Ten years ago today flight attendant Christina Carter stepped on board a history-making flight.
It was the maiden flight of VA1 — Virgin Australia’s service from Sydney to Los Angeles, back when the airline was known as V Australia.
And as it celebrates today the 10th anniversary of its SYD-LAX route, Ms Carter — now a Virgin Australia flight manager — is looking back on the most memorable moments of the cross-Pacific journey.
“As crew we see people at their best, and the worst at times,” Ms Carter told news.com.au.
“I have witnessed hook ups, break ups and make ups on-board my many flights. I’ve seen proposals and brought the sparkling wine, and also helped sick family members make their last trip home to someone they love, which is devastating.
“No day is ever the same and that’s what is great about the job. You get off some flights buzzing, and others with a heavy heart.”
Ms Carter said she felt a bit of trepidation when she first boarded that inaugural flight on February 26, 2009.
“I was daunted by the length of the flights and being at work for that whole time,” Ms Carter told news.com.au.
“I’d worked long haul previously, but not ultra-long haul. Our shifts can reach 17 hours on average and it’s made manageable with ‘crew rest’ which keeps your crew alert and fresh.
“And if you’re curious, we have a crew rest area on the plane where we can change and relax for our breaks so that we are feeling great for landing.”
Since the first flight of VA1 (and the return flight, VA2), Virgin Australia has carried 4.1 million passengers to and from Los Angeles on close to 14,500 flights.
Over that decade, Ms Carter has seen a lot of changes — the airline’s rebranding from V Australia to Virgin Australia in 2012, for example, along with the game-changing introduction of Wi-Fi on the Boeing 777 fleet.
“Our uniforms changing to the ones you see now was a huge change for us as crew,” she said. “It really helped with our more professional image in the rebranding to Virgin Australia too as our previous uniforms were a little more casual.
“We all felt so smart moving into the Julie Grbac uniform and really standout when we walk together as a crew through the airport.”
As a flight manager, Ms Carter works mainly in business class but also moves through economy and Economy X chatting with passengers and helping with their onward travel plans.
And yes, that includes some A-list celebrities, which is of little surprise on flights in and out of the home of Hollywood.
“I’ve been lucky to meet many famous people during my career,” Ms Carter said.
“The Madden Brothers (Joel and Benji), Mel B, Eric Bana, Terry Hatcher, Brian McFadden, Billy Zane and Liam Hemsworth. I must have had more though.
“I have to add that the Madden Brothers were two of the loveliest guests I have ever flown. “One of the most fun though, has been Richard Reid, the celebrity correspondent. He made me laugh the whole way to LA — what a great guy.
“Another one that springs to mind was a personal favourite actor of mine, Aussie actor Matthew Le Nevez, who flew just after the end of the Offspring series he had starred in, and I’d watched at home. As much as I am a total professional in the workplace, I can’t say it wasn’t exciting to chat to someone who I had followed so closely in the series. He was absolutely lovely and made time to chat to all the crew about his life in LA.”
But one of Ms Carter’s favourite things about the SYD-LAX route is introducing a bit of Australia to visiting guests.
“I absolutely love welcoming our Aussie guests home at the end of their holidays and giving our American guests an introduction to Australian hospitality,” she said.
“It’s amazing how many guests are so excited to board our flights at the end of a fantastic holiday and hear our accents. On the flip side, we get to welcome many American guests who are visiting Australia for the first time and just beginning their trip.
“As crew we love to offer our own tips on where to visit, together with my crews I’ve written so many must-do lists.”
Virgin Australia, part of billionaire businessman Richard Branson’s Virgin empire, began in Australia in the year 2000 as Virgin Blue, and operated just one route between Brisbane and Sydney.
Two months after V Australia launched its inaugural flight from Sydney to Los Angeles in February 2009, it began flying from Brisbane to LA.
Virgin Australia was announced as the new company name in 2012.
CHRISTINA’S TIPS FOR AUSSIES IN LA
There are a few things Australians should know before heading to the United States — but Ms Carter has picked up some sage wisdom after travelling there for the past 10 years.
And the first one has to do with tipping.
“It’s part of the culture, understand it and offer it when required, it’s how people live in the service industry,” she said.
“(And) travel insurance — American health care is expensive. Be prepared for any eventuality. It always shocks me how many guests travel without it.
“Be prepared to be asked everywhere about your accent! Americans love visitors and will be so interested in where you’ve travelled from. Share with them.”
For tourists in LA, Ms Carter advises checking out the sights from the famous Griffith Observatory.
“My top pick is a hike up to the Hollywood sign from the Griffith Observatory, it doesn’t disappoint and gives you a fabulous sprawling of the LA area and some great photo opportunities,” she said.
“Then venture to Malibu Farm on the pier for brunch and a cheeky mimosa, because why not? Bit of outlet shopping in the afternoon, then a spot of dinner at (famous West Hollywood restaurant) Cecconis.”