Sardines to Singapore

It’s time for Alex to get his own seat. That was the inescapable conclusion from the flight to Singapore. In less than a month’s time it will be out of my hands anyway. He’ll have to travel in his own seat because that’s all they will allow for children over two years old. Until that time there are still six flights to go; back to Sydney via a transit in Melbourne and a quick trip up to Rockhampton to see my new nephew.

It wasn’t that bad, really. The only problem was when Alex wanted to sleep. There just isn’t the width in a standard economy class seat for Alex to lie down on my lap. Nor is there enough space to lower the tray table for meals. But for most of the flight he was happy to sit up and play.

The journey began with a drive to the Sydney Airport Long Term Carpark. We’ve never used the facility before, but the price was competitive against catching a taxi. The train was ruled out as there is the usual weekend trackwork on the airport line.

As jets roared overhead, we caught the free shuttle bus to the domestic airport, to be greeted by huge queues to the Jetstar check-in counters. I’ve never seen them that long! Fortunately, they moved fairly quickly, but the check-in to our flight to Darwin was being closed just as we made it to the front of the line.

The check-in lady told us that we would have to hurry to the gate as we would be boarding in a few minutes time. So we hurriedly said our goodbyes to B, as her flight would depart from the international terminal.

It turns out that there was no urgency. The flight was delayed by an hour due to the aircraft’s late arrival from Ho Chi Minh City. That gave us enough time to have a late lunch of ravioli, where my strange little son actually picked out the spinach leaves to eat! Then we visited the toy store, where Alex fell in love with, and I purchased for him, a toy aircraft.

There weren’t enough seats at the gate for Alex and I, so we amused ourselves by wandering around the terminal and going up and down the moving walkways. Just as I took him to the change room boarding finally commenced.

We were travelling on a carry-on luggage only fare, though I could have checked in his backpack carrier had I wanted to. Instead, I squeezed it into the overhead locker and put the daypack under the seat. The Airbus A321 was obviously sourced from a German airline as the interior signage was in both German and English. Our window seat was just behind the wing of this stretched aircraft.

It was definitely not a stretched limo. A single, very basic cabin, and no built in entertainment other than audio.  There was no point in me renting an entertainment unit as it required the tray table down, not that Alex would have allowed me the time to watch it anyway, nor watched it himself.

We finally took off towards the north into a cloudy sky. Alex was soon asleep on my lap after chewing on a muesli bar and I was free to listen to music and enjoy the cloudscapes. The peace didn’t last long enough for a full soundtrack, but Alex kept himself amused with his aircraft toy, the window blind, the tray table and some food supplies. I had prepurchased meals and we were delivered an egg and lettuce sandwich, KitKat and orange juice, all of which Alex consumed significant portions of.

The flight was quite bumpy as we flew through high cloud, the seat belt lights switched on for ten minutes or so. While I coped okay with the turbulence, I still don’t enjoy it. Fortunately things smoothed out afterwards.

Alex became grumpy towards the end of the four hour flight, wanting to walk around. This proved impossible as we were trapped in the window seat by the two sleeping passengers in the centre and aisle seats. As he threw temper tantrums I couldn’t wait to be off the flight and wondered how we would cope with the subsequent four hour leg from Darwin to Singapore.

He managed to stay relatively calm on the final descent into Darwin, as if he could understand that his ordeal would be over, at least temporarily, very soon. Darwin from above looked like no other Australian capital. The outer areas looked like buildings stuck out in the middle of the bush. It looked rough, unplanned.

I had never been to the northern territory before and was curious to see the city where my parents met, though it had been remodeled by Cyclone Tracy since. We touched down and taxied past airforce revetments and a big US airforce B-52 bomber parked on the tarmac.

Once we exited the aircraft Alex was overjoyed to be able to walk on his own two feet again. He ran through the corridors and up the ramp. We had to go straight to the international area in preparation for the next flight, but because ours was a domestic flight from Sydney that meant going through immigration first. Controlling him proved a challenge as I attempted to fill in the exit cards and extract various items for the security scans.

Finally, we were through into Darwin’s international departures area. I was not impressed. A duty free store, a tiny newsagent and bar/cafe. And a few vending machines. And not enough seats for the crowds of travellers off to Bali and Singapore. There were the Bali Bogans, the Singaporean Asians, and the heavy drinking miners. At least the carpet was colourful and there were kid’s change facilities. It was crowded and noisy. I much prefer the international transit area in Cairns.

Alex wandered round and round and I let him burn off the energy.

Our Powderfinger adorned Jetstar A320 was also running late by at least half an hour. At 8pm it was already night outside; we had been treated to a tropical sunset on descent into Darwin. We boarded the aircraft and again it was almost completely filled. The cabin looked very fresh and new. I found the grey leather seats quite comfortable and well padded. I was certainly glad for my short stumpy legs when I looked across at one guy almost unable to sit straight due to the legroom, which was adequate for me.

As we taxied out to the runway the surrounds were pitch black but for the runway and terminal lighting. Then a confident takeoff into the black sky across the city lights of Darwin.

Until he fell asleep Alex was terribly adorable. He quietly played with his toy aircraft and sang songs, giving gentle smiles to Dad. He also did a poo in his nappy, but with my fellow passengers already asleep I could not escape to change him. Eventually he fell asleep and I listened to a little music.

The cabin crew came around and served dinner. I had prepaid for a meal, but without the ability to put my tray table down there was no way I could consume a hot meal. The chicken and noodles looked good too! They seemed to have dispensed with the bread rolls though. They gave me an uninspiring ham and cheese sandwich instead. What I really wanted a drink, which I quickly consumed before Alex woke up and took it from me (he had his own water bottle).

Alex soon woke up and screamed. Throughout the remainder of the flight he would sleep for a while, then wake up kicking and crying in anger and frustration that he could not stretch out sufficiently. If only we had a spare seat next to us!

Eventually the other two passengers let me out to change him. Alex slept on and off. I couldn’t reach my music player for fear of disturbing him, so sat in the seat with nothing to amuse me. Occasionally out of the window I could see the bright lights of fishing vessels, brighter than those of the odd towns as we passed over East Timor and Java. More interesting were the lightning flashes of a storm cloud – thankfully not too close.

Finally the bright lights of Singapore came into view, preceded by those of the hundreds of ships offshore. We curved over the island before coming in to land. Alex was still asleep on my lap.

B met us at the gate. We were supposed to land before her, but the delays had held us up. From the airport a shuttle bus took us direct to the Hotel 81 Tristar in Geylang.

This was the same hotel I had stayed in last year in transit to London. If you like modern ultraclean hotels then this is not for you. However, the rooms had long baths (for Alex) and there was a swimming pool. Even better was the 24 hour food court right beneath the hotel. That’s where we went first, for a late night snack of noodles, banana roti and Milo drinks. Then, with a baby struggling to stay awake it was off to bed.

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