After a long, long day of karate, taking Alex to activities and a 21st brithday party I was beyond ready to sleep. But, just as I was shutting my eyes I noticed my mobile phone light blinking. I switched it on to see a message from Jetstar saying that my flight to Melbourne was cancelled.
It’s 11.20 pm and I am beyond tired. My flight should be at 8.25 am tomorrow and I’ve set my alarm to wake me just before 6. I’ve already printed out my boarding pass, or so I think.
I power up the computer, check my itinerary. The message is to contact Jetstar.
So it’s downstairs away from all the other sleeping bodies and a half hour call to Jetstar’s call centre in the Philippines.
I’ve been rebooked. Earlier. Not an hour and a half earlier as I feared, only 25 minutes. But that still means losing even more precious sleep, means everybody loses it as there’s no public transport to the airport this early on a Sunday.
I’m flying Qantas to Melbourne now, but I can’t access my booking to select seats and I don’t want to end up in a middle seat at the back of the plane.
I’m that wired that I wake before the alarm. Shave, take the dog out. Eventually wake up B and Alex. We bundle into the car and drive to Sutherland, where I catch the train to Wolli Creek. Trains aren’t stopping at our nearest station on the Airport Line due to a fire in a signal box. They’ve been delayed all week.
Our train is crowded with MAMILs (Middle Aged Men In Lycra) and their families, off to some cycling event I suppose.
Of course the train to the airport leaves a few seconds after I arrive at Wolli Creek and it’s 15 minutes until the next one.
I arrive at Qantas Terminal 3 and manage to check in via a kiosk. Not only that, I snare an exit window seat! It was either that or one near the rear.
|The entrance to T3
I head up to the Qantas Club lounge to grab some breakfast, pancakes and an apple, There is already a queue in front of the gate to my flight when I return downstairs. I like T3, it’s a classy looking terminal.
|Qantas Club lounge
Our flight is packed. The older couple next to me have just returned from Dallas on the morning’s Qantas flight, currently the longest commercial service.
|Check out the colourful tractor beneath the aerobridge!
This short flight down to Melbourne is on a Qantas Boeing 737-800. It’s one of their older 737s, with fold down ceiling screens. The upholstery looks a little tired, but I’m okay with that. There’s always a sense of comfortable familiarity with Qantas.
|Plenty of space at the exit row
I stretch my legs out and try to relax. I’m tired and I’m feeling the anxiety of fearing turbulence. Why am I doing this? Flying all the way up to Singapore, staying a night, then returning the next evening? It’s crazy and it’s all last minute.
I have my reasons. Other people’s reasons.
I could have gone up a day earlier, but there were too many commitments. I should be committed.
I’m really not sure I want to do this. I know that I’m going to miss Alex and B. Even this short time is too long. Lucky the next trip is with them.
Too late, I’m committed now. For now.
|A collection of Qantas tails
We taxi out to the main runway and take off towards the south. Botany Bay, the Georges River and Cronulla fly past outside the window. Then we are up into the cloud layer that has made this a grey morning on the ground. Fortunately it is a thin layer. As soon as we poke our nose out of it the seatbelt lights are switched off and stay off for the remainder of the cruise.
|Brighton Le Sands
Below us is a carpet of white. I listen to flying music, relaxing in the smooth skies.
|Up through the clouds
The crew come through serving boxes containing honeyless muesli cereal, bottles of milk, Aussiemite cheese scroll buns (oh, I’m not even trying that!) and sachets of cranberries. I have a drink of juice as well.
|Breakfast is served
|I hope they don’t expect everyone to eat this. Maybe it’s for all those returning from the US!
Meanwhile the drop down screens are showing the news with subtitles. I haven’t even bothered to plug in my earphones, I’m enjoying the music on my phone way too much.
The carpet frays to reveal bright green fields and darker bush covered hills. Reservoirs reflect the blue of the sky, but their edges are tanned dry.
|The clouds end
I’m enjoying this flying and a have a short nap for a couple of minutes. I know it’s that short because the same song is playing on my phone when I fall asleep and wake.
Do I love flying or do I hate it or both? It must be both. On one hand there are few things more wonderful than cruising high above the earth through smooth skies. But this fear of turbulence always threatens to wreck things, along with the potential agony of spending so long cooped up in a long can. Sometimes it’s great, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes I love the escape. Other times I just want to be lying in bed at home with my family.
This is a familiar route for me and I know we have just crossed the Victorian border as we begin our slow descent into Melbourne.
As we approach the city the clouds reappear, but again they are not thick. The landscape below is a dull green-gold fields in contrast to the bright azure we have been travelling through. But it still stirs feelings of a childhood home that I’ve never lost. Of jaunts out to the airport, a rare K-mart, miniature trains and taking water samples for inspection under a microscope from the creeks that carve through the plateau.
We land on the runway through the yellow grassy fields and make our way to the terminal. It’s a strange ride for someone used to the distinct separation of the international and two domestic terminals of Sydney Airport. The four terminals are in one long row with international splitting Virgin/Tiger and Qantas/Jetstar’s domestic operations.
|Beauty (left) and the beast (right)
|So, Singapore Airlines finally plays a little nice with Star Alliance?
As I leave I switch flight mode off on my mobile and are greeted by another text message from Jetstar: My flight to Singapore has been delayed an hour.
Despite the delay, I make my way straight to the International check in. There’s barely a queue at Jetstar and I quickly obtain my boarding pass. The queue for security and immigration is a different matter. It snakes around the check in desks.
|In the queue. It stretches around behind the desks.
At least it moves in bursts, so you feel like you are making progress. That is until we finally make it inside the actual security room. Suddenly all the security checks cease, nobody is being processed. I overhear something about a lady caught stomping on one foot. Has their been a breach? Are they waiting for a Channel 7 crew to film a Border Security moment? We need a narrator, because no information is forthcoming.
Eventually the line moves again and I pass through security without any hassles. Then another queue for immigration. Finally I am free.
The process took an hour. That’s a record for me and shows that the current system can’t cope. Melbourne Airport seriously needs to fix things.
I’m not feeling so great now. I quickly make my way past the snaking duty free shops towards the Qantas International Business Lounge. It feels like it is buried in the basement and there are no outward windows. Not enough toilets either.
|No duty free for me
|This bit looks nicer
Lunch is being readied, so I find a quiet place to sit, the same place as on my last visit here in March. I can tell because they haven’t replaced the outer cover on the power socket.
I grab a small serve of mild curried chicken and rice and some coleslaw from the buffet. It’s nice, but I don’t want to fill myself before the next flight, where I have a meal included. A sour cherry tart finishes things off. Then I return to my spot. I try to nap, but it’s not very comfortable for that. Type a bit of this blog and recharge my phone.
They announce that our flight has been delayed yet further. It’s now getting late enough that I question the point of going at all.
Originally I would have arrived at Changi at a little before 5 pm. My plan was to quickly catch the free minibus to my hotel, about 15 minutes away. I would then go out for a walk along Joo Chiat Road, have a meal of satay and lime juice from a kopitiam I know, then do a little shopping at the local centre across from the hotel. I’d then have enough time to go back and relax at the hotel.
But with over two hours of delay I might not reach my hotel room until 8 pm. That’s 11 pm in current Sydney time and I’m already utterly exhausted. Sure Singapore is open until late, but I’d have to hurry on a bit and I’m not sure I’m up to it. I’m already very tired and I can feel a headache coming on.
What’s more is that I’ve got to fly back the next day. If this flight is painful, if the following day is tough, then I have no rest as I’ll be on an overnight flight back to Australia.
|A Jetstar 787 waiting
I leave the lounge to have a chat with the Jetstar staff. They want to rebook me on a flight that will fly Melbourne to Sydney to Darwin to Singapore and arrive at 9 am the next day.
I consult with the parties and we decide to quit. I can’t think straight now and I’m going home.
The effervescent Ane takes me back out through immigration which, after the massive crowds earlier, is now empty. She tells me she’s glad to be Jetstar ground staff and not a flight attendant so she can return home to her family each night. That’s what I’m doing too, a thought that cheers me up a bit.
I’m not upset with Jetstar. I almost expect delays when I fly with them. It just seems like this whole trip was ill conceived.
I’m told to get a doctor’s certificate about the headache, and I do from the very expensive GP.
Now I have to arrange to get home. I look into a train. The sleepers are sadly full, only a couple of berths free for a woman and I’m not a woman. I can’t face sitting up all night! The next day’s train is cheap and runs during the day, but then I’d need to get a hotel for the night and miss Alex and B.
The flight options are all very expensive, but for a couple of Virgin flights, so I snag one of the last seats.
I’ve got a few hours to waste now and no more lounge access. In my tired and confused state I go straight to the Virgin terminal to discover…
Maybe there’s more airside I think.
No, a couple of cafes. And one of them serves me a dreadful tuna caesar baguette.
I sit at the gate day dreaming, watching the aircraft movements in the afternoon light. The sky has cleared now and it’s the perfect time for a journey to start. But mine isn’t starting. It’s ending. I feel some regrets.
|Waiting. Our flight on the left, to Canberra on the right and a Qantas 747 in the background
Eventually we board, myself via the rear stairs. From the outside the aircraft looks spotless and brand new in shiny white. Inside, however, I can tell it’s one of the older Boeing 737-800s with yellowed lights and plugs for where the seatback screens used to be. I’ve got the seat behind the second over wing exit. I’m happy with the location, but the leather isn’t as comfortable as the Qantas cloth.
Yep, I can do a direct comparison of the two services on this flight.
The cabin staff are not as young as I remember them on Virgin, not that’s an issue mind you, and the crew seem both competent and friendly.
I’ve just installed the Virgin Australia Entertainment app on my phone and hook into the onboard wireless network to explore the entertainment options. With only about an hour in the air I’m not even going to think about watching anything other than the flight map. I do notice a soundtracks section. It’s pretty limited, but I decide to give Alberto Iglesias’ score to Exodus: Gods and Kings a go.
I’m pretty impressed by the app, especially as it has a map. More place names would be nice though.
As we taxi out to the runway I fall asleep, just as I did last time in Melbourne. Then I wake as we position ourselves for a southerly takeoff.
Once off the ground we arc around towards the north and there are spectacular views of the airport and towards the CBD. Pity the window is rather mucky.
|Looking towards the CBD
It’s a pretty smooth flight and I am quite relaxed again. The crew come through serving small packets of parmesan biscuits with salsa dip and water or juice to drink. Soft drinks cost $4 I overhear.
Qantas wins on the food front here.
The carpet of cloud returns as we pass Canberra. It looks pretty thin, so I’m feeling okay.
Then over Goulburn we start turning. You can’t always blame the airlines for delays, this is Sydney Airport air traffic control trying to slow us down. As we map an oval out in the sky I spot the high wisps of towering cumulonimbus towards Sydney and I feel a pit developing in my stomach. Surely we’re not going to fly through that?
But no, we turn east, where the cloud is thinner. Then northwards. Ah, so we are going to land from the north today, flying over my workplace. There are a few little bumps as we go through the first layer of cloud, then the second. Golden evening sunlight shines through breaks in the cloud.
As the pilots drop the flaps in a final landing configuration there are a couple of oscillations that send a small murmur through the passengers. I’ve never felt anything like it.
Then we are over Annandale, Tempe’s Ikea and down on the main runway with a hard thump.
Back in Sydney. What a pointless trip.
I catch the trains (yes, two, when it should be one) back to Sutherland. As soon as I am in the car with B and Alex I feel much better. And when I return home Alex gives me the most beautiful card. I really did miss them, even on such trip.
|My welcome home gift
We promised Alex that he could sleep in Mummy and Daddy’s bed while I was gone. So I was sent to the study while Alex and B took the big bed. I woke alone feeling greatly refreshed.
When the flight was first planned I had a vision of cruising high above the Australian landscape, maybe watching a movie on the seat back screen or doing some maths. I had even downloaded a book “Mathematical Modelling of Zombies”.
Up in the air where nobody could disturb me.
Singapore is currently three hours behind Australia so I knew I wouldn’t be sleeping in much. Instead I foresaw myself waking early, relaxing in bed for an hour or two, reading, drawing, writing. Then heading downstairs for a breakfast of original Janggut Katong laksa and kuih. And then I would be ready to start the day. Unhurried for once.
Instead I am working from home, unable to face the daily commute after the previous day’s travel. I have to get Alex ready for school. Then it’s straight to work. Relentless phone calls, emails, instant messages. No time to think, no time to plan, just a brief break to take out a dog suffering an epileptic fit and to prepare dinner for the night. Do, do, do until late in the evening.
I wonder if I made the right decision yesterday.
I need a holiday.