The Whale And The Elephant Pt 1: QF A380 SYD-SIN
The Whale And The Elephant Pt 2: QF 747 SIN-LHR
The Whale And The Elephant Pt 3: QF 747 LHR-HKG
At last we reach the final leg of the journey...
Four hours later I was awake and down in Citygate buying half priced shoes, clothes for baby and wife. Then off to Hong Kong Island and Pacific Plaza for more clothes for my wife and a swimsuit for me. I could see the hotel swimming pool out of my window and wanted a swim! It's a fair ride by MTR train to downtown Hong Kong and requires changing trains.
I was hungry, so I rode the MTR to Yau Ma Tei in Kowloon for that classic Nathan Road view of Hong Kong's neon and tenements and a really bad meal of chicken and noodles. Plus a ginger custard at the Yee Shun Milk café. It was dusk now and I was looking forward to a quick swim and a rest before tonight's flight.
When I finally got back to the hotel room I took out my boarding pass just to confirm the flight time. It was then that I discovered that I was wrong about the boarding time. It wasn't 10:20pm, it was 8:20pm! I had to get to the airport NOW! So much for the swim! I rushed to stuff everything back into my bags and raced down to the lobby. Fortunately I just made the minibus and the Qantas departures area was the first stop. Also fortunate that I already had my boarding pass.
Security was painfully slow and as I reached the gate the PA was already stating "Final boarding call".
AIRCRAFT: Boeing 747-400
I wasn't the last to board. My name has only ever been called once before and that was due to a train fan of a cousin needing to take me the long way to Adelaide Airport via the passenger train terminal.
Once down that aerobridge and into my seat and I could relax once more. So much for exploring Hong Kong Airport!
The first thing I noted was that this Qantas 744 hadn't been refurbished. It still had the blue seat covers , no premium economy and no first class either. I didn't mind, because after two other refurbished 747 flights this was a change. I was in seat 35A, nice and forward. I was a couple of rows behind where the centre rows began, behind the stairs to the upper deck. I like the spot, again it gives you that sense that you are on a large aircraft.
The flight was fairly empty, with plenty of empty middle seats. Our departure was delayed while the pilot waited for refueling paperwork to be completed. I was still exhausted and actually nodded off while we waited.
Eventually everything was ready and we disembarked from the terminal, heading off across the field of colourful lights that is an airport at night. I paid cursory attention to the safety demonstration, utterly familiar now with the aircraft. Then, without much ado, we powered up into the dark night skies.
As we took off there were some wonderful views of Hong Kong city at night. Then we entered cloud lit up by the lights of the aircraft.
The captain switched off the seatbelt sign and immediately there was the clack-clack of many belts released, despite the warning that they should be left on at all times when the passengers were in their seats. The next night a Qantas A330 hit turbulence en route from Hong Kong to Perth causing a few injuries amongst the passengers and underlining the seatbelt requirements.
Fortunately, although the first few hours were a bit rough, we suffered no similar experience. I had been a little nervous, for in the lobby of the hotel had been a level 1 typhoon warning - a possibly approaching typhoon.
Despite the distance from the typhoon on the map I wondered if we had hit some of the outliers of the weather system when, less than half an hour into the flight, a spectacular lightning show became visible out of my window. Many inter-cloud bursts flashed not that far away. But our flight, as it had been on all other legs, was unperturbed.
Dinner was served, either a braised chicken in tomato and lime sauce with parsley potatoes or pork in a sweet bean chilli sauce with egg noodles and asian greens. I ate the chicken, as the lime sounded nice. The meal was accompanied by a cucumber and snow pea salad, a bun, a Tim Tam, and finally a dessert that I could fully appreciate; a mango, sago and pomelo soup. Nice meal, much better than the one I paid for in the restaurant (that's what you get if you eat along Nathan Road. I was in a hurry, okay).
The rest of the night was spent in a fugue state, listening to my mp3's (I had purchased another pair of noise cancelling headphones in Hong Kong) and occasionally drifting off. The flight was incredibly smooth around the equator. Not once did the seatbelt lights come on, not even near Guam!
Breakfast was served as the first glimmerings of dawn appeared over the horizon. I had the scrambled eggs with bacon, mushrooms and slow roasted tomatoes (eating neither the mushrooms or tomatoes) instead of the Chinese breakfast of stir fried noodles, pork gyoza and sui mai. Yoghurt, fruit salad, a fruit bun and orange juice rounded out the tray. I was going to have to get used to eating cereal again after this flight! I enjoyed my breakfasts on Qantas as they were all very tasty.
As I was on the left of the aircraft I had spectacular views of the sunrise. It is a gorgeous time of day to fly over northern Australia, with the skies so calm and a carpet of cloud far below. I'll let my photos tell you the rest of the flight towards Sydney.
Before I knew we were on descent into Sydney. We passed through the cloud layer, but beneath us the valleys of the undulating land north of Sydney were still shrouded in morning fogs. We continued south, with perfect views of Sydney's central business district, the Harbour Bridge, Opera House, Anzac Bridge all visible below.
Our flight path actually took us past Sydney Airport, south past Cronulla and over the Royal National Park before we made our turn left and over the ocean. Down across Botany Bay, the morning waters so serene, disturbed only by the odd boat, before we touched down, back on Australian soil.
As we taxied towards the terminal I saw the Singapore Airlines and Qantas A380's parked, the Emirates bird taxiing out for its flight to New Zealand. I also saw plenty of Qantas 744's. Both types are wonderful aircraft and I had a wonderful time flying each.
I emerged from the aircraft glad to be going home to my family. Before I made it through customs I had a brief argument with a middle aged peroxide bleached Hong Kong woman who had blatantly shoved into the line when everyone else was calmly queuing. As they do, she was extremely aggressive in return asking if "I was a man or a gentleman?" I just ignored her, so as not to give her any face. What I should have done was to tell her that a polite lady would have said "excuse me". It still felt remarkably satisfying. Pity that they didn't bust her for anything at customs. It would have made a nice Border Security moment!
As I waited 15 minutes for the next train to take me home (a ride that cost me over $15) I reflected on the fact that, whatever is wrong with Sydney, it is still a nicer place than London. And it was good to going home to my loving family.
So, which do I prefer: the Whale or the Elephant? It's so difficult to say! Qantas' Airbus A380 was so comfortable in economy class and the entertainment options were a step up from the 747. Loved the tail camera too! The downside was the windows. On the other hand, the Boeing 747 had fantastic windows for sightseeing, but the seats were a bit less comfortable. Not uncomfortable, just not as good as in the A380, something that could be rectified with a refit. The A380 reached a higher cruise altitude faster, but its performance felt ponderous. You could really feel the thrust on the 747 as it powered into the skies.
One thing I am certain of is that I prefer both aircraft to the A330.
It was nice to fly long-haul on a full service carrier again after so many trips on Jetstar. I don't want to take anything away from the budget carrier, especially from their wonderful crew, but there is something really nice about a good seatback IFE and decent meal service. Even just a flight map makes a big difference.
I really enjoyed my meals on the flights, though I can see that the portions may be a little small for some. One area Qantas needs to improve their catering is desserts. Cheap packet ice creams don't cut it for me, especially when I've had so many fantastic desserts with them in the past. Cut the cheese and crackers, the bun, but not the dessert... please!
One item I was confused about were the amenity packs. I only seemed to get one on the HKG
leg, when I needed it least. Not that I ever really use them anyway...
It's difficult for me to say much about Qantas' cabin crew on these flights because I so rarely interacted with them. Most of the time I was off in my own little self-sufficient world, earphones on and hidden away in the window seat. When I did interact the experience was always positive and I have no complaints. The CSM's commentary on the descent into London was one highlight that stood out.
Over the past few years I have stepped out at Sydney after flights long and short and said that I wanted to give up flying, that I can't handle it anymore. Not this time! In the space of a little over a week I had completed over 40 hours of flight in economy (not that I've ever travelled in any other class) and for the most part the experience had been highly enjoyable.
So enjoyable, in fact, that I soon booked another return trip on the A380 to Singapore in August/September, this time with my whole family flying (sans dog). So stay tuned for that trip report, where I'll be able to properly contrast the whale and the elephant.
If you want to read more about my time in Singapore, London and Belgium then please see my travel blog
. You can also view the full set of photos online, plus those of previous trips on my photo gallery
If you've made it this far, congratulations! You may also be interested in reading my extensive set of previous trip reports
(not in order).
[Edited 2009-07-22 22:24:15]