Some of you die-hard lurkers with really good memories may recall that a few months ago, I took off for a trip to Amsterdam and Turkey, and in my report on the journey I alluded to meeting and travelling with young lady from Australia. Well, to give you guys who like backstory a little of the stuff, it turns out we're having a kid together out of this little love affair, and I went down to spend a little quality time with her and the baby-to-be and do some of the medical appointments, sonogram, etc, leading up to the birth.
AA21, Aug. 29, JFK-LAX, B767-200, 6:00pm, Seat 32B (then 34A)
So it was with great excitement -- and after not sleeping for about a week, getting everything done I needed to in town before I left -- that I finally hopped in a town car for JFK airport from my Brooklyn office on August 29. My destination: JFK Terminal 9, AA's domestic operation. I was boarding AA29, a B767-200 bound non-stop for the coast. The terminal wasn't much different physically than the last time I was there; I really enjoy American's service, but I have to say that their JFK operation is looking a little thread-bare. Not in terms of service, just in terms of appearance. Anyway, there was quite a line to check in, and it seemed like they were having some sort of trainee day at the airport, because when I finally got up to a free podium it was being staffed (as I noticed others were) by not one, but two, people. The first, the trainee, was a very nice, shy girl who seemed to know what she was doing but was perhaps a bit too in her shell for a customer service job. Of course, that could have been because she was overshadowed by her trainer, this very brassy, bold middle-aged woman who insisted on explaining everything to her, having her do it, and then doing it again herself. It took forever to check me in, and you could tell the poor girl was thinking, "Just let me be and I'll get this done quicker!" I think she'll be fine, though.
I proceeded down to the gate area (thinking with sad prescience as I went through security, "I can't believe they don't want to see the notebook computer, cell phone, or CD player in my bag, but whatever"), which i basically a long finger with not much in it and very few opportunities for spotting. I only had a half-hour before my flight, so I had a quick drink at the Friday's bar at the end of the terminal (right next to my gate, 49, so why not?), and got on the plane. They actually had group numbers written on the boarding pass to board by, and when the called Group 3 I got on the plane.
The plane was the standard 767 configuration, and I took my assigned seat in 32B next to a very angry, glowering German or Dutch guy who was having some sort of existential crisis in his tight black t-shirt and dog collar necklace. One thing was for sure: I didn't want to sit next to this guy. So, as boarding progressed, I kept my eyes open for open seats, and I moved back to 34A/B, which was free. As 6:00 approached, I thought I was OK, and that I'd have 2 seats to myself. Wrong. Just before the doors shut (whatever happened to boarding closing 15 minutes before departure?) this Turkish kid, about 16 years old, comes on, huffing and puffing and wtih a ton of carryon luggage. And where does he sit? Right next to me, of course. And to make matters worse, he has not put on any deodorant -- either that or his BO had simply overpowered the forces of Speed Stick. I would have happily stuck my face out the window like a golden retriever for the entire trip, were such a thing possible.
Anyway, the only thing I could do is suck it up and hold my nose. Which I did. Thank God the door closed a minute later, and we began our taxi to the runway -- which took several minutes. On the way, I saw a lot of interesting planes, including an Iberia 747-200, some Singapore MEGATOPS, and a Northwest 747-400 as it pulled out of the gate -- just like the one that sent me off to AMS at around the same time some months ago on the trip that would change my life. Soon enough we were on our way, the jets spooled up, and we began our climb. AA's service was, as I've always found it, right on the stick; drinks service began soon after we hit a "comfortable cruising altitude" and between the maker's mark on the rocks I ordered and the extra legroom, I could almost forget the kid sweating and huffing and puffing next to me. (I thought he was going to have a heart attack, I really did. Then when he passed out for the duration of the flight, forcing me to climb over him to go the bathroom, I thought maybe he did -- not that I was going to report it and risk missing my connection in LA!)
Dinner came around shortly afterwards -- the usual chicken or pasta choice; I had the pasta bolognese with a red wine, which was fairly tasty for airline pasta, and it came with a rock-hard roll, a decent dessert, and a limp salad. But it was filling enough and edible, and for coach, well, I'm not going to complain. On the way out to the coast they were supposed to show a movie, but the system was busted (no great loss -- I never watchthe movies on planes anyway) and I wandered around a bit. Went to the back and had a Bailey's to cap my dinner off, and chatted with the f/as a bit and a woman who was burping an infant -- children are now immensely fascinating to me -- and then wandered around some more, not wanting to get trapped with my seatmate. This is the big thing about coach travel - it's fine if there's not a body right next to you. But if there is, well, it goes from tolerable nuisance to potentially nightmarish.
Finally, about 8:30 (the flight was in early) we landed in LA. I grabbed my bag and hotfooted it out of the terminal, hooking a left to the International Terminal, on the way being accosted by an old drunk black guy who was soliciting for several different organizations (he couldn't keep it straight) and told me that he could feed a veteran's family of 5 for $10 a month. Hysterical.
QF 12/AA 7364, Aug. 29, LAX-SYD, B747-400, 10:30 pm, Seat 47H
Once I made it in to the terminal, I tried to figure out what to do with my time. I knew they had a Daily Grill there, which was a favorite place for a bite when I lived in Washington, DC, so I thought I'd head up for a burger or a steak sandwich. Did I mention that my girlfriend in Australia is a vegetarian? That sort of makes me a vegetarian too when I'm down there, so I wanted to get as much bloody red meat into my system as possible. Sadly, this was closed, and I had to go get a Big Mac (just out of spite) at the McDonalds, whch I brought to the area of the bar that was open, where I washed it down with a crisp vodka martini. (Dinner of champions.) My reverie was only interrupted by my cellphone, which decided to keep ringing all through this, forcing me to work a bit more before I got on the plane.
Eventually I decided to go to my gate, and after a quick trip through security, I was in LAX's very bland international holding area. Not much was going on save for some activity at a bland looking snack bar and a whole mess of Aussie and American retirees making friends over stories of health woes at the gate. I simply stared out the window at the huge, beautiful white bird that would take me to the other side of the world. They started calling out for boarding; first the extremely lucky ones who would get to sleep in those sleeper seats, then the reasonably blessed who could at least sit in business class, and then the proletarian masses like myself stuck in coach -- it was like an aeronautical Heironymous Bosch painting as the passengers were separated between the elect and the damned.
But, as I said before, coach is fine as long as you don't have to sit next to someone directly. I took my seat, 47H, the right-side aisle in the second row of coach. A nice young lady, Tracy, sat in the window seat (she had just flown from LONDON!) and we both discussed how much we hoped no one would sit between us. And you know what? No one did, and we had the middle seat to throw our junk down on.
I know that a lot of people on this board sometimes rubbish QANTAS' customer service, but I have to say this was an able crew, led by the aptly named Mr. Wing. As we boarded, there was a very up-beat sense of, "ok, I know you all think this is a horribly long flight, but we can all get through this together" among them, and they really wanted everyone to be comfortable and happy. The plane seemed about 75-80% full, and we pulled out of the gate reasonably on time, taking off with a looooooooong takeoff roll shortly thereafter (considering all the fuel we had on board to get us to our destination).
Soon, drinks were served, and Tracy (who was on her way to a year-long assignment down under) and I had a cocktail and chatted a bit about Australia. I normally am not much of a chatter with seatmates, but I made an exception here as we were both making big forays, in our own ways, into the new world of Australia. After that, we had dinner -- I forget the choices but I had a nice hunk of herbed chicken that was surprisingly big and juicy. The money and effort they put into their coach food clearly paid off.
Really there's not a lot to say about a long flight that makes it different than a short flight -- except the service and food. After dinner I managed to sleep for about 4 hours, as did Tracy, but when we both woke up we were in the middle of a lights out period, and the cabin was seriously dark, and we thought we were a lot closer to our destination. After figuring out our watches and so on, we realized we had about 9 hours to go, and they started showing their movies. With a little light, we were able to read and occupy ourselves, and I got up and got us a couple of wines from the middle galley, where the crew was so happy for something to do that it took four of them to get two glasses of vino. I don't remember all the movies they showed, though Spy Kids (which looked atrocious) was on, as was (I couldn't believe this) CROCODILE DUNDEE IN LA. We put on our headsets and marvelled at the atrociousness that is Paul Hogan, and discussed the Faustian bargain he must have made for his staying power. Eventually some of the lights came up and they started coming through with water, and eventually, what I thought was a really nice touch -- orange popsicles. Very refreshing.
We slowly made our way across the ocean, the equator, the date line, and countless reefs and atolls. Though it was dark it started to approach breakfast time, and they came through the cabin with a sausage breakfast that was so wonderfully salty and greasy that you coldn't help but feel happy inside. We actually got to the coast of Australia a little early, and circled for a little while south of the city before the airport opened up at 6 am, landing a few minutes early. By this time I was jumping up and down to see my pregnant girlfriend, and thankfully they unloaded the plane (and the bags) quickly. A short "welcome to Australia" from the immigration inspector, a wave-through from the customs guys, and I was there.
QF 107, SYD-LAX, Sept. 23, B747-400, 10:40am, 53C
I had a wonderful three weeks in Sydney -- marred only by the horrendous events in my home town, which were beamed 24 hours a day for four days to Australia courtesy of CNN. I was supposed to stay two weeks, but air travel was so fouled up between Australia and America (and everywhere else) that I just extended my ticket, free of charge. We got to the airport three hours early, because of the fear of the security regimes, and there were a ton of people on line for the flights to LA and Honolulu that were leaving around the same time. (What with allthe Ansett craziness, it was a horrible time at Sydney airport!) Other than the line, the airport's international area seemed quite nice, with a lot of food available and good spotting opportunities. (On the way in we saw a lot of interesting planes, including Ansett's 747, grounded).
We said our goodbyes (I'll be back soon), and I made it through the first layer of security, which wasn't that much stricter -- though apparently they were randomly searching people's checked luggage. After that I made it through a second layer of security, near the gates to America, where they were searching everyone's hand luggage thoroughly and hand-scanning us with magnetic wands. (We all had to lift up our pant cuffs, too, for some reason). Anyway, the plane was late coming in from LA (because of security, no doubt) and we didn't start boarding until 10:40 -- the doors closed at 11:30. We taxied out to the end of the runway, 34L I think, which took forever, and then were airborne. There's not a lot to say about this flight, except that they served lunch, then a light breakfasty knd of snack, and then dinner right before we landed, shortly before 6 AM in LA. (A really nice spicy shaved lamb is good for economy class, but not at that hour!)
Because of the security precautions, everyone who was continuing on the QF107 service to NY (not me; thanks travel agent!) had to clear customs and re-check their bags; I cleared customs quickly and threw my bag on a convey that was to take my bag to AA to get it on my flight.
AA 2, LAX-JFK, Sept. 23, 9:00 am, B 767-200, seat 34h/k
What a difference three weeks makes. In the time since I left the states, the entire climate of the country was changed in the wake of the attack by the barbaric Islamic fascists on New York and Washington. Security was much edgier at LAX, though I made it through quickly, and the fliught boarded and left on time. And, amazingly, the flight has about 20 people in coach -- I feel bad for all the airlines and their poor employees, though the AA Crew on this flight was very friendly and service oriented, and all wearing red, white and blue ribbons in solidarity both with the nation and their co-workers who died. There were maybe about 20 people on the plane, and though I was supposed to sit next to someone, I managed to snag 2 seats on the other side of the plane, where, after a nice omlette for breakfast, I passed out until shortly before landing in a much more somber, sober New York. I took the A train in to town for some reason, and was stunned by the "missing posters", the flags, the broken skyline. But that's another report for another time.
Hope you enjoyed this report, lemme know if you have any questions.