I’ve travelled a lot. Certainly, I’ve travelled a lot more than most Australians, if not most people. In a little over 17 years, I’ve managed to visit about twenty countries and go on over 80 aeroplane flights.
So, in honour of the fact that I’ll be boarding my 82nd aeroplane tomorrow and heading off on a 30-ish-hour flying marathon, I thought I’d write about my experiences with air travel.
If one thing’s to be said for air travel, it’s fast. At least, once you’re in the air, it’s fast. Anyone who’s flown will agree that travel time can be doubled just in check-in time and transit alone. But it’s certainly quicker – if not necessarily easier – for Australians to use aeroplanes to visit other countries – especially since, apart from the Hutt River Province, all other countries are overseas.
But I’m going to start off with some good things, before I get into all the nightmare-stories I have collected over so many flights.
My favourite airport is Singapore Changi International Airport. It’s seriously got to be one of the biggest airports in the world! It has (at least) three terminals, connected by a “sky train” – that is, a very fast bullet train. The inside of the airport includes countless restaurants, enough shops to form more than one American-sized shopping centre, an indoor adventure playground, a swimming pool, a hotel, a pond or two with koi, and generally anything else you could possibly want during your stopover.
My least-favourite airport is a tie between London Heathrow and KLIA. But I’m going to give Kuala Lumpur the benefit of the doubt, because I was there roughly between eleven at night and four in the morning, which would more than account for the complete lack of anything to do, and say that Heathrow is my least-favourite airport. With constant construction work, grouchy customs officials, and food that poisons you (I’ll get to that later), it’s a recipe for disaster. Unfortunately, it’s also the major port of entry into England.
My favourite airline is Air New Zealand. They’ve got a lot going for them, with friendly staff, good food, hilarious safety videos, and surprisingly clean toilets. I’ve flown Air New Zealand a number of times, both on long-haul flights (Auckland to LA, 11 hours, and Vancouver to Auckland, 14 hours), as well as shorter flights (Adelaide, Auckland, Christchurch, Sydney, and variations thereupon, none more than 5 hours). I don’t think I’ve ever come away from an Air New Zealand flight displeased with the service. The only incident we’ve ever had with them involved another passenger who didn’t speak English.
My least-favourite airline is US Airways. I only had two flights with them, but they were both pretty disastrous. As if hanging around in American airports, with their unintelligible announcements, oversized cabin baggage, and ridiculously strict security, wasn’t bad enough, you then board an aeroplane which looks as though it came from the dark ages (or at least the 1970s), with no in-flight entertainment system and some very frightening-sounding engine noise, manage to find a space amongst everyone else’s full-sized suitcases which they somehow managed to bring on as carry-on luggage, and then to top it all off, you’ve got to pay for your food and beverages.
One of the best long-haul flights I’ve ever had was from Vancouver to Auckland. It’s probably one of the longest, too, and it’s sort of surprising that it was so good, considering I was running on very little sleep, and it was my 7th flight in three weeks. Then again, maybe the lack of sleep was why it was so good. I had both the window seat and the middle seat (well, it was empty), so I could stretch out a little, lean on the window, and
sleep for most of the flight.
While most flights are somewhat unremarkable, I’ve had some pretty bad long-haul flights, too.
One of them, from Auckland to LA, I was in the middle seat. I can’t sleep if I don’t have something to lean sideways on, so I got maybe an hour – at best – of sleep on that one. But that’s not as bad as some of the others.
Once, coming back from England in about 2007, my sister and I both came down with food poisoning after eating Chinese at Heathrow Airport. The two flights back blurred into one another, twenty-three hours of complete misery spent almost entirely in the toilets.
Another time, also coming back from English, this time in 2009 with just my father, said father had the oh-so-brilliant idea of lying down on the floor to sleep. His thinking was that that way, we could both stretch out. Except, seriously, have you ever tried lying down on a row of three economy-class aeroplane seats? Ridges and bumps and armrests all over the place. Thanks, but no thanks. It’s more comfortable just to sit up, lean against the window, and stretch your legs out. Except I couldn’t, because my father was lying on the floor. And then an air hostess came along every half hour to tell him he wasn’t allowed to be on the floor.
And then there are those delightful little incidents which happen every now and then when flying.
Like the time, when I was perhaps seven or eight, when I boarded an aeroplane only to find a used puke bag, complete with a substantial amount of vomit inside, in the pocket in front of my seat.
Or the time, when I was about five, when our flight was directed around the middle-east, resulting in us being so late for the connecting flight in Copenhagen that they had to hold the aircraft and all but clear the halls so we could be rushed through to make the connection.
Or when you’re at the end of a ten-hour flight, and you’re told that you’re going to have to circle the destination city for an hour due to weather conditions.
Or when you’re not allowed to check in because you arrived fifteen minutes too late, so you’ve got to get on the phone to the airline for an hour to get your tickets swapped over to the later flight, which is then delayed by seven and a half hours… again due to weather conditions.
But there are also little things which make you think remember how enjoyable an experience air travel can be. I’m not kidding.
Once, we had the same air hostess for a second long-haul flight, about three weeks after the first. She remembered us and came over to say hello, and brought my sister her cup of ice.
When the aeroplane was delayed by seven and a half hours, they put us up in a very posh hotel during the unplanned stopover, and then gave us $10 worth of free food on the subsequent connection.
When I was about five, perhaps a month after 9/11, my sister and I were invited into the cockpit by the pilot.
And, as with everything, there are a lot more nondescript, uneventful flights, than there are very good or very bad ones. I just hope my ramblings have given you a little insight into the world of international travel. Stand by for the next instalment, which I will post from Hong Kong International Airport.