After three and a half weeks on the move it was time to return to Sydney. B was ready to go home, Alex was a bit homesick and missing friends and family. I could have kept on going, having no wish to return to the routines of normal life.
I had left the booking of the flight back to Sydney from Japan until the very last, hoping that Jetstar would have a sale. In the meantime Scoot had a sale offering "business" (premium economy) fares back from Japan for a similar price to economy with any of the low cost competitors. Tempting, but it meant leaving early, going via Taipei, a six hour transit in Singapore with a 2am departure time, spending almost 24 hours in travel. Plus we aren't talking lie flat beds to sleep on either, just bigger seats. Flying back on Jetstar meant extra time in Japan, plus a nine hour overnighter (easy for Alex) plus a one hour flight to Sydney from a transit stop at the Gold Coast.
No sale appeared in time, but I was surprised to see Expedia offering a cheaper fare than Jetstar, so we booked it. Unfortunately, going via Expedia meant that we could neither manage our booking nor check in online, so selecting seats required a phone call.
We missed our train from Yokokawa, home of the Usui Pass Railway Museum, back to Takasaki by a scant minute, so while B and Alex waited in the warmth of the waiting room, I explored the small town. This was the first day we had really felt cold on the trip.
The journey back to Takasaki only took half an hour and, after collecting our luggage, we were soon heading towards Tokyo on a Shinkansen, a journey of about an hour. B wanted to buy a pair of shoes to replace the pair that have been her travel companions since 2001 (having visited so many countries that they deserve their own passports), so we hopped off at Ueno station.
Shinkansen to Tokyo
We were overloaded with luggage; a big roller bag, small roller case, backpack, very full daypack, handbag for B and shopping bags of toys and treats. And guess who had to carry most of them... A lot of this was shopping from Japan and there were three people and climatic conditions ranging from tropical to single figure temperatures. But I was not happy. All I wanted was the freedom of that blue backpack, same as my last two trips alone to Japan, small enough to pass as cabin luggage if squashed the right way, small enough to carry all day if I so wanted.
There were no free lockers at Ueno station large enough to accommodate our bags and neither was there a left luggage office. So we had to drag our luggage through the narrow and busy market lanes until we found a shoe store.
Shoes bought, we dragged our bags across to the Keisei station at the base of Ueno Park. I've never caught the private Keisei line to Narita Airport. That's partly because we often have a JR Pass which includes the Narita Express and also that we usually stay in Shinjuku, which is served by the NEX. From Ueno, the Keisei Skyliner is both a cheaper and more convenient option.
Ueno Park was lit for night time cherry blossom viewing
As I was going down the escalator the overloaded roller bag tipped over, tore a paper bag apart and scattered the contents everywhere. An old lady right behind me then tripped over the bag. She was very quickly ushered away while I kicked everything out of the path to prevent anyone else having an accident. Then everyone was thrusting plastic bags at me to store the scattered goods.
The offers of help were so wonderful, but I felt very bad for the old lady, who had disappeared somewhere. The elderly are a real hazard in Japan, shoving their way forward and squeezing in whenever they can on the assumption that everybody else will make space for them (or, in the case of young Japan on trains, ignore them and hope they will go away). It is assertively pursuing respect for the aged, which must be very difficult on the declining numbers of young.
In China everyone shoves in and I give up on trying to politely move around them when carrying bags, Instead I'll join in the way the locals do and they just become part of the battering ram arsenal. But in Japan I don't think that's polite, especially with the elderly.
So we boarded the new and very modern looking Keisei Skyliner for its 41 minute ride to Narita Airport. It was certainly a different view to the Narita Express route, though night was falling and much of the ride was in darkness.
Once we arrived at Narita's terminal 2 we were greeted with a very, very long queue at the Jetstar counter. I could see from the sign that JQ26 to Cairns was cancelled and wondered if that was the reason. While Alex and I queued, B went off to explore the airport shops. It was only fair, considering that I'd had that opportunity a few months before.
Finally the queue started moving faster and we were served by an Australian representative from Jetstar who looked to be in charge. Apparently the link to their system had kept going down. JQ26 was cancelled due to the inbound aircraft being stuck in Cairns with a technical issue. Surprisingly, not many passengers had rebooked on to our flight, which was heading to the Gold Coast, indicating that Cairns was indeed their destination (there are connections from both airports elsewhere, but not between the Gold Coast and Cairns). In fact, the load on our flight was pretty light, only about a third full.
The delay was such that we were directed to go straight through security and to the gate for boarding. The security guys wanted me to unpack my daypack full of electronics and scan each item individually, though it was all done very politely.
When we were through security and immigration we made our way quickly to the automated shuttle to the satellite terminal. Then we walked quickly up towards gate 83. Around us the shops and cafes were shuttering up for the night. The delays meant that we hadn't eaten any dinner and had to time to relax prior to the flight. I certainly wasn't feeling relaxed as we began to board the aircraft.
After so many Jetstar long haul flights there were no surprises for me. If there is one thing I like about Scoot's 777s it's the 10 abreast configuration. "What?" you ask. Well, the 3-4-3 seating arrangement means that B, Alex and I can all sit in one row and I get the window seat. And they are pretty slim, so it's not squishy for me.
Jetstar has a 2-4-2 seating configuration. Alex and B sat ahead of me on the left hand window seats, while I sat in the row behind. Fortunately, I had an empty seat besides me.
The black leather seats were definitely more comfortable than Scoot's hard product, but not as good as on my recent Qantas flights to and from Narita. I had no legroom issues. Sorry Palmjet, no leg shots. I'm sure you could find a picture my hairy legs on a JQ A330 on some previous trip report.
We were late to push back from the gate due to paperwork. Once we had reversed the and crew did the safety demonstration. We had only proceeded a short distance when the captain informed us that we had to return to the gate.
"Cabin crew, disarm doors."
We actually turned and stopped at the adjacent gate.
Leaving one gate for another
Oh dear. Truth was that I was hoping for some major aircraft failure that would see us booked into a hotel at Narita for the next night and a day. It had been a tiring day that had ended poorly and I would have welcomed a comfortable bed.
The aerobridge extended and the cabin crew gathered near the forward area of the cabin.
After a bit the captain made another announcement.
"Unfortunately a passenger was caught smoking and, as per our safety and operational regulations, they have been removed from this flight. We now have to wait for his luggage to be removed from the hold."
I was seething as we were really hoping to reach Sydney before noon. Delays due to technical issues I can forgive. Such idiocy on the part of a passenger I cannot. What's the bet that they had imbibed too many Suntory Stupids and Asahi Assh0les prior to boarding? If they couldn't wait until after take-off how did they expect to survive a 9 hour flight?
We then had to sit through the safety demonstration all over again, which must be some sort of compulsory rule.
The captain warned of a long taxi to the far runway, but this was no Schipol. There were lots of colourful lights however.
Malaysia Airlines and China Eastern
This tour of Narita's tarmac did have one thing going for it: I saw my first 787! And not just one either. JAL, ANA and United. All patiently awaiting the go ahead to fly again.
More around the corner
More 787s: United, JAL and a specially painted jet?
JAL and ANA 787s.
ANA 787 and ANA Cargo 747s
At last we took off, the colourful lights of Japan shrinking below us until they were covered by cloud and we were over the water. Once we reached cruise altitude the captain came over the PA and apologised for the delay, saying that we should have a fairly smooth flight until over the equator and Papua New Guinea.
The cabin was darkened for take-off
The crew then came through with the meal service. I hadn't preordered any food and nor had we eaten dinner. Yet, as is typical for the flights home from Japan, I wasn't feeling like anything too rich, so I just ordered sandwiches for myself and drinks for us. Unfortunately, Jetstar no longer hand out free bottles of water to each passenger. Instead you have to get your own water from a dispenser with paper cups. It's a bit difficult when somebody is asleep next to you. The food and drink on Jetstar is not particularly cheap, but is comparable to Scoot.
We had brought some bakery products onboard, originally for breakfast, these sufficed for the others. Both were sleepy. B and Alex moved to the empty middle row opposite me, but ended up fighting over space, so Alex came over to sit by my side and soon fell asleep on my lap. A young lady moved up a few rows and took their window seat, though she did ask politely first.
After the meal run the crew came through again with iPads preloaded with movies, tv shows, games, magazines and kids books. Up until now I've been very disappointed with the entertainment selection of Jetstar, but starting from February they began loading some decently recent movies. I was tempted to hire one, but then I had already seen the main movie I wanted to watch, The Life of Pi, on an earlier flight with Malaysia Airlines.
Nothing was shown on the cabin screens this flight - they were switched off the whole time. I've never seen this on Jetstar before - normally it's one movie, a cooking show, an extreme sports documentary, some awful US comedy and destination information, so I actually welcomed the lack of a disturbing light show in the cabin. What I missed was the flight map, which is glimpsed all too briefly between programs. Hopefully this is just a technical issue with the entertainment system rather than a new policy, because it is yet another thing that distinguishes them from Scoot.
The cabin lights were switched off, the others slept and I was at peace, gazing out of the window at the moonlight shimmering off the ocean surface.
The Moon and sea
Not everyone was asleep
Alex and B slept almost the entire flight, but not me. I am bad at sleeping on aircraft. I amused myself by watching the soon to expire download of Source Code on my phone and episodes of Doctor Who on my Android table.
There were quite a few patches of high cloud along the way and I found the flight quite bumpy, though the seatbelt sign was never lit during cruise. Although I was not longer feeling deep dread of the turbulence, it annoyed me. This was not a relaxing flight home, but that was more due to my emotional state rather than anything to do with the actual flight. When the high clouds disappeared and we were just cruising high above the shimmering sea, then I was happy.
The Moon and the engine
The lights were switched on too early, around about 4am, to enable the serving of breakfast. We didn't order any, figuring we could just eat our left over bakery goods or get breakfast at the Gold Coast. Meanwhile, I kept peeking outwards the approaching day.
Above the clouds
Alex awoke at sunrise. He occupied himself quietly as we drifted down towards the Gold Coast.
My window was a bit fogged up
Everybody wake up!
On descent through the clouds.
I had a microsleep and missed the crossing over the coast. Years before we experienced the most gorgeous sunrise on final descent into Gold Coast airport, but not today. Just bright green rural landscapes, leading on to rivers and houses along canals and a landing on the single runway.
We exited the aircraft via stairs on to the tarmac, but I know they don't like people stopping to take photos. Besides which, we were in a hurry. We declared our sweets and crackers at quarantine, but were just waved through, completing the immigration process quickly and heading straight to the Jetstar domestic check in.
There we were told that we had missed our connection to Sydney due to the delayed aircraft. The lady at check in tried her hardest and managed to snag us the last three seats on the next flight out. I imagined burning a certain smoker alive on a giant cigarette.
We were also given $10 vouchers each for use at the airport eateries, which was a nice touch I thought.
There was a reason for our haste. It was Easter Sunday in the middle of a four day long weekend. Our dog was being housed in boarding kennel and we had been told that we could collect him today between 9am and 12pm or not until Tuesday, by which time we would be back at work. The original schedule would get us back just in time, but now there was no way we could make it.
We organised for our next door neighbour to pick him up, so the next task was to call the kennel to let them know. But nobody answered and I wasted money on answering machine pickups.
Turns out that they were actually closed during the whole Easter long weekend.
We now had time to waste. Gold Coast Airport isn't the most interesting place in the world, so we mostly sat around and ate breakfasts purchased with the vouchers.
Tired and busy looking after Alex I couldn't be bothered to do any spotting. With Jetstar, AirAsiaX, Scoot and Tiger it was low cost central. The airport is also served by Qantas, Virgin Australia and Air New Zealand.
allrite From Australia, joined Aug 2007, 2236 posts, RR: 5
Reply 1, posted (1 year 7 months 3 weeks 4 hours ago) and read 9176 times:
While waiting to board our aircraft we noticed a steady stream of St Kilda Football Club (AFL) players heading off to Tiger and back to Melbourne. Took me a little thinking to recognise them - I read the shirt logo as St KFC, the patron saint of fried chicken. They had just lost to the local Gold Coast Suns.
Wonder how they like flying Tiger, which should be Richmond's airline.
When it was our turn to board we climbed up the stairs to the rear of the aircraft. We were in the rearmost seats at the left. As the check in person had said, the flight was full and we got the very last seats.
As we waited to finish loading I watched the Scoot flight take off and thought of them perhaps a bit more kindly than when I was actually on the aircraft. Maybe because it wasn't Barry. But yes, I was still ready to do more travel, just not back to Sydney.
While Alex was getting comfortable he must have kicked the seat in front of him. The older man in front turned around and gave a long, but calm, statement that he would appreciate not being kicked behind. Fair enough, and had we noticed at the time (recall that we were all half asleep and getting comfy ourselves) we would have stopped him. But then said man proceeded to talk incessantly to a Japanese passenger beside him for the entire trip, which I found somewhat annoying. Which goes to show that you can't blame kids of flights for all your discomforts.
On all the flights Alex was absolutely wonderful, only rarely complaining about the length of the flights. Most of the time he slept, watched videos on the various devices we brought, listened to stories or played imagination games. During the trip he put up with a lot of strange and crowded places where he couldn't be his normal active carefree self, skipping along and making noise. When he grew frustrated with our dragging him along he'd ask "Do you remember my life?" But we did remember and gave him lots of playgrounds and toys and eggs to eat, even carrying chocolate Easter eggs to hide around the hotel room so he could have an Easter egg hunt. And he asked to go back to Penang with its waterslides and Japan with its amusement parks and toys, he enjoyed them that much.
Ready for take-off!
Virgins, Jetstar and Scoot flying away in the distance
Then it was our turn.
Reversing away from the terminal
Mothballed desalination plant
Bye Gold Coast
The long beaches
Back in my late teens when I was flying between Rockhampton and Canberra I used to ask to sit in the back. Even on those first overseas flights, where three seats would become two. Now I loathe it because I know that this is the bumpiest part of the aircraft. I reassured myself that I can cope with turbulence now, it was only a short flight.
Sunny skies at first
Modest leg. A little cramped, but sufficient.
The whole A320 cabin - from the rear.
Usually the domestic leg from the Gold Coast or Cairns back to Sydney is a pleasant little coda to what can be an arduous flight from Japan. Not today. There was high cloud almost the entire flight. Not only did that mean that the views weren't great but also that the flight was continuously bumpy.
I was very glad to penetrate that cloud layer for our descent into Sydney. We crossed over the green of the Hawkesbury region, then swung out across the northern beaches. The captain informed us of the weather conditions and that those on the right side (not us) would get good views of Sydney's CBD. Then we headed down towards the Royal National Park before making an approach from the south across the Kurnell Peninsula and Botany Bay.
North up towards the Hawkesbury
Turning across the clouds
Cliffs of the Royal National Park
Guess who's waiting for us to land!
Welcome to Sydney! As we taxied I stared across at the International Terminal and, despite the delayed and bumpy flights and lack of sleep, despite three and a half weeks away from home, all I wanted to do was jump on one of those aircraft and fly out again. I realised then why I love that terminal, why I love those planes so much. It's the departure, that sense of heading out on adventure, of escaping from the mundane into the unknown.
Parked for a while
Take me away again!
As this was Sydney, the congested city, of course we had to wait for a gate. Then there was confusion as to whether rear stairs would be used. Eventually, to our disappointment, they weren't.
This being a domestic flight there were no hassles upon arrival, just collect our luggage and catch a taxi home for a fare greater than some of our flights. Being an Easter Sunday everything was quiet, dinner was ingredients bought from a petrol station convenience store, the supermarkets being closed. As I relaxed in the sunny warmth I heard the sound of jet aircraft overhead and dreamed of holidays once more.
So now that the flights are all complete, what did I think of the airlines?
Scoot was definitely my least favourite of the five airlines. They aren't bad, just bare and Barry was annoying in his persistence at making me fly with him. I found the seats uncomfortable, the entertainment lacking, the extras expensive. But the service was okay and we arrived without hassle. It just feels like you get what you pay for - the barest essentials to take you from A to B. Despite having plentiful examples of over low cost carriers to learn from Scoot have the feel of an airline started in a rush without many of the standard features in place that other LCCs offer.
What I really disliked were some of the departure times - too early, too inconvenient with no online or early check in. My feeling is that Scoot works better for its home market than Australians. I would fly Scoot again if the price was right, but only if they were significantly cheaper. Even then, they might be too inconvenient to consider. Give them time.
Apart from some unsmiling ground staff and automated check in hassles I had few issues with our AirAsia flights. They were reasonably comfortable for short haul, their cabin crew cheerful and onboard offerings were reasonable with decent prices. To top it off they managed to arrive ahead of schedule twice. I do wish they'd use aerobridges though. Apart from that I really couldn't complain.
My Mother-in-Law and her Anglo friend flew AirAsiaX in premium and standard class and I asked them for their opinions. He found standard a bit tight and uncomfortable (he finds Jetstar economy the same). Premium was nice, but he thought there wasn't enough space for his feet in the recess. Mother-in-Law actually liked the food. Normally she hates airline food. Considering her tastes however, I wouldn't necessarily treat it as a recommendation.
MASWings provided a decent regional service comparable to that I've experienced in Australia. The Malaysia Airlines flight was excellent and up to the standards that I would expect of a five star airline. If only they can apply this kind of consistency across their network and fleet I would be more than happy to fly them again. But they have to prove it to me on long-haul first. Again their ground staff was not up to scratch, stuffing up our seating and not be sensible enough to realise it.
After so many flights to so many adventures with them over the past seven years I know what to expect from Jetstar, so it's difficult to be unbiased. Plus they are Australian, so there's a reassuring familiarity of culture and language when on board. You might think I was upset with delays, but I have experienced a number when flying Jetstar to and from Japan. It doesn't really bother me that much because I try not to have that level of urgency when on holiday. I have a sales rep friend who hates Jetstar. His company forces staff to travel on the cheapest flights and frequently that means Jetstar. In my opinion that's a foolish policy. LCCs often have less network slack and frequency than full carriers so its more difficult for them to recover when things go wrong. I've learned through experience that the little things you can do without on holiday can make a big difference when travelling on business and help make you more productive.
Given that we were delayed I never felt that the situation was out of control. Information about the delay was supplied, connections were rebooked without passenger intervention and meal vouchers were handed out. I never felt that we were left to fend for ourselves. The seating was relatively comfortable, the entertainment options there, the food okay and the cabin crew are usually cheerful and helpful enough. So I'm happy to keep flying Jetstar.
Four countries, nine airports, nine flights, five airlines, five aircraft types in three and a half weeks. By the standards of A.net those are not amazing statistics, but for a four year old boy it's not bad at all. Naturally, the best flight experience was with Malaysia Airlines on their new 737-800, but considering that they were the full service airline in a mostly low cost carrier mix that's comparing apples with oranges. For the most part the low cost carriers were perfectly okay, though not as comfortable as their full service equivalents. What they have succeeded in doing is to permit travellers to hop around Asia for a reasonable price rather than being stuck to single destination itineraries.
I hope that you've enjoyed this latest trip report series and I look forward to sharing more trips in future. To read more about the trip and to access photos please see my blog.
dirktraveller From Singapore, joined Jan 2011, 623 posts, RR: 2
Reply 4, posted (1 year 7 months 2 weeks 6 days 17 hours ago) and read 8219 times:
Great ending to your around Asia trip on board Jetstar. I can see that Jetstar is offering better seats in Economy than Scoot or Air Asia X with regular 2-4-2 seating arrangements.
Having flown several LCC including Air Asia, and Mandala (a Tiger Airways subsidiary in Indonesia), Jetstar is still my favorite LCC so far. Although most of my trips are operated by Jetstar Asia. Last year I flown a flight before on board JQ from SIN to MEL and found them great for a long-haul LCC.
Nice pictures of your transit in OOL, bring back some memories of my trip back in 2006, on a DJ B738 from OOL to SYD. Back then there is not much activity in the airport, and not even a single wide-body at that time (unlike now where Scoot 777 and Air Asia X A333 are common view). Great to see the considerably tiny OOL could host more international routes to Gold Coast, I hope they can expand even more in the future.
And I voted for your pictures at Qantas "What a wonderful world" competition. Good luck!
allrite From Australia, joined Aug 2007, 2236 posts, RR: 5
Reply 6, posted (1 year 7 months 2 weeks 6 days 6 hours ago) and read 7600 times:
Quoting dirktraveller (Reply 4): Last year I flown a flight before on board JQ from SIN to MEL and found them great for a long-haul LCC.
It's good to see someone who doesn't come from Australia agree... as I say I can't help but be biased.
Quoting dirktraveller (Reply 4): Nice pictures of your transit in OOL, bring back some memories of my trip back in 2006, on a DJ B738 from OOL to SYD. Back then there is not much activity in the airport, and not even a single wide-body at that time (unlike now where Scoot 777 and Air Asia X A333 are common view). Great to see the considerably tiny OOL could host more international routes to Gold Coast, I hope they can expand even more in the future.
Thanks! OOL was the second place we flew to on Jetstar. We were there later when they redeveloped the airport (there's a trip report somewhere about it). It's a pretty place to fly into but the international airside facilities are a bit poor with no aerobridges. The facilities are not great for generating that buzz about flying overseas - I prefer Cairns in this respect (though the domestic terminal has no views).
Quoting SeaMeFly (Reply 5): sorry, dude, it is only for Australian residents which I'm not ;p lol... best of luck!
Thanks, and it's okay. I have no hope anyway. Today's task - finish off that Jetstar competition video!
palmjet From United Kingdom, joined Nov 2001, 1223 posts, RR: 17
Reply 7, posted (1 year 7 months 1 week 21 hours ago) and read 5346 times:
Thanks for your final instalment.
Quote: The offers of help were so wonderful, but I felt very bad for the old lady, who had disappeared somewhere. The elderly are a real hazard in Japan, shoving their way forward and squeezing in whenever they can on the assumption that everybody else will make space for them (or, in the case of young Japan on trains, ignore them and hope they will go away). It is assertively pursuing respect for the aged, which must be very difficult on the declining numbers of young.
Oh no - what a disaster. Your comment reminded me of my time in Taipei and it was common there for the elderly to push and shove their way onto public transport all the time under the guise of simply being "older" and that everyone else just had to make space for them. Some of the behaviour I witnessed was plane rude and I don't care how old they were.
Quote: Sorry Palmjet, no leg shots. I'm sure you could find a picture my hairy legs on a JQ A330 on some previous trip report.
Sadly this is why it's taken me so long to reply to your last instalment. I've been depressed.
Quote: When he grew frustrated with our dragging him along he'd ask "Do you remember my life?" But we did remember and gave him lots of playgrounds and toys and eggs to eat, even carrying chocolate Easter eggs to hide around the hotel room so he could have an Easter egg hunt. And he asked to go back to Penang with its waterslides and Japan with its amusement parks and toys, he enjoyed them that much.
How cute! I am going to remember that "Do you remember my life?" quote. I think I could use that as well sometimes.
Quote: Cliffs of the Royal National Park
One of my favourite vistas when arriving into Sydney. Always.
Quote: Modest leg. A little cramped, but sufficient.
And I was about to slump out of my depression, if for a second!
Thanks again - really enjoyed following along this journey with you.