James Cridland

A trip report of a few flights I just took

Trip report: BNE-SIN-LHR-MAN(-HUD-WKF-LGX)-LTN-CLJ-WAW-ARN-OSL-ARL-LHR-HKG-SYD-BNE - with one set of lost bags, another set of mislaid bags, and three rerouted flights, on QF/BA/W6/LO/SK

BNE: a decent check-in in the lounge entry area, with a chatty man who gives me a few extra express departure cards (which save quite a bit of time in Sydney). I check in a bag for the first time in three years. Then upstairs to the Business lounge, where I try unsuccessfully to plug in my USB charger - it is too tall for the plugs, all of which are too mounted very close to the floor, or desk, to allow me to plug in. The power socket within the table is dead, too. Not much of an issue, given I carry a spare USB battery with a few charges in it. I blame Steve Jobs.

QF529: BNE to SYD. Wifi is excitedly promised on the app and on the departure board. There is no wifi. Food was a beef and horseradish sandwich, which is really bloody good. If I could buy those in stores in Brisbane, I would. (The other option is a spinach and cheese pie). When offered the food, I’m addressed by name, which was a nice touch.

After the interminable bus trip between SYD domestic and international, I have a little time in the First lounge, which I think I understand a little more now, being a fairly new WP status holder. Nothing is self service, and I discover that a bowl of hot chips is a good thing while boringly doing a few emails, accompanied by a decent cup of coffee. (Chips and coffee? It’s the meal of champions.)

QF1: SYD to SIN. Upstairs on the best economy seat on the plane: 33K (nobody behind you, storage bins next to you, a small economy cabin with attentive staff). No shadow. The plane is 35 minutes late to pushback - some kind of mechanical problem in the hangar, apparently. The food - the tofu stir-fried noodles - is tepid on the outside and just cold inside, but they are good enough to pop it back in the oven, and it comes back piping hot and really quite tasty - rather nicer than the questionable quality beef stew. Everything else is good, too; including a mushroom pizza as the second meal, though my request for hot chocolate is treated as a Most Unusual Request - “Oh, I’m not sure we have that, sir” - and when it comes, it is missing the marshmallow. The MARSHMALLOW. MISSING. I’ll never fly Qantas again. I’m warmly greeted as a WP once we’d taken off, as is my neighbour, and the two in front of me: I have a suspicion that this part of the plane is almost entirely reserved for people with status only.

QF1 lands late. Nobody tells me, but the Qantas app automatically shows me my next two flights are changed - I can’t catch the BA flight I had planned, and instead I’m booked onto… QF1. My flight from LHR to MAN had also been changed, thoughtfully with enough time to transit between terminals. I can’t find anywhere in SIN to get a new boarding pass, and nobody has told me what to do, so I go to the lounge, where the service desk doesn’t quite know what I’m asking for but after a bit of cajoling, organises the new BPs. I’m assured my bags will follow me, though I’m not given a new baggage receipt. It’s only clothes; my work computer is with me anyway, so I’m not that fussed, I think to myself. Little did I know. (<= Spoiler)

The QF lounge in Singapore looks entirely unfamiliar to me and it isn’t where I thought it is. It isn’t until I’m able to sit down a bit (in the acres of seats) to realise that I’ve never been here before: the lounge I was thinking about in the back of my mind was one in Hong Kong. I think I must have been to the BA lounge here instead last time. The lounge is busy, and to be honest was a bit crowded and old-feeling. It was nice to get out of it.

QF1: SIN to LHR, which is delayed (because the inbound plane was delayed, which I know, because I was on it). I’m given 48A, which is the front economy row downstairs, next to the door. No shadow. It’s surprisingly cold. This segment is crewed by Brits, and the FA who greets me on the plane is impressed that I recognise his West Yorkshire accent. Later, someone comes and crouches before me, shaking my hand, and says with a rictus grin how grateful the staff are that “someone of my experience” was flying with them today. This is a slightly over the top, and quite awkward, greeting as a WP. I sleep through dinner, though a random vegetable pastry is quite decent, and breakfast is good. Just before we get off, the obsequious man comes back and shakes my hand again and is incredibly grateful that I’ve deigned to honour his humble plane with my presence and is going to crown me King of the Air and give me a special jacket, a specially composed sung welcome when I reach the airport, and quite possibly some sexual favours too. Or something. I was very tired.

LHR: one of the downsides of being shunted onto a QF flight is that I land in an overcast London in terminal 3, and then need to catch a bus to terminal 5. The bus has free wifi though (hello, SYD) which doesn’t ask you who you are, what you’re doing here, and why (hello SYD). It does however go through a few tunnels which means the free wifi isn’t much actual use. The BA “First” lounge in terminal 5 is okay, ish - much the same as the QF normal lounges. Coffee machines, not human beings. The power socket at my chair - in a recurring theme - is dead. During the whole process at LHR (security, the bus, the lounge) not one member of staff smiled at me, or said the word “please”. In the priority queue, a BA lady called Karen snaps at each person in turn for their boarding pass.

BA1386 LHR-MAN (a codeshare with AA, JL, QR and S7, but not QF because I guess their EK deal prohibits it?) is late to arrive, and we sit on the tarmac for 40 minutes before taking off. The flight is very short, but I use a few BA Avios points to grab a sandwich and a coffee; thus prolonging my Avios haul (about 190,000) for a further 18 months, since the 550 points I’d used counts as “activity” on my account. I’ve been auto-allocated the very front seat of economy in the window, which is good. No shadow.

MAN airport is scruffy and needs demolishing (which is what they’re doing, to be fair) and after about half an hour’s folornly gazing at the baggage belt, it turns out that my bags aren’t on the plane. Last seen in Singapore, it turns out. I fill in a form, see a cheery man behind the counter, and get an email and a text message. I gamble on where I’d be when they find the bag, and guess I might be in my London hotel by then. (I am.)

Train, MAN-HUD. For some reason, if you buy tickets online, they don’t let you get tickets by email if you don’t live in the UK because the new Britain hates all foreigners, so I was greeted by a queue for the ticket machines and a missed train; though that train was cancelled anyway it turned out. I treated myself to a Private Eye and a Double Decker. An overcrowded train half an hour later ran a little late, but I got there.

Train, Wakefield Westgate to London Kings Cross. It took so long to make the journey to the station, it looked like I’d miss it, so change the ticket online with the train company. They take my money (over $100) and then say they’d cancel my previous ticket and refund me. Naturally, I’m still waiting for the money back. Wakefield Westgate stations has a lounge for first class passengers (as I was - not much difference between that and standard). The lounge was locked.

LTN is a very crowded place at 6am. My first flight for a long time without lounge access. I look with bemusement at the long queue for Starbucks, who are so unconfident about the brown liquid that they sell that they no longer have the word “coffee” on their stores; and go to Pret a Manger instead. LTN makes passengers queue in the concrete staircase from the concourse down to the plane, which is nice of them.

W63302 LTN-CLJ is an Airbus A320, one of over 70 in their fleet. Wizz Air appears to be based in Hungary, though the in-flight magazine is a bit coy on this point (and doesn’t have a flight map, either). Coloured purple and blue, with dark purple leather seats, it was surprisingly comfortable. I was the only person in my row. As far as I can see, CLJ doesn’t actually have any aircraft gates; we park at the other end of the runway and get a bus to a small passport checking room and the most fearesomely busy luggage carousel, with so many people crowding around it that it is impossible to see your bags.

CLJ has a small contract “business lounge” that I am surprised to be let into before the next flight: LOT is not mentioned on the door, and the Star Alliance website is quite explicit that it is a contract lounge only used for Lufthansa. It consists of six tables with sofas around them, a portable and quite fearsome air conditioner, a fridge with soft drinks, another fridge with the winning combination of yoghurt and beer, and a small selection of spirits with a coffee machine. It also has the loudest tannoy speaker in the world, where I am shouted at in Romanian every few minutes about the next departure.

LO654 CLJ-WAW is, it turns out, a little Bombardier DHC-8-400, which boards surprisingly early (but that’s because the plane is a bus drive away from the terminal, and they only want to use one bus so they cram everyone in). I get to sit in 9A, which sounds like it’s in the front, but it’s in the middle, next to the engines. I quite like it. We get a coffee and chocolate biscuit on the flight, and I successfully write my first program in Python, which is gratifying but entirely irrelevant for this trip report.

The LOT lounge in Warsaw is (as ever, with an airline’s home airport) a bit crowded, but otherwise was quite nice, with quite a good range of things and quite airy. Inside the business lounge is a super “Select Club” lounge, which, as a Star Alliance Gold I’m entitled to, so I wander in there to discover an even more crowded and very small lounge that has less food and that smells quite strongly of fish. I have a Polish beer that started with a Z, and two snacks - Apple chips, and then (oddly) cajun spiced carrot chips. Both taste of slightly flavoured cardboard, but still, they fill a hole (quite literally).

LO455 WAW-ARN is a CRJ 900, a larger plane (but still a plane that won’t fit your wheelie carry-on suitcase in the overhead lockers). I’m in 8A, a seat without a window unless you look behind you. We get a coffee and a chocolate biscuit again on the flight, and then they wheel down a drinks trolley for anyone wanting to spend money for a beer beginning with ‘Z’.

I do like ARN as an airport. Wooden floors upstairs; earthy granite floors downstairs. Properly Scandinavian. I walk to the baggage belt, and my bag was the first out and arrives as I walk toward the belt. This is how things should be.

The train into town is very fast (181km/h when I looked at the displayed speed), and has two power points at every seat. I gather it’s also very expensive. The subway also works well, though the paper tickets you can buy don’t, of course, get you through the ticket barriers, so you need to find the manned barrier.

SK1483 ARN-OSL starts with a first: a double boarding pass. I’m returning tomorrow, and they give me ONE boarding pass with TWO flights on it. In all my flying “experience” I’ve never had such a thing. The check-in chap is quite proud: “We are saving the trees”, he says. I doubt it makes that much difference, to be honest; but very unexpected.

The SAS lounge in ARN is split into two: an “SAS Lounge” and an “SAS Gold Lounge”. I’m always slightly confused as to which is the nicer one - possibly put off by SQ’s Gold Lounge in SIN which is rubbish (whereas their Business Lounge is lovely). I choose Gold. It was pretty crowded, but had a good selection of fresh vegetables and fruit, lots of different types of bread, and local beer on tap (with tiny little glasses - I see what you’re doing, SK.) A little later, the soup disappears and is replaced by fresh bread rolls, hot dogs, ketchup and mustard.

The plane itself, a 737-800, is split into “SAS Plus” and economy, and is about 75% full, I’d estimate. It is five minutes late, something the Swedish felt is important enough to flag up on the displays at the gate.

Oslo has an eye-wateringly expensive express train into the city. I catch it. For some reason, it finishes early, and goes nowhere near the train station I wanted. “Last stop, go to track 2”, says the guard. So I follow her advice, go to track 2, to discover an empty platform with no sign of any train coming soon. Uber comes to the rescue.

I have a return on the airport express, so the next day I try buying a subway ticket through the much-promoted app, to get to the train station. It turns out that Norwegians hate anyone outside Europe, and won’t accept any non-EU cards. The app doesn’t tell you this, and just asks you to try again. I get confirmation from the Oslo subway’s Twitter, and copy the Norwegian tourist board on my reply. THAT’LL SHOW THOSE VIKING BASTARDS. And then I get a taxi, which I hope someone else will pay me for.

OSL is nice, but not as nice as ARN. Again, the SAS lounge was split into two: the SAS Gold Lounge was clear that it was for gold card holders. It was decent enough.

SK868 OSL-ARN back again was all good; a full plane load of passengers. Unusually, luggage in ARN took ten minutes or so to appear. I noticed that upon checkin, the folks in OSL didn’t attach a priority tag. Naughty Norwegians.

BA flies from terminal 2 in ARN, which is a bloody long way from terminal 1: quite a considerable walk through other terminals. The lady checking me in seems a little confused. “You have a visa for Australia?” she says, looking at my (British) passport. “Yes,” I say. “An ETA?” “No, a permanent one.” “It’s in your passport?” “No, it’s electronic,” I say. This seems to satisfy her. A bit odd, since I’d have thought that she could have checked: I could have said anything. My bag gets checked in, with both a “LONG TRANSIT” and “SHORT TRANSIT” tag on it (I’ve one hour six minutes in LHR, and eight hours in HKG). I’m sure that makes sense to people. My bag gets sent all the way to BNE (I’m transiting in SYD) which is news to me: I thought it didn’t work like that. I queried it, and she assured me it would make it all the way, and I’d not have to pick the bags up in Sydney. Well, that’s a relief. (<== Spoiler)

The BA lounge in ARN is a contract lounge, run by Aurora. Access to the lounge is, oddly, through an airport bar (O’Leary’s, a sports bar brand that’s from Boston MA). It’s got a good range of food (the lounge, that is), and three beers on tap, and is spacious with a good range of seating options, many with power adaptors. I wasn’t expecting much but it’s not bad at all - rather better in many ways than the BA lounges.

BA779 ARN-LHR is slightly delayed, but then spends some time taxiing, only to turn its engines off for a bit. The plane had missed a takeoff slot. It eventually takes off an hour late. Which, if you’re paying attention, means I’m going to miss my next flight to Hong Kong. This is where a good airline earns its stripes; unlike Qantas on the way out, where nobody bothered to tell me, a chap from the flight deck armed with an iPad comes to find me and tells me their plans - either to put me on a later BA flight to Hong Kong (but they don’t know if there’s space), or maybe one of the Cathay Pacific flights instead. It’s interesting to note that they’re trying to get a replacement for my next segment, rather than a way to get me to my final destination. (I’d not be very impressed if I was chucked on the Perth nonstop flight; and wonder if I have any opportunity to negotiate if that were to happen?) I treat myself to some Percy Pigs. It could be a long day.

LHR - the BA man at “Flight Connections” matter-of-factly gives me a (window) seat on the three-hour-later BA flight to Hong Kong, rejects any possibility of upgrading using Avios (I have many), and sends me on my way. So, my eight hour exploration time in Hong Kong, aka “little treat at the end of a busy week”, has been cancelled, which I’m a bit dispirited about. And I’m back in the average BA First lounge, where I’ve discovered at least three more plugs that have no power. (I reported it to the airline on Twitter; they promise they’ll look into it).

BA 27 LHR-HKG - I got a shadow seat next to me, so I was happy. This was my first time on long haul with BA for a few years, and the food was decent - much better quality than QF. I ask for a gin and tonic, and get a miniature bottle of Gordon’s gin and a tin of tonic water from a brand I’ve never heard of before. Amused that the later “British Breakfast” contains a croissant. A FRENCH BREAD ROLL?!

HKG - I wander around the airport for a little while, but realise that it’s full of useless shops like Burberry and Chanel and there are very few interesting shops that sell anything else. I nearly buy a USB stick. And then I don’t. The tension. In the QF lounge, which is wonderfully spacious though the sun is a bit difficult to deal with in the early evening. They have Little Creatures on tap, and dim sum. This is probably the best lounge QF have in my mind - lots of space, lots of cordoned-off areas for quiet, plenty of desks to work on. Power sockets that work (albeit British ones).

QF128 HKG-SYD, in a 747-400. I’m welcomed by someone, and given a Fast Track card. That was nice; as is addressing me by name when the food comes around. The catering rather underlines that QF can’t be bothered. I ask for a gin and tonic, and in contrast to BA, someone disappears to get me a glass with some gin in it, and a can of Schweppes tonic (so you get a very strong g&t which slowly turns into a very weak one). The fun-sounding “stir fried eggplant with spicy sauce, choy sum and steamed rice” is actually slices of boiled eggplant with a brown and entirely tasteless sauce. The mid-flight snack is apparently “fresh fruit”, and breakfast is a “banana muffin” (which may have been shown a small bottle of banana flavouring early in its career) and a fresh fruit platter, aka chunks of mystery fruit in a plastic thing. A bit disappointing. I spend much of the flight being pummelled by the gorilla behind me who presumably has discovered some games on the seat-back IFE, put there by a moron who has never flown economy and never had the back of their head repeatedly knocked for hours on end. I will find this person at Qantas and tap them on the back of their head for eight hours to see how they bloody like it.

SYD airport is a shitshow. A VA flight from Hong Kong landed ten minutes before ours, so there are hundreds of people milling about. I get through passport control, get out of customs, get to the domestic transfer, there’s a massive long queue, and then they ask me where my bags are. Oh. The checkin person for BA in Stockholm was wrong - no, I needed to pick my bags up in SYD, and they weren’t going to make their way to Brisbane after all. (Travelling into the UK is a different story, if you were unaware).

I get on the bus, and get into the domestic terminal, and sit in the lounge. Plug in the laptop… into another power socket that hasn’t got any power to it… I must be scientifically attracted to them!

QF516 SYD-BNE - a standard 737-800 back home, with a shadow next to me. The snack - offered to me by name again (which is a really good and simple acknowledgement) - was some kind of big artisan granola chocolate biscuit with seeds in it; and a coffee.

As I arrive back into Brisbane, I’m still wearing the same clothes that I was presenting to a group of Norwegians over two days ago. I’ve not had much of a smooth journey both ways, and been a bit robbed of my “end of week” in a sunny Hong Kong, thanks to a late flight - and I still need to work out how to get my bag. But twelve flights, four with Star Alliance, seven with One World and one with Wizz Air, have mostly worked out.