Xmas 2003 was going to be a very different time for me. For me, coming from a lower end of the social scale (I am blue collar and proud), and also being from the southern hemisphere, I never thought i'd get to have an authentic North American style Christmas. Now, thanks to my Canadian wife (Shannon) and my in-laws I was about to what I used to see on TV experience it first hand.
Firstly apologies for the image quality; they were taken with a Panasonic Lumix 2.0 camera, and I never envisaged these shots going into a trip report on this website, although parts of it were copied and pasted from my personal webspace. Second, it could be a long trip report so hang in there, i'll try to shorten it as much as possible.
Friday 19th December 2003
Perth - Singapore
This is going to be a long, hard flight. You never really know how hard it is until you're up in the air for an extended period! Anyway, Friday 19th of December was my first day of holidays. Shannon had already been off work for a week, and we used the day to pick up last little bits and pieces, make arrangements and get the packing done. With all of our clothes, Christmas presents for family and other stuffs, we ended up with four large, heavy bags, plus two flight bags each. A lot of stuff to haul!
We were due to fly out of Perth at 1:25am, the next morning (Saturday) and both of us we're keen to get going. As a way of having Christmas dinner, my father, Gordon, decided to take us, and his good friend Kaye out for dinner at the Lone Star Steakhouse. Turns out it was an ideal way to combat the already present nerves. By the time we finished eating, it was already 9pm, and knowing that we'd need to check-in early to grab the seats we wanted for the flight, we proceeded to make the 30 minute drive to Perth International Airport.
Upon arrival, we noted that our check in counter was not open, so we had no choice but to wait around. Dad and Kaye decided to make their goodbye's, and after a tearful farewell, they were off. The counters soon opened and we dragged our bags over for tagging and procedures for SQ 216, Perth - Singapore. Unfortunately we couldn't have the seats we wanted, but ended up with seats 40 K & 40 H. We did manage to pick up the seats we wanted for the rest of our trip. Our plane for our flights was the Boeing 777-200 (Perth-Singapore, Singapore-Perth) and 777-200 ER (Singapore-Seoul-Vancouver and return) both excellent aircraft and damn huge! To put its size into perspective, its engines diameter is the same as the fuselage (cabin) on a Boeing 737-800! Anyway, we were also checked in for our leg to Vancouver from Seoul and again was allocated the rear row, this time seats 57 A & C on the 777-200ER (its shorter on passengers, to allow for much greater range, hence the ER or Extended Range designation). Formalities taken care of, we proceeded to wander around the airport a little and headed upstairs to head for our gate. At Perth, you must enter a restricted area and pass through Customs and Immigration checks before being able to access the Departure gates. Security is getting tighter and after going through a security scan (x-rays and all) we finally made it to our gate (Gate 3), ready for boarding. At about 1am boarding began, and its at this point that i'd like to say that some people have NO IDEA of how to board a plane properly! Please, listen to instructions and wait your turn to board, instead of rushing the gate. Before the gate, security again checked our passports and boarding passes and we were good to go. We were due to start boarding or at least be at our gate at 11:55, with takeoff at 1:25. However, due to the crush of people (this flight was absolutely full in both Raffles and Economy class) our takeoff roll didn't begin until 1:45am.
Take off is one hell of an experience on these planes...the thrust is simply awesome! Even though the 777 is only twin engined, the jets make a ridiculous amount of power. Our pilot, once on the runway, gunned the engines, and you have no option but to be pinned in your seats by the sheer grunt. Our plane raced down the runway and at about 270kmh, lifted effortlessly into the air. We headed south momentarily, before making a right hand turn, giving us an incredible view of the city and suburbs, before following the coastline north and at around Shark Bay, turning slightly left for Singapore. Our plane was equipped with the old-style in flight entertainment system, with small personal TV's on the back of the seat. There's enough to do however, and it'll keep you entertained for hours. After a complimentary meal, lights we're dimmed and we all drifted off the sleep for a few hours.
The display on the PTV giving us some info..
Flight Map showing us heading out over Shark Bay and leaving the 'Big Island' behind..
A little after 6am we touched down in Singapore, with a beautiful approach. Singapore Changi Airport is simply huge...and amazing. If you want to shop, this is the place to go! There's some great things to do, and just not enough time for it all. We stepped outside to an open air area, where there's a sunflower garden. The was a humid day, but I managed to take some nice shots of the gardens as well as some of the planes parked nearby. Its very close to the runway as well, so you can always see planes taking off right in front of you.
The sunflower garden/smokers lounge at T2 @ Changi..
Planes parked next to sunflower garden (Royal Brunei, Singapore Airlines and Valuejet?)
For this trip, our flights took off and landed and Terminal 2. Changi consists of Terminal 1, 2 and the currently under-construction Terminal 3. You could basically live in this airport if you want! After finding our gate and having a meal, we boarded our next flight, bound for Seoul, then onto Vancouver, flight SQ18.
Saturday 20th December
Singapore - Incheon - Vancouver
Arrive: 12:30 (next day)
Again takeoff was a show of sheer power and we quickly took to the air. Clearing Singapore airspace, we made a slight right turn, and proceeded north heading toward the South China Sea. This leg was a day-flight and was mostly uneventful. Our 777-220ER was equipped with the new Wiseman 3000 AVOD (Audio & Video On Demand) system and I gave the unit a good workout. The system mostly worked well, although it suffers from some lag and because the unit sits in the foot well area, it can restrict foot space for the taller person (like me). Food on this leg was gorgeous. Singapore Airlines have got their meals down to an art, even for us plebs in Economy. Its well presented, tastes good and gives you a good choice. Quite filling too.
Boarding at Changi - cabin decorated for Christmas..
The line-up behind us heading for the runway
Lift off from Terminal 2
More of the airport - is that the Singapore Airforce base on the other other side of the runway?
Leaving Singapore behind...
Flight Map info....
From the rear of the cabin..
If you're a tall, big guy like me, these seats and the seat pitch SUCK!
After threading our way between the coast of Taiwan and mainland China, we approached South Korea and descended into Incheon airport, which sits not far from the DMZ. Approach is over the water, and is quite pretty picturesque even. It was quite cold as well, with the temperature at -1C. Incheon is only a new airport, built to cater for the 2002 Soccer World Cup. It replaces the old and run-down Kimpo (or Gimpo) airport, which is now mainly used for domestic flights. Incheon is extremely modern and well laid out, but the re-fueling layover there is now hectic, thanks to increased security measures. All transit passengers are given a transit pass, their names checked off a list and then asked to proceed to an X-ray machine and more security. After clearing those formalities, its upstairs to the departures level and back to our gate. We only had a one hour transit in Incheon and getting through security took up most of that time! I don't think any passengers had a chance to take a break at all. Anyway, our transit passes we're collected and we re-boarded our aircraft, re-stocked, re-fueled and with a fresh crew.
Ooh the dart just missed the target...Not far from Seoul according to the Flight Map
On the ground in Incheon..loads of Korean Air planes..then again, its their hub!
Geez its cold up here! 1 metre high and we're already below freezing...
Hold on.. *nudge* "Honey, aren't we facing in the wrong direction??"
"By gingos darlin', you're right!! OI! Vancouver is THAT WAY!!!!!"
Take off was to the south and we turned left, flying over the surrounding cities and regional area. This one event really showed how populous South Korea has become, with grids of lights, streets and roads right up to the coast. Its an amazing testament to the prosperity and economic growth of the country. Here's another thing. Incheon airport, from the air, looks like a anime bunny! Very cute. Our journey continued over Japan, but instead of turning left and following the coastline of Russia over to Alaska in an arc, we continued in a straight line, probably due to bad weather. The leg from Seoul to Vancouver is quite long, tiring and clocks in at around 10 hours. If you can grab some rest on a long flight like this one, well done to you, because a big guy like me had pretty much no chance. I think I was lucky to average an hour at all! Half the problem is that the PTV unit's often have their controller box under the seat in front of you. As a result my legroom was pretty hampered, and it doesn't help that I have large feet! Thank goodness the entertainment makes up for it a little.
Gigantic ground-based anime bunny...or just a really bad photo of the Incheon terminal
Wow, those lights are bright! Heading away from Incheon/Seoul...
Flight on the Pacific crossing was relatively uneventful, however, we did hit a few patches of turbulence thanks in part to very strong tailwinds. At one point our ground speed was 1100km/h! Heading towards the western Canadian coastline, we sat above the clouds, enjoying a beautiful sunrise.
I could stay above the clouds all day on trips like these... nearing Vancouver.
Ketchikan or Catch-you-if-I-can? Nearly there!!
That soon disappeared as we descended; it was raining, wet and miserable in Vancouver. Breaking through the clouds we were greeted to gray skies and soaked surroundings. Thankfully our landing was extremely smooth and we were able to proceed through the airport quickly. The main immigration hall in Vancouver has an amazing waterfall at one end and is a soothing way to end your journey. Officials in Canada are very pleasant too; always friendly and courteous. Waiting for our bags was a real pain and it took much longer than usual for us to pick them up. Its always great to have trolleys handy at the airport; with three bags each, plus hand luggage we had a LOAD to move! All that drama soon disappeared when we walked through the glass doors to be greeted by Shannon's Mum and Dad (Larry & Sue), with Janelle (Shannon's twin sister), her sister Linda and husband Ken waiting for us with kids Paige, Kennedy and Harrison. Talk about teary.. then cold! Stepping outside the airport, I soon realized that rugging up in Canada during winter is a good idea....as we went from 38 C in Perth to below freezing in Vancouver.
Nearly there...but its nasty outside..you can see on the seat how grey it is..
And we were going to be WAY early!
Heading along the Fraser River in New Wesminster.. oh well, at least it snowed a few days later!
Heading home was pretty much the reverse of the trip there but with some differences:
*Our plane out of Vancouver was late, due to a problem in Singapore, but the pilots kicked butt in trying to get us the Singapore in time for other connections.. Just missed it but!
* Some passenger do not realise that milling at the bottom of the escaltors at an airport gate is a safety hazard. Some unfortunate East Indians on their way home copped an almighty spray from me in Incheon for that..
* Our flight to Perth from Singapore actually had ripped seats! Whats up with that? I know the planes get used hard, but this much???
*Going from below freezing in Vancouver back to blazing hot in Perth (and arriving to one of the hottest days that year) was something nasty.. be ready if you're gonna do it, its not pleasant.
Thanks for reading and I hoped you enjoyed it!
[Edited 2005-01-22 17:08:27]