Regional Express Saab 340Bs at Cooma Airport
Regional Express Saab 340Bs at Cooma Airport

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.

Flight Details

Flight number ZL723
Route Sydney (SYD) to Cooma/Snowy Mountains (OOM)
Aircraft type Saab 340B
Class of travel Economy
Seat number 10A
On-time performance We arrived 10 minutes early
Star rating 4 stars out of 5

The route

ZL723 route map

Flight Cost

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.)

Airport Experience

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!

Terminal 2 at Sydney Airport in June 2020
Terminal 2 at Sydney Airport in June 2020

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.

Rex Saab 340B cabin
Rex Saab 340B cabin

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).

Rex Saab 340 seats
Rex Saab 340 seats

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 Saab 340B legroom
Rex Saab 340B legroom in a regular seat

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.

Rex COVID-19 Passenger Information Card
Rex COVID-19 Passenger Information Card

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.

Departing Sydney on ZL723
Departing Sydney on ZL723

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!

Complimentary snack on Regional Express
Complimentary snack on Regional Express

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.

Arrival Experience

Our flight path took us right over the town of Cooma…

Cooma from the air
Overflying Cooma

…before we circled the airport and landed 10 minutes early.

Approaching Cooma Airport
Approaching Snowy Mountains Airport

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!

Baggage claim at Cooma Airport
Baggage claim at Snowy Mountains Airport
Rex Saab 340 Economy Class
  • Airport Experience
  • Hard Product
  • Soft Product
4

Final thoughts

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.

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Matt Graham
The editor of Australian Frequent Flyer, Matt's passion for travel has taken him to over 60 countries… with the help of frequent flyer points, of course!
Matt's favourite destinations (so far) are Germany, Brazil, New Zealand & Kazakhstan. His interests include economics, aviation & foreign languages, and he has a soft spot for good food and red wine.

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Peter

As an inland dweller, I have been using Rex service for over ten years. I would agree with most points of the review. Seat selection is available at online check-in. Rex cops an unfair degree of criticism with most of the critics losing sight of just what Rex provides. Ie. a basic reliable friendly on time service, including to some remote places that are very thankful for its service. It does not compete with Qantas. At any airport serviced by both you can see the suits who are not paying for their own tickets, – head for Qantas. The plebs… Read more »

Peter

Just to add, the Rex lounge (currently closed) is very good, quiet, never crowded and with plenty of space. I actually prefer it to many of the upmarket foreign lounges I have used.

Kerry Green

I haven’t flow Rex for a while, but years of flying out of Canberra alerted me to the fact the Saabs were much quieter than Qantas’s Dash 8s.