On the way to the Emirates lounge, I walked past “Brisbane’s newest lounge”, the My Lounge which lucky Virgin Australia flyers get to use, as a replacement for the Air New Zealand, then Singapore Airlines lounge, that those flyers were offered. It’s a gate, essentially: an impressively small bit of corridor, cordoned off by walls that don’t quite reach the top. Quite inventive. Looks dreadful.
Then, into the land the power socket forgot: the Emirates lounge. The food is excellent, though. I find one of the three seats with a power point, and have a Beef Caesar Salad (that old classic) and then have another one because I really liked it, and then some almost illegally matured cheese.
Of note: my passport wasn’t checked at all on boarding the plane, via the boarding gate in the lounge - just the boarding pass. Unusual.
EK435 BNE-DXB - Airbus A380-800 Passenger - A6EVF
A rather perfunctory WP welcome before we’d taken off. On the screens, voiceover Dave Kelly (formerly a KISS presenter) tell us how seatbelts work, then voiceover Andi Peters from children’s BBC fame shouts at us about how to use ICE, with some not-so-subtly special offers edited in halfway through using an ever-so-slightly different microphone.
There’s a Platinum Phantom next to me (a blocked seat that makes all the difference). I’m in the seats at the front of the aircraft, next to the mysterious cupboard under the stairs which opens with regularity during the night flight, spilling light into the otherwise dark cabin. What do they do in there? There seems to be a man who sits there throughout the entire journey. A glimpse into the mysterious cupboard shows a mysterious computer screen, a mysterious man looking at it, and a mysterious banana on the desk.
This felt like a very new aircraft. The IFE, with a big HD screen, has its usual live television channels (probably the only content I’d watch), and I was impressed to see that the BBC World News logo had been updated. This isn’t a crucial bit of logo changes (most people wouldn’t notice it) but it’s impressive to see here - it only changed a few months ago. (Oddly, BBC World News is a 16:9 picture squeezed into a 4:3 frame with black bars above and below; while CNN is a truly 16:9 picture. But this is descending into something really dull.) Among the sensors underneath the IFE screen is a camera, pointed at me the whole time. I’m sure it isn’t turned on, but even so.
Two decent meals, and a lamb “pie” (really, a bit of minced lamb inside crusty bread-like pastry, packed in a cardboard box). Meals on Emirates feel a bit like a game of Jenga, with lots of small things artfully squashed onto the tray, and making it very complicated to eat anything without it all falling off. The Qantas experience of “here’s a thing, eat it” seems preferable.
During the night, I was woken up to check I had my seatbelt on. Rookie mistake to have it under the blanket. But it does lead me to wonder whether they wouldn’t just have a little LED for the flight attendants to know whether the seatbelt is fastened or not. There must be Reasons.
As we begin to descend, we are played the soothing video telling us how Dubai airport works, voiced by the very nice Paul Brown who lives in Stockport in the UK and when I booked him owned a studio called LBS (his business partner was the L, he was the B, and I think the S was Stockport). I peer into the mysterious cupboard under the stairs. Mysteriously, the mysterious banana has disappeared.
We land an impressive 40 minutes early.
We landed at the A gates, and I wasn’t much looking forward to inevitable long bus ride. But instead, there’s an underground train which I don’t remember from before. It looks newish, and I exit the train at B/C gates to the accompaniment of the call to prayer issuing from the speakers.
I go to the nearest First Lounge. It’s large and pleasant, though they warn me that my gate is over 20 minutes walk away and there’s a smaller First Lounge closer to that gate. I heard the word “smaller”, and decided I was in the right place + a decent breakfast and a shower, and then a walk down to the C gates to confirm that, yes, the First Lounge is significantly smaller down there and I did make the right choice.
EK185 DXB-BNE - Airbus A380-800 Passenger - A6EUF
A near identical plane, which had me sitting a few rows back from the Mysterious Cupboard Under The Stairs. There is no mysterious banana in this one. Mysterious.
No Platinum Phantom, because this plane is full - so comprehensively full I was harbouring a small hope for an op-up, but that didn’t come.
Strangely, we had a cold breakfast snack first, with coffee and juice; and then, four hours in, we had a hot meal. I’m sure this is quite normal for many flights, but it struck me as rather strange. It also shifts the alcohol until the end of the flight, rather than the beginning.
I tried the wifi, which gives you 20MB free and would charge $15.99 for the entire flight, which would have been good value had the wifi being slightly faster than walking to the website yourself.
We landed 20 minutes ahead of schedule. I walked past the long non-EU passport queue, and walked straight through the EU entry with my British passport, which is good to do while I still can.
I’m flying via LHR to PRG because I have more Avios than many third world countries have in the bank: so I’m not flying with Vueling or something equally unpleasant direct, but am instead flying via LHR, with a 1h11m layover at LHR (landing in terminal 3, taking off from terminal 3).
On checking in, it turns out that the 1h11m layover is more likely to be 41m (the plane is landing 30 minutes late though is still, oddly, apparently departing on time). So, instead of checking me in, I’m told to wait, holding my bags, while a number of telephone calls are made in Spanish or possibly Catalan, with concerned faces, and then the lady checks more people in while we wait for more telephone calls.
They tried booking me on the direct Vueling flight, but they couldn’t get me onto it. That was nice of them. But now, I’m told to check my bag in, then told I might make the connecting flight or might not. “But what will happen to my bag?” The lady says I could take it into the plane with me if I’m concerned. It’s a suitcase and much too big, and she might be able to get it on here, but wouldn’t in Heathrow, and I’d need to unpack stuff, so that won’t work. They’re not entirely filling me with confidence. I end up checking in my bag, with a feeling that I probably won’t see it again for a while. Because of all the waiting and anxious calls, I now have about fifteen minutes to get some work done (with a deadline), so don’t discover a lounge or anything else; but I do get my work done and hit the deadline.
BA 477 BCN-LHR - Airbus A320-232
We sit on the ground for fifty minutes before taking off, narrowing my connection time to an impossible twenty minutes. Looks like I’ll have four hours in Heathrow: and hopefully my bag will follow me onto my new flight.
For 1,120 Avios - or a ninth of the way between Adelaide and Melbourne in business - I get breakfast, of a decent M&S sandwich, a decent-ish coffee (in some sort of coffee bag), and a packet of Jaffa Cakes, because I know how to live. It may be the first food I’ve had for over 12 hours. I could probably also have bought a toaster with these points.
There’s no IFE on this journey. The screens display the map. However, BA now has wifi, I discover - which costs £4.99 for an hour. That offers “the best movies and TV shows”, which turns out to be merely pointing out that Netflix should work on the wifi if you buy it. We forget how lucky we are in Australia, with the decent selection of TV shows on the app, plus free wifi.
We landed at 9.51, only twenty-one minutes late.
I hotfoot it through flight connections, but get buzzed at the security check - I’ve missed my connection. A little queuing later, I’m given the next flight (in about 4 hours), and I spend the time in the lounge or wandering around the packed, horrible, terminal 3. Apparently this terminal is going to be demolished, and flights moved to terminal 2 - and if so, that can’t come soon enough.
I discover that British Airways now has a beer of its own. It’s a quite decent fruity IPA called Speedbird 100, brewed for the airline by Brewdog. It’s pretty good. Qantas should do this. (It’s probably a cost-saving thing, too).
LHR-PRG BA856 A-320
I sit near the back of the plane in a window seat. When I was given the flight, I was told it was an empty flight and nobody else was going to be in my row, but things have changed. A couple sit next to each other in the aisle, and then an enormous gentleman comes and squeezes his enormous frame in the middle seat. He presses the bell with his enormous podgy fingers and asks for a special enormous belt. He is carrying a freebie conference backpack that displays that he’s a computer programmer - but of course he is. He is enormous, has glasses, has a scraggly beard and is balding, the lower part of his hair is wet with sweat, he is wearing shorts, sandals and bare feet, and he is clearly a stranger to soap, judging by his smell. I am squashed between his enormity and the window.
Then, a lovely thing happens. The air stewardess comes down and says to the couple sitting opposite each other on the aisle seats that there’s space further down and would they like a little space. They do, and gratefully move back. Enormous bloke doesn’t move though. I have social anxiety - do I ask him to move? Then she comes back. “Would you like to spread out a little?”, she asks the enormous bloke. “Um, no. I’m fine,” he says. “I think the gentleman next to you would be grateful,” she says, tactfully. I agree. Enormous bloke agrees to move. The flight attendant winks at me. Best flight attendant ever.
Within a few minutes, enormous bloke is asleep. He wakes every so often to nod enthusiastically at the music he’s playing, which I guess, to conform to stereotype, is some unmusical heavy metal shit.
Anyway, excepting the enormous man mountain, the flight is uneventual, once we finally take off. It turns out there’s a “routine” engineering issue to fix, with some paperwork, so after a late takeoff, we land 51 minutes behind schedule. This flight didn’t have wifi, and the sandwich/drinks trolley took so long coming down to us that as soon as it served me, the plane began to descend. But I bought another sandwich. These Avios miles won’t spend themselves.
After a drive from the hotel to the airport it seems quite clear that Czechia doesn’t have any roads that are wider than one car. The cobbles are quaint but a bit wearing after a while.
The lounge, operated by Menzies, is quite small but decent enough. The wifi is called “John1” for some reason, possibly an attempt to hide it. The password is “czechrepublic”. You’re welcome.
BA855 PRG to LHRt3 Airbus A320
The flight is full, and oversold. There’s a sign on the check-in desk offering people €350 (AUD $560) if they want to take a later flight. I consider it - I’ve got an eight hour layover in Heathrow, and not sure I’m very excited about leaving the airport and going somewhere. But I don’t.
We squash onto the plane. Once we’re finally sitting down, we are told that air traffic at Heathrow has told us we need to wait. So, my third flight with BA on this trip is, once more, delayed. We get shunted to a remote stand to await our fate, finally taking off 50 minutes late.
I plunder more of my Avios, and get served an out-of-date coffee. And a KitKat. We land 37 minutes late. I hear a loud American bemoaning the fact that she has a trip “all the way to New York”, which is just six hours. Lady, you don’t know.
I have eight hours or so layover, so decide to leave the horror of Terminal 3. I catch an Uber to Windsor. This is a good idea, kind of, though it is really quite cold already, and the clouds come and the sun disappears. I disappear inside a pub for a pint or two. The Duchess of Cambridge was warm and welcoming, and gave me a frothy head. While I was enjoying the delights of the pub, I got a text alert saying that I wasn’t going to get the upgrade to business for my LHR-SIN flight. I’m relatively content, since I have the best seat in economy on this plane, at the front of the “economy enclave” at the back of the top deck.
On returning to the airport, I decide to spend a bit of time in the Qantas lounge, and say hello to the nice man on the door. “I wonder if you’d reprint these for me?” I ask him, giving him my BA-produced boarding passes. While he busied himself doing that, I mentioned something about being denied an upgrade request “for my final flight of the year”, and he said that he was sorry but there was no chance of an upgrade given how full the flight was, and gave me my new Qantas boarding passes.
On sitting down, I noticed something odd about these boarding passes. The LHR-SIN one said “premium” on it. And, as far as I can see, I’ve no text message nor collection of points from my Qantas account. Curious.
QF2 LHR-SIN A380-800
This flight departed half an hour late. It was supposed to go from gate 3, but they discovered that the ramps didn’t work there, so it needed to be moved down to gate 1.
The boarding pass was right - I am sitting in premium economy. Everything on this plane feels very new. I get the first of three WP welcomes as I’m given the menu. She tells me, excitedly, that this is the new plane with the revised seating plan: there is no economy enclave on the top deck, and it’s premium economy all the way. “In fact, you’re sitting where economy started”, she tells me. So this is why I’m sitting in premium - I’m sitting in the same seat that I booked, kind of, it’s just that I’ve managed to be lucky enough to have had the actual seat change class. What a great trick!
The plane is new (inside), with a decently good IFE and a nicely designed new premium seat, which has space for your phone and stuff, as well as two USB ports and a power socket. The pillowcase lets you attach the pillow to the seat back, and there’s a little video explaining this, and more, on the IFE. The food wasn’t bad, served on china with metal cutlery and a lack of almost anything plastic. Excepting the plane being much too cold for me, it was a good flight in a decent environment. The crew are clearly proud of it, too - another crew member telling me “Welcome to the next ten years of our A380” and urging me to have a look around.
I slept most of the way, huddled up in the blanket.
It’s November 2019, so I was rather hoping for the new First Lounge to be open by now. It isn’t. Instead, I go, via a pharmacy to get some headache pills, to drink copious liquid in the Qantas Lounge (all non-alcoholic, by the way), and nurse a headache that may partly been because I don’t drink enough water, and partly because I drunk too much wine.
QF52 SIN-BNE A330-300
The plane I glimpse out of the window has the old Qantas logo on it, and I wonder whether I have the joy of the rubbish plane with the iPads instead of seatback screens. It turns out… I don’t know, because as I scan my boarding pass at the gate, a big red light flashes and my boarding card is torn up to my slight consternation. Instead, I’m issued a new one for seat 1A - my upgrade request for this leg has gone through! Hurray! My last flight of the year comes with free pyjamas!
Christopher, one of the flight attendants, isn’t happy. He’s asking the occupant of 1K where her boarding pass is - quite aggressively, peering over his glasses, pursing his lips. She has to get her bag. It turns out that she’s swapped with her husband (who is presumably in economy somewhere). Congratulations, husband - but she made Christopher a bit suspicious, since she was obviously not a bloke. Christopher relaxes slightly.
Food was decent enough, and a nice few hours sleep followed on the flat bed. I thought that 1A wouldn’t be a great seat, being close to the light and noise of the forward galley, but unlike an Air Canada flight I had last year, the staff don’t congregate in this one and noisily chat and slam doors, and the lighting in there isn’t very bright anyway.
I’ve been awake and quietly reading for ten minutes or so, and Christopher #2 isn’t happy, brandishing my paper breakfast order that I’d completed four hours previously. Where I’d ticked “yoghurt”, did I mean a bowl of plain yoghurt, or did I mean a fruit salad with yoghurt? I helped Christopher #2 decipher my complex “X” next to the word “Yoghurt”, and the glaringly absent “X” next to the words “Fruit Salad”. His real name isn’t Christopher, this one, but the real Christopher comes back with breakfast, delighting in tiptoeing up to me and saying an approximation of my name quite loudly just when I wasn’t expecting it, making me jump. “Neil’s Brioche” is quite good, the “plain yoghurt with no fucking fruit if I wanted fruit I would have ticked the fucking box CHRISTOPHER” was good with honey, and the croissant was rock hard, dissolving into a billion buttery flaky crumbs.
I check the IFE for how close we are to land. The IFE itself says 45 minutes. The moving map says 7 minutes. The full-screen moving map says we’ve just landed in Singapore. I attempt to take a photograph of this discrepancy, but am treated to “Don’t be sorry just declare it” as a punishment. The wood’s fine. I’ve sprayed it.
A view of some of the bush fires raging in the Sunshine Coast hinterlands, and we land, over the familiar mangroves at the end of the runway, at 5.25am, catching Brisbane Airport slightly unawares. We’re serenaded with some slightly new landing music (I checked, it’s for the 100th anniversary).
A pleasant end to my last flights of the year.