“So I know this passport has expired but I have another passport and this passport is a diplomatic passport” explains the man in front of me in the passport queue. He starts to unpack for some reason. His suitcase is packed rather well for a fugitive. He is politely taken aside by a lady with rubber gloves and a demonic look in her eye. I never see him again, but I can only assume the cold, dead eyes of Peter Dutton were happy with another deportation.
I wander in to the Qantas lounge here in BNE International, past the big flashing signs telling me how to avoid spreading covid-19. The “new” downstairs bit is open, so I try that - it’s normally closed in the evenings. It’s quite nice - bright, fresh-feeling and no queue for the coffee.
I have forgotten my water bottle, so one of my first jobs is to go and buy a water bottle in the News Travel Rort newsagent, where everything mysteriously costs double what it does outside. Here’s a tip: when it’s time to pay, put your card into the machine and choose “savings” to pay by eftpos, and the already massively expensive price won’t be further surcharged with a dubious credit card surcharge. The lady behind the till is suspicious of my brightly coloured neobank card. “Are you sure that’s an Australian card?” she says. “Oh, jolly certainly is,” I assure her with my clipped British accent. She looks dubious.
I excitedly board the plane. Throughout economy, there are five seats free. That coronavirus thing that is apparently making nobody take planes - there’s no sign of that here.
We don’t take off on time, but that’s because if we do, we’ll land too early at LAX - everyone only starts work at 6am there, and the winds are in our favour. My WP welcome, from the flight supervisor rejoicing in the incorrectly-spelt name of Darrin, is done on the ground. I smile at him, trying to hide my excitement.
But I’m very excited. I’ve avoided the spoilers so far, and am eagerly awaiting my personal premiere of The New Qantas Safety Video. I’m disappointed to have seen the last of “the boys who’ve had a heavy night last night”, “the lady who doesn’t lean forward with her hands on her knees”, the slightly swotty beardy guy who wants me to read the safety card in my seat pocket, and “the other lady who OOOOOH I DROPPED ME FOAAAAAAAN” - although to be honest, the video was always much, much better than the awful British Airways creepy Harvey Weinstein film director. The safety video starts. Oooh, goodie, here we come. It contains… oh, the boys, slidy lady, swotty beardy guy, dropped me foan lady, and is a massive, crushing disappointment - it looks just like the old one. Alan Joyce, you’re useless. Useless! What about my new safety video? First the missing marshmallows form my hot chocolate and now THIS? Useless.
The flight goes without incident. I enjoyed the salmon salad, though a little disappointed that it’s now smoked salmon and not roast salmon. Little things, eh?
We land seven minutes before we can open the doors at 6am, but the flight staff are very good at letting us know, so it doesn’t come as a surprise.
I’m through immigration, grabbed my bag, given my bag back, and queuing up for security to get back into TBIT by 6.23am. The security lines aren’t long either, so am in the Flounge soon after - with a “light breakfast” administered by a man who is not quite terse enough to be actually rude, but terse enough to have dropped any pretence of customer care.
I’m not allowed to board, and have to go and ask someone at the desk why. Exciting! James takes my boarding pass. “Yeah, we needed your seat, so we’ve moved you three rows forward”. This was a considerably less exciting sad beep than I was hoping for. And also, not put very well, to be honest. I needed my seat as well, thanks. “We’ve given you a better seat in the bulkhead row” would have worked rather better.
Most flyers would consider this a ‘better seat’, though I actually don’t like the bulkhead seats much. I can’t really justify why - lots more space, though a little less opportunity to stretch my legs; nobody reclining in front of me, though I can’t have my bag with me on takeoff or landing. My previous seat had nobody next to me, so I sit sadly eyeing up passengers as they board, wondering who’ll be the people to sit next to me.
Nobody does, it turns out. This flight is fairly empty. I thought it could only take passengers from inbound Qantas flights, but it sounds as if it also takes other OneWorld passengers too - it sounds as if someone a few rows back from me has connected from a Finnair flight.
At least, nobody sits next to me instantly. But as soon as the seatbelt sign goes off, a Glaswegian man wearing tracksuit bottoms and an aggressive accent comes and sits in the aisle seat. “Is anyone sitting here?” he asks, looking at me, wanting a fight. I look a bit irritated at him, and say “well, no, I guess”, and he says “No? Okay then!” and proceeds to make himself comfortable. Sigh. So much for my empty row.
Anyway, I try a bit of the meatloaf, and the five hour flight seemed to be quite quick.
The downside with using Qantas, rather than American, for this leg is that there’s no wifi. I understand the reasons why Qantas are waiting - new satellites get launched later this year that will offer sensible speeds and low prices, so it makes sense to hold on - but it could have been useful to have had some form of wifi on this trip. I suspect it would significantly change the quality of longhaul flights if I could have some internet access.
This flight doesn’t involve US immigration (it’s technically a domestic flight), so it’s quite quick to get out the other end. I discover that the FlyTrain annoyingly still requires a MetroCard, while the rest of the New York subway system works fine just with contactless (“PayPass/paywave” depending on what sort of Australian you are). As a result, there are a lot of people queuing at the machines, and spending $1 on a MetroCard that they’ll only need again at the end of their time in New York.
I wonder why this terminal feels unfamiliar, and I realise I’ve not done this flight before. I did the flight to JFK this time last year (to the same thing I’m going to now), but I went back via DFW.
Ten minutes queueing through security, and I’m straight into the American “Flagship Lounge”. They have two lounges which I, and I think anyone, can use - one with a buffet, and one which is a la carte. (I don’t quite know why). I choose the a la carte place, to discover a nice chap prowling the tables and taking orders. There’s a choice of four meals: I go for the meatball sliders, which are meatballs, cheese and tomato sauce, with a tiny pitta bread on the top and bottom. They filled a hole, as did quite a decent IPA. Quite a nice lounge, and bright and airy. Every table has a power point, too. The lounge also has an accompaniment of a British lady who goes through quite a few glasses of wine and calls most of her contact list, mainly to tell them that it’s quite a nice lounge. I agree with her.
It’s quite full on this flight. There’s no platinum Phantom next to me as a result - we’re all jammed in, to speed up the covid-19 transferral.
It’s now March 5th. The new safety video has been out for five days, so I’m guessing it must now be on this plane, so I eagerly settle in, waiting to get my premiere. It, of course, is the old safety video. I wonder how much longer I’ll need to wait to see it, and also why Alan Joyce hasn’t resigned in disgrace.
I start drifting off to sleep, to be woken as the lady in front of me slams the seat back into my knees, without any kind of warning. So that’s nice. It turns out if you whack the back of the seat quite hard, she doesn’t like that much. She turns to look back at me and scowl. “That bloody hurt,” I say. She turns back and makes herself comfortable. I think we’re evens.
Scott comes along and gives a WP welcome, and tells me how grateful Qantas is for my business.
The chicken red curry actually has some spice in it.
We come out at gate 150, and we’re already in the international terminal, so it’s a short walk to the lounge. I ask nonchalantly - “so, how full is the next flight?” hoping to score an empty seat next to me. It turns out that the flight currently has “-1” seat available. A flight was cancelled earlier (they tell me the Melbourne flight) and they’ve jammed as many onto this flight as possible.
“Ah,” I say. “Well, I might finally get an op-up.” I use the slang to make them aware I know about these things. They look at me in awe of my deep knowledge, and type a few more buttons - I presume indelibly marking my customer record as a knowledgeable and excellent flyer with a tremendous sense of fashion and great hair.
I do some work, and have Neil’s burger which is dull, and some strange avocado toast with tuna on it, which is less dull.
In the loo, they have copious amounts of toilet paper. Astonishing. This truly is a cornucopia of delights, unavailable to mere normal people.
I make my way to the gate, excited that I might actually be moved away from 42A and into a slightly nicer seat. Business would be nice, sure, but PE would be fine too. I mean - I am a platinum, so l must be first on the list, no? Scott has just told me how grateful Qantas are for my business, and he must mean that, or he wouldn’t say so, no? If they’ve managed to oversell this flight so comprehensively, it must be the best opportunity I get for an op-up, no?
*HAPPY BEEP* from the scanner. Sad beep from me inside.
I watch the old safety video again. The lady drops her FOAAAAAN again. Someone jumps in the pool again - Aussies. The lady goes down the slide leaning backwards with her hands on her belt again, while telling us to lean forwards with our hands on our knees. The city boys have had another late night again.
We take off thirty minutes late, after the Qantas printer breaks and someone has to go back to the mid 1980s for another dot-matrix printer.
I get a WP welcome from some bloke, but it’s one of the FAs, Lean, who impresses me this trip. She remembers my name and always uses it every time she comes past. Every time. I’d love a memory like that.
No idea what the dinner is like - I don’t think we were given menu cards on this flight, but I was drifting in and out of sleep and didn’t bother with the meal. Breakfast was okay. Not entirely helped by the FA saying very loudly to someone not too far behind me “Have you been sick?” Mmm, how are your scrambled eggs now?
We land - without the sound of vomit, thankfully - a little late, after having been rerouted round “some weather”. I’m alerted that Qantas is cancelling flights because of less demand - which, after another jam-packed flight, seems curious. Particularly curious - cancellation of a number of Melbourne to Auckland flights, which appears to have nothing to do with covid-19.
As we taxi, I’m alerted from the Qantas app: it’s Saturday morning, but my next flight is on Monday.