Once I’m on the NEX I can relax, pull down the tray table and eat some of the snacks as we smoothly say goodbye to Tokyo. I note the new very tall Skytree tower, standing proudly in the clear air.
As we race along I listen to music and reflect on this trip, short as it may be. Was it worth it? Oh yes! I have seen such beauty on my long rides through the countryside and discovered new places worthy of return visits. Three days is not long enough, but I feel like I have made it count.
Unfortunately, this run of the NEX doesn’t stop at Narita city, only the airport. Two railway companies serve Narita, the private operator Keisei and JR East. My pass only covers the latter, but services are not frequent enough that I feel entirely comfortable returning to Narita city before checking in.
The Qantas check in desks won’t be open for another 45 minutes, so I use that time to explore the landside shopping and food area. Boxes of strawberry cheesecake and wasabi Kit Kats tempt at the Japanese sweet shop, but as it is cash only I go for the more exotic wasabi (wrong choice now I taste it). Nothing else really takes my fancy.
From a glassed in area near the Japanese restaurant quarter I can spot my Qantas 747 parked in the distance, Jetstar and AirAsia A320s parked on the tarmac.
I head out to the southern observation deck and watch a couple of JAL and ANA flights land, the automated yellow shuttles taking passengers to the satellite gates. It’s not particularly exciting or scenic.
When I return inside I can hear some lounge singing at the “Skyrium” down on the check in floor. I join the short queue at the check in desks as they open for service and quickly pick up my boarding pass. Then I say goodbye to my rented wifi router as I drop it into a parcel and place it in the letterbox.
Looking outside I see that it is now getting dark, a thin Moon rising by the control tower. I check the timetables but it doesn’t feel like a visit to Narita will work out now.
Despite the cool fresh air outside it feels too warm and stuffy inside the terminal and I am have my familiar upset stomach. Knowing that the food airside is more limited I return to the mezzanine level to search out a restaurant. Expensive salty noodles and fried tonkatsu is not what I hunger for right now, nor is raw seafood. I could eat Western, but this trip is too short for that! I eventually relent and have an unmemorable tempura udon and melon soda.
No sense waiting any longer, I pass quickly through security and immigration. They don’t even want me to remove my transparent toiletries bag from my backpack, only the laptop.
The stuffy air has left me feeling sweaty. I know that I’ll have a full day ahead of me when I return to Sydney, so I pay Y1000 to use the shower facility for a half hour. Day rooms are also available at Y1500 for an hour, but that’s now getting too expensive.
Inside the bathroom is a change area, automated bum washing toilet and shower and bath combination. Towels and toiletries are provided. The shower feels great, and I even have a short bath, seeking to be as relaxed as possible for my flight. A wall mounted fan helps in the drying process and my half hour allotment is almost up when I depart.
I wander the duty free electronic shop “Akihabara” for a while, then use the free NTT internet cafe for a while. A weather map shows that typhoon is still tracking somewhere off the coast and I hope that I won’t experience any consequences on the flight.
The automated train takes me across to the satellite gates. I can see my Qantas 747 parked at the gate besides a Jetstar A330. I’ve caught them both; it is all so familiar. Once across I browse the duty free once more, for no good reason as I am very unlikely to buy anything, though a USB humping animal is tempting. Just what I need in addition to a USB missle launcher and fridge at my work.
As I queue up at the gate I joke with a sales manager from Cochlear about pointless celebrities on the television screen. We both work and live in similar areas and shared daily commute experiences.
Boarding was done in blocks, with economy passengers in rearwards seats entering first. I was in the later group. When I finally boarded I found people incorrectly in my seat – yet again! But what a nice surprise about the seat. A refurbished 747 equipped with my favoured A380 seat! Prior to stuffing my backpack in the full overhead locker I removed my USB charger and other things I might need for the flight.
For the first time I was in the “red seat” section. Yes, even the refurbished 747s have different coloured seats now, with a green section behind me, familiar from four flights on the Qantas A380. Their shells are sexy carbon fibre and without a bag at my feet I was free to try out the netted footrest. Not that great for me, but as a whole the seat itself was very comfortable.
This time I had two passengers in the seats next to me and the load was very full, so no “lie flat” experience on this flight.
The overhead storage bins had also been changed from the boxy versions on the old 747 to wavy curves. While it appears more spacious, to tell you the truth I think I prefer the old version’s solidity and hint of a different era of travel, which you could still see in some of the lighting.
Now to play with the entertainment system. The widescreen is better than on the previous 747. I notice that, unlike on my A380 flights, there was no combination handset/telephone and that we just relied on the touchscreen functionality. I actually used the handset once to send an SMS/email to my wife. The lack of a keypad controller also impacts greatly on the types of games that can be played on the system. The last thing you want is someone trying to play an arcade game with a touchscreen on your headrest! Finally, it means that there is no keyboard to edit documents, despite the USB entry in the IFE saying something about the ability to use productivity applications.
For this flight none of those factors was of concern. I just wanted to select some music! There was a bigger and different range of choices than on the previous flight, but again most of the soundtracks were pop tracks or musicals! There was Ennio Morricone’s The Mission, but that’s not really “flying music”. Yes, there was John Williams, but it was his adaptation of Fiddler on the Roof, not original music. Very disappointing.
At least the classical section had some interesting choices. My standard Bolero taxi and take-off music, Carmina Burana should be interesting, along with some Phillip Glass, not a normal composer for me.
Printed menus are handed out, we disembark from the gate for a long taxi ride past the rainbow of lights and the safety demonstration is performed, the same as on the way up. None of the flight attendants look particularly young, but they all have that air of competency with a hint of good humour about them.
I listen to Ravel’s Bolero as we power into the black sky. Outside my window are the lights of Narita and the Japanese coast. Streets are rivers of light, colourful pachinko parlours islands of flashing colours. But soon all disappear as we leave the land behind.
The pilot says it should be a smooth flight all the way, great news that assuages my typhoon fears. Then the crew begin serving supper. I choose the Chicken Teriyaki with Rice in preference to mushroom containing Beef Stroganoff.
I prefer this airline meal to the earlier serving of noodles. The accompanying sushi is refreshing, but best of all is again the dessert, a cherry compote and vanilla mousse.
The cabin manager announces that they will be handing out surveys to randomly selected passengers and I am happy to be included amongst them.
After the tray is collected I must have fallen asleep for a little while and missed the handing out of amenities packs, as I see both my fellow passengers have one. Not that I needed one anyway. But that’s the only sleep I get. I am a poor sleeper at the best of times.
Knowing that I’ll want to use my phone the next day I want to recharge it, but in the dark and cramped environment of reclined chairs I can’t seem to guide the charger into the power socket I suspect to be between the seats. Instead I plug it into the USB socket on the armrest. Here I discover that, while power can be provided, my phone’s MTP interface cannot be discovered by the IFE system. It’s no issue for me, but others may wish to note this if they want to, say, listen to their own music. Using a FAT formatted USB stick should work much better.
These long solo flights are a rare quiet time for me, a chance to focus on something uninterrupted. With a cubicle workspace, a long commute and a young child, finding time for myself to just sit down and relax is a rarity. So is watching a movie. There is nothing to see outside on this moonless night, so I’m going to enjoy catching up on some entertainment.
The recent selections are the same as on the flight up, but there are also Oscar winner, back to 1970’s Patton. I choose Prometheus, a movie I was recently reminded about due to its imminent release on video. It’s entertaining enough, but the concept of humans as an alien species just doesn’t ring scientifically true, along with all sorts of other Erich von Daniken inspired nonsense.
Next I try watching The Avengers, but I’ve never been a great fan of superhero comics, nor have I seen the preceding individual hero films and just gave up after a short while. Though I hadn’t seen the first movie I enjoyed Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows as a piece of light fluff. I couldn’t find anything else I desperately wanted to watch, but gave the critically disclaimed The Dictator a go. The nice thing about being trapped in an oxygen starved aluminium can is that a bad movie can be okay.
The crew do water runs, but trapped by the window with snoozing passengers all around I am loathe to try too hard to attract attention. I never see the hot chocolate and peppermint tea “relaxation” run, but perhaps I was too focussed on the movie, so I order one separately. I do snag a banana when they are quietly distributed. I like the fact you can get fresh fruit on Qantas.
And so the night seems to just disappear. A brief glimpse of lights over Guam, then nothing until the first glimmerings of dawn outside of my window. The cabin lights come on and the crew come through with breakfast. The Japanese choice is Soba with White Fish and Wasabi and Egg Rice Porridge with Chicken Soboro. The Western choice is the standard Omelette with Seared Bacon, Sautéed Mushrooms and Tomato, fruit compote and coconut muffin. Much as I am tempted to try the Japanese breakfast, the fruit salad wins me over.
My high altitude desensitised tastebuds find the hot component too bland, but I could have added salt. The warm muffin and fruit salad are very pleasant.
Now I have a view out of the window to entertain me I switch the IFE over to map mode. My music selection plays in the background, a feature I really enjoy on Qantas. Outside, we are serenely cruising over a hazy peach cloudscape.
We have been making great time on a very smooth flight, but then I get my first reminder that I am approaching Sydney, the dysfunctional and congested city, as we are placed in a holding pattern over the Hunter Region west of Newcastle. We fly a couple of loops over mountains, coal mines and dams before we are finally allowed to resume our now late approach to the airport.
I later discover from a leaked and highly critical memo that too many air traffic controllers have called in sick for the Saturday.
We continue past the Hawkesbury River, past Brooklyn, and over smoky bushland undergoing preventative burnoffs. There are views of the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House out of my window as we fly west of the CBD, then of the airport below, for our approach into the airport will be from the south.
I think of all the times we have parked our car at Sutherland station, ready to catch the train to work, and watched the aircraft drifting overhead on the same approach.
The morning light shimmers off Botany Bay as we head south beyond Cronulla and begin our turn over the bush and the big coastal cliffs of the Royal National Park. Then I take out my camera and video the final descent into Sydney Airport, touching down under clear blue skies like the ones I had left in Tokyo.
There is a delay as we wait for a malfunctioning gate. Dysfunctional.
I hurry out of the aircraft, move quickly through immigration. Customs waive me through when I describe my minor declared items. I buy my train ticket, use the airport station facilities, shave and make my way down to the platform.
Have I missed my train? No, it’s just so delayed that the next train will be earlier! Dysfunctional. I am in a hurry to get back, to see my son and accompany him to swimming lessons. But as I sit in the train I think back on the flight.
What a fantastic flight it was! Two excellent flights in a row on the Qantas 747. Comfortable seats, great entertainment, decent food, fine crew and smooth. So much better than my flights on Scoot or Malaysia Airlines, better even than the pseudo business class of Jetstar. As I have said before, my flights just seem to go faster with Qantas and these were no exception. If only I could fly like this every time!
Sadly, it looks like the next family flights will be back on a variety of low cost Asian carriers as we attempt to hop around Asia, starting with Scoot to Singapore again, suffering the terribly uncomfortable seats for such a low fare, though there is almost no way we will be booking with them for the night flight back. That is the problem of trying to fly with three passengers: it gets expensive, especially when you have the option for flying more legs for half the price of a family return ticket. Still, I will do my best to fly with Qantas again, especially on their 747, because they make flying fun.
I’ve had a wonderful, if all too brief, adventure in Japan. Now it is time to go home and be with family again. And plan the next trip!