Sorry about the lack of photos - I took heaps, but I'm unable to upload them at the moment. I'll try to add some in the near future...
SYD-LAX 26MAR08 ECONOMY QANTAS AIRWAYS QF011 BOEING 747-438 SEAT 72A
LAX-DFW 02APR08 ECONOMY AMERICAN AIRLINES AA2434 BOEING 737-800 SEAT 11F
DFW-LHR 02APR08 ECONOMY AMERICAN AIRLINES AA50 BOEING 777 SEAT 31A
LHR-JFK 07APR08 BUSINESS AMERICAN AIRLINES AA BOEING 777 SEAT
JFK-LAX 07APR08 ECONOMY AMERICAN AIRLINES AA117 BOEING 767 SEAT 32A
LAX-SYD 11APR08 ECONOMY QANTAS AIRWAYS QF150 BOEING 747-438 SEAT 46A
FF PROGRAMS: QANTAS FF SILVER (ONEWORLD RUBY); JAL MB; UA MP; DJ VELOCITY; AADVANTAGE
LOUNGES: QANTAS CLUB (PLUS AADMIRALS & BA TERRACES)
TRAVEL HISTORY: QF (B747, B767, B737, B717, A330, DASH8, DHC3); DJ (B737-8); JQ (A321); JL (B747-4);
UA (B747-4); AA (B777, B767, B737); LH (B747, B737, A320); BA (B747); EJ (B737);
EI (B737); FR (B737).
OK. It all begins back in January when a friend and I were toying with the idea of hiring a campervan and making our way across Australia's Nullarbor Plain and all the associated deserts and inhospitable terrain involved, when we realised that we could actually fly to America and stay for a few weeks for LESS than what our original plans cost.
Needless to say, the campervan over the Nullarbor was quickly scrapped in favour of a Boeing 747-400 over the Pacific Ocean. As the weeks to our departure drew nearer, we stumbled across some dirt cheap fares on AA.com, and with some crafty business involving an old UK address, booked some extra flights to London adding some transatlantic sectors to our transpacific trip (I say crafty business because AA still do not allow Australians to book through AA.com...)
We had no real purpose or agenda. It was our intention not to have any intentions. We decided that we would take one day at a time, flip a coin when needed, and when the money or the mood ran out, so would we. I've been to America before, but it would be a first for my friend. Regardless, we were both thoroughly chuffed when departure day came around...
26 March 2008 - Departure Day!!!
Sydney to Los Angeles, QF011 (Qantas Airways), Boeing 747-438, Economy, Seats 72A & 72B, Flight time of 13.5 hours (overnight)
QF011 was scheduled for an on time departure of 1405hrs, but as most of our usual travel is domestic, we decided to arrive early to get better acquanited with Sydney's recently renovated international terminal (T1) - and of course, the recently renovated Qantas lounge! We met at the check in desks at about 10am, where we were able to check in straight away. There was a long line in the outbound customs area (as always), but it was moving fairly quickly, which I was happy about until an aggressive and overzealous customs officer got stuck into me for answering my phone. "It's a thousand dollar fine for using that in a Customs controlled area mate!" he barked at me, clearly demonstrating that he was anything but my "mate". I apologised and put my phone away, but I have to confess that I wished several nasty things to befall him before the day was through. I'm sure that Australian Customs Officers do very important and valuable work, but there really is no need for such aggression.
Thankfully, my run in with Mr. Customs didn't set the tone for the rest of the day. We spent about an hour exploring the airside international terminal, and concluded that it just looks like an airport. Nothing special - just a lot of duty free shops. In fact, I had a hard time picking out which parts had been renovated! A lot of it looks exactly the same as the last time I was here several months ago. So at about midday we decided to check out the new Qantas Business lounge (Qantas Club members can access the business lounges on the day of travel regardless of class of travel). Again, I'm sorry to say, I was mildly disappointed!!! I'm not hard to impress - truly! - but I actually find Qantas' domestic lounges to have a nicer ambience and to be better designed. I'm "one of them" that thinks there's still something a little bit special about international air travel, and I suppose with that kind of thinking it follows that I expected the international lounge to be of a higher standard. On the other hand it was a nice experience being there with a friend and it wasn't too crowded.
Eventually our flight was called, and we were among the last to board the aircraft. It was a Boeing 747-438 with the Rolls Royce engines (I notice that some of Qantas' B747's have GE engines, and I'm not sure if this is because the aircraft specifications are different, or if they were just spreading their business around when they bought them). We were up the back in 72A and 72B - this is the section of the 747 where the wall narrows so they can only fit 2-4-2 accross instead of the usual 3-4-3. It was nice not having to worry about being trapped in by someone in the C seat, and the proximity to the toilets really wasn't a problem at all.
The service on this flight was excellent! It was Qantas cabin service at its best. There were plenty of cabin crew, who were very professional and well presented at all times. They were constantly passing through the aisles, either on scheduled meal and drink services, or just with a little "something extra". If it's possible to read the vibe of the cabin, I would say the general consensus between all us economy scumbags was that we felt well looked after. The meals were good quality - chicken pasta or something else for dinner; continental or cooked for breakfast; snack-on-Q packs at other times; and the occasional treat like ice-cream! This flight, like all transpacifics from Australia to the USA, flew through the night, so after a few hours it darkened outside and many people settled down to try and beat the inevitable jet lag that follows a 14 hour flight.
Every time I fly this route I'm amazed at how torturous a flight time of 14 hours is. It reaches a point where I start to go out of my mind with what Dr. Nick Riviera of the Simpsons would diagnose as "Skeletonitis" (it's a state of agitation where the skeleton tries to escape the body by leaping out of the mouth). I always try to avoid taking one or two of those pills the doctor gave me, but after about six hours I realise I don't have a choice. I know that I won't actually sleep (I never do in economy), but at least I get to shut my eyes and pretend to get some rest for a while.
After an eternity, we were descending into LAX from the North. There was a United Airlines Boeing 757 next to us on the portside all the way to touchdown where it landed on a parallel runway. We landed at about 10-00am and taxied the long way round to LAX Terminal 4. I noticed that there were three other Qantas Boeing 747 aircraft parked away from the terminals, no doubt having arrived a little earlier than us, being cleaned and prepared for departure later that evening (Qantas has 3 flights a day to LAX from Sydney, 2 from Melbourne, 1 from Brisbane, and some connecting flights from Auckland – all 747's - so all in all I suppose they are one of LAX’s more prominent international airlines). I noticed that nowadays they are making the pilots shut down the engines just short of the terminal building and the aircraft is towed the last hundred metres to the gate. If anyone could shed any light on why this is being done now I would be most interested!
I always love arriving into America. It's all so familiar, but at the same time very foreign. Looking at the different types of vehicles in use around the airport, as well as walking through the corridors to the USCBS checkpoint, really drives it home: "you're in America now!" Well. Yes I am, and I bloody love it!!! For me, America is a special country to visit, but more on that later. My last view of the aircraft that was, for 14 hours, both QF011 and my airborne prison, is from a window on the ramp. I imagine that those four Rolls Royce engines must be pretty damn hot right about now. Whenever I look at an aircraft that's just parked at a gate after a long trip it reminds me of an athlete, exhausted after a marathon, and it amazes me that all they need is a fuel top up and they can turn around and do it all again!
As for me, I've been awake for far too long. All I'll be doing today is crashing and sleeping...
02 April 2008
Los Angeles to Dallas Fort Worth. AA2434 (American Airlines), Boeing 737, Economy, Seats approx 10B & 11B, Flight time
What a week we had! We carved up every inch of highway within LA, AND managed to fit in a few days in Vegas and Boulder City, Nevada. We drove through the night from Anywhere, Nevada, to Terminal 4 of LAX Airport. Being utterly exhausted from this drive, we decided to standby for earlier flights from Los Angeles to Dallas, with the intention to do the same thing again in Dallas Fort Worth with our connecting flights to London.
The American Airlines staff member in the check in hall at Terminal 4 (the person who directs everyone to where they need to go to check in) was positively the nicest AA staff member I have ever dealt with. We had a great conversation about this and that, and I thought it was interesting that after that encounter I actually felt a bit warmer toward American Airlines – I guess that the staff really do make a difference when it comes to your impression of the airline. The TSA were their usual humorless selves, and after a series of incredibly inefficient security checks we crossed to the airside zone of Terminal 4.
The American Airlines Admirals Lounge was nice enough. We were given two free drink coupons, but given the time of day (and our already seedy disposition having driven all night), we left them on a table for someone else to enjoy. I was surprised that the main section of the lounge wasn’t very big. I’d always imagined any of the American airlines to be world leaders in all things to do with the service side of the aviation industry, but all in all it was a fairly average lounge experience.
We were notified with only minutes to spare that we had been successful in our standby for an earlier flight, so we rushed to the gate, underwent ANOTHER security screen (because the new boarding passes they had printed out had not been stamped by the TSA, despite the fact that we’d already been screened to get airside using our original boarding passes – it seemed like a waste of time and energy…), and were on our way.
We were all packed in like sardines. My friend and I were split up into the B seat of different rows, and there was barely room to breathe. I’m a slender 6’4”, and I could tell that Miss Thing in the A seat, and Mr All-That in the C seat, resented me being there. They held me in contempt for the entire flight, and frankly, I wasn’t too fussed on them either. I hate travelling in economy. I swear I would have booked business, but my friend has serious budget issues and I couldn’t in good conscience have left him back there on his own. The in-flight non-service consisted of the trolley being trundled up the aisle once with stuff for sale. I was afraid that if I moved to get my wallet out of my pocket Miss Thing in the A seat and Mr All-That in the C seat would huff and tsk-tsk themselves to death, so I got nothing. FINALLY! We landed at DFW, and after some telepathic “F*@% You Both” vibes going out to Miss Thing and Mr All-That, we emerged into the fresh air and freedom of DFW Terminal 3 (??).
02 April 2008
Dallas Fort Worth to London Heathrow, AA50 (American Airlines), Boeing 777, Economy, Seats 31A, Flight Time
I quite like Dallas Fort Worth Airport. It’s the sort of airport that I would fly to as a destination in its own right. It’s very big and spacious, clean, modern, and efficient. You can also tell that it’s a workhorse of a hub for American Airlines (and a few others). It was my first time in Dallas, and my first time in Texas, and I really enjoyed being able to soak up the vibe. It’s true what they say about everything in Texas being big – including the personalities! It was a shame that I was too tired to venture beyond the airport, but time wasn’t on my side either as our connecting flights to London would not have allowed us to go very far anyway. Next time I come to the USA (in May), I’m going to factor in a Texas sojourn and see the place properly. But on this occasion I was content to take the monorail type train around to the different terminals and check them out. Once again, the AAdmirals lounge was a fairly average experience (I wish they would put out food!), but there is a great view of the gates/taxiways/runways, so I settled in there until it was time to board.
My friend and I were split up again on this flight (a B777). I scored an exit row seat in 31A, whereas my friend was about ten rows back. I wouldn’t have traded my exit row seat for anything, but my friend did get incredibly lucky by sitting next to an incredibly good looking Texan, and they spent the entire flight knocking back bourbon and having a good old laugh about everything and nothing. Still, I got a decent stretch of leg room and absolute freedom to stand up whenever I wanted.
This was a pretty good long haul flight. There was a bit of turbulence at some points throughout the flight, which I absolutely loved, but all in all there was nothing remarkable about it. I got a good look at the engines while boarding, and I’m sure I’m not the only person to have noticed the obvious awesome power that these engines can generate! The swept blades look a bit menacing, but it must be an incredible feeling to push the throttle for take off. In case it isn’t apparent by this point: yes, I love turbulence; and yes, I really love turbofans. I think the engines on the B777 are the most impressive around. Anyways, moving on… The in flight service was fairly poor. The flight attendants were hardly seen or heard from at all, with the exception of a meal service. I’m sure that they work very hard, but I don’t understand how on some airlines they are always around and very attentive, whereas on others they are barely seen at all.
I’ve been to London so many times over the past few years that the thrill of seeing it from the air has worn off slightly. I am always amazed at how big it is, and how long it takes to fly over, and on this occasion the weather allowed reasonable visibility so the view was good. I don’t recall which runway we landed on, but it was a short taxi to Terminal 3, which still looks as though it’s being held together with blu tack and sticky tape. Her Majesty’s Immigration and Customs Inspectors asked the usual questions regarding my UK Ancestry visa and the time I spent overseas, and waved me through.
Baggage collection was surprisingly less painful than last time, and in almost no time at all my friend and I were fighting over the best way to get to Earls Court (the only consensus ad idem on this occasion was that £20 – or whatever it was – for a one way trip to Paddington was an extortionate rip off). We were utterly jet lagged, but in denial of the same, and I suspect we remained that way for the whole time we were in London.
07 April 2008
London Heathrow to New York JFK, AA (American Airlines), Boeing 777, Business, Seat, Flight Time
London was typically London. I had to keep reminding my friend that you can’t judge the UK as a whole on what you see in London. He was in a state of culture shock, coming from California where everything is plentiful and cheap (and warm), to a city where merely surviving on the bare essentials costs a fortune. It’s always interesting to experience something different, but we were both glad when the 07 April came around. We took a minicab to Heathrow Airport bright and early, and started queuing at the American Airlines check in desks. Within seconds, scores of people clamored to be next in line behind us. They had obviously been there all night, and perhaps were a bit upset that we had swanned in through the door to the front of the line. Nevertheless, it was a smart tactical move on our part because by the time the check in desks had opened, the line had snaked around all the way to the door (plus we had a slightly better choice of seats).
Once through security we made straight for the AAdmirals Lounge, and all I can say is “WOW!”. I was seriously impressed by this lounge. It was tasteful, well designed, and had plenty of refreshments available. I would recommend it to anyone travelling through Heathrow Terminal 3 if they have a choice of lounges open to them.
My day proceeded to get even better. Our flight was called, and as we were waiting to go through yet another security screen (the one they do just before boarding), my name was called over the loudspeaker to see the gate agent. I immediately assumed that I was being bumped due to overbooking, and was preparing myself to not be ashamed of trying to get the full amount of compensation possible. I approached the counter and identified myself. “Oh yes, Mr H – I have your upgrade to business class here – are you happy to accept?” Well, I didn’t need to be asked twice. “HELL YES! I’ll accept!”. I glanced over at my friend, who was giving me that look – you know the one – so I turned to the gate agent and said “…this gentleman is travelling with me – has he been upgraded too?”. Unfortunately, he hadn’t. I have never been offered an upgrade like that before – I didn’t ask for one, they just gave it to me – and I was damn certain that I was going to use it. My friend understood, and we parted ways upon entering the aircraft.
I have travelled in AA business class on a few occasions, and every time I have reached the conclusion that I simply can not go back to economy. It was the same this time around. In the American Airlines B777, the J cabin is configured 2-3-2, I was in the middle middle, but whereas in economy this would make me feel cramped and claustrophobic, I instead had plenty of room. The service was outstanding – the cabin crew were very attentive and pleasant. I loved the flat reclining seats – believe me, when you’re 6’4” they make a huge difference to your comfort level. The IFE was presented on a slightly larger screen – but get this – with Bose noise cancelling headphones (much better than my crummy old Bangkok bought noise cancelling headphones). All in all, it was the nicest transatlantic crossing I’ve ever done. I was so impressed by American Airlines’ impromptu upgrade that I wrote them a letter last week thanking them and promising my repeat business.
In all other respects, the flight was fairly ordinary. The plane took off, cruised, and landed without any crises. I was a bit disappointed that we didn’t encounter any turbulence on the way back, but that’s just the way the cookie crumbles. We flew over parts of the New England region and Boston, and final approach into JFK revealed a gloomy and miserable day in New York. We landed about as far from the terminal as possible, but I was OK with that, because I’ve never been to New York JFK before and we got to taxi around all kinds of weird and wonderful areas of JFK airport.
07 April 2008
New York JFK to Los Angeles, AA117 (American Airlines), Boeing 767, Economy, Seat 32A, Flight Time
New York reminds me a lot of my hometown Sydney. I’m aware that New York is bigger, more populated, and more everything, but it’s things like the ethnic diversity and general mood towards life/society. We were connecting on to a B767 service to LAX, but had to clear customs and immigration first. I felt as though the inspectors in New York were a lot more relaxed than those in Los Angeles. The strictest USCBS inspectors I’ve ever come across were those that work at the San Ysidro / Tijuana border crossing, but that’s a whole nutha story.
It was really disappointing to go from J back to Y. I would also have thought that a long transcontinental flight would have been a good enough reason to provide a decent in-flight service, but nope – it was the usual junk for sale. I had a great conversation with an elderly woman sitting next to me, who (as UCLA alumni) explained to me the reason that everyone on the plane was snickering at my UCLA hoodie jumper. It turns out that they had their “asses kicked” in football the night before by Kansas, which was some relief to me, because I thought that perhaps I’d committed some great American fashion faux pas without even knowing it.
The flight took us over the most amazing scenery. I saw the rocky mountains in Colorado, the Grand Canyon in Arizona, and all sorts of other places that made me regret packing my camera in my luggage. We approached LAX from the east, and after a smooth landing and a short taxi, pulled up at our gate at Terminal 4.
11 April 2008
Los Angeles to Sydney, QF150 (Qantas Airways), Boeing 747-438, Economy, Seat 46A, Flight Time
I’ve been reading over this trip report, and realised that if anyone has read this far, they would probably conclude that I am nothing more than a pompous windbag. So I’ll cut it brief…
We checked in early, and good thing too! We were assigned exit row seats in 46A and 46B of the B747 service from LAX to SYD. Realising that we had many hours to kill (we checked in at about 3pm, and our flights departed at 11pm), we decided to do the rounds of the terminals and compare the other lounges at LAX. We started off at the familiar territory of Terminal 4, before boarding a shuttle bus near gate 40 (or 44?) that took us around to the Tom Bradley International Terminal. Qantas and its Oneworld partners have all pitched in to design a new lounge in Tom Bradley. In my opinion, the TB lounge is superior to the T4 AAdmirals lounge in so far as the array of food and drinks, but architecturally and design wise, it’s an abomination.
A number of Qantas flights were delayed that evening, but thankfully QF150 pushed back on time. Once airborne the crew were quick to start the service. Unlike the Qantas flight to America however, it was apparent that the crew were rushing through the bare essentials of the in-flight service to get it out of the way. They were not seen or heard from again until breakfast was served some 14 hours later. To give you a further insight into the sort of service this lot of cabin crew proffered up, I dared to approach the galley at one point to ask for some water to swallow a tablet, and was given a thorough dressing down by the senior male flight attendant, and directed to the taps in the toilets!!! How outrageous is that!?! The whole point of paying an extra thousand dollars to travel on a premium airline such as Qantas is so that you can have a glass of water when you need one that hasn’t come from the same place people conduct their unholy ablutions!
On arrival into Sydney, the arrivals hall was in pandemonium. It was overcrowded to the point where visitors to Australia might seriously have cause to wonder if they have just arrived into a developing nation. It’s a national embarrassment. Add to that the overzealous customs and quarantine officials, and you’ve got yourself a headache.
I'm finishing these memoirs here at SYD T1 on May 06, as I prepare to do SYD-LAX all over again. I'll keep you posted on how things go this time around...