Southern Highlands residents heading to Sydney Airport are lucky the airport is, usually, just an 80-minute drive away but we all know the infamous hassles of the M5, airport congestion, check-in and security queues and expensive carparking. It all makes for a stressful experience, especially for young families or the elderly. But if you’re flying to Melbourne or Brisbane, there’s a new way for Highlanders to get there, with domestic airline, Jetgo Australia, recently launching direct flights from Wollongong.
When was the last time you left your seat on an aeroplane on arrival at your destination, collected your checked luggage and were in your car, driving home, within five minutes? That was our reality recently when our 37-seat JetGo plane landed at Illawarra Regional Airport in Wollongong from Melbourne’s Essendon Fields Airport. So easy and hassle-free – perfect for anyone who dislikes the stress-filled jungle of major airports. And perfect for anyone living in the Southern Highlands and heading to Melbourne or Brisbane.
The day before we drove from our home in Mittagong to Wollongong’s airport in Albion Park – a beautiful and relaxing 50-minute drive – for our JetGo flight to Melbourne for an overnight visit with family. No traffic and the car park was a two-minute walk from the terminal, with the short term rate just $12 a day ($10 a day or $50 for seven days in the long-term carpark). ‘Terminal’ might be a strong word for Wollongong’s airport – more a small, demountable building offering a waiting area, bathroom and vending machine. But what it lacked in airport facilities, we gained in the ease of travel.
JetGo’s aircraft resemble private jets and the seats are the super-comfy leather variety with soft headrests and ample leg space. One side of the jet offers single seating - ideal for solo travellers – and the other side twin seating. Inflight catering was a pleasant surprise with complimentary snacks and tea, coffee, juice and soft drinks. There’s no entertainment aside from JetGo’s magazine.
JetGo’s Embraer jets are whisper-quiet and 80 minutes after leaving Wollongong (no runway queues there!), we land at Melbourne’s Essendon Fields Airport, which was the city’s main airport until Tullamarine Airport, just 7km away, took over duties in 1970. The original terminal at Essendon Fields, which is now home to four regional airlines like JetGo, is more expansive than Wollongong’s but there are no shops or eateries, although they are five-minute walk outside. The deluxe, new hotel, Hyatt Place Melbourne-Essendon Fields, is also an easy 10-minute walk away or you can catch the free shuttle.
Essendon Fields Airport is actually closer to the Melbourne CBD than Tullamarine Airport and unlike the latter, offers public transport access to the city via a $4, one-hour tram trip (route 59) that runs alongside the airport precinct.
Flying back to Wollongong the next day is, again, refreshingly informal, with friendly staff, quick boarding and a quick take-off with little chance of luggage going somewhere else when your plane is the only one leaving the airport! Back in our car within a few minutes of landing, we head back to our home in the Highlands, with no busy M5 or Hume Motorway expedition ahead of us. Why can’t flying always be this easy and enjoyable?
Flights are available daily between Wollongong and Melbourne. JetGo also flies direct from Wollongong to Brisbane. Visit www.jetgo.com