Yes, it's time for the yearly trip to Japan! So what's different?
In December 2017 Qantas began flying direct between Sydney and Kansai International Airport (Osaka). Osaka has become my preferred gateway to Japan from Australia, not least because it seems to have smoother approaches than Narita. I've flown Qantas offshoots Jetstar (and Jetstar Asia) and Australian Airlines to Osaka, but never Qantas itself. Jetstar used to fly the route directly back in 2007, but since then we've had to go via Cairns. Sometimes I like the break in journey, but these days I find myself anxious about flying and would rather just get rid of it. Strange thing to admit here, I know. I wish I could enjoy flying as much as I used to.
One thing about the Qantas flight over the Jetstar alternative is the reasonable departure time from Sydney: 10.15 AM over 6 AM, although the latter is only a domestic flight. Despite this, I book a stay at the Rydges Sydney Airport for the night before and upgrade to a king room with airport views. This hotel is right at the International Terminal and has fantastic views over the northern end of the main runway. However, the Rydges "Dream Beds" (for sale online!) are way too soft.
We arrive at the hotel by train the afternoon before our flight and spend the time relaxing and taking photos. My wife would rather have stayed home and eaten elsewhere, but we have dinner at the airport food court. They have the popular Thai restaurant, but my anxious stomach limits itself to bland Vietnamese style rice paper rolls. I fantasise how fun it would be to arrive at the airport with nothing but your passport and try to stock up with everything you need, but after collecting necessities for so many years of travel that isn't going to happen on this trip.Welcome to Sydney AirportQF1 bound for Singapore and LondonHawaiian and Qatar: Late night departures
It is not the best of nights. B is uncomfortable in the soft bed and I have Alex lying like a plank of wood against my back. Still, I manage to have a reasonable sleep and feel somewhat better when Alex wakes me prior to sunrise.The waking airport looks serenely beautiful in the dawn light as the “heavies” arrive from the distant lands.Online check in hadn't worked yesterday, but it is successful this morning. We are able to use the kiosks and automated bag drop, then go straight to customs and security before entering the giant duty free mall that is Sydney Airport airside.The Sony shop is long gone, but it is nice to see a little kiosk selling noise cancelling earphones. I make do with my Xperia phone reliant noise cancelling ear buds.Naturally, Alex wants to go straight to the Qantas Business Lounge for breakfast. We all select the hot breakfast buffet but I prefer the fresh fruit salad.
The fear is back and I'm not feeling well.We leave the lounge before boarding is called, exploring a little more of the terminal. The McDonald's has an interesting conveyed belt for delivering orders from the kitchen above. I try to think positive an immerse myself in the excitement of the airport.Our Airbus A330 lies waiting at gate 25. The airport recently decided to stop making announcements so now a poor staff member is bellowing out instructions for passengers headed to adjacent gates.
We board our aircraft and I am surprised to discover that I'm actually seated at a bulkhead, B and Alex behind me. I don't normally like bulkheads as there is nowhere for me to store my bags at my feet. Also, the entertainment is a fold out screen that cannot be used on the ground, unlike the seat back versions.It doesn't really matter anyway as my screen is broken.On the plus side I've got more legroom and an empty seat besides me. It looks like Qantas subbed in the extended 300 for the 200 version so there are more seats.We taxi south towards the main runway. The North American accented captain apologises for the delay with all the other aircraft ahead of us, but assures us that we will make good time and it should be a mostly smooth flight.
Mostly smooth? Sounds good, but what about all the other bits. Rough?Seated on the right I have spectacular views of the city as we roar northward into the sky.
After all that stressing before I feel strangely relaxed now I'm up in the air. I'm listening to relaxing tracks on my phone and I keep nodding off for microsleeps.The first hour or so is over high cloud and feels like we are driving over a gravel road. Then midway over Queensland the skies clear and it is near perfectly smooth.
We are fed lunch. I try the vegetarian option, pumpkin tortellini in cream, and eat it all, along with the warm garlic ciabatta and delicious eton mess for dessert.
Our path farewells the Australian coastline north of Mackay, around the Whitsunday. I have the empty neighbouring seat's screen out to watch the flight map. As we move further out I spot the Great Barrier Reef, but further north the edges turn stark white and I wonder if I am observing coral bleaching.
The skies get rougher once more as we approach Papua New Guinea, the country covered with storm clouds. I will us away, but the unsettled air remains.
We pass over coral atolls, one shaped remarkably like a shark, the one next to it an eel. I'll look them up later. Eventually the air calms until we approach Guam, the region where the typhoons birth and where there is always high cloud from the towering thunderclouds, an armada of dreadnought.
But these too pass and the sea below looks calm beneath the scattered clouds that sometimes throw up a rainbow for something special.
Although my seat screen doesn't work I have plenty of entertainment on my phones. But I just can't seem to focus on the screen, my eyes glued to the sights outside. Instead I listen to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Ternary Phase, which has been sitting around on the device since the previous trip to Japan over a year ago.I manage to complete the entire series. As the day passes the skies change, we pass through more high cloud and I am feeling exhausted and stressed once more. Maybe a movie would have made the time pass faster, but I feel like this is a very long flight.
Darkness falls outside and, with an hour to go, we are fed a supper choice of either mushroom pizza or Chinese style pork buns, which I go for. I can't finish them, I don't feel like something savoury right now.The descent into Kansai International, the airport recently flooded by a typhoon, is much less painless than I feared., but it is still a relief to touch down on the tarmac. The flight itself was pretty good, pretty smooth, but it felt long.
The airport feels less crowded than on our previous visits. Waiting for us at arrivals is our most recent exchange student, Satoe, and her Mum. It's lovely to see them!We have a dinner of sushi together, before they follow us back to our hotel on the other side of the long bridge to the artificial island airport. The bridge, the only permanent access to the airport, had been knocked out of commission during typhoon Jebi by a runaway cargo ship.The hotel is very new and has a hot bath, the perfect way to wash away the sweat of a long flight. Hopefully I have more confidence in tomorrow's flight to Sapporo.
In the next instalment I'll post the flight from Osaka to Sapporo and summarise our adventures.