One of the longest flights in the world

BNE airport

A man in a hat behind me in the queue is very annoyed.

I’m waiting to get my COVID documentation checked for my flight. “Oh, Denmark, that’s a new one on me,” says the Qantas attendant, while she looks up the entry requirements on her iPad.

The man behind me is pacing up and down — a thin, wiry-looking guy, maybe 65-ish, in a green hat and a green rain jacket and some green shorts; a black facemask covering his white beard.

A big bloke from security, who’s clearly done The Training for people like the angry man in the hat, comes and helps him. He needs documentation to fly to the Phillipines, but he can’t work his phone, because his SIM card has gone missing and he’s got problems with Apple, and he’s sure that he can just fly anyway, even if he hasn’t got the tests they require, and no he isn’t going to install a bloody app. The security guy talks in a calm voice, says it’s a Phillipines government requirement, and promises him he will go and see what can be done, and leaves him to pace a little more.

My research, on the other hand, was correct — no, I don’t need a test or anything other than a vaccination certificate, which I have in my bag. The Qantas app had keep reiterating that I probably needed a test, which was confusing (but then, these things change all the time, and better to err on the side of caution). All is done; I check in my suitcase, and I leave the pacing angry man to pace a little more. I’m guessing the angry man, or someone like him, happens more than once a day. It must be quite wearing on the staff — for something entirely out of their control and maddeningly inconsistent.

I turned up three hours early, because I wasn’t entirely confident that I wouldn’t need a test, and also not entirely confident that there wouldn’t be a massive security queue. Not only did I not need a test, there wasn’t a security queue. I go to the domestic lounge and wait.

QF 824 BNE-DRW

For my trip to Darwin, I get a points upgrade to business, and it’s a very nice lay-flat seat that isn’t really needed on this five hour segment but still. However, there’s no wifi which is a shame; I guess it’s because this is an international plane which doesn’t have it? I guess. My plan to complete my work (and record a podcast on the flight — oh yes I would have done, though it’s only three minutes long) would have to wait.

My 10am lunch is a chicken curry which is edible. As part of lunch, I get given a Lindt chocolate ball. Oooh, I think. I put it in my jacket pocket for later, and watch some downloaded YouTube.

DRW

It’s my first time in Darwin, and my first time in the NT, so instead of staying for six and a half hours in the lounge, I leave the airport. Everything is lush green and humid. The first billboard ad I see is for a tractor. I choose a random spot in the centre of Darwin to get an Uber to.

It’s election time in Australia, and the side of the road on the way into Darwin is peppered with signs for who to vote for; and signs for who not to vote for. The signs are called “corflutes”, after the Corflute® material they are made from — corrugated plastic that the Green party promise us is responsibly recycled afterwards, while both Labor and the LNP presumably dispose of by burning them in a children’s nursery on a coal fire while chanting curses about the climate change loonies.

Darwin itself is blisteringly hot and incredibly humid: in the drizzle of early afternoon, it smells like Hong Kong (which is a ridiculous statement but it does). I walk around for a bit, and take in the sights. It’s the least capital-city capital city I’ve been to in Australia. I see a museum built from a tunnel to hide oil (from the outside, I didn’t go in, I’ve been in a tunnel before). I see the home of the ABC and of Nine, and Parliament House. I see the sea.

Temperatures reach 30°C (86°F) as I wander about and it’s really quite hot. I do a bit of work in a bar, then discover that the sun is out and it’s even hotter, so instead of a little more aimless walking, elect to go back to the airport.

They have new security scanners here, so I confidently take my jacket off, throw my heavy rucksack on top of my jacket, and sail through security, only to discover an oily mess seeping through my jacket pocket when I get to the lounge. It’s suspiciously chocolate-smelling. Oh.

The Qantas Club in Darwin is large and functional. On the way in I’m told “you can stay in here until 6, but we close then, and after that you need to go into International Departures”, which I duly ackowledge. It does battered fish and lasagne, which I know isn’t a classic combo, but frankly I don’t know why. I treat myself and finish my work for the day, surrounded by an aroma of melted Lindt chocolate ball and a slightly oily pocket.

At about 5.30pm I decide that I fancy a walk, with the intention of going to the International Departures area. That’s closed, though, surprisingly, so I mooch about in the shop for a little bit, admirably looking at the way they price things at slightly below “too outrageous” but most certainly quite far above “good value”.

I think to myself that it would be a silly thing to go back to the lounge, so I wait until the International Departures area opens which must be at 5.45, right? Or maybe 6pm? It opens at 6.12pm, but I don’t see a large number of people going in, and I wonder why. Upon going through (and through a moderately chaotic security queue), I discover that the international lounge is suspiciously full of people. I suspect that when the domestic lounge closes at six, they take lounge guests on a secret route to the international bit.

QF9 DRW-LHR

At 13,872 km (8,620 miles) this is the 7th longest flight in the world, according to Wikipedia. I wasn’t much looking forward to it, to be honest.

I get onto the DRW-LHR flight — my first ultra-longhaul flight, hoping for a big red error sound when my economy boarding pass is scanned, but no, 42A for me. The flight is packed, and my daily routine last week of checking if I have a space next to me has also failed. But, at least I’ve enough knee room.

A young bloke sits next to me. It’s 7.40pm but he’s wearing sunglasses. He takes a sleeping pill, and to loud protests from his girlfriend, takes another sleeping pill. He sits, tapping his feet.

“Flight time is 16 hours 54 minutes”, we’re told over the tannoy. Oh, good. I’ve avoided these flights so far, much preferring to stop off somewhere exotic, though Hong Kong isn’t really an option any more — but when booking this, thought it was better to go straight through.

I get a Platinum welcome. “We’re *so* pleased to see you back with us, Mr Cridland,” said Debbie, who had made a special trip to see me, thanks to her iPad telling her to. “Please do let me know if there’s *anything* I can do for you.” She gives me a bottle of water. “A bottle of water!” I think to myself, “my loyalty has at last been recognised!” I gratefully put the water in the seatback pocket, and look up, and there’s a big trolley coming round giving people bottles of water, and the flight attendant is very confused that I turn it down because my new friend Debbie has given me one just twenty seconds previously.

I plug a charger in to the seat back. My next door neighbour’s overactive knee knocks the plug out. I plug it back in again.

I watch a badly produced piece of video downloaded from YouTube about the train tunnels under the Hudson River, where the narrator pronounces the word “subaqueous” in a way that clearly communicates that he has no idea what it means.

Dinner is here! And who should be serving it, but my new friend, Debbie! Super. She asks me what I want. But I’ve not seen a menu, so I don’t know. “Didn’t you hear the announcement?” she asks, in the way that a new friend wouldn’t. No, I didn’t hear the announcement. Debbie huffs a bit and tells me what there is, and I choose, and then she offers me a drink.

I ask what beer she has, and Debbie doesn’t know. She holds two cans up to show me — one is a “Hahn Superdry*, a low-carb beer, and the other is a Heineken, she tells me. I go for the Heineken. Her colleague has a quiet word. “Oh, that Heineken is a no-alcohol beer, is that OK?” Once more, Qantas shows a complete lack of knowledge about beer, which seems a disappointment, especially when they appear quite knowledgeable about wine.

My meal is a chicken teriyaki, given in a little cardboard box which says “Think Fresh” on it — good advice, since it does taste better if you think it’s fresh.

I eat a bit of it, and drink the Hahn Superdry. I’ve not had a Hahn Superdry before. It is low-carb, it says, and is 99% sugar-free, it also says, so I drink the 1% pure sugar beer and discover it is also 100% free of any joy.

My neighbour knocks the charger plug out again. He’s also lost his sunglasses, which he spends the rest of the flight looking for every so often, on his hands and knees with his iPhone torch. It’s going to be a long flight. I vow to switch the lead for the UK one in my bag when I need to — nobody will be able to knock that one out, overactive knees or not. Best mains plugs in the world.

The lights go out, and I doze, waking up again at 6 hours to go. My noise cancelling headphones help the two baby cries mostly disappear. Who’d be a parent on a 17 hour flight like this?

I take advantage of my neighbour having a stretch round the cabin to switch the power cable to the UK one, which goes into the socket quite nicely and is not knockoutable, and then I charge all the things. I watch a downloaded YouTube video about heat pumps, which makes me fall asleep again. This is a blessed relief, since it’s the best way to pass the time.

Breakfast comes with two hours to go. It’s the same normal Qantas hot breakfast as ever, with a tray. I enjoy a little maskless time eating it. All in all, this is a comfortable economy seat — a little cold, but the blanket helped; enough leg room for this 6'3" skinny person, and enough room to the window side to give me a little space.

I get a Platinum Happy Ending, where someone who wasn’t Debbie — probably still disgusted that I didn’t listen to the tannoy — asked me if I had enjoyed the flight.

I told her it was a bit too long — but it was comfortable, nonetheless.

Would I do it again? Probably not — I enjoy the break in Singapore (though enjoy it rather less in Dubai). In some ways, the break is part of the journey. But it wasn’t as bad as I feared.

LHR airport

We land early in Heathrow at 4.37am, with the inevitable effect that nobody is working yet to let us into the airport. (Staff start at 4.30am).

We wait for a bus from T3 to T5, which is relatively straightforward.

I have a bit of breakfast in the BA lounge, which is like the kind of buffet breakfast you have in a British hotel — simultaneously hard *and* soggy hash browns, and some marinated bacon (marinated in what? Grease, of course!) — but then, joy, I have a shower. BA’s showers are lovely. What a welcome thing after so long in the air.

Then, a wander to the gate — A10, which T5 aficionados will recognise as being not a real gate, but a kind of mini bus station, where you queue for a bus to drive you to a plane.

Airbus A321neo — BA 812, LHR to CPH

We’re late, because “we need an additional wing walker to help us push back, and the one that they’ve got isn’t actually qualified, so they’ve radioed for another one and hopefully we’ll be on the move shortly”. It takes about thirty minutes for the ground staff to find someone that literally knows what they’re doing.

BA has wifi now — that’s new. But, it’s £4.99 for an hour, or £6.99 for the whole flight (1 hr 20 mins). We forget how lucky we are that Qantas doesn’t charge. I don’t spend the money, but the system still gives me some flight information.

Breakfast is a Nutri-Grain bar, and a bottle of water.

I order a coffee and some potato chips — which you can do from your seat using the inflight wifi — partially because I’d quite like a coffee, and also because I can pay with my Avios balance which keeps these alive for a little while longer. I’m not sure either was worth the 850 Avios I paid, but given that I can use the Avios for internal Qantas flights, it’s more important to give them another bump in terms of validity. They no longer sell M&S product on board, which is disappointing.

I notice, Qantas, that BA has its own beer available on board — a “Transatlantic Pale Ale”, which is an American Pale Ale really. This is brewed for them by Brewdog. You could do something similar with Cooper’s or Little Creatures, or one of the smaller craft brewers, Qantas.

And then we glimpse the big bridge between Malmö and Denmark, and land in CPH, where I plan to find something to eat, and then discover how to catch a train into Sweden along that same bridge. Wish me luck.