After three and a half weeks on the move it was time to return to Sydney. B was ready to go home, Alex was a bit homesick and missing friends and family. I could have kept on going, having no wish to return to the routines of normal life.
I had left the booking of the flight back to Sydney from Japan until the very last, hoping that Jetstar would have a sale. In the meantime Scoot had a sale offering "business" (premium economy) fares back from Japan for a similar price to economy with any of the low cost competitors. Tempting, but it meant leaving early, going via Taipei, a six hour transit in Singapore with a 2am departure time, spending almost 24 hours in travel. Plus we aren't talking lie flat beds to sleep on either, just bigger seats. Flying back on Jetstar meant extra time in Japan, plus a nine hour overnighter (easy for Alex) plus a one hour flight to Sydney from a transit stop at the Gold Coast.
|Maps generated by the Great Circle Mapper - copyright © Karl L. Swartz.|
No sale appeared in time, but I was surprised to see Expedia offering a cheaper fare than Jetstar, so we booked it. Unfortunately, going via Expedia meant that we could neither manage our booking nor check in online, so selecting seats required a phone call.
We missed our train from Yokokawa, home of the Usui Pass Railway Museum, back to Takasaki by a scant minute, so while B and Alex waited in the warmth of the waiting room, I explored the small town. This was the first day we had really felt cold on the trip.
The journey back to Takasaki only took half an hour and, after collecting our luggage, we were soon heading towards Tokyo on a Shinkansen, a journey of about an hour. B wanted to buy a pair of shoes to replace the pair that have been her travel companions since 2001 (having visited so many countries that they deserve their own passports), so we hopped off at Ueno station.
|Shinkansen to Tokyo|
We were overloaded with luggage; a big roller bag, small roller case, backpack, very full daypack, handbag for B and shopping bags of toys and treats. And guess who had to carry most of them... A lot of this was shopping from Japan and there were three people and climatic conditions ranging from tropical to single figure temperatures. But I was not happy. All I wanted was the freedom of that blue backpack, same as my last two trips alone to Japan, small enough to pass as cabin luggage if squashed the right way, small enough to carry all day if I so wanted.
There were no free lockers at Ueno station large enough to accommodate our bags and neither was there a left luggage office. So we had to drag our luggage through the narrow and busy market lanes until we found a shoe store.
Shoes bought, we dragged our bags across to the Keisei station at the base of Ueno Park. I've never caught the private Keisei line to Narita Airport. That's partly because we often have a JR Pass which includes the Narita Express and also that we usually stay in Shinjuku, which is served by the NEX. From Ueno, the Keisei Skyliner is both a cheaper and more convenient option.
|Ueno Park was lit for night time cherry blossom viewing|
As I was going down the escalator the overloaded roller bag tipped over, tore a paper bag apart and scattered the contents everywhere. An old lady right behind me then tripped over the bag. She was very quickly ushered away while I kicked everything out of the path to prevent anyone else having an accident. Then everyone was thrusting plastic bags at me to store the scattered goods.
The offers of help were so wonderful, but I felt very bad for the old lady, who had disappeared somewhere. The elderly are a real hazard in Japan, shoving their way forward and squeezing in whenever they can on the assumption that everybody else will make space for them (or, in the case of young Japan on trains, ignore them and hope they will go away). It is assertively pursuing respect for the aged, which must be very difficult on the declining numbers of young.
In China everyone shoves in and I give up on trying to politely move around them when carrying bags, Instead I'll join in the way the locals do and they just become part of the battering ram arsenal. But in Japan I don't think that's polite, especially with the elderly.
So we boarded the new and very modern looking Keisei Skyliner for its 41 minute ride to Narita Airport. It was certainly a different view to the Narita Express route, though night was falling and much of the ride was in darkness.
Once we arrived at Narita's terminal 2 we were greeted with a very, very long queue at the Jetstar counter. I could see from the sign that JQ26 to Cairns was cancelled and wondered if that was the reason. While Alex and I queued, B went off to explore the airport shops. It was only fair, considering that I'd had that opportunity a few months before.
Finally the queue started moving faster and we were served by an Australian representative from Jetstar who looked to be in charge. Apparently the link to their system had kept going down. JQ26 was cancelled due to the inbound aircraft being stuck in Cairns with a technical issue. Surprisingly, not many passengers had rebooked on to our flight, which was heading to the Gold Coast, indicating that Cairns was indeed their destination (there are connections from both airports elsewhere, but not between the Gold Coast and Cairns). In fact, the load on our flight was pretty light, only about a third full.
The delay was such that we were directed to go straight through security and to the gate for boarding. The security guys wanted me to unpack my daypack full of electronics and scan each item individually, though it was all done very politely.
When we were through security and immigration we made our way quickly to the automated shuttle to the satellite terminal. Then we walked quickly up towards gate 83. Around us the shops and cafes were shuttering up for the night. The delays meant that we hadn't eaten any dinner and had to time to relax prior to the flight. I certainly wasn't feeling relaxed as we began to board the aircraft.
ETD: 20:25 (local)
ETA: 06:25+1 (local)
AIRCRAFT: Airbus A330-200
REGISTRATION: Not VH-EBC!
After so many Jetstar long haul flights there were no surprises for me. If there is one thing I like about Scoot's 777s it's the 10 abreast configuration. "What?" you ask. Well, the 3-4-3 seating arrangement means that B, Alex and I can all sit in one row and I get the window seat. And they are pretty slim, so it's not squishy for me.
Jetstar has a 2-4-2 seating configuration. Alex and B sat ahead of me on the left hand window seats, while I sat in the row behind. Fortunately, I had an empty seat besides me.
The black leather seats were definitely more comfortable than Scoot's hard product, but not as good as on my recent Qantas flights to and from Narita. I had no legroom issues. Sorry Palmjet, no leg shots. I'm sure you could find a picture my hairy legs on a JQ A330 on some previous trip report.
We were late to push back from the gate due to paperwork. Once we had reversed the and crew did the safety demonstration. We had only proceeded a short distance when the captain informed us that we had to return to the gate.
"Cabin crew, disarm doors."
We actually turned and stopped at the adjacent gate.
|Leaving one gate for another|
Oh dear. Truth was that I was hoping for some major aircraft failure that would see us booked into a hotel at Narita for the next night and a day. It had been a tiring day that had ended poorly and I would have welcomed a comfortable bed.
The aerobridge extended and the cabin crew gathered near the forward area of the cabin.
After a bit the captain made another announcement.
"Unfortunately a passenger was caught smoking and, as per our safety and operational regulations, they have been removed from this flight. We now have to wait for his luggage to be removed from the hold."
I was seething as we were really hoping to reach Sydney before noon. Delays due to technical issues I can forgive. Such idiocy on the part of a passenger I cannot. What's the bet that they had imbibed too many Suntory Stupids and Asahi Assh0les prior to boarding? If they couldn't wait until after take-off how did they expect to survive a 9 hour flight?
We then had to sit through the safety demonstration all over again, which must be some sort of compulsory rule.
The captain warned of a long taxi to the far runway, but this was no Schipol. There were lots of colourful lights however.
|Malaysia Airlines and China Eastern|
This tour of Narita's tarmac did have one thing going for it: I saw my first 787! And not just one either. JAL, ANA and United. All patiently awaiting the go ahead to fly again.
|More around the corner|
|More 787s: United, JAL and a specially painted jet?|
|JAL and ANA 787s.|
|ANA 787 and ANA Cargo 747s|
At last we took off, the colourful lights of Japan shrinking below us until they were covered by cloud and we were over the water. Once we reached cruise altitude the captain came over the PA and apologised for the delay, saying that we should have a fairly smooth flight until over the equator and Papua New Guinea.
|The cabin was darkened for take-off|
The crew then came through with the meal service. I hadn't preordered any food and nor had we eaten dinner. Yet, as is typical for the flights home from Japan, I wasn't feeling like anything too rich, so I just ordered sandwiches for myself and drinks for us. Unfortunately, Jetstar no longer hand out free bottles of water to each passenger. Instead you have to get your own water from a dispenser with paper cups. It's a bit difficult when somebody is asleep next to you. The food and drink on Jetstar is not particularly cheap, but is comparable to Scoot.
We had brought some bakery products onboard, originally for breakfast, these sufficed for the others. Both were sleepy. B and Alex moved to the empty middle row opposite me, but ended up fighting over space, so Alex came over to sit by my side and soon fell asleep on my lap. A young lady moved up a few rows and took their window seat, though she did ask politely first.
After the meal run the crew came through again with iPads preloaded with movies, tv shows, games, magazines and kids books. Up until now I've been very disappointed with the entertainment selection of Jetstar, but starting from February they began loading some decently recent movies. I was tempted to hire one, but then I had already seen the main movie I wanted to watch, The Life of Pi, on an earlier flight with Malaysia Airlines.
Nothing was shown on the cabin screens this flight - they were switched off the whole time. I've never seen this on Jetstar before - normally it's one movie, a cooking show, an extreme sports documentary, some awful US comedy and destination information, so I actually welcomed the lack of a disturbing light show in the cabin. What I missed was the flight map, which is glimpsed all too briefly between programs. Hopefully this is just a technical issue with the entertainment system rather than a new policy, because it is yet another thing that distinguishes them from Scoot.
The cabin lights were switched off, the others slept and I was at peace, gazing out of the window at the moonlight shimmering off the ocean surface.
|The Moon and sea|
|Not everyone was asleep|
Alex and B slept almost the entire flight, but not me. I am bad at sleeping on aircraft. I amused myself by watching the soon to expire download of Source Code on my phone and episodes of Doctor Who on my Android table.
There were quite a few patches of high cloud along the way and I found the flight quite bumpy, though the seatbelt sign was never lit during cruise. Although I was not longer feeling deep dread of the turbulence, it annoyed me. This was not a relaxing flight home, but that was more due to my emotional state rather than anything to do with the actual flight. When the high clouds disappeared and we were just cruising high above the shimmering sea, then I was happy.
|The Moon and the engine|
The lights were switched on too early, around about 4am, to enable the serving of breakfast. We didn't order any, figuring we could just eat our left over bakery goods or get breakfast at the Gold Coast. Meanwhile, I kept peeking outwards the approaching day.
|Above the clouds|
Alex awoke at sunrise. He occupied himself quietly as we drifted down towards the Gold Coast.
|My window was a bit fogged up|
|Everybody wake up!|
|On descent through the clouds.|
I had a microsleep and missed the crossing over the coast. Years before we experienced the most gorgeous sunrise on final descent into Gold Coast airport, but not today. Just bright green rural landscapes, leading on to rivers and houses along canals and a landing on the single runway.
We exited the aircraft via stairs on to the tarmac, but I know they don't like people stopping to take photos. Besides which, we were in a hurry. We declared our sweets and crackers at quarantine, but were just waved through, completing the immigration process quickly and heading straight to the Jetstar domestic check in.
There we were told that we had missed our connection to Sydney due to the delayed aircraft. The lady at check in tried her hardest and managed to snag us the last three seats on the next flight out. I imagined burning a certain smoker alive on a giant cigarette.
We were also given $10 vouchers each for use at the airport eateries, which was a nice touch I thought.
There was a reason for our haste. It was Easter Sunday in the middle of a four day long weekend. Our dog was being housed in boarding kennel and we had been told that we could collect him today between 9am and 12pm or not until Tuesday, by which time we would be back at work. The original schedule would get us back just in time, but now there was no way we could make it.
We organised for our next door neighbour to pick him up, so the next task was to call the kennel to let them know. But nobody answered and I wasted money on answering machine pickups.
Turns out that they were actually closed during the whole Easter long weekend.
We now had time to waste. Gold Coast Airport isn't the most interesting place in the world, so we mostly sat around and ate breakfasts purchased with the vouchers.
Tired and busy looking after Alex I couldn't be bothered to do any spotting. With Jetstar, AirAsiaX, Scoot and Tiger it was low cost central. The airport is also served by Qantas, Virgin Australia and Air New Zealand.
|New Virgin Australia livery|
|Gold Coast Airport|
[Edited 2013-04-30 18:29:32]