With a fleet of 57 Saab 340 aircraft, Regional Express (more commonly known as “Rex”) is Australia’s largest independent regional airline. Using its 34-seat planes, it flies to many regional airports that the major airlines simply don’t serve, such as Broken Hill, Burnie, Coober Pedy and Birdsville.
Although Rex is currently operating only a limited COVID-19 schedule, it continues to serve regional Australia thanks to a large amount of federal government assistance. In this Regional Express review, we find out what it’s like flying with Rex in the COVID-19 era on a flight from Sydney to Cooma’s Snowy Mountains Airport.
|Route||Sydney (SYD) to Cooma/Snowy Mountains (OOM)|
|Aircraft type||Saab 340B|
|Class of travel||Economy|
|On-time performance||We arrived 10 minutes early|
This flight cost $161.88 for a Rex Net fare, including the 1% internet booking surcharge and 1% credit card surcharge.
(It seems the only way to avoid paying these surcharges is to pay in cash at the airport check-in counter. I once tried doing just that, and was told it wasn’t possible to purchase a Rex Net fare at the airport. Hmm.)
As I took this flight in mid-June 2020, just a few weeks after the NSW government lifted intrastate travel restrictions – and while most interstate travel is still banned – the airport was eerily quiet!
There was no queue whatsoever to check in for my Rex flight in Sydney Airport’s Terminal 2. It is currently Rex policy that all passengers have their temperature taken at check-in. Passengers are also required to wear a face mask throughout their journey at all times where social distancing is not possible. Passengers that don’t have their own mask can buy one at the check-in counter for $2. I brought my own, which was duly noted on my boarding pass…
There is a small Rex Lounge in Terminal 2 at Sydney Airport, but this was closed due to COVID-19 restrictions. Normally, lounge access is available to Rex Lounge members and Priority Pass members. Alternatively, you can purchase one-time access for $33 during off-peak periods.
A few airport shops were open, however most were closed. I’ve never seen Terminal 2 this empty on a Friday morning!
We boarded via a bus bay. It didn’t take long as there were only 3 passengers! We were joined on board the plane by 3 deadheading Rex employees who were also flying with us to Cooma, bringing the flight’s total to 6 passengers.
The Hard Product
The Saab 340B is a small turboprop aircraft. There are 11 rows of Economy class seats in a 1-2 configuration.
The overhead lockers are not huge, and won’t fit a normal cabin-sized roll-aboard suitcase. My backpack would just fit.
This aircraft was 28 years old and was starting to show its age a little bit. But the leather seats were reasonably comfortable. They don’t recline (nor should they).
The legroom is fairly tight, but acceptable for short flights. There are a couple of extra inches of legroom in the exit row, which Rex markets as “Rextra Legroom” seats that cost an extra $4.80. (Paying for Rextra Legroom also seems to be the only way to choose a seat in advance – otherwise, free seat selection becomes available when online checkin opens 48 hours before departure.)
Rex’s current seating policy is to allow for social distancing on board flights where possible, but it does not guarantee this. If the flight is fully booked, all seats will be allocated. But with only 6 people on board this particular flight, social distancing on board wasn’t an issue!
There is no in-flight entertainment, although the April/May edition of the TrueBlue magazine was in the seat pocket. There was also a COVID-19 information card in the seat pocket.
You may wish to bring your own noise-cancelling headphones as the cabin is very noisy!
The lack of other entertainment didn’t concern me as it was a beautiful day in southern NSW and we had some great views throughout the flight.
The Soft Product
Although the plane was feeling a bit tired, the service definitely wasn’t! With one flight attendant looking after just 6 passengers, it wasn’t a surprise that the service was attentive. But it was more than that – our flight attendant was genuinely lovely and made sure we had an enjoyable flight.
A complimentary sweet or salty snack was available – a choice of a Carman’s muesli bar or chickpea crackers – along with tea, coffee and water. The snack was nothing special, but perfectly fine for a short flight.
An announcement was made that red & white wine was also available for $7, beer for $6 or soft drinks for $4. But as a limited-time offer, wine would be complimentary on today’s flight. (I suspect they have some excess supplies they’re trying to get rid of.)
At the moment, only bottled water is available to drink on Qantas and Virgin Australia flights. Even Qantas Business class passengers can’t get a cup of tea right now – let alone a glass of wine. So I was most surprised to enjoy a complimentary Cabernet Merlot on Rex!
The flight attendant came around regularly to clear rubbish and asked if I wanted anything else when I was finished eating. She could not have been any more helpful.
Our flight path took us right over the town of Cooma…
…before we circled the airport and landed 10 minutes early.
Snowy Mountains Airport is tiny. Within a minute of disembarking, our bags were delivered to the baggage claim area and I was already walking out of the airport!
Rex Saab 340 Economy Class
Regional Express doesn’t have a frequent flyer program, and it doesn’t fly between the capital cities. But if you need to travel to the country, and don’t mind flying on older, noisier planes, Rex offers a solid service to regional Australia.