Mercury’s falling in Canberra

It’s time for another short trip to Canberra! I use the corporate travel system to book a Qantas flight down and a Virgin Australia flight for the return leg. Then I try to assign a seat on the Qantas website, but I get an error. The day before the flight I check in on the phone. Fine, except no option to choose a seat and I don’t like the one I’m assigned. So I call up Qantas and they arrange a much better seat over the phone.

We leave the house only 10 minutes earlier than normal and I wave goodbye to B and Alex at Wolli Creek, then catch the connecting train to the Domestic Airport. A hurried walk to Terminal 3 and then it’s laptop and tablet out through security. I arrive airside ten minutes before boarding begins.

The interior of Terminal 3, Qantas Domestic, is bright in the morning light, but surprisingly quiet. There’s a crowd queuing up to board the A330 to Perth, but most other gates are near empty. I like T3. It looks classy and you can almost believe that you are flying international.

I watch a Cathay Pacific A330 soar into the sky towards Hong Kong and other aircraft large and small trundle out from the Qantas maintenance hangers area. A colleague comes over to say hello. He is off to visit one of our other offices in Canberra.

We board our trusty old 737-400 and I take my window seat towards the rear of the aircraft. I wonder how many times I’ve caught this aircraft before.

As we trundle out towards the third runway we pass 747’s shimmering in the morning sun and recently arrived visitors on the main runway. Despite my familiarity with the route I’m feeling excited about the flight.

We take off to the north, then it’s a sharp right turn out towards the coast. With the mixture of industrial, residential and recreational facilities below it’s an interesting area to fly over. I can see pale objects moving in parallel beneath the calm waters and I wonder if they are dolphins. Flocks of seagulls float atop the water.

The aircraft bumps around as we pass though the sparse cloud layer. Then we are travelling south, the cliffs of the Royal National Park thrown into stark relief by the morning light. We are served a chocolate and fruit “Wallaby Bar” (muesli bar) and juice.

As we parallel the coast I am reminded of our daily trips across that same land to Wollongong and back as students. The clear skies give clear views of both the freeway and coastal routes. We cross the coastline over Wollongong, the steelworks easily visible below us.

Behind Wollongong, the sandstone cliffs of the Illawarra Escarpment present a barrier to those who travel by land, but we are far above them. The land behind is dark green forest, soon broken up by pale green farms, and valleys that have become reservoirs, some still filled with morning fog.

It is an interesting landscape and my eyes are fixed to the window.

Closer to Canberra the colours of the land change again, from grassland to khaki scrub. There is Lake George, still with water, surrounded by windmills.

We approach Canberra Airport from the south, turning past Googong dam and over semi-rural properties, each with it’s own dam. I think about how easy it would be for some poor toddler to fall in.

We land and I am out as quickly as possible, racing to a surprisingly quiet taxi rank. I am only a little late to the meeting, missing nothing.

At the end of the day I am glad that I am going straight my hotel. The Canberra Mercure, previously Olim’s, has a fairly poor reputation amongst my colleagues, but I don’t mind it, and it right opposite the office. My room was cold and remained that way for the night, despite the heater. As part of my accommodation package I have a $50 meal and drinks credit, so I take dinner at the hotel restaurant. Despite me being the second guest it takes half an hour for my prawn raviola to emerge, then a similar time for dessert. With only myself for company I am bored with the wait, but neither am I in the mood for discussion.

When I finally return to my room I flick on the television to see an ex-colleague on Catalyst with another wacky idea.

I am tired and sleep early. Thankfully, the bed has a thick doona and I don’t feel the chill outside.

After a hot breakfast I cross the road and spend some quality time with my team. Some problems can be solved so much quicker in person than the remote methods we are normally forced to use. After a week of clear blue skies it is now raining and very windy outside. Great, I think, Canberra turbulent return flights have returned once more after a long absence.

I head off early to the airport and get my boarding pass printed at the desk. Corporate booking systems are a pain in the neck, especially when you want to choose your own options on the flight.

I go straight to the Virgin Australia lounge, wanting somewhere comfortable to sit and do some work. Outside is 8 degrees in contrast to Sydney’s 18. It’s wet, windy and it looks rotten to fly in. But there in the lounge I am warm and comfortable, watching the Virgin and Qantas 737’s outside taking off and landing while sipping tomato and basil soup. A small RAAF VIP jet lands quickly down the cross-runway, while a big yellow Royal Brunei 777 is parked at the RAAF base, no doubt having disgorged its own VIPs earlier.

A colleague came over and we chatted about work and babies, his wife expecting their first next month. I spot the CEO of Virgin Australia, John Borghetti, enter the lounge, then quickly disappear.

It is time to board. I am in window seat 7F and glad that I am close to the wing. Before the doors close Mr Borghetti comes aboard as the finl passenger. I wonder if his presence will be noted in an announcement , or if he will personally greet the passengers flying on his aircraft, but neither happens. But I do keep an eye on the cabin crew for their reactions.

The captain welcomed us to the 23 minute flight and informed us that it was a bit windy in Sydney and we could expect a few bumps.

I normally find the Embraers to be a bit shaky on ascent, but amazingly, considering the wind outside, today’s takeoff was powerful and smooth. We soon rose above the clouds, the carpet of grey-white giving an indication of our speed. It was quite lovely, a real sense of flying.

The crew comes through with cold savoury muffins and drinks. Despite our forward position we are late being served. Just as the attendant was about to deliver our food she is called away to guard the cockpit door while another attendant enters. We aren’t provided with anything until we begin our descent and the crew is asked to prepare the aircraft for landing. I can still see room for improvement from the crew when it comes to meal service on these short flights. Some of the smiles look a little forced too as I see one crew member talking to her big boss.

The clouds clear Heathcote, Lucas Heights and Sutherland appear out of our window, glittering city lights amongst the dark national park. The oil refinery at Kurnell looks like a Christmas tree with its many lights. A pity that it is likely to close soon.

There are a number of bumps as we twist along our final descent. I can feel the aircraft swinging along its long axis and I bace for a hard landing, but no, it is perfect. The pilots certainly did their bit to impress Borghetti. All my apprehension about a rough ride is for nothing, and my turbulence remission is still intact. I hurry out of the aircraft, waiting only for passengers with too much cabin baggage to collect their scattered bags from the lockers. Then it iss home to a beaming Alex and to B.

I thought I would be coming back to a relaxing Friday night, but even from the top of the stairs I can smell urine. Kita has relieved himself downstairs and managed to get it over himself and around the floor. So it’s mopping and wiping and a dog bath for Kita and a late night for me.

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