It's a pity that photographs on the tarmac were forbidden because the Jetstar 787 is a fine looking beast indeed. Boarding is via forward stairs and I quickly settle myself down in my black leather seat by the window, where the forward edge of the wing meets the fuselage.
I have picked this spot to be close to the aircraft's centre of gravity and hopefully minimise the vertical displacement during turbulence.
|Boarding the 787|
I am soon joined by a young bloke in the aisle seat, with the middle seat of the 3-3-3 configuration left free. That's good, because the seats are a bit narrow. Again, the legroom is fine for me, perhaps not so for the long legged.
There are 9 inch screens in the backs of the seats using the Panasonic eX2 system. The screens have a widescreen aspect and by peering in closely I suspect they are running a 1280 by 800 pixel resolution capacitive touchscreen, same as my 2011 model Sony Tablet S. Okay, so it's not the full high definition of your modern device, but I think that's it's quite sufficient for this environment. Plus the screens are highly responsive, meaning that delicate touches suffice without the need for heavy thumps to the back of the seat, although this doesn't stop some. Thankfully, not on my head.
Business class passengers get a handset as well with a qwerty keyboard on the back.
At the bottom of the screen is a USB port, useful for charging devices and apparently it can be used to load media into the screen, though not via the MTP protocol that my phone uses.
Built in screens might not be popular in many low cost carriers and even quite a few full service carriers these days, but I really like them. Even if all I do is show the moving map. You get a sense of how much of the flight is completed and left to come with a map, tell you where you are in the world. And with built in IFE the map sits at eye level, ready to be referenced at any time with a glance away from my precious window view.
|All seated now|
|A bit of a blue mood|
The cabin crew are mainly from overseas, mainly Thailand and South East Asia. The pilots are Australian.
All up I'm comfortable, the sky outside is clear and I'm feeling nice and relaxed after my beach stroll. Let's get outta here!
There's but a single runway at the airport. Take-off might be a solo performance on the piano keys, but we have to wait for others to finish their part. A Star Alliance liveried Air New Zealand A320 goes before us, followed by the landing of Virgin and Jetstar narrowbodies (a skinny virgin and star, what is this, the pages of a trashy magazine?). Another Virgin 737-800 takes off and then it is our turn.
|Jetstar A320 landing|
|Virgin 737-800 readying for takeoff|
We race southwards and up into the sky, the 787's flexible carbon fibre wings wobbling with each bounce then arcing upwards as we take to the skies. On my previous 787 flights I had failed to notice the distinctive curvature, so obvious from the ground, but now it is clearly visible.
|Almost ready to play the piano|
|Racing down the runway|
The wing now dips towards the shimmering waters of the Tweed River as we turn eastwards and out over the ocean until we curve north off the coast.
|Turning over the Tweed|
|Flying parallel to the coast|
The seatbelt light is switched off and we are not even up to Brisbane, whose airport soon appears in the distance to our left.
|And they are up!|
|Sand mining on North Stradbroke Island|
|Port of Brisbane and Moreton Bay|
|Another shot of Moreton Bay|
The captain welcomes us on board but doesn't say anything about it being a smooth flight. I hope it's not a sign of things to come.
It's quite smooth right now. We cross over the Sunshine Coast and the blue seas turn to bright green cane farms and darker tree clad hills and creeks, before re-emerging off Bundaberg.
|More Moreton Bay|
|Back over the water|
We are now served lunch. I have pre-ordered mine online, though have forgotten what it is. I'm looking forward to the surprise!
I'm handed a tray with a small tub of water, cold roll, hot main and salted caramel mousse dessert. Peeling off the foil top I discover panko and sesame coated chicken with a wasabi cheese sauce on rice and greens. It's good, very good. Even the vegetables taste good with the sauce. I mop it all up.
The mousse is very smooth too. Cruising along in the smooth air with good food and I'm still happy.
Below us are the first islands of the southern extent of the Great Barrier Reef while the bauxite stockpiles of Gladstone are in the distance, a red marker to farewell the land.
|Looking towards Eurimbula and Gladstone|
|Mast Head Island and Polmaise Reef (I think)|
|Curtis Island and the mouth of the Fitzroy River|
The Tropic of Capricorn marks the transition from smooth skies to the bumps of the Coral Sea. Wisps of cloud touch us as coral reefs disappear below, the Coral Sea transforming into the cloud sea. Meals finished, the crew activate the electronic windows, a layer of gel darkening as it is fed higher current. The world outside goes blue while inside the mood lighting goes from blue to yellow.
|Looking towards the Shoalwater Bay area|
|Progress so far|
|Red up front, blue down back. We are now in underwater mode|
|Looking through the blue tint|
Sadly for the rabid windows shut crowd the darkness setting is neither locked nor at maximum. Fortunate for me, as I loathe closing the blinds, thankfully non-existent in the 787. The world outside is too interesting and the thought of being stuck in a dark flying can is somewhat claustrophobic. Besides which, I like to see the source of turbulent bumps, find it reassuring.
But I leave the slow changing shade at mid range, content to view the sea and cloudscape with a blue tinge. The bumps are getting worse and my eyes are glued to the windows, yet I can't see any source for the disturbance in the air. We aren't passing through high cloud, it must be winds.
|I'm feeling the blues|
It was like this on our April flight back down from Japan, though memory says it is usually one of the smoother stretches. In fact I am more fearful of overflying Papua New Guinea, with its high cloud and mountains.
Indeed Australia's closest neighbour is first apparent by the clouds above it than by the transition to land from sea. It is mostly low cloud and at one point I can see dark mountains poking through it,they feel close despite our altitude of 40,000 feet. The turbulence dies down and I relax a little.
|Crossing into PNG|
|Da Ba De|
|Mountains into heaven|
The clouds break and I think I can see the Markham River below, running into the coastal town of Lae and the scene of battles between Australian and Japanese forces during the later stages of World War Two. A point where my origin and destination meet. Enemies now allies.
Then it is time to farewell PNG. With just sea below I decide to distract myself with a movie on the seatback screen. I'm a bit disappointed with the selection this month. I was all excited by May's guide, which had a bit of a Christopher Nolan marathon going on. Sure I watched Interstellar
on my last flight and own copies of Inception
and the Dark Knight Rises
(one day I'll actually watch it), but I think they are pretty good plane movies.
June is one of those off months. There are new release movies I'm not interested in (Cinderella
) or just not in the mood to see but I should one day (Fight Club
), movies that failed at the box office (Mortdecai
) and others I've just never heard about (Black Sea
). American sit-coms in the television section, no Australian or British comedies. There are a couple of things I might want to watch, but I save them for the return through the night. Eventually I settle on The Goonies
. Jetstar had a few 80's movies on their system.
|Jetstar are a pirate airline outfit|
As a young child I knew a Japanese girl in our neighbourhood from play group. As a teenager we somehow got back in contact and became pen pals. She was a classical musician and in one letter wrote to tell me she was playing Dave Grusin's Fratelli Chase
from the movie, a piece I rather liked.
In the rigours of senior high school we lost contact, but thanks to the wonders of the Internet I found her once more. We Facebook friends now and thus very rarely communicate.
It's difficult to stay focussed on the movie. Now we are over water again and approaching the equator we are again afflicted by turbulent skies. Initially it is clear skies over low cloud, but as we head further north there are patches of cumulonimbus with tops that stream out for kilometres like an evil miasma reaching out to pluck us from the skies.
|Coming closer now...|
Up and down, the 787's wings flap constantly. I'm glad I am flying through it on this aircraft and none other, bar perhaps the newly flying Airbus A350. The flexible wings absorb some of the energy of the vertical motion, converting it to heat rather than movement. Accelerometers at the front of the aircraft detect changes in the direction of motion and the flight computers use the rudders, spoilers and other flight control surfaces to mitigate the resultant effects on the aircraft.
However, despite these advancements, the aircraft does feel turbulence. As we approach Guam we start rising and dropping and the captain switches on the seatbelt lights, orders passengers and crew back to their seats, and eases back on the throttle. And suddenly, now the light is on, it's smooth.
|Seatbelt light on!|
|Reaching up to pluck at planes|
Maybe ten minutes later the light is off again and we are bumping away again, though not so badly.
There are always storms around Guam, or so I was told by one Jetstar pilot years ago. I gaze at the island on my screen, willing us pass it.
|Leaning towards us|
We do. The shakes continue for a while and I stare out of the window. I'm developing a headache and I order a Coke to wash down some tablets of paracetamol. The extra humid air and being on the Sun facing side has me perspiring.
The transition to smoother skies is almost imperceptible and it's a while before I realise that the bumps are gone and I can relax. Relax, but not completely, as I have lost trust in the clear air.
Below us the Sun shimmers off flat waters mottled by the afternoon shadows of low cloud. There are still streamers of high cloud merging into the tops of isolated cumulonimbus, a frisson of fear in each. I try to watch more of The Goonies
, but my heart isn't in it and I revert to the map and music from my phone.
|Some windows seemed stuck, noticed this on a previous flight|
|Notice the isolated rain beneath the cloud.|
A wrapped chocolate TimTam biscuit and tub of cold water is placed on the trays of those of us with Starter Plus fares or preordered meals and shortly afterwards a box containing two "Pulled Beef Sliders", mini hamburgers with shredded beef and a tomato relish. Not the most inspiring of mini-dinners, but reasonably filling.
The skies are bumpier again, though it's more of a niggle than anything particularly rough.
The nine hour flight feels long as a consequence of being able to do little but stare out of the window. It's not Jetstar's fault and I wonder how I managed to cope with fourteen hour legs to Europe from Asia. Perhaps there was more to see out of the window as we crossed desert lands. Oh, I do remember tiring of them in the last few hours after entering Western Europe, so perhaps they were not so very different.
With half an hour remaining, it is with a sense of relief that we begin our descent towards Tokyo Narita, though naturally there are a few little wiggles to delay us first, due to airport congestion.
|Time to make the windows clear again. It's nice to have some colour back.|
The skies are gold and grey as we turn and then penetrate the cloud layers. Through the formless grey haze I spot a dark pyramid, no a cone. It is Mount Fuji! Unexpected, but certainly appreciated. Nearby, a glowing orange crack has rent the sky. I watch as it flashes into the eye of the setting Sun, bright fire in the sky.
|Descending towards the cloud|
|Mount Fuji, 2/3rds of the way to the right|
|Our wiggly path|
I am used to a straight descent across the broad beaches and farmlands into Narita, but this time we are curving around the Boso Peninsula in which the airport sits. As the light turns blue I see river mouths, industry and city lights below. The full Moon appears as a beacon in the sky above us, sliding along as we turn South East and align ourself with the runway.
|Crossing the coast|
|Tone River and Kashima|
|The full Moon keeps us company|
We touch down firmly, but not with the slam of my previous 787 flights. Then begins the long taxi to the terminal, past my Qantas QF22 flight back to Sydney. In another couple of months the 747 will be gone from here, changing to Haneda.
|QF22 back to Sydney|
Jetstar has also moved from my last flights, though only to new Terminal 3. The terminal lacks jet bridges, so we have to walk down stairs and cross into the terminal building, walking up another set.
|Disembarking, it's red again|
|Looking back. Thanks VH-VKI|
The Terminal looks unfinished and unfurnished, with open ceilings showing airconditioning pipes and wires. The queues at immigration are quite long with several passengers sent back to fill in their place of residence for the trip. It's warm and humid inside here too and I can't wait to get to my destination tonight, no matter how excited I am to return here again.
|Inside Terminal 3|
Fingerprints and photos checked, I bypass the luggage belts but still have to hand my card and passport to customs. Then I begin the long walk to the trains at Terminal 2 through an outdoor passageway with a floor like a sprint track, roof, but only partially covered walls. At 650 metres long it feels like quite a hike, especially as I am eager to call B and Alex over wifi, sadly not available here outside the terminal.
|On your marks, get set...|
I reach familiar Terminal 2 and descend into the basement. Free wifi here, so I text messages to B over Google Hangouts while waiting in the long line at the Japan Railways travel centre to purchase a Kanto Pass. The pass gives me three days worth of travel around the greater Tokyo area for 8,300 Yen, roughly A$90. Great value for what I plan. Unfortunately for me, foreign tourism has really taken off in Japan and the queues at railway stations are a lot longer these days, especially as many tourists travel in larger groups.
I had planned to take the ever-so-familiar Narita Express, one of my favourite trains, straight to Shinjuku and my hotel. But the departure time is another hour away. Free wifi means that I can check my Hyperdia
app and I discover that the private Keisei Skyliner and a change of trains will see me back in the hotel much earlier, so I rush across and purchase a ticket for that instead.
The Skyliner has bad memories for me. The only other time I took it was shortly after an incident when I overloaded with luggage that suddenly collapsed on an escalator down to the platform at Ueno Station and knocked over an old lady.
No such issues tonight. Just one small bag with me.
The Skyliner arrives, sleek, shiny, but somewhat utilitarian.
Once on board I try to get a wifi connection working, but it costs and, with a short journey time, is not worth it.
It's so dark outside that I can't see much, except when we race pass petrol stations and diners. I feel like eating in one of those family diner chains. Most of them have disappeared from Australia, apart from McDonalds and KFC, and you never feel like you are having a real meal there. I have happy memories of dinners with B in various chain restaurants in Albury, back when we were dating and knew little of finer dining.
|How I felt|
At Nippori I quickly change to the JR
Chuo Line for Shinjuku, arriving almost an hour earlier than if I had caught the NEX.
I'm very tired and sticky after a long and somewhat stressful day, still have a slight headache and really just feel like a shower in the hotel, but I feel like I should make the most of my limited time here. Instead of taking the direct path to the hotel, I go out the Central West exit of this busy station and emerge into the crowds, many of them foreigners.
I know exactly where I am going under the neon lights. Omoide Yokocho
, or Memory Lane, is a warren of tiny bars with skewers of chicken, pork and organs, yakiniku, on smoky grills. I'm not in the mood for that. Instead I seek out Kameya, a very popular corner soba bar that we first ate at twelve years ago.
White skinned gaijin are no longer oddities there, to be photographed and celebrated, but the bowl of steaming soba and kakiage is still one of the best. There is a queue, but this is fast food, slurped quickly, then it is the next patron's turn.
|Narrow laneways of Omoide Yokocho|
|Near the hotel|
A late supper over, I stumble on tired feet to the hotel. As always, it is the Shinjuku Prince, tall, thin and brown, overlooking the railway and central Shinjuku. I have never checked in this late and I am alone apart from the desk staff. I hand over my passport and credit card, collect the preordered rental wifi router that I had sent here, and make my way up to my room.
This is the first time I've stayed here by myself, but I feel like I'm home, only without my loved ones. My panoramic window overlooks the giant Godzilla of the Gracery Hotel and the bright lights of Shinjuku, its streets thrumming late into the night.
|Chewie, we're home|
As I lay back and listen to dreamy music I think back on the day. It didn't work out as I imagined, not that it ever does. It was long, exhausting and much rougher than I would have liked. But the transit at the beach on the Gold Coast, the good food, comfortable seats and some beautiful views still made it special. This was still going to be a great trip.