When Bonza airline's maiden flight from the Sunshine Coast to the Whitsundays took off on Tuesday, to the applause and cheering of passengers, it marked a new era of travel for regional Australians.
The no-frills budget airline had already sold more than 10,000 tickets in four days on 15 regional routes across NSW and Queensland, including from the Sunshine Coast to Albury and Newcastle, and from Newcastle to the Whitsunday Coast.
The seat configuration is 3-3, and I was seated in 6B. The seats recline and have head rests in the ubiquitous Bonza purple (the colour chosen by Jordan in part due to his love of Jacaranda trees, I was told), imprinted with the airline logo, a thumbs-up that doubles as the b in bonza. While there is only one class - economy - the first four rows and the exit rows come with extra leg room, for which customers pay more.
The leg room on a standard seat is 29 inches (74 centimetres) - less roomy than the Virgin 737-800 I ultimately flew home on from the Sunshine Coast, but still, on a short domestic flight, it's hardly an issue. And a larger gentleman was pleased to report that there was ample room so that he didn't encroach on his neighbours. And that was despite the spindly armrests.
Bonza CEO and aviation industry veteran Tim Jordan described the rush to buy tickets - which can only be purchased via app or registered travel agent - as indicative of how "warmly and positively" regional communities had received the airline.
"There is pent-up demand and we're looking to fill that. We're looking to get people flying," he said at Sunshine Coast Airport, Bonza's base, on Tuesday.
"It really is a game-changing day for Australian aviation. It's been a long time in the making. We're here, we're at the start line, and we will be changing the aviation environment for the better, for the many ... so, so many, and not just the few."
Adam Weiss, CEO of Aviation at the airline's financial backer, Miami-based investment firm 777 Partners, in a statement described Bonza as democratising air travel by making it both affordable and accessible.
"Today is about those Australians historically deprived of the fundamental human right of mobility due to the price prohibitive airfare of legacy incumbents," he said.
Only a handful of paying passengers were on board Tuesday's maiden flight; others on the brand new186-seat Boeing 737-Max 8 included Bonza staff, airline suppliers, media, and representatives of Boeing and 777 Partners.
With two weeks before Bonza flies again mid-February, the team will be examining closely how the maiden return flight went - and the in-flight service might well be up for discussion.
There is no trolley service. Rather, the all-Aussie, often hyperlocal light meals, snacks and drinks - and $35 Bonza budgie smugglers - can be ordered once you have connected to on-board wi-fi and accessed the menu via the Bonza app or a QR code on the seat back. Cabin crew (otherwise referred to as "Bonza legends") are then back and forth to the galleys filling orders - a process that looked time-consuming and which resulted in some passengers not receiving their order on the one hour and 40 minute flight to Whitsunday Coast.
On the return flight, I ordered a "snag in a bag" (aka a hot dog by the Handmade Food Co) as we were taking off. It arrived about 25 minutes into the flight. My neighbour was too late to score one - they had already sold out - so opted for cheese and lavosh biscuits instead, which took 45 minutes to arrive. My tip: order as early as you can, and pay the crew upon delivery rather than on the app.
Bonza says 93 per cent of its routes are not served by any other airline, let alone a low-cost carrier - and Jordan is "very confident" Bonza fares, which at launch are as low as $49 one-way (with checked baggage and seat selection an additional cost, depending on how heavy your bag and where you choose to sit) will remain low.
"We must offer lower fares - that is the business model," he said.
"It's a very efficient aircraft; it burns 15-20 per cent less fuel than other 737s and other medium-sized jets that are flying around Australia."
"Bells and whistles" - such as frequent flyer programs and call centres - are also ruled out.
"We are a leisure-focused, low-frequency airline; bells and whistles are not for us ... if anything costs money to our business, that's somebody's airfare going up and we don't want to do that."
The maiden journey, flight number AB777 was on "Bazza", with the two other current members of the Bonza fleet, Shazza and Sheila, to be pressed into action once regular flights roll out from February 14.
Two more 737-Max 8s are due for delivery in the next two months, allowing Bonza to begin its routes out of its second base at Melbourne Airport.
Bonza's initial route map will ultimately include Albury, Avalon, Bundaberg, Cairns, Coffs Harbour, Gladstone, Mackay, Melbourne, Mildura, Newcastle, Port Macquarie, Rockhampton, Sunshine Coast, Tamworth, Toowoomba Wellcamp, Townsville and the Whitsunday Coast.
Sarah Maguire is ACM's travel editor. See exploretravel.com.au for great travel storytelling.