I'M sitting on a completely empty passenger plane. Not another soul is in sight and there's not an object out of place. It's an eerie and surreal feeling, and I know I'm witnessing the calm before the storm... the storm of passengers, that is.But before I know it the flight attendants and pilots sweep onto the Jetstar plane with an air of confidence, and congregate at the front of the Airbus A321. The crew perch on the edges of the seats with their carry-on luggage beside them as they listen to the head cabin crew member’s briefing, while the pilots ready the cockpit.
They're told to be on the lookout for passengers bringing overweight bags on board - a common problem for budget airlines these days. They're also informed it will be a full flight, and that a trainee member will be watching on.
A few minutes later they spring into action and busy themselves checking the plane including the seats, overhead lockers, toilets, the galley and oxygen tanks which are positioned at the back of the plane.
In the galley they remove each compartment and check it before placing it back in position, to make sure there's nothing in there that shouldn't be.
They move fast. They have just 15 minutes to complete the briefing and “turn around” before passengers begin boarding.
I then watch as they then greet passengers, with one placing a dirty tissue in the hand of a staff member, who remains polite and smiles at the passenger.
This is what it's like behind the scenes at an airline.
Jetstar have taken me on a tour of their operations, both at Melbourne Airport and their nearby Operational Control Centre (OCC).
Before we leave the airport for the OCC I was given a glimpse of where the baggage belt ends up – underneath there’s a collection area where the bags are shuffled off into large containers and driven to the planes - but it's an area where filming isn't allowed.
Last stop at the airport was the crew area, where weary staff can relax. The room has a splash of orange paint, and computers line the side of the office facing the window, which also had a TV screen displaying the flight departure times. Of course, there were also several tables and chairs and an equipment room.
At the airline headquarters
Next stop was the Jetstar Operational Control Centre, located approximately 15 minutes away in the heart of Melbourne's CBD. It's where all of the airline's operations are co-ordinated.
I couldn't wait to see the wheels turning. How do they keep track of so many planes and what routes they’re taking? What happens when a passenger - or a flight attendant - falls ill? Or when a volcanic ash cloud is threatening flights? And how do they cope with the flow-on delays any action will cause?
Well today’s my lucky day, but not so much the airline’s: a volcano has been spewing a plume of ash 4570 metres into the sky over southern Indonesia. Let’s just say it was all systems go.
A map displayed on the computer shows a dizzying array of lines and colours tracking planes from different airlines and routes, along with two large red icons that indicate the extent of the volcanic ash plume. The maps are definitely the most intriguing part of the operations.