Bumping through the high cloud

It’s 6:30 in the morning in Singapore and despite being absolutely exhausted I can’t sleep. That’s because it’s 9:30 AM back in Sydney. That’s when our shuttle bus back to the airport will leave from this hotel, the Grand Mercure Roxy. Then it’s a flight to our next destination of Penang.

We only arrived at 11 last night after almost 8 hours in the plane from Sydney.

A year ago when we last flew to Singapore I talked about my flight fantasy. This trip was even closer to that dream. Leaving at 5 PM, close to the traveller’s time, direct on Qantas. The conditions were perfect, a clear sky and low winds.

Not as perfect as the day before, for there’s high cloud to the west, but it’ll do. There’s also smoke in the sky from the south. It’s heatwave conditions in Sydney.

I’m feeling relatively relaxed as the neighbour drops us off at the station and we catch the train to the airport, but I wouldn’t say I was in the mood for travel, despite my mental efforts to get myself excited. Both B and Alex are looking forward to the trip.

This feels like my first time in Sydney’s international terminal in years. Over the past couple of years our international flights have been via Cairns, the Gold Coast or Melbourne; domestic flights from Sydney. There’s something special about flying out of Sydney. After all, this is where, 22 years ago, I departed on my first international flight, also to Singapore.

We use the smart gates to pass through immigration and then find ourselves in the duty free maze. While B inspects perfumes, Alex and I go to the electronics, which even has a friendly Sony person again. I would love that noise cancelling headphone, but…

Using my Qantas Club membership we enter the Qantas Business Lounge. I think it’s looking at a refresh in the near future as it looks a little worn today. The food is good though. I must be in a better mental state because I happily eat a meal of paprika chicken, rice and salad with a sublime lemon cheesecake (and a brownie!) for dessert. An attendant walks around with plates of delicious chicken dumplings and there’s a gelato bar inside the lounge as well.

Eventually it’s boarding time and we make our way to Gate 33 to board our Qantas Airbus A330-200 to Singapore. We are welcomed aboard by Mr Goh. A friend was complaining that Qantas treats non-English speakers poorly, but there are a number of Asian flight attendants on this trip. Quite a range of ages too, from a grandmotherly type to fresh young lady.

During the online check in process I was able to select window seats forward of the wing, but Alex and B are separated from me by one row. My travelling companion in the aisle seat is a young Indian man.

Considering that Singapore is a premium destination it is surprising that Qantas have a domestically configured A330 on this route. I’m sure I’ve been on VH-EBD before when it flew for Jetstar. It’s now got a very nice business class, but back in economy our seats lack built in screens, instead having holders for iPads. The metal holder looks dangerous in case of an accident should your head be thrust forward.

You have to leave the iPads stuffed in the seat pocket until after take-off, but I use the on board Q streaming service on my phone instead, firing up the Qantas Entertainment App. I’m pleased to see a flight map is available. Nothing much else interests me for now, so I just listen to random selections of my music.

The streaming service has a range of new and old movies, along with television programs and a single decent soundtrack selection (a John Williams collection). What I’m amused by is that the old movie selection includes Patton, which I tried to watch on another Qantas Sydney to Singapore flight back in 2009, almost a decade ago!

The self-entitled passenger across from me, a portly American by accent, complains about not being able to have his entertainment immediately. As soon as the crew sit down in their seats after the safety demonstration he whips out the iPad and starts watching, prompting the Indian man to do the same.

Captain Mark Ellis welcomes us aboard and announces that we should have good flying conditions and that there’s only light rain in Singapore.

As we taxi out to the main runway I can see the thick grey-brown smoke of fires in the Royal National Park. Hopefully it will not come close to our home. Wispy cirrus streaks above us, hopefully not signifying high winds.

We take off towards the north, giving us on the right spectacular views of the city. This is the take off I dream of, sitting in my office at North Ryde watching aircraft like this silently gliding up towards the Northwest, carrying passengers like me off on their own adventures.

The Hawkesbury River winds its way below us, then we are over the Blue Mountains. The sandstone ridges look like giant walls, keeping the Western Plains away from the coastal lands.

We fly over the yellow plains, over Bathurst and Parkes if my reckoning is correct. Then we lose the land below in the high cloud.

And so it is like this for most of the rest of the flight. Niggling bumps almost the whole way. It’s never at the point where I feel genuinely bad, but it’s just difficult to truly relax in these conditions. Also, I miss out on the wonderful views of the Australian outback from above.

We are served a cup of Bickford’s cordial, then my seat mate has his special Indian meal handed to him. A while later and the crew bring the trolley of meals down the aisle. I check the printed menu that was handed out earlier and decide to try something different to the “Slow cooked beef brisket with polenta, vegetables and ragu” that I know the others will order and try the “Salad of poached chicken with quinoa and sumac dressing”.

It’s lucky that I’m fairly full from the lounge. The salad would have been nice for what it was, but honestly I can’t see why anyone would willingly subject themselves to quinoa and the sumac is too much for a flight.

The warm garlic ciabatta is really good though,  as is the Weiss mangos and cream bar and ungenerous single Lindt lemon chocolate.

Our route today will take us near the corner between New South Wales, Queensland and the Northern Territory, before we leave the coast in northern Western Australia.

As we head further north the bland high cloud develops features, cumulonimbus rearing their heads upwards. We wind our way between storms, dodging them successfully, keeping mostly steady.

Once we are in a smoother patch I decide to try to entertain myself. The is a selection of Twelfth Man recordings on QStreaming. I remember once finding the mock cricket commentary funny, but now when I listen to the mockery of foreign names it just isn’t laugh worthy anymore.

It’s still high cloud as night falls and I’m uncertain when we cross the coast. I think it’s when things get a bit bumpier and I catch a glimpse of some coastline below, but I could be mistaken.

The cabin lights are dimmed and the outside eventually fades into a dull grey, with only fading sunlight and starlight to provide any definition.

Things get a little smoother for a while, before we cross over Indonesian islands, visible by the odd light below and an increase in turbulence as we fly over each one.

The crew hand out apples in the dark. I take one and it gives me indigestion until twenty minutes later I let out a satisfying burp. I’d say excuse me, but we are already suffering worse. A passenger in front of me has been letting out a steady stream of incredibly stinky farts the whole flight. They need that fart absorbent cushion that was featured on the Gadget Man show Alex and I were watching the other day.

Things get quite bumpy as we pass south of Borneo. It’s really annoying now, but I’m coping. With an hour and a half left the lights are switched on again and the crew serve a box of udon noodles. I can’t eat anything now.

Finally it’s half an hour left and we begin our descent. I’m totally over this flight and just want to go to the hotel.

The descent is surprisingly smooth and the final part where we fly over the lights of Indonesia and the row of ships in the Straits of Malacca is wonderful. I love that final slow cruise down to the airport.

We have arrived! It felt like a long flight. I thought Qantas did well and I have managed the fear of turbulence well, but honestly I don’t enjoy these long flights anymore. Maybe if it had been smooth the whole way I could have distracted myself with a movie, but the high and monsoonal cloud is why I don’t like this route at this time of year.

The tarmac is shiny with rain and the windows fog with tropical humidity as we taxi to the terminal. I emerge out of the forward door, B and Alex out the back, so I stand waiting for them uselessly for a long time.

Naturally, a couple of people get taken for special processing in front of us while we are in the immigration queue. It always happens to us in Singapore. The bag belt is stopped when we reach it, but as soon as I think about heading off to the bathroom it restarts and our bags appear.

We just miss the shuttle to the hotel so catch a taxi instead through the purple lit tree lined road along the East Coast, the iconic welcome to Singapore.

On arrival we are given free drink vouchers and each have juices at the bar.

We should have eaten in the airport, because when we arrive there is only non-Singaporean food available in the area. Burgers, kebabs, Thai and beer and we return to the hotel empty stomached after a wander around in the humid night air.

It takes me a while to sleep, despite the exhaustion and the early hour. Today, another flight, another hotel and again, not looking forward to it. I’d be happy just to stay here for a few days.

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