A quick trip to Canberra and back

I’ve flown on so many planes this year, 11 so far with at least two more to go. They have ranged in size from the little Embraer ERJ-145 from Chengdu to Yichang to the big 747-400 between Tokyo to Hong Kong. Yesterday I added my first my first turboprop flight for the year to that list.

I had a meeting in Canberra and, not being a driver, had little choice but to fly down from Sydney. Yes, it’s not environmentally friendly and if there was a fast European or Japanese style train between the two cities I would much rather have taken it. But there isn’t, so I bought my tickets on the company credit card and set my alarm for a little earlier than normal.

The flight down was on a Boeing 737-400 that was starting to look a little tired. A couple of the overhead screens didn’t work. It felt a bit like the Chinese domestic flights. Unlike in China the crew actually enforced the safety regulations, ordering a couple of passengers to switch off and properly stow their laptops as the flight was so short that there was basically no cruise time. We were also fed tasty energy bars and juice, basic, but enough for a 50 minute flight.

I stuck in the middle seat, so couldn’t really look out of the window at the route which took us south past Wollongong before swinging inland. I did spot some snow on the mountains near Canberra! I was afraid of the windy icon on the previous night’s weather map but we didn’t really feel it until our descent into our destination as we crossed the hilly terrain.

The plane arrived late, I suspect due to Sydney air traffic control, so I was late for the meeting. Nearly late for the return too as the person driving me to the airport kept making the wrong turns. Fortunately I had already got my boarding pass using the self-service check-in machines at Sydney. Qantas was late too and had both SMS’s and called me to say that the plane was now scheduled an hour later. Not nice!

Despite the indicator showing “final boarding call” I was actually the first passenger on the plane. I thought that the long and narrow Dash8 Q400 turboprop flight was just me and one other person. Then everyone else came rushing in, including the head of Telstra, Sol Trujillo. I was flying in the same class as someone earning millions, because there is only one class on these turboprops. The seats are narrow and not particularly comfortable. However, the interior looked brand new and the soundproofing was fantastic; it was the quietest flight I have been on, remarkable for a turboprop.

The ascent was really slow and rough and I almost swore I would never fly in a propellor driven aircraft again. Then we reached our cruising altitude and everything a quiet and smooth. Lake George was below us, empty in the region I could see. I’m glad they fed us at that point as I hadn’t eaten lunch. A big banana friand and the sweetest water I had tasted (I was thirsty!). We crossed over the ridges of the southern section of the Blue Mountains, red sandstone in the late afternoon light. The Warragamba Dam looked quite healthy.

I was bemused that our flight route took us just north of our house in Sydney’s south, then it swung north over my normal workplace on the Macquarie University campus, ten minutes for a two hour trip! As we descended the air became more turbulent. I told the passenger next to me that we were in a “rough part of the city” after one very bumpy section. Finally we descended into Sydney Airport with the plane yawing wildly in the winds.

I had some time to kill before taking the train home, so I wandered around the domestic terminals. Terminal 3, the Qantas building, looked very clean and sophisticated, filled with business people in black (I was in blue jeans, but I guess the polo shirt was, you guessed it, black!). In contrast the passengers I saw at Terminal 2, which houses Virgin Blue and Jetstar, looked rougher and quite a few stank of booze. Different clientel.

I sat for a while and watched the planes on the tarmac. The aboriginal art themed Qantas 737-800 as it pulled up at a nearby gate, the Thai 747 departing for Bangkok. The gorgeous golden light of the approaching sunset looked perfect for beginning a journey to a distant land. The uncomfortable seats and the bumps and shakes were all forgotten and I was ready to fly again.

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