Review: QantasLink’s Queensland “Milk Run”

A QantasLink Dash 8 Q400. Photo: Qantas.

If you’ve ever needed to travel up or down the coast of Queensland, you’ve probably come across the famous (or infamous, depending on who you ask) QantasLink “milk run” route.

Every day, QantasLink Dash 8s fly from Brisbane to Cairns with stops in Rockhampton, Mackay and Townsville, picking up and dropping off passengers at each airport along the way. In the past, it also called in at Gladstone.

I assume some freight is also carried between the various cities, although I haven’t actually seen any fresh milk being loaded into the luggage hold!

This QantasLink service is not the most extreme “milk run” in Queensland; that title belongs to Rex’s twice-weekly Brisbane-Mt Isa service via Toowoomba, Charleville, Quilpie, Windorah, Birdsville, Bedourie and Boulia! But as I recently discovered, it is an interesting way to fly up and down the east coast of Queensland – if you don’t mind spending several hours on a Dash 8 with limited catering.

Flight Details

Flight number QF2354
Route Rockhampton (ROK) to Cairns (CNS) via Mackay (MKY) & Townsville (TSV)
Aircraft type Dash 8 Q400
Class of travel Economy
Seat number 2A
On-time performance We arrived on time at all airports along the way
Star rating 3.5 stars out of 5

The route

QF2354 route map

Flight Cost

I booked this as a Classic Flight Reward ticket for 8,000 Qantas points + $41.33 in taxes & carrier charges. A paid airfare would normally cost $367 one-way, so I thought using points was a pretty good deal!

Airport Experience

Rockhampton Airport is currently undergoing a major refurbishment. Much of this work has now been completed, and there is a brand new airside departures area with a café, toilet and lots of seating. Unfortunately, the Qantas Club in Rockhampton has still not yet reopened so no lounge was available at this airport.

Other than that, check-in was a breeze… only 11 passengers boarded this flight from Rockhampton, so there were no queues at all! Boarding began slightly ahead of schedule and priority boarding worked perfectly. (It’s a shame Qantas still has so much trouble getting priority boarding right when it’s actually needed!)

The Hard Product

Many frequent flyers will be familiar with the QantasLink Dash 8 Q400, which I have previously reviewed. There are 74 narrow leather Economy seats in a 2-2 configuration. While the best legroom can be found in 1B or 2C/D, which are in exit rows, I was happy with the legroom in 2A.

Inside QantasLink’s Dash 8. Photo: Qantas.

I was happy to remain in the same seat for the whole trip, but was pleasantly surprised to find that the Qantas website now offers the ability to select different seats on each sector of a flight with multiple legs. Like all QantasLink Dash 8 flights, seat selection only becomes available when online check-in opens 24 hours before departure.

QF2354 seat selection
Online seat selection for QF2354.

There is no in-flight entertainment of any kind on QantasLink. So, you may wish to bring a good book or entertainment on your phone.

But there were some great views out the window as we headed north along the Queensland coast at cruising altitudes of around 18,000 feet. A window seat is highly recommended for this flight!

View from QF2354 approaching Mackay. Photo: Matt Graham.

The best views were on the final sector of the QantasLink “milk run” from Townsville to Cairns. We had some great views of the Great Barrier Reef (which unfortunately does not appear to be in great shape) as we flew to the east of the Far North Queensland coastline.

Great Barrier Reef from plane
View on the Townsville-Cairns leg of QF2354. Photo: Matt Graham.

At each of the stops, the plane was only on the ground for 25 minutes while some passengers disembarked and others joined. Passengers continuing on the next leg were asked to remain on board during the short turnarounds, and we had to listen to the safety briefing again before every new take-off.

The Soft Product

The cabin crew were excellent. But I did find the snack options on the QantasLink “milk run” a little disappointing.

On the first (very lightly loaded) flight from Rockhampton to Mackay, only a small bottle of water was served. A lot more passengers boarded in Mackay and a mango & passionfruit cookie was served on the next sector along with water, soft drinks, juice, tea & coffee. No alcohol was offered, but I suspect that was due to the time of day.

Mango & passionfruit biscuit on QantasLink
Snack on the Mackay-Townsville leg of QF2354. Photo: Matt Graham.

On the final leg, the cabin crew offered a very sweet lemon & yoghurt slice with the same choice of drinks.

Lemon slice on QantasLink
Snack on the Townsville-Cairns leg of QF2354. Photo: Matt Graham.

While the small snacks would have probably been fine if you were just flying on one or two of the sectors, I must admit that I was starving by the time I arrived in Cairns! In total, I was sitting on the plane for around four hours and the only food served during that time was the cookie and slice. At least I was well-hydrated.

This is probably a personal preference, but I’ve been finding the snacks on QantasLink Dash 8 flights lately to be repetitive and too sweet. I’ve taken 14 Dash 8 flights on QantasLink over the past 3 months, and seem to keep getting either the mango & passionfruit cookie, lemon & yoghurt slice or a spiced dark chocolate crunch biscuit. QantasLink, please bring back the snack boxes and add a little more variety!

The QantasLink Rockhampton-Cairns "Milk Run"
  • Airport Experience
  • Hard Product
  • Soft Product
3.5

Final thoughts

If you don’t mind Dash 8s or all the stops along the way, the QantasLink “milk run” is an enjoyable way to fly from Rockhampton to Cairns.

As always, the Qantas staff were excellent. But if I was doing this trip again, I would bring my own food.

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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.

You can contact Matt at [email protected]

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Bill Webster

I’d do this just for the sight-seeing. Is there a preferable side?

Randy

At this time of year you might get lucky with a Southern approach into CNS. This gives stunning views of the Bellenden-Ker range. Bartle Frere and Bellenden Ker appear very close, by that point in the descent you are only a little bit higher than Bartle Frere (5300ft). Typical approach tracks along the Bruce Highway around Innisfail with the range on the left hand side, but may also go further inland in which case the right hand side would be preferable.