I was browsing Hobbyco when the sight of a model aircraft suddenly hit me with a wave of memories. Orange, white, black and silver, the Australian Airways livery is, in my opinion, the finest to adorn an aircraft, but this was more than simpler admiration of a paint job.
For a moment I was transported back to 2006, to another era in my travelling life.
The first version of Australian Airlines was previously TAA, a government owned domestic only operation that was later folded into Qantas, becoming its domestic arm. In 2001 the brand was recreated as an international all-economy leisure subsidiary of Qantas using Boeing 767-300ER aircraft from the mainline Qantas fleet, repainted in the striking orange, white and black livery.
Australian Airlines flew to destinations such as Kota Kinabalu, Bali, Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore from Australian capital cities and their base in Cairns.
The Boeing 767 is, in my opinion, one of the least remarkable looking jet aircraft in the skies, too modern for the classic retro lines of the first jet airliners, too old for the curves of the latest jets. Yet that list of destinations, the bright orange paint, somehow transformed that very blandness into the promise of an exotic adventure.
Inside that long tube I sensed that the flight would go beyond the conservative corporate blandness of Qantas and the other major airlines, that it would somehow reflect the mystery and the fun of its destinations.
What is exotic anyway? Some distorted colonialist memory of locals servicing your every whim while you live it up like a lord? Or is it a romantic notion of existing in another unfamiliar life like the locals whose country you are in whilst somehow avoiding the daily hardships that all lives encounter along the way.
But what is a holiday if not a change from your normal life?
So I somehow imagined a cabin with colourful patterns, international entertainment and platters of tropical fruits and other international dishes, served by a jovial young crew.
In April 2006 I had the chance to discover for myself if my Australian Airlines fantasies where anything like reality.
After falling in love with Japan on the way back from Europe the previous year we used our frequent flyer points to book flights to the country. As usual, only the less premium non-direct routes were available, from Sydney to Osaka via Cairns on the 767-300 aircraft instead of the big 747’s that flew direct to Narita.
The first flight departed early in the morning, so we stayed the night before in the Stamford Sydney Airport, itself conveying a sense of Singaporean snobbery and heritage from its owners. I remember desperately trying to finish some work using my tiny handheld PDA and a modem and being sick with a cold.
Despite it being a domestic flight, we flew out on a standard Qantas 767-300 to Cairns from the International Terminal.
Cairns’ International Terminal does a good impression of a neo-colonial gateway to exotic lands, the humid hospital mint green corridors leading to a colourful waiting areas with panoramic views over mangroves and mountains. I want it to be so much more, of fruits and interesting foods, of crafts and culture, but that is not how Australia sees tourists.
Our Australian Airlines flight has followed us up from Sydney to Cairns and now we swap aircraft. Disappointingly, but predictably, inside is just like the Qantas aircraft we changed from, but for the orange pillows and headrest covers. The bulkheads are unpatterned, there are no colourfully bright seats, just the blue, grey and beige of a regular aircraft.
But the staff are young and friendly and the cold soba noodles on the otherwise standard meal are delicious. We are seated right at the front of the cabin, where business class would usually be.
We cruise over coral atolls and the Papua New Guinean highlands, the wide open sea. The entertainment is a a wall mounted screen showing a wordless Japanese gameshow involving physical feats. Quite hilarious. Then we arrive into Kansai International Airport late in the evening, our first time arriving in Japan outside of Narita Airport.
So maybe Australian Airlines wasn’t the exotic adventure that I had imagined it to be, but the holiday that followed was still one of the best that I have experienced, learning about cherry blossoms, tea ceremonies and Japanese gardens and festivals.
On our arrival back to Australia the announcement was made that the Australian Airlines brand was to be retired. I still saw the beautiful orange aircraft fly overhead for a few months longer as I walked back to the train station from work, but never had a chance to fly them today.
Australian Airlines was replaced with Jetstar, a low cost airline. Their international arm was equipped with Airbus A330-200s from Qantas’ fleet, repainted on the outside orange, black and silver. Not so handsome as Australian Airlines, no, but still attractive in their own right. Their interiors were highlighted with orange and black leather seats, but a close look still belied their Qantas origins.
The television advertising for Jetstar’s international flights also captured the exotic destination appeal.
A year later we returned to Osaka with Jetstar and have done the same many times since. In less than a month I will hopefully catch my first flight in a year and a half, my first internationally since the start of the pandemic, with Jetstar to Osaka via Cairns. We will even stay in the Stamford before the flight.
I think that there’s a desire in me that the journey should be part of the story again, back to when it was not just an interminably long flight filled with anxiety over turbulence and boredom.
Perhaps it is appropriate that, just for a moment, I was taken back to where it all started in April 2006. Back to orange, white, black and silver.