Review: Rex Airlines Saab 340 economy class
Although now winging its way between the east coast capitals, the airline hasn’t forgotten its regional roots.
Ballina to Sydney
- Complimentary tea/coffee/water and snack
- Friendly service
- Limited schedule, only one flight daily Monday-Saturday. No flights Sunday
- Seats 1B/C have almost enough legroom for in-flight yoga
Rex Airlines has been a fixture above the skies of regional Australia for almost two decades. Although recently expanding its fleet to offer Boeing 737 services between Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, the airline says its heart is still in the country. But is it really?
Wanting to go back to where it all started, I climbed aboard a classic Saab 340 twin engine flight between Ballina and Sydney – ZL6211, to be exact.
And, although it didn't sport one of the newly refurbished interiors, there was still plenty to smile about.
My 6:20am flight made for a very early start, yet staff didn’t falter in offering a characteristically warm greeting. The same can’t be said for my fellow passengers and I – you could hear a pin drop as we all read books or stared blankly into our phones.
However, with web check in opening 48 hours prior and closing 1 hour before departure for all flights, there were a few travellers who perfectly timed their arrival right down to the wire.
In-person check in remained open until 20 minutes prior to takeoff.
Rex has a fleet of 60 Saab 340 and six Boeing 737, with the former employed on regional routes. They’re a classic, twin engine turboprop with single aisle and a 1-2 configuration.
Walking out to the aircraft we were greeted by the First Officer, standing in yellow hi-vis at the base of the stairs. With max seating for 36 onboard, less than your average coach, it was an intimate start to the flight and in keeping with the ‘heart in the country’ brief.
All fares include 7kg of cabin allowance. If you want to check in bags, it depends on the fare you have selected: Community, Promo and Saver include 15kg, while Flex gets a boost to 23kg.
Positioned in line-of-sight as you board the aircraft, seat 1C offered ample legroom and a fantastic view of the engine. The seat itself was basic and comfortable, if a little worn around the edges. However, given the age of the aircraft, a bit of wear and tear is to be expected.
But that small issue should become a thing of the past soon, with Rex progressively rolling out a refurbished cabin interior on these Saab 340 aircraft. While the layout itself will remain the same, seating will be given a much-needed revamp.
Rex's Saab seat measures up at 18.5 inches wide versus 17 inches on the comparable QantasLink Dash 8, giving those with broad shoulders a little extra comfort.
Taking off from Ballina Byron Gateway Airport at sunrise, rising up above the maze of ponds, creeks, forest and sugar cane fields, my ‘golden hour’ view was definitely appreciated.
Being at the front of the aircraft, there was no pull-down tray table for 1C. Instead the attendant was required to fit a plug-in table to the armrest and remove it prior to landing. It was a quick process, as they had no doubt done it countless times.
Aside from overhead lockers, storage is quite limited. That said, there is a small storage pouch on the side which also contains the safety instruction manual, as well as a copy of the latest issue of Rex’s brilliant True Blue inflight magazine and AusBiz liftout.
Note: If you like a seat with a view and prefer sitting towards the front of the aircraft, I’d probably skip seats 2A or 2C, as the placement of the engine means no window.
A refreshment service was provided shortly after take off. It included a complimentary snack (a Byron Bay Cookie) and tea/coffee/water. Refills and a second snack were offered a little while later.
Entertainment & Service
Service with a smile, even if it was beneath a mask. As is par for the course these days, masks were required for the duration of the flight, except when passengers were eating or drinking.
Rex Airlines joined its competitors in offering an in-flight streaming service last year. Sadly, it’s currently only available on the Boeing 737 aircraft. That means it’s BYO on the Saab.
With a flight time of just 1 hour and 15 minutes though, it’s hardly a dealbreaker.
As expected, the service from Ballina to Sydney was over almost as quickly as it started.
While likely too early for most leisure guests, the 6:20am service would be ideal for business travellers who need to maximise their time in the city, without losing business hours to travelling.
It had admittedly been a couple of years since my last flight with Rex, but I was pleasantly surprised to see the same spirit remained – and its heart was definitely still in the country.
The writer travelled as a guest of Rex Airlines
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