More Canberra, more turbulence

I may not be racing around Europe right now, but I did go somewhere today. Yes, back to Canberra again. How exciting… Well, I would have liked to have seen Canberra, visited Floriade again, the War Memorial, but there was no time for that. Just another meeting at the headquarters.

I’m now officially tired of flying to Canberra. Tired of driving there as well. Despite the protestations of my work colleague, who claimed that the buses were far less dingy, I wanted to catch the train, but it was sold out. So I dutifully purchased the Qantas tickets online, ensuring that I was flying by jet.

The day outside looked magnificent, a scorcher, but the air was still. Fear lurked, because the weather reports forecast storms and winds in the afternoon. How unfair! The last two times I flew back from Canberra we passed through a storm and a front.

No sign of that as I stared out the windows of Terminal 3. I noticed the Qantas A380 sitting out on the tarmac and watched the movements of the other aircraft out of the window. My flight’s boarding time was running late, so I had longer than expected to gaze out. Apparently, there was a lack of tower controllers, hence the delays.

We eventually boarded the Boeing 737-400, looking a little tired despite the new upholstery. I had booked seat 9A, hoping for a good view below. Unfortunately it was somewhat blocked by the engine.

As we taxied out to the runway the pilot warned us that there was a queue of aircraft waiting to take off. I looked behind us and could see a long line stretching back.

I was hoping to catch a glimpse of the Qantas A380 as we took off, but I couldn’t see it. I did catch a glimpse of Singapore Airline’s version. As we curved back out towards the ocean I could see Bondi Beach. I wondered how full it would get in the day’s 35 degree heat.

The sky was mostly blue, though we shook a little as we passed through some cloud over the ocean. Then we emerged to cross back over the coast south of Wollongong. In the meantime we had been served a muesli bar and a choice of juice or water.

Sandstone cliff tops overlooking a river valley poked orange out of the dark green bush, forming interesting patterns below. Just as we reached cruise level it was over and our descent began. As we approached Canberra’s airport the views over the Brindabella Ranges were magnificent, reminding me of walks out along the edge of Belconnen where I would stare across the Molongolo Valley and dream of faraway places. Unfortunately, the view was disrupted by the bumpy flight over the hills, as the gusts of wind shook the aircraft.

As I sat in the meeting room I watched the shadows of trees dancing with the gale outside. By the time I got to the airport in the evening I was worried. I could see a bank of clouds approaching and wished for us to quickly leave. But the flights were late again. This time due to weather in Sydney, a not very reassuring excuse. I was very tempted not to catch the flight, but to stay overnight and maybe bus back home the next day. B talked me out of it.

We finally taxied out on to the tarmac accompanied by clouds of dust thrown up by the wind. By now the cloud bank was across and into our bath, the dramatic shapes hinting at a wild ride above. I reassured myself that I was in an overwing seat, 13F, the most stable and that the actual flight time was only 25 minutes, only 25 minutes. Safe and smooth was my mantra.

Smooth it was not, as we lifted off into the gusty sky. We shook, dropped, jumped and slewed. Yet as we still approached the clouds the seatbelt sign went off and the cabin crew started serving meals. We skirted around the grey and white clouds for as long as we could. Despite my fear, the cloudscape was spectacular in the orange, blue and grey of evening.

After crossing one swirl below us and as we approached the main cloud bank, the captain relit the seatbelt sign and the meal service stopped for the rest of the flight, before it had reached me. Strangely, as soon as the seatbelt sign went on the flight became very smooth.

That cloud bank looked too high for us to surmount on the flight and I had a bad feeling that we were going to penetrate it, but no, we began our descent and flew under. It wasn’t as rough as I feared, though it certainly wasn’t pleasant.

The sun had set by the time we flew over Sydney’s southern outskirts. The Lucas Heights reactor was below, the Heathcote. Out across the water again, then the last round of shaking began, but not so bad. I watched the lights of the ships, the refinery and the container docks as we sank down towards the runway. A bit of a hard landing, then it was over!

It wasn’t as bad as I feared, but next time I’m taking the train.