The winds of Ita

So here we were at Kansai International Airport and it was time to fly home. Though the maps had shown Cyclone Ita drifting down the coast, weaker now but still disturbing the skies and land, still in our path, my terror had lessened.

After a period of quietude last year had seen the return of turbulent skies. The last three months of last year were the most turbulent on record for Sydney and I had read of severe incidents. My fear of turbulence, once in remission, had started to return. But now I was equipped with the knowledge that I could cope, could recover, had even skirted a typhoon before and survived. And a good night’s sleep had helped as well.

Though the Jetstar check in had only just opened the queues were already long. I went to the business desk, but was almost last and all the window seats had already been taken. The system hadn’t let me reserve seats in advance. I had one bag to check in. My backpack, cabin luggage on the way up, was now full of refill sachets of shampoo, conditioner and body wash and too heavy now. I had brought a fold up bag to store my electronics and crackers for the cabin ride home.

While Mum waited in the economy queue I posted my mobile wifi router back to the rental agency. Once she had finished we went down a level to help her shop for last minute gifts and get dinner.

She bought toys at the Harajuku Toy Store outlet and I couldn’t help but get a soft toy cat bus from “My neighbour Totoro” for Alex. We had only just watched that Studio Ghibli movie.

My stomach is always unsettled before a long flight and never feels like Japanese flavours. So I took Mum to a western cafe and we ate tiny pizzas, though I encouraged her to try Japanese style pasta, which uses ingredients like soy sauce and mentaiko. I knew that a larger meal awaited me on the flight anyway.

That took up most of our time. We passed through security and immigration, walked straight past the luxury duty free stores and caught the automated shuttle out to our gate. There was enough time for a trip to the bathroom for one last dose of bumwashing goodness, then it was time to board.

I was in 2F, an aisle seat but at least adjacent to the window seat. Far forward, so more affected by turbulence than Mum’s seat near the centre of gravity – the engines. An elderly Japanese retiree who resided on the Gold Coast sat next to me. He had to return periodically to Japan for prostate cancer treatment, which was subsidised by their government but not by his compulsory medical insurance in Australia.

We were asked for our meal and drink choices from the supplied menu, handed glasses of champagne or orange juice.

As we took off I could see the bright lights of Japanese cities beneath us, of another airport on an artificial island at Kobe, then it was up into darkness.

The first few hours of the flight were reasonably smooth. I chose the teriyaki cod for dinner, found the meal too large in quantity and a little overcooked, though the tomato soup was nice. As was the Movenpick ice cream – desserts go down very well in flight.

Though iPads with videos had been handed out as entertainment I was pleased to see that the cabin videos were switched on with flight maps in between programs. I watched The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, knowing it to be both watchable and long.

I knew we were approaching Guam as the flight became rougher, lots of high cloud and probably storms as well. There were patches of calm and, peering over my sleeping companion I could see as flying high over a carpet of cloud illuminated by moonlight. My face would be glued to that window if only I was sitting there!

Then we would hit another rough patch.

I tried to sleep, had short naps, but anything longer eluded me despite my exhaustion and relative comfort in the broad business seats. We crossed bumpy Papua New Guinea, then were served a breakfast in the dark as we approached Queensland.

I just had the soft warm bun and fruit, rejected the cereal and yoghurt. It was rough and I didn’t want bowls and milk splashing everywhere in case of a big drop.

Things did get rougher, even as dawn arrived, and I could feel the winds outside. My movie was over so I just listened to classical guitar on the iPad until the collected them. The captain, the same moustachioed bloke who had piloted us on a previous flight where he announced half time State of Origin scores, finally came over the PA to tells us the weather at the Gold Coast and hope that we got some sleep despite the bumpy flight. But at no time other than at take-off and landing had he switched on the seatbelt lights, which was some reassurance.

As we descended into the Gold Coast I could feel the aircraft being lifted upwards and then the inevitable drop. I hated it and my seat companion could see me bracing for each drop. I couldn’t wait to be on the ground, but I hoped that my Mum had good views of the beaches on descent, as I was on the wrong side.

I was so relieved to be on the ground. There are no airbridges at the Gold Coast Airport, so I had to walk down the stairs and wait for Mum inside. It took ages for our checked luggage to be delivered on the belt and for the first time in a while Quarantine wanted to check my bags.

We then had to check in for our domestic flight to Sydney. I was glad that this was only an hour, especially as we were seated near the rear.

There was over an hour before our departure, so I took Mum to the Qantas Club. It’s not large nor particularly interesting, the food is quite limited and there are no views. But she got her coffee and me some snacks. More importantly, it had showers. I had packed a change of clothes and some toiletries in my bag, so I emerged feeling much more like myself.

When we left the lounge we found ourselves at the end of a long queue to board the aircraft. We filed outside and up the rear stairs of the Jetstar A320 and took our places towards the rear of the aircraft.

After that descent I was not looking forward to this flight, and it was not helped when the pilot warned us of a few bumps.

It turned out to be quite a pleasant flight, with the only real turbulence on descent into Sydney. I gazed out the window and listened to “flight music” on my mobile phone, even had a short sleep. Our tickets included $5 worth of food, but I wasn’t hungry, so I asked for a can of Pringles which I took home for B and Alex.

It was a bit of a shock when at the Gold Coast and on this flight to be confronted by “bogan” Australia again, the angry tattooed men and women and foul mouthed youth. I had to remember to say “excuse me” rather than “sumimasen” again.

There was a rainbow beneath us as we descended across Sydney from the north. It was a long taxi from the third runway, then another wait as they attempted, then decided not to disembark from the rear as well as the front of the aircraft.

A quick exit out of the airport, this being domestic, faster checked luggage collection and a long wait for a train – Sydney on a weekend. At least the trains were running, I suppose.

A train ride, a short wait and then there were B and Alex to pick us up. And what a delight to see them again. I’m glad I took my Mum to see Japan, but I’m looking forward even more now to taking B and Alex there soon.


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