I was woken at 5:30 by the anguished cries of my 28 day old son, hungry for his morning feed. Two wet outfits later I had to call on my wife for help while I packed my bag.
This was to be my first day back at work since my son’s birth, except that instead of catching a train to my office I was flying to a meeting in Canberra. My wife dropped me off at the station and I caught the train to the airport.
It looked like a magnificent day outside, blue skies with just a hint of morning cloud. Finally, I thought, I could look forward to a smooth flight where I could just enjoy the scenery outside. Before booking the flight a couple of days prior I had first consulted the forecast to ensure that I would enjoy a flight hopefully free of turbulence.
As I rode the escalators up from the Domestic Terminal train station and the Baggage collection area on the ground floor I looked to my right to see Gail Kennedy?, the CEO of Westpac Bank at the valet parking desk. I recalled the item on the morning news where they announced big cuts to staff at their recent acquisition, St George Bank, in order to save money and “increase efficiency”.
I had checked in online the day before and selected my seat. As I boarded the Qantas 734 at Gate 7 of Sydney Airport Terminal 3 I made the dreadful discovery that my seat, 24F, was second from the rear of the aircraft. As anyone who hates turbulence will tell you, the back of an aircraft is the worst spot to sit.
Oh well, I consoled myself, it should be a smooth flight and I should get some good views unobstructed by the wing.
As we taxied out to the shorter of the parallel runways I noticed that the Qantas safety video had changed, updated for the A380 economy seats. The first officer introduced the captain and herself over the PA, said that the weather was fine in Canberra, but then revealed exactly what I didn’t want to hear…
“Canberra air traffic control wave warned us to expect clear air turbulence below 10,000 feet so It might be a bumpy descent.”
And here I was stuck at the rear of the aircraft, trapped. There was nothing that I could do.
As we leapt into the air and climbed into the skies above I felt the yawing and bouncing of the aircraft through invisible obstacles. We turned north over the Eastern Suburbs, then South across the ocean and parallel to the sandstone cliffs of the Royal National Park.
We continued South until we turned South West across the coastline, just south of the Port Kembla steelworks, visible beneath us. We were still shaking, but it wasn’t that bad. The cabin crew were serving juice or water and a pecan and muesli biscuit that I didn’t eat due to the honey in the list of ingredients.
The sandstone ridges of the Illawarra Escarpment, pale against the dark green bush, were beneath us when suddenly the air turned bumpy. The pilot ordered seatbelts on as we hit the forewarned clear air turbulence. Too early, I thought, hating sitting in the back, hating the feeling of dropping. Why do I get the seatbelt lights on in the middle of every flight, I asked myself.
Thankfully, the turbulence was quickly over and finally I could enjoy the scenery below. We flew over blue river dams and river valleys enclosed by steep sandstone cliffs. The green bush gave way to yellow and eroded farmland.
A new windfarm appeared in the distance, near an empty lake. I didn’t recognise Lake George without even a hint of water.
In the last stages of our flight, as we dropped low over the hills before the airport, the turbulence returned with a vengeance. This time I expected it, knew that it would soon be over as I watched us the runway approach. We hit the deck with a heavy thud, but we stuck and were soon taxiing towards the terminal.
I walked past the government minister Tanya Plibersek as I was exiting the boarding lounge.
As the taxi drove me towards our corporate headquarters I knew fear. The trees around us were bending and shaking in the heavy gusts of wind. I sat in the meeting room and could hear the whistle of wind stream through gaps in the windows. Visitors who arrived after me complained of very rough flights. Checking the weather on my mobile phone I could see that, by the afternoon, this wind would stretch all
the way to Sydney.
Oh how the weather gods of Canberra hate me. The last three flights home to Sydney had passed through evening storms and turbulent weather fronts. Fortunately I was booked to sit just over the wing for the flight home, and at a flight length of half an hour I knew I could cope. But the question was, could I be bothered to put up with this unpleasant experience.
By the early afternoon I was terribly sleepy, by nights disrupted by bub. I listened to the Microsoft-aligned reps drone on, not understanding our needs, but probably doing enough to convince their adherents in the organisation. We have a good record of making bad IT decisions, decisions that take the fun out of work.
The wind was still fierce outside, would probably be another excuse for late flights. I just wanted to go home and be with my family. If I stayed any longer I would fall asleep, so I made a decision.
I excused myself and made a phone call, changing my destination to Sydney’s International Terminal.
Was I flying overseas? What flight goes from Canberra Airport to the International Terminal? The answers are no and none.
I caught the Murrays coach. First stop, Sydney International Terminal from which I can catch the train home. For an extra hour and a half’s travel I get no turbulence and no waiting around for late flights at Canberra Airport, and for 1/5 the price. Different class of passenger though. No suits.
I must warn of the taxis in Canberra. Though our offices are maybe a kilometre from the Civic Centre and on a major road, it took over half an hour for the ordered taxi to arrive at the pick-up. And that’s not an isolated case.
The coach arrived at Sydney’s International Airport earlier than the scheduled flight. An ABC Television reporter was in the process of packing up after filming a piece on the arrival home of an Australian injured in the Mumbai terrorist attacks.
I don’t know if I want to fly to Canberra again. Maybe next time we can all go down and enjoy a break at the same time. Friends offered us a spare room…