Point Anxiety: To Melbourne and back

I have to go somewhere. I have choices, at the last moment I choose Melbourne. I am not supposed to feed my flight anxiety with safety behaviours, like checking the weather, but I do anyway and this is the best I can find and the timing is right.

If this works out I will hopefully have the additional benefit of reaching Qantas silver status again.

After my flights to Japan and back earlier in the month you’d think that an hour in the air between Sydney and Melbourne was nothing.

You’d be wrong. I’ve tried and failed doing points runs between the cities before. This is a real challenge.

At the same time I’ve been trying to relax since Japan, realising that I never did, but fantasising that I was drifting up high listening to music or watching a film.

I had a bad sleep last night. Too tense perhaps, too much on with karate and a committee meeting.

Yesterday was a cloudy nothing day and I wait to this morning’s cloudless sky before making a final decision to go, despite this sense of abject terror that is a hole in my gut.

A bus and a train take me to the airport. My Qantas flight leaves from Terminal 3 and I go quickly through security.

I haven’t had breakfast, so I use my membership to go to the Qantas Club lounge. Even then I am not particularly hungry, just eating some fresh fruit salad.

My flight is leaving soon, so I go down to the gate, make myself board. No sense of excitement, just trepidation.

The seat pitch is much narrower than on the A330 to Japan, but it suffices. This Boeing 737-800 has been repainted and reupholstered, but it is beginning to show its age.

Square screens drop down from the ceiling to show the safety video, then retreat for take-off. I switch on the streamed entertainment on my phone, try to start watching Annihilation, but I can’t focus. The time is too short for a full movie anyway.

We taxi to the southern end of the third runway. The captain, David Holt, introduces himself and says that the weather is mostly smooth and he will do his best to make it a smooth flight. Sounds good to me. Then we turn to make an immediate take-off, while on the other runway a parade of international wide-bodies wait their turn.

We make a right hand turn and head out to the coast over the Eastern Suburbs. There are a few bumps, but the seat belt lights are quickly extinguished even before we finish our turn.

Our route parallels the coast with distant views of the city, Sydney Harbour, Botany Bay and the cliffs of the Royal National Park, of other aircraft below, their vectors and ours adding to make it look like they are flying diagonally. We turn inland across the city of Wollongong. Rivers carve their way through the sandstone plateau before filling the valleys as dams, the pale rock exposed by black bottomed coal mines.

The dark green bushland is replaced by the dry grasslands. Inside the cabin the flight attendants hand out generous bags of raspberry and chocolate biscuits, pink for breast cancer fundraising, and a choice of drinks. I choose orange juice.

Tiny wind turbines spin languidly ahead of a completely dry Lake George. Then we are over Canberra, the nation’s capital and home to many landmarks. There’s Black Mountain Tower, Lake Burley Griffin and parliament house. I watch an aircraft land at Canberra Airport and think to myself that, much as I love the airport, I am tired of the flights there.

I spot the white dishes of the NASA tracking station at Tidbinbilla. I wonder which probe they are talking to today. The Moon hangs pale in the west.

There are more dams hiding in the Brindabellas, foothills to the Australian Alps. As we cross over into Victoria the land is greener, but we are also approaching wisps of cloud. On closer inspection I realise that they are probably the remnants of contrails from other aircraft.

I have flown this route many times so I don’t need a map to know when we cross the granite tops of Mount Buffalo, with its remnant of a glacial lake on top. At distinctive Lake Eildon we begin our serious descent into Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport.

This is when I get nervous, for so many of these have been bumpy. Despite the lack of window, I can still feel the bumps today, especially as we get closer and closer to the airport. Perhaps it is the wind swirling from the creek valleys that thread the landscape or flowing off the hills before, their tops still scarred from bushfires past.

Though it’s nowhere near as bumpy as on some previous flights, my tense state makes it feel worse. I try to relax as the aircraft feels like it is fighting the wind, barely moving forwards at all.

It is a relief to finally kiss the tarmac.

We taxi around the International Terminal, past the widebodies from Malaysia, China, the Middle East and Australia. Then we find our gate with the other domestic Qantas planes and can finally disembark.

My event finishes early and I have some time to explore the domestic terminal. Most of the shops are the same as in Sydney. Despite the good flight in, I’m still tense. I need to relax. I look through the bookshops, am tempted by a couple of books, but I have so many left unread at home, not to mention available to read on my phone.

I’ve barely eaten, so I head up to the Qantas Club lounge. Sadly there isn’t much in the way of natural light, that is given to the Business lounge on the other side of the wall. One of the differences is that the Club lacks a hot food buffet. It’s breads and salads here, and not much that is inspirational. The tomato and capsicum soup is too rich for my palate right now.

I do snag a plate of some of my favourite sweets: licorice allsorts, Jaffas, biscuits with hundreds and thousands on them. It’s funny how my tastes match.

Then I find a comfy chair and write some of this blog post, listen to relaxing music. I head out a little early, but still the food court doesn’t tempt me and I go to the gate.

On the other side is a Qantas 787-9 bound for Perth and then onwards to London. I wonder how I could cope with that long flight.

Our aircraft is another Qantas Boeing 737-800, this one named Yarralumla, after the suburb of Canberra. I find that a little amusing as it’s also the headquarters of our IT department and my bigger bosses. This aircraft has seat back screens, so I switch mine to the flight map.

Our take-off seems to be the reverse of our descent. There are more bumps, though shorter and sharper as we rise at a higher speed.

This time as we head north I am facing the east and spot details missed on the flight down. The sight of snow on the Alps confuses me. For a moment I think this is late summer. But then I remember, it is only October and there was still patches of snow left in April when we climbed Mount Kosciuszko earlier this year.

I now realise that some of the lakes below belong to the Snowy Mountains Scheme.

We are handed small boxes of lavosh and lemon myrtle crackers, a slice of cheese and a small tub of mustard pickles. It’s nice, but I can’t figure out how to eat the pickles without making a mess.

Our return route takes us on the western side of Canberra and Lake George. Still empty!

Our descent takes us over the southern suburbs of Sydney. Over the nuclear reactor at Lucas Heights, Engadine and out over the Royal National Park to the ocean.

White caps show there is wind. Will it be rough? I have some confidence now. The wind was stronger and the weather worse on this same path back from Japan. Just some bumps, not many, but again we feel like we are travelling so slowly. Indeed, the flight map is showing us doing a little over a quarter of the speed from our fast cruise.

Down over Kurnell, much clearer views today, and touchdown! We are back in Sydney.

I’ve done it! I didn’t chicken out.

But I didn’t really enjoy it either. Once upon a time I would have loved these flights, been excited by the views. Now, I’m just exhausted from the tension, stress and anxiety. Really exhausted.

Filed under: