James Cridland

Trip report: BNE-SYD-LAX-LAS

I get to BNE before, it turns out, the lounge is open. The secret, solitary check-in desk is, however, and I give them my luggage.

I’m flying via SYD on this trip, because the plane times work better and, let me clarify, nothing to do with the double status credits promotion that I booked these flights on. The trip down to SYD, the first of the day, is fully sold. It has wifi - so I busy myself doing nothing particular. Breakfast is a postage stamp of granola bar, and a decent bowl of cornflakes. We land, and the transfer bus god smiles at me and makes sure I don’t have any waiting time.

In the international terminal, I’m barked at and herded through a busy security area. The express lane for the passport machines is futile - you end up in the same queue as everyone else - and the security queue isn’t much better. In front of me, clutching a ticket marked “First”, is someone I can only describe as wearing pyjamas.

I don’t much like the SYD First lounge at the best of times. Today, it’s bedlam. It’s full - so full, there’s someone at the entrance to the restaurant bit taking bookings. I walk around, on the hunt for a spare seat and a quiet coffee, but don’t find either a spare seat nor a coffee. I walk around again, resolving to sit opposite someone if I have to; I still don’t find one. So, I walk out of the lounge, because it seems like the only option, and look at overpriced nonsense in the airport shops instead. I only have ten minutes to kill, anyway, before the plane boards. I’d have been a bit miffed had I spent money for a First ticket. Pyjama lady must be sad.

QF11 SYD-LAX is full - indeed, it was oversold. If there was benefit to me being bumped to a later flight, I’d have done that, but I wasn’t asked. A bottle of water, and the menu, is already on my seat when I board, so we’re in for an efficient flight. The upstairs economy section is half-full of Platinum passengers, one of whom starts a loud video call.

I’m treated to not just one, but three WP welcomes. First, someone “who is working downstairs”, welcomes me and the person sitting next to me with a small bag of pretzels and almonds, and offers me some better headphones, which I let her keep because I don’t ever use the IFE to watch anything. I’m told that if I want anything in this trip, just ask.

Second, someone else, wearing an apron and claiming to “work in the kitchen”, takes my food order so that she can “make sure I’ll get what I want”. I get the salmon salad. When that comes, it’s ginormous and comes on one little plastic plate. Some garlic bread is produced, balanced precariously on a napkin. I get the feeling that someone at Qantas has been told to go carefully on the plastic trays, which is a welcome change from my Emirates trip last week, though the bread balancing trick wasn’t Qantas’s finest. Anyway, she tells me that if I want anything on this trip, just ask.

Third, a nice chap called Barry, who insists on shaking everyone’s hand (I’d really rather not, to be honest, but I do anyway because I’m polite). He tells me that he’s very sorry he can’t move me to a nicer seat but the flight is full; but he’s told that to everyone so far, so I doubt his sincerity. Anyway, in 33A, I’m in the best economy seat on the plane. I know it, and I sense Barry knows it. He gives me a US customs declaration card which I dutifully fill in, even though the new machines at LAX means I’ll end up throwing this away later, and it’ll be a waste of time and effort for everyone. I realise that I can remember my passport number without looking, which is a bit depressing. He tells me that if I want anything on this trip, just ask.

(Genuinely, what do you ask for? Could I please have an upgrade to first? Could you lock the seat in front of me so that it won’t recline? Could we have some jauntier music when we land, instead of the poor man’s Pink Floyd? Are you able to guarantee that this seat has never been sat in by Fraser Anning or Ray Hadley?)

After the meal, I get a hot chocolate. In the surest sign yet that standards at Qantas have sunk to no better than JetStar, my hot chocolate comes - and I can hardly type this - *without* a marshmallow. It does, oddly, come with a bag of those little biscuits with bits of tea in. I’d have preferred the marshmallow. Perhaps I should ask Barry for one. Is this what he meant, I wonder?

This is my sixth time, I reckon, on this flight - and it’s today that I discover there’s a USB plug right at the front of the armrest. I’d never have looked there.

We land at LAX, and I get given a very special flourescent orange Express Connection boarding pass. This does absolutely bugger all in Expressing my Connection. As far as I can tell, it’s only of use if you are a US citizen. The rest of us slowly move through the lines as normal to connect with our flights in a decidedly un-express way.

I wait for my bag. It’s tagged “first” and “international connection”, but naturally it comes out last. And then I walk past the customs officers, who, of course, don’t want my customs declaration, like I said they wouldn’t earlier.

Holding my useless Express Connection card, my useless Customs Declaration form, and dragging my bag with the useless First stickers on it, I check my bag back in, and wander through the special security bit and to the AA Flagship lounge. It took an hour to get here from the plane, fact-fans. That’s still not too bad - I once had to wait three hours for entry into JFK. The Flagship lounge is busy but not overwhelmingly so, and unlike the QF lounge, I got a seat.

Then onto an A319 from LAX to LAS. There are five empty seats - one of them is next to me, so that was pleasing. The plane has no seatback screens, but with power sockets and stuff to watch via wifi, I doubt anyone is inconvenienced.

The way back starts at LAS and a realisation that there’s no lounge. At all. I walk up and down the terminal trying to find somewhere to sit and do some work. I choose Rudy’s Diner, and have a Rudyburger (well, technically, I have a “Rudy Burger And Fries” rather than a “RudyBurger”, but both are on offer with inconsistently spaced words). Upon getting a seat in the diner, I make the dull discovery that the wifi doesn’t quite stretch far enough for me to actually do some work, so I eat the surprisingly decent burger, and then stand on a charging station for a while, opposite a man who sniffed approximately every twelve seconds. To my right - a bank of gambling fruit machines, which are at least 50% occupied, with people getting a last chance to lose their money before their trip back to reality.

On the flight from LAS to LAX, we were offered “either water or orange juice”. It’s only an hour’s flight, and there’s little point in more than that, but it does make you aware of how spartan the US flight experience is. I sit in the same row as Jennifer, who in spite of having an American accent, is flying home to Sydney, on the same flight as me. She’s not sure how to get to the correct terminal upon landing, and since I’m flying alone, I ask if she wants to come into the lounge at LAX, and she does, and she’s clearly very excited about being in the Qantas First Lounge, and I’m quite pleased to have been able to guest someone in. The slightly awkward “you can get some food over there, and they’ll come and serve you, and I’m going to sit over there and do some work” did the job of the unwritten rule of highlighting there was no requirement for social niceties once in, and I hope she enjoyed the experience - I didn’t see her again.

Close to me in the lounge is a man with long white hair, a checked shirt, a moustache and… a guitar. Which he is quietly strumming. My instant thought was “there’s always one, isn’t there, nobody wants to listen to some old guy playing guitar in an airport lounge”, but this was quickly altered to “actually, this is quite soothing, and he’s quite decent at it”. He strums for a bit, then reaches for his Lee Childs book, then we get a little more strumming. I assume he’s an actual proper musician. It turns out he’s a professor from Macquarie University’s Department of Linguistics, and probably the world leader on magnetoencephalography - a functional brain imaging scanner. (I know this because I posted a picture of him on a Facebook group. Of course I didn’t actually SPEAK to him. Crazy talk.)

QF 11 was fine - a good flight in the best economy seat on the plane (33K). An almost full flight, at least from where I was. The meals were fine, but I think you can tell that the catering is done in the US rather than Australia. There are two styles of A380 with QF, as far as I can tell - one with grey seat backs, and one with the strange dark “looks like material but it isn’t” treatment. On the way out, I had grey; on the way back, I had dark. Otherwise, I noticed no difference between the two planes; and slept for almost all the journey.

I had one WP welcome. She handed me a landing card, almost gave me an express card, then changed her mind and didn’t give me one. Odd. She also did not tell me that if there was anything I wanted on this flight I only needed to ask her. This was a disappointment.

We landed a little later than originally planned, since air traffic control slowed us down; and on landing, it turned out that someone else was in our parking space, so we had to wait for ten minutes or so. It’s only a little wait after a 14 hour flight, but it feels a very long ten minutes. By the time we get to the gate it’s 6.48am.

After a lengthy queue for passport checks (which is mostly caused by the poor layout of Sydney airport, as queues to use the pointless blue card machines interfere with people who’ve used the pointless blue card machines and then have to queue at the different camera machines), I’m on the bus by 7.17am. Sydney airport is packed since it’s half term, and the bus is easily the worst and most irritating part of this journey every time. I arrive at the domestic side at 7.25, and after a short coffee in the lounge, board my last flight.

Breakfast was a postage stamped size of granola bar and Sultana Bran, made slightly more tricky to eat by the absence of a spoon. Everyone else had one, but, my red packet of plastic one-use cutlery didn’t have a spoon. I got another red packet, thank you for your concern.

And then, as is a pattern in this trip, my bag - adorned with a bright orange “First Priority” sticker, naturally pops out last on the Brisbane luggage carousel.

Going via Sydney, which again I have to reiterate was nothing to do with the double status credits offer, was a mistake. It’s a horrid airport, and takes the shine of an otherwise decent journey. Note to future self: don’t do that again.