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CPT-LHR: A Sleepy Night Flight

Sun Feb 07, 2010 6:41 pm

Flight Number: VS604
Route: CPT - LHR
Carrier: Virgin Atlantic A340-600

This trip report is all about fatigue, dreaming and flying in the skies, Virgin style.

I am tired...very tired...this week in Cape Town has been full on, lots of work for many hours, lots of eating out and to top it all off, lots of drinking fine South African wine. I love Cape Town, even with the 2 hours time difference to home (6am breakfast is a bit hard for a body thinking it is 4am!!). The perception of violence and fear is no where to be seen, just a very friendly culture scenery that takes your breath away. I love Cape Town, but I am not too disappointed to be heading home to colder England, much colder. I struggle to keep my eyes open, taking in the view for the last time this trip. It is already 8.30pm, the sun starting to set behind the ever present Table Mountain and the week is really starting to grip my head like a vice...it looks like the overnight flight will be one of pillows, blankets and sleep.

Our host drops us off at the new terminal (the World Cup has encouraged building work all over the place, the airport being the main focus of concrete and architectural glamour. The terminal is clean and open, only a few souls wandering around. I actually think that there are more police and terminal staff than passengers...at check-in at least.


Our Virgin Check-in is seamless and efficient, the check-in clerk obviously used to seeing weary passengers. I wander in a trance like state towards security, again wondering where the crowds I am used to seeing at airports are located. I walk straight through security, their new scanners not uttering one tone as I shuffle through…maybe the scanner is used to seeing weary travellers and it knows a beep will wake them from their slumbered state.

The shopping area airside, again resonates with a lack of passengers. This is a stark contrast to our journey out where the whole plane (and a BA 747 flight) was full to the brim. Outside sits 2 BA aircraft, a 777 and a 747, just to the let of our elongated airbus.


I glance at my watch...8.55pm. That has to be the quickest I have ever been through to the departure area. With nearly 2 hours until scheduled departure time, there is plenty of time for a bite to eat; maybe eating now will mean I can miss the on-plane meal and then sleep, oh beautiful sleep!!

A burger and chips are the only option in the departure area, a real lack of choice is very apparent as you admire the arched roof above. The burger is very tasty and I continue to stare through dropping eyes at the BA 747 pushing back and departing for LHR…I hope their flight is smooth and we can follow in their trail….sleep is motivating my flight wishes this evening.


Time to board, again not one queue in sight. I pat the side of the airframe as I always do, saying hello to our trusty steed and my bedroom for the next 12 hours.


The crew direct me to my seat, but to be honest, I am on autopilot and find my way with little direction...exit row seat, 31J...nice. The crew glance my way and I swear I see relief in their eyes...a tired passenger load means a quiet flight for them. The announcements whisper in my ear, informing us that the flight is light so there will be a few spare seats. But we must stay in our assigned seat due to load balancing. Even in my coma-bordering state, I picture an amusing situation where everyone moves to get a better, less cramped seating arrangement and the plane tips back onto its tail!! So I stay put, trying to look alert so the crew don't move me from legroom excess of my emergency exit seat.

And so begins one of the favourite parts of flying for me. The doors locked, cross checked and crew in seats. The fuselage shudders as the push back tug takes up to load. I waken from my slumber and stare out of the window, craning my neck as if I was an exited 7-year old all over again. The sights and smells of the apron wash over me. The drone of the large RR engines coarse through my seat as tendrils of oil and petroleum filtering through the aircon above my head, I smile as a voluminous whine fills the cabin, a hydraulic pump winding up to drive the flaps down into take off configuration. Large airframes surround us, a BA 777 glimmering under the flood lights waiting diligently for her load, a South African 747 off gate all systems shut, all seeming to wave good bye to their sister, our plane.

We have a short taxi to the active runway, a southerly departure tonight, with gusting winds streaming from Antarctica. These A340-600 airframes do seem to take an eternity to leave the runway and to climb to sensible altitudes. The city lights below are almost hypnotic, dancing in and out of view as we burst through fluffy clouds. The whole world below is basked in a yellowy hue, the street lights doing their best to light up the darkness of a moonless night. We turn left, then right, then left, meandering as we claw our way to a more reasonable height. The engines continue to hum their soothing tone, bringing me out of my excitement and back into the world of slumber. The climb out stretches into a timeless glob of space, the crew looking itchy to begin their service. But they will have to wait, heavy eyes from all the passengers staring blankly up at the seat belt sign. The sign is less to do with permission to walk around, and more to do with permission to recline, and sleep.

Bing...the siren of recliner heaven. Service begins, AVOD crashes and the whole plane sighs...sleep beckons for us all.

Economy seats...they are a contrast of seating design...neither comfortable nor uncomfortable...their back support good, but their thigh support bad...their head support adequate and their arm rests a fraction too low..but who cares...sleeping can be accomplished in any environment...at least it is dry and warm. I push the button and recline as far as I can, trying to get a more horizontal position for my tall frame. Pillows folded and tucked in strategic positions, seatbelt fastened just in case, and I shut my eyes. Normally I dream of flying, but tonight I only have to relax and feel...I am flying.

The hours tick by, the AVOD is up and running in part again, the gentleman in the seat next to me is engaged in a movie, the glow of his screen bathing the inside of the fuselage in a eerie blue hue. I crack my eyes to try and work out what he is watching, but the screen is at too acute an angle for me to work it out. I drift back into economy slumber.

The plane shudders in anticipation, and I crack my eyes again. Hours have passed and we are now cruising above the clouds somewhere over the equator. Conscious of the areas reputation for turbulence, I am ready for the bing of the seat belt and the jolting of convergence related turbulence...but not on this flight. The shudder was minor and isolated. No storms block our path, no strong winds to disrupt our journey...we cruise on, those 4 engines continuing to emit their coma inducing hum.

Time passes by, my head raising every hour or so to change position, to awaken the sleeping limb, to relieve the stiff neck, or to glance at a insomnia wreaked passenger wandering the aisles.

I wake as the first signs of the sunrise ease across the distant horizon

Bing, goes the announcement...time for breakfast. I cannot believe I have slept for as long as I have, I actually feel rested. I chomp away on sausages, eggs and a tomato, orange juice washing it down (not bad really).

Another long dsitance flight pushes on past us, destiantion unknown.


The seats behind me are empty to I decide to move there to allow me to take some photos on landing. The sun has risen and the blanket of cloud below obscures landmarks. I can only assume we are arriving on Westerlies today. We begin the inevitable Heathrow ballet, circling around and around waiting for our order to land. A 777 and a 747 join us in this dance. We get called first and push over towards our destination. A quick thrust of the powerful engines to push us towards the runway, a sharp turn left then right to align on the active and down we go. The speed requires a sight adjustment and the spoilers flare up and ease our speed to a more appropriate approach velocity. Calm and dignified, more so than I thought a plane of this length and size could do.

London is calm weather wise today, and although the cloud is thick, it does not have the winds or the texture to buck the airframe around. Our approach vector lowers across the city and we slice through the cloud and emerge into a gloomy West London, the Thames and city now behind us, never visible due to the cloud. At suitable increments the flaps wind down to their assigned landing angle, The Premier Inn (a hotel I have stayed at a lot over the years) and Bath Road mark our arrival at the perimeter and the threshold of runway 27R...the flaps and landing gear are well down..we caress the runway, kicking spray and vapour up...a gentle reverse thrust and we roll down to our designated exit point along side Terminal 3.

Taxi is short but entertaining...a Virgin and BA wide body parade greets anyone who cares to look out of the windows. We pass 744s, 777s, A340s, A330s, you name it if it has a wide body it is sitting somewhere around Terminal 3 and 5. Heavy heaven!!

Parked and shut down, the airframe clicks as it cools...12 hours flying and on time...one of the smoothest rides I have ever had long haul and a good few hours sleep...dreaming of my next flight.

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed.

[Edited 2010-02-07 10:59:19]

[Edited 2010-02-07 11:00:40]
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RE: CPT-LHR: A Sleepy Night Flight

Sun Feb 07, 2010 10:04 pm

That was a really nice reading, you got good writing skills I must say.

I loved the way you described the check in phase, the waiting and the boarding: it was smooth and agreeable... Surely the best "half-asleep trip report" I've read so far!
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RE: CPT-LHR: A Sleepy Night Flight

Sun Feb 07, 2010 10:27 pm

Wow! your pictures are Amazing, I love the entrance shot in the first pic, them mountains are amazing and the color, are you a photographer because you'd make the best one  
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RE: CPT-LHR: A Sleepy Night Flight

Sun Feb 07, 2010 11:29 pm

Nice read and pictures, thanks for sharing.

I sure know that feeling of just needing to sleep when you get on that plane!

As much as I don't like travelling in economy longhaul, it's funny how you can manage to sleep when tired enough, or at least I can  


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RE: CPT-LHR: A Sleepy Night Flight

Sun Feb 07, 2010 11:43 pm

arty photos were superb - bringing character to mundane objects ( trolleys and salt and pepper holder).

Thoroughly enjoyed... I should hopefully be taking a one way flight out to Cape Town come summer...
Breaking down the stereotypes - one by one
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RE: CPT-LHR: A Sleepy Night Flight

Mon Feb 08, 2010 3:36 am

Wow... some amazing shots you took of CPT!
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RE: CPT-LHR: A Sleepy Night Flight

Mon Feb 08, 2010 5:39 am

So well written to the point I actually started to feel sleepy myself!

Gotta love those uneventful flights when you have all the time in the world to sleep...just to wake up wondering "...where the hell am I this time?!" for some seconds.

Thanks for sharing!

Rgds, Loalq
"...this is your captain speaking. We have a small problem. All four engines have stopped."
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RE: CPT-LHR: A Sleepy Night Flight

Mon Feb 08, 2010 8:02 am

After reading the others' replies, I reckon I forgot to mention the pictures! I love portraying details, and many of your shots are simply gorgeous to me: the oil&salt dispenser, the trolleys, stairways, Union Jack on the winglet, the seat details. Clean, neat, crisp photos. Really appreciated. What kind of gear have you been using?
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RE: CPT-LHR: A Sleepy Night Flight

Mon Feb 08, 2010 3:11 pm

Thanks all for the great commetns ...I am glad you liked it.

I am flattered by the comments on the photos as well. Gear I use is a Canon 5D mk2 with a basic zoom on it - just got the body back from the repairers (Canon) and was able to give a whirl on the plane. Should have seen the looks some passengers gave me - not really a camera that blends into the background  

Thanks again...more TR and photos coming in the near future - the next batch from my round the world trip - business class and 18 flights   Lots of photos on these trips  
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RE: CPT-LHR: A Sleepy Night Flight

Mon Feb 08, 2010 4:22 pm

Well, I'll be looking forward to it! if it'll have such a good text - and such beautiful pictures - it'll be a really pleasant read.

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