kill before my 2:15pm trip along the Swan River to Fremantle and stopped in a cafe for a drink and got to work on a couple of blogs whilst answering some work emails. The Riverside Cafe was a great spot to stop and relax but I will say a smidgen expensive.

The ferry to Fremantle one way will cost you $25 and if nothing else will chew up 75 minutes on our quest to get to the 16 hour mark. However, to consider it a time filler does it zero justice: the scenery is breathtaking in some places and the guide gives you just enough information to let you know what you are seeing. If I had one criticism it is that they only opened one bar and as it was on a different level of the boat than me I decided to not risk loosing my window seat by leaving it to get a beverage. It frankly would not have taken much to open that bar given that they had a staff member restocking it basically the whole trip.

Fremantle is a very nice harbour town that has as its highlight for nerds like me an excellent Maritime Museum. Now I concede that I love going to museums whenever I travel but again if you are looking at burning up time there are few better ways of doing that than wandering around a museum. You can spend as long you want in the museum until it shuts and the air conditioning gets you out of the intense Perth heat. That said, the Maritime Museum at Fremantle is an absolute ripper: great exhibits, great cafe and a great gift shop. I could have spent hours there by knowing that it shut at 5pm I decided to leave at 4:45pm and head to the train station to travel back to Perth.

I have to say I was very impressed with the train service from Fremantle to Perth. It was cheap ($4) and the carriages were clean and well air conditioned. It being peak hour my carriage did get a little full but it was not long before I was back at Perth Central station.

Another walk around the shops and another bus ride saw me back at my hotel from last night (Comfort Inn on Hay Street) where I had been storing my bags by 7pm. Now I concede as I write this that I have not completely filled the 16 hours I have spare before my flight leaves however there are only 4 hours left to go and as I see it there are only really two ways to spend them. If you are a member of the Qantas Club, one could collect their bags and head to the airport to bunker down and eat the free food and drink the free drink while reading a book. The other alternative is that you can just sit in the hotel lobby, as I am doing right now rest ones weary legs from doing a lot of walking today whilst charging ones phone. This option appealed to me as, having baggage I am going check at the airport I wanted to change clothes and have a quick wash (which I have done) and my phone was completely dead. I will have a meal in the hotel restaurant shortly (it is the least I can do as I have been lazing around the lobby) and I will then head to the airport with an hour or so to go before my plane.

So there you have it: if you are in Perth and you have time to burn before the red eye flight home do not despair because even a novice like me can find enough things to do to keep the mind occupied during a day when plans go awry. You never know, you might like the place so much that you decided you need to come back to properly check out the place like I have.

Travellers on a budget should note that excluding food today cost me a grand total of $39: not bad if funds are tight and you still want to see part of the city of Perth.

Port Hedland: Family, flies and four wheel drives

It is been a while since my last blog, most obviously because I have been to Port Hedland to see my sister Kate and the family.

Followers of my twitter and tumblr feeds will know how much I love my family, how much I have been looking forward to my time in Port Hedland with them and, from the photos I have posted, how good a time I have had with them.

Simply put, I just had the best time with my family in their new house in South Hedland and, despite nearly being folded up with the fold out bed on night one, I am already trying to work out when I will come back again. To say I was little bit down as the family saw me off at the airport yesterday would be an understatement particularly given that it is my oldest nephew Jack’s birthday next weekend.

It has taken me a long time just to realise how important family is and, selfishly, how important time spent with family is for my mental health. The effect that the smiles on the faces of my nephews, Jack and Cooper, and new niece, Abbey, had on me alone on this trip has been profound.

But that is enough about family for this blog, as this trip was also my first opportunity to travel to the western part of Australia and, more particularly, to Port Hedland. Whilst I was only there for four days some key themes from my experience are worth noting.

First and foremost, if you are coming to Port Hedland expecting anything other than a mining town then you are sorely mistaken. From the marking of just about every major piece of public works with the branding of BHP or FMG to the large “salt mountain” of Dampier Salt on the way to town it is clear that mining drives the town and its people. This is never more apparent than when the BHP headquarters reveal themselves along the highway to town as the vast expanses of red dirt give way to manicured gardens and green grass.

If you intend to drive around Port Hedland it is also important to note that just about every car on the road is a four wheel drive and the bulk of them are workmen’s vehicles. I have never seen more four wheel drives in one space at one time so if you are shaky driving one I would suggest finding an alternate mode of transport. The other thing that can catch unsuspecting drivers unaware is getting caught at a railway crossing when the self proclaimed “longest trains in the world” are shunting past. My sister described us being lucky when we got to one such crossing as the gates descended because “it is only a short one”, after 10 minutes I was somewhat unsure how lucky we in fact were.

It goes without saying as well that Port Hedland is hot, very hot, and with heat comes flies. I am not sure I would have ever gotten used to the standard fly around my mouth or eyes on the occasions we went out no matter how long we went out for during this trip. My brother-in-law claims that you do get used to them after a while and maybe next time I have over hopefully in the “cooler” months I will be able to test whether the flies are less irritating.

I say none of this to be negative about Port Hedland. I am glad it is another place in Australia that I wanted to see that I have now seen. Before my sister and brother-in-law decided to go on this adventure they are presently on I am unsure that I would ever have headed over to that part of the world. I am unsure as to whether, without my family being over there, that I would be intending to come back. However, if you want to see one of the real nerve centres of Australia’s economy at work and have some spare time while you are in the West, it is definitely worth the 2 hour flight up for a look around in my opinion.