As I step out of the Narita Express into Terminal 2 I feel an all too familiar sense of apprehension. The journey northwards had begun with confidence, but was betrayed by the skies. Now, less than fours days later, I would be plying the same path. Can the conditions change so much in such a short time? I would soon find out.
Narita Express at Terminal 2.
And so I retraced my steps. Somewhat painfully, as I am rather chafed. Washing clothes in a hotel sink doesn’t leave them soft. Through the humid air I dodge other passengers as I stride along the sprinting path from Terminal 2 to Terminal 3. With three hours before scheduled departure I have no need to hurry, but I do anyway.
The start of the path from Terminal 2 to 3.
Only 490 metres to go!
Not so nice on a cold day, I bet!
There is already a queue at the Jetstar desks. As I wait I hear an American, a young lady in her early twenties, thanking a Japanese Jetstar agent on the opposite side and asking her how to say “awesome” in Japanese.
I know this one. It’s sugoi (pronounced soo-goy). I’ve heard it a used a lot in reference to me. Okay, in reference to my having visited or travelled through 45 of Japan’s 47 prefectures, far more than most Japanese.
The lady and her friends thank the agent, loudly declaiming “say gay“.
A starring role
Jetstar check in
Ahead of us an elderly European couple’s luggage and cabin bags are too many, too large and too heavy for their low cost tickets. Cabin baggage is restricted in size and in weight to seven kilograms on Jetstar, checked luggage costs extra per item. I feel some sympathy, but you do get what you pay for.
Eventually it is my turn. I have one bag to check in, full of model train tracks and Japanese snacks, and my daypack which I’m hoping is under seven kilograms, though they don’t check. And my Isumi Line umbrella. I ask, and am told that I can carry it on board as it doesn’t have a sharp point. I am taking two umbrellas home with me, a replacement for the broad compact I lost a mere month after purchasing on the last trip, and a cheap big plastic umbrella that would ordinarily be left at the hotel. But it has an Isumi Line graphic printed on it, so I figure I might as well keep it if I can.
So now I am free to wander the terminal. It’s not very big. There are a few retail shops, though I am not yet in the market for a new hip. The three users of the terminal other than Jetstar are Korea’s Jeju Air, Vanilla Air and the Japanese offshoot of China’s Spring. Both Spring and Vanilla have retail stands selling regional items from Spring Japan’s destinations and Vanilla Air branded goods. Pity Jetstar does not have a similar shop accessible to me as I would likely to be tempted to purchase something. You have to go through the Terminal 3 domestic route for the Jetstar shop.
Airline tails currently serviced by T3
The food court has a reasonable selection of Japanese chain outlets. For those after western food I recommend Freshness Burger. Unfortunately, I can’t eat. With the anxiety of the upcoming flight I simply can’t stomach the rich saltiness of the food on offer (or sashimi).
Anyway, I know I will be fed on board.
With free terminal wifi I post my rented portable router into the letterbox and use Google Hangouts to chat with B and Alex. I have nothing better to do, so I head airside and pass through the quiet security and immigration.
Airside duty free stores
As warned, there is not much on the other side. I encounter a couple of Australian Jetstar cabin crew in the FaSoLa Akihabara duty free outlet, gazing at the cherry blossom green tea and strawberry cheesecake KitKats on offer. It sounds like this is their first trip.
I buy a couple of chocolate items and some crackers. A convertible travel pillow that I take to be Japanese but is, in fact, designed in New Zealand. About time we replaced Alex’s little pillow.
I’m usually not one to even glance at the standard luxury goods for sale at duty free stores. But I want to purchase something nice for B’s birthday and have so far had not much time or luck in finding anything. I do here. Something to replace another gift lost over a decade ago in a different place.
Food options are limited to a cafe selling pasta and sandwiches. I really think I should eat something, but the sandwiches look unappetizing, so I just have a small bowl of vanilla ice cream.
When finished, I go downstairs to the gate lounge. There seem to be more passengers than seats. I am eager to get this flight done with. I want to get home.
It’s raining outside so they have put covered stairs up to the aircraft door and provided a canopy for the exposed path. Our 787-8 tonight is VH-VKD. Business class passengers are allowed to board first. Two weeks before the flight Jetstar emailed me offering upgrades to business at $199, $299 for Business Max, for each leg. I was torn by the offers. On one hand the large seats would be more comfortable (though they aren’t beds), I could carry more luggage and I’d be trying out a different class. On the other hand they weren’t offering any more points than I was already getting and I’d be further from the stability of the wing. I declined.
Jetstar and Vanilla Air
Then it is the turn of cattle class to board. I place my umbrella in the overhead locker and my bag at my feet. Again, I am at the window while a another young man has the aisle seat. Nobody sits in the middle between us and I am grateful. It looked like most rows had the middle seat free, except where a family sat together.
We are all aboard. I notice that the Australian crew have disappeared to the front cabin, we are served by the Indian and Thai staff. Everything goes smoothly and we are soon pushing back, with the crew performing the safety demonstration, also displayed on the seat back screens.
Red and blue!
Looking out at the lights of the terminal buildings and adjacent structures I fantasise that we will be delayed and have to stay another night. Anything to put off the flight. But no, our taxi to the runway is going smoothly tonight, in contrast to the congestion experienced on our previous Qantas trip at much the same time.
One things consoles me: This flight will be significantly shorter than the journey up. Our flight time is less than seven hours. That’s in the comfortable range for me, enough time to enjoy a flight without it feeling like it’s too long. I hope that is the case tonight.
We pass rows of aircraft lined up outside Terminal 1 and then align ourselves with the runway. With a sudden pressure backwards we are off and lifting up into the sky.
Initial path out of Tokyo Narita
Last time there was also rain, storms, and that initial climb was wracked by bumps and drops. It spoiled the entire flight home. I prepare myself for the same.
On my phone, in flight mode of course, I am listening to my brand new rip of Naoki Sato’s stirring orchestral music to the live action version of Space Battleship Yamato. I’d first discovered the Japanese movie, adapted from an anime series we know as Star Blazers in the entertainment guide of a Jetstar flight back from Japan a few years ago. It’s a very enjoyable piece of space opera fluff, so long as you ignore the historically inaccurate recount of the Yamato in World War Two.
There are glimpses of night life below, then we are across the sea and swallowed up by clouds. But any bumps are minor and soon the pilot turns off the powerful external lights and, inside the cabin, the seat belt lights are extinguished.
White and dim
They welcome us on board and tell us the flight time and cruising altitude, 38,000 feet. But no mention of a smooth flight again. It is a concern.
The cabin lights, which were dimmed for take-off, are now relit, but still kept low for those who would sleep quickly. The crew come through the cabin with meals for those, like me, who have preordered.
Knowing that I do not feel like strongly flavoured Japanese food on these night flights home I had selected a Western option of beef stew and mash. Jetstar and Qantas both seem to be going with these very homey comfort meals on their Japan flights. A bit uninspirational, if you ask me, and when I open the foil on top there is nothing to dispel that impression.
The first bite is nothing special either, but as I eat more I find myself really enjoying it. Even the veges are cooked well. In fact I enjoy it so much I feel inspired to cook something like it at home.
The custard and caramel is smooth and not too sweet, a very standard Japanese serve of this dish. The meal is rounded out by a warm bun and tub of water. I do wish they were more generous with the drinks.
After the last dark and turbulent flight back from Japan I was glad that I had been able to fit this one in when the Moon was relatively full so that I could see the cloudscape outside.
There really isn’t much to see outside right now. And the flight is smooth. For now. Remember Guam, I tell myself. Best get some relaxation done now as the lights dim to darkness.
After my album finished I try to get some sleep. I fail, as usual, so I decide to watch a movie instead. It’s a pity that Space Battleship Yamato isn’t showing. I tried to watch the Bali Big Brother, the only Japanese option, on the way up, but it was as misogynistic as your average Japanese talk show so I gave up after ten minutes. Instead I chose Jupiter Ascending.
The movie may have been a box office bomb, but it’s perfectly fine brainless special effects driven emotionally disconnected nonsense when you are travelling in a high altitude carbon fibre tube. A lot of movies like that are. It’s the middle of a Friday night. Who wants to think?
I won’t say more about the movie, except that, for you Sean Bean fans, there is a totally unexpected twist!
My system crashes about halfway through when I try to switch briefly to map mode, but then reboots itself. But I have already called the attendant, who resets it again. Fortunately I remember where I am up to in the movie.
Two hours later and almost half the flight has gone by. And it is still smooth! We are flying high above a sea of scattered clouds, but none of the swirling winds.
It was difficult getting photographs.
Careful of hubris, I warn myself. You know what happens when you get cocky.
Somewhere south of Guam but north of Papua New Guinea I see a flash. I look out and see that it has become considerably cloudier with prominences of cumulonimbus. Storms. Ah, I think, the sky has come to get me at last.
But despite my fears I love watching tropical lightning at night, clouds flashing sequentially yellow as the bolts of charged particles dance between them. I hold my camera up to the window, try to capture that elusive light.
One of the few lightning photos that worked
The sight reminds me of my time in Central Queensland, watching spectacular lightning explode between the clouds as they passed over the dark silhouette of the Berserker Ranges. There wasn’t much else we could do, as the storms usually cut the power supply to the house.
They are alert up on the flight deck. We weave around some towering clouds along our flight path, make an even bigger detour above the Bismark Sea as we approach Papua New Guinea. There is a minor shake now and then, but nothing frightening.
You can just see lightning in the background
The cabin is gradually lit. Wake up, it’s breakfast time! I’m handed a cardboard box. Inside is a small carton of milk, a tub of orange juice, another tub of “tropical cornflakes” (cornflakes with some dried pineapple) and a blueberry muffin. I am also offered yoghurt, but hand it back because I am an uncultured person.
That might sound boring to fans of hot breakfast, of bircher muesli and buttered toasts, but to me it was perfectly fine. Cornflakes. Uncomplicated, unhoneyed with just a few chunks of pineapple for interest. At four in the morning you don’t feel like anything heavy.
Blue in the morning
Even the Coral Sea was smooth this early morning. We were soon descending down towards the lights of Port Douglas and Cairns. A few expected bumps from the surrounding mountains, we curve over the city before landing from the south.
Couldn’t get a good shot
The windows fog, giving a mystical amber appearance to the airport outside. Past the Jetstar A320s, the Virgin Australia 737s, the QantasLink 717s, an Alliance F100 and some REx Saabs before finally parking beside another foreign visitor, a Cathay Pacific A330-300, its colours complementing the decor of the terminal.
As the interior lighting turns red I stand up and prepare to leave. What an excellent flight! A total contrast to the previous one up to Japan. Smooth skies and it felt like it passed so quickly.
Farewell 787 and thanks!
We emerge into the hospital blue-green corridors of the terminal, splitting into transit passengers continuing on the 787 to Brisbane, and those of us exiting or with domestic flights to catch. No time to linger, we have immigration to pass through and luggage to collect.
It is a very long wait for most of us at the small luggage belts. We all wonder at the delay. Eventually I collect my bag and am permitted to pass through customs without anything more than a verbal check.
The Cairns international and domestic terminals are connected by a long covered, but open sided walkway. It’s still dark and a bit cool with just a hint of the tropical air. I’m desperate to go to the toilet and still feeling a bit sore.
Exterior of the International Terminal
International check in
Walkway to domestic
Sculptures and still a way to go!
When I finally reach the far end, the departures end, of the Domestic Terminal I head straight for the washroom. Then I take out some clean clothes from my checked luggage, swap some other items, and head for the domestic check in.
Sign in the domestic toilets
The queues are very long for Virgin Australia and Jetstar is urging passengers on the Melbourne flight to check in. Others on flights later than two hours away are sent away. Fortunately, I am allowed through. Now equipped with my boarding pass and without the extra luggage I can join the long lines through security.
Once airside I head straight for the Qantas Lounge, which is open to Jetstar passengers with Qantas Club membership, like me.
Kids play area
Buffet and dining
It’s very quiet inside. I request to use the showers and are handed a towel set and toothbrush. Disposable razors are also available, but I had a battery one packed in my bag. Saturdays are very busy days for us. Well Alex really, but we have to drive him. Karate, swimming lessons, then Mandarin classes in the afternoon. I’d miss the first two unfortunately, but I knew I wouldn’t be home until late in the day, so I wanted to at least feel clean, even if a lack of sleep meant feeling like a zombie as well.
The shower facilities were a little basic, but I certainly felt more human after a wash and a shave. Now on solid ground I was happy to eat a bit more for breakfast. They had hash browns and eggs, a pancake machine, cold cuts, toast, yoghurt and fruits. Not a large selection, but a decent one.
Out of the window I could see a couple of Jetstar A320s, one of which was mine.
After a short while it was time to head out and board our flight. On the way out I passed a wall with information and photographs on the history of the bush pilots and aviation services in the region. Very interesting! Then I joined the long queue. Again some passengers were tagged for carrying overly large or heavy bags.
Heading down from the Club
Our Aviation Pioneers
I pass in through the front jet bridge entrance. Passengers seated further back have to use the external stairs.
Again I have a window seat at the front of the wing, and again there is an empty middle seat. Our A320 is equipped with cool looking orange sharklets on the tips of its wings. Beyond them are Qantaslink 717s tinged orange under the amber floodlights and dawning sky.
Sharklets and 717s
Qantaslink 717s, only once flown on them
These domestic legs arre generally quite pleasant codas of the main journey. Only once or twice have they been unpleasant, so I was feeling good about this flight. Just under three hours.
With the sky now a pale blue we finally back away from the terminal and make our way towards the runway. Across the other side I can see the lonely sight of an all white Shorts Belfast, ex HeavyLift, and a silver DC3.
Shorts Belfast and DC3
Air Niugini Fokker F100 on the runway
At the runway
As we turn into the runway the first rays of the sun cast the land in a beautiful light, the grass bright green, a few soft clouds over the ranges tinged pale white and grey. The take-off is typically spectacular, curving along the river and out to sea with views of the airport and northwards up the coast. Then we turn back to follow the coast southwards with views of islands and morning clouds above a shimmering sea.
Sunrise and the control tower
Up we go!
Across the coast
Morning reflections again
The female co-pilot describes our flight path, that we’ll cross the coast at Innisfail and head inland over Narrabri. Like Nobeyama, it’s the site of another radio telescope array and also once housed a radioheliograph, its outline like that of a spider’s web, the antennas themselves web like. As a child I visited it on our around-Australia journey that only got as far as Rockhampton. A kind CSIRO worker showed us around the facility. By the time of my next visit the radioheliograph had been dismantled and I was a CSIRO employee myself.
Into the morning skies
I’m offered an iPad for entertainment and the crew member seems surprised when I decline, as I had paid for it. But this journey is too short to waste staring at a small screen and besides, my payment had already been discharged by watching movies on the previous flight.
Instead I listen to my music and stare out of the window, falling into frequent micro sleeps. I love the Sun on my eyes, it makes me so sleepy when I’m in such an exhausted state.
My fare had also included a snack on this leg. This time I have selected the Pie Face mini pie and sausage role. Feels a bit strange eating party food at this time of the morning!
The pie is obviously feeling a bit woozy
The shimmering sea
The sky gets a bit hazy as we fly further inland. In my exhausted state I’m finding that this flight is feeling a bit long and almost wish that I had decided on the iPad.
Crossing the coast
Rivers of cloud
Then I see we are over the Hunter. I can tell by the coal mines that our strange government and Murdoch owned press see as attractive while decrying wind power as obscene. I guess we know who is paying them more.
I can now see the Tuggerah Lakes and the Northern Beach from the opposite perspective of the flight up. As we approach Sydney I’m hopeful that our approach will take us right over my workplace and down into the airport from the north, with great views of the city for me through clear skies.
Mouth of the Hawkesbury
But no! We are turning out to sea over Manly Beach. And we are descending… Right into those clouds that are hanging off the coast. We had a clear approach and are going to go through clouds. Damn you noise whingers of Sydney!
Banking out to sea
No longer heading straight to the south
Approaching the cloud
It’s been a perfectly smooth flight up until now. It’s not too bad, but not pleasant either. But it’ll be over soon, we’ll be on the ground soon.
I see the sea, there is hope…
Not quite yet!
Finally we are below the clouds and lining up for a southerly approach into Sydney Airport. The cliffs of the Royal National Park are a distinct line separating land from water, the Kurnell Peninsula less so, scarred by sand mining, made fuzzy by mangroves and sea grass on the Botany Bay side.
Out of the cloud!
Royal National Park
Approaching Kurnell, looking towards Cronulla
This was once sand dunes
Down, down, down, landed!
We taxi across to Terminal 3 and with a minimum of fuss, exit the aircraft, pass through the gates and collect my bags. Another journey complete.
Another Jetstar 787 and Singapore Airlines A380
I’m impressed with both the 787 and with Jetstar. It’s a great aircraft and while it may lack the classic lines of a 747 or the sheer size of an A380, I think it will be my choice of airborne carriage in future (subject to comparison with the even newer A350). The 3-3-3 seating is a bit narrow for my liking, but the seats are otherwise comfortable and, when travelling with the family, width is unlikely to be an issue. Jetstar themselves feel less and less like a bare bones low cost carrier and, especially with one of their starter packages, more like a mid range airline. I enjoyed all my meals with them, more than I can say of Scoot and AirAsiaX, and would gladly eat them at home. And it was very nice to have seat back entertainment, even if it was sometimes lacking in choice. But then I’ve encountered the same thing on so called five star airlines.
You might not get the same levels of service as a full carrier, the same assistance when things go wrong, the same levels of choice, but then you don’t always need that.