Flying over Mars

Emergency! Emergency! An alarm was sounding. Was it a fire? Was it time to evacuate?
It was 5am.
As my brain came online I realised that it was the clock beside the bed sounding an alarm. I blearily pressed the alarm button and returned to bed when suddenly Alex, disturbed by the noise, kicked out hitting me straight in the bridge of the nose.
Was it broken? Was blood streaming out? It felt like it. What a start to the holiday!
No it seemed okay, but damn it hurt. We were just settling back when the bloody alarm sounded out again. I had just hit the sleep button. I needed a light on to figure out the thing.
Finally back to sleep.
We woke late to a beautiful view across the bay. The sun shimmered off the flat waters as aircraft silently floated down on to the runway, then the roar as they reversed thrust.

After a filling hot buffet breakfast at the hotel that recalled the start of our honeymoon ten years ago we returned to the hotel room and watched Qantas CEO Alan Joyce grilled by the senate. As checkout time loomed a we packed our bags, then left them with the concierge while we took Alex on a promised search for a playground by the beach.

The sky was mostly clear and the sun baking hot as we strolled along the boardwalk. Thankfully the pirate ship playground was shaded, as Alex burnt up some energy on the slides and swings. Then it was time to kick of our shoes and walk in the sand. Alex threw shells into the water, dodging the incoming waves. The sand between my toes felt so good, especially knowing how those same feet would be cooped up in an aircraft for the rest of the day.

A taxi drove us to the international terminal. Alex was drifting off in the back, it was time for his morning sleep. But he perked up again once we got out. A phalanx of body guards was lined up along the drop off point, along with a few cameramen and curious onlookers. As we lined up to check in we watched them quickly move en masse protecting a couple of tiny females, eyes hidden by bug eyed sunglasses.
It turned out to be the Kardashian sisters, those celebrities for being celebrities. Well, tiny Kim, we’ve been married for 30 times as you (though without the sponsorship deals).
Despite being a couple of hours before boarding the queues were already long, both for check in and immigration. So there wasn’t much time to shop or eat. As we walked towards the southern gates we came to a stop when Alex spotted a playground. A McDonalds was situated in prime real estate between the two sets of gates. He needed to burn off energy, so we let him play while B had a snack.
Then boarding time approched and we made our way to gate 51. As we crossed we could see the Malaysian Airlines 747-400 ready to take us on our journey.

As we came to board the aircraft we realised that B had been given a seat away from Alex and I. The check in staff paged the passenger in the aisle seat next to Alex and I and he kindly agreed to swap with B.
Ten years ago it was a Qantas 747 and it was probably the best flights I’ve had, despite the distance to London, then Paris. But then Qantas wasn’t on strike and Bangkok’s Don Muang airport (no longer used by Qantas) wasn’t flooded. In March 2000 my second overseas trip had been to Kuala Lumpur on a Malaysian airlines 747. The horrible flights had almost put me off international travel altogether.
This aircraft looked like it hadn’t been updated since then. In some ways I was glad of the memories for an old style 747, but the faded multicoloured seats did not look great and the seatback screens looked like they were the same models as we had used 11 years ago, despite the AVOD upgrade. The 9 inch screens were awful and the on demand controls unintuitive.

But I don’t fly for the cabin entertainment. A tired Alex was drifiting off again as we powered into the sky and I had a fantastic view out of the window. We turned south across the water before looping around to the north west. Our suburb was visible out of the window, along with Botany Bay in the distance.
I love flying across the continent. Urban Sydney, then the sandstone ridges of western edge of the Blue Mountains. Green farmland for a while, white clouds. Then land took on a red tinge, flat scrubland. The best part was flying across the real desert. Tortured dry river beds leading to salt lakes, some filled by recent rains. Long red dunes forming a crinkled landscape, broken by the low eroded fractures of uplifted tectonics. The geology of the landscape was amazing and I wish I knew more, there are so many stories written in that empty land.
And it’s so red that it feels like flying over Mars. In some areas it is like a red dye staining parts of a lighter land. In others it is all you can see.

Every time we passed through high cloud the pilot turned on the seatbelt lights, though the turbulence was only uncomfortably bad once.
Naturally every time there was a meal service there was turbulence and the crew continued to serve despite the seatbelt lights being on. No hot beverages.
I was rather disappointed by the meals on Malaysia Airlines. Alex’s lamb was nice, but the chicken biryani wasn’t so good. The mango and cream Weiss bar was fine by me. I was waiting for Malaysia Airline’s satay, but in a late meal served shortly before descent we got a sausage roll like meal in a box. I opened it, it was cold, but the box warned “Caution: hot filling”. The crew apologised, but could only find one chicken and two vegetarian replacements. The chicken roll was okay, but the vegetarian options awful.

All I watched was a really bad travel show “Around the rail world” with Henry Golding, supposedly about catching trains in Malaysia. At least there was a single real sountrack (Tron: Legacy) in the AVOD system.
Alex was fantastic. He slept, we watched Wall-E, a show he fell in love with on TV recently, watched some episode of kids shows prerecorded on my phone and sat on my lap and looked out the window.
He was asleep when we landed at 9pm into Kuala Lumpur International Airport. He woke up full of excitement about x-ray machines, lifts and trains! We quickly passed through immigration, no bags to collect, then caught a golf cart to our hotel, the Pan-Pacific, right outside the airport. Dumped our cabin luggage, then caught another ride back for a late night meal in the food court.

Most of the shops were closed, but B ate noodles while I had nasi campur (rice and side dishes, like fried chicken and curry). Alex was really tired and ate something hot, complaining loudly. Then at last, at long last back to the very comfortable hotel room for a rest.
After all the great comments about Malaysia Airlines I was disappointed with them in comparison with Qantas and Thai. I found myself watching the clock a number of times, never a good sign. Today we have an even longer flight with them, all the way to London.

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