Trip report: fifteen hours between SYD and DFW

For Qantas frequent flyers, one of the best ways of using your points is to request a points-based upgrade with them. I’m flying a long way, so I have.

I’ve been hovering over the phone for the last few days, hoping that the upgrade comes through. My early morning shower is interrupted by an exciting noise from the mobile phone. Is this the upgrade? Have I scored the chance to spend 15 hours in a better seat, rather than squished up in economy? Dripping with water, I rush to the phone.

It isn’t the upgrade. It’s an alert from TripIt, telling me that the SYD-DFW flight is delayed by over an hour. Oh.

The taxi arrives. The driver flings his door open, with a very loud, stern-sounding man in Arabic, echoing round the neighbourhood from his car speakers. I think it’s a sermon, but since I don’t speak Arabic, I don’t really know: the only thing I do know is that every so often an excited Australian voiceover breaks in, to sell us the idea of business banking, or fast food. (The driver is listening to YouTube, but audio only).

The driver also doesn’t know where he’s going, but that’s all okay because I do.

My phone makes another interesting noise. Finally, I think — it’s the upgrade my hopes are pinned on! I excitedly check the phone.

It isn’t an upgrade. Instead, I see that the flight that this driver is not-so-expertly driving me towards is, er, cancelled.

I’ve never had a flight cancelled on me before. I wonder what’ll happen.

I get to the airport to check into a flight that I can’t catch. While in the queue, my phone buzzes with my new flight details — my flight is an hour later, and the flight I was originally booked on: but Qantas had shifted my flight earlier because of the delays at Sydney airport. Those delays aren’t an issue now, since I’m departing an hour later from Sydney anyway. The only downside — I’m in a middle seat for this leg. I can’t complain; by the looks of the seat map, there will have been plenty of people who won’t make it.

To the lounge, and I discover that I’m, indeed, one of the lucky ones. Someone, with a voice that’s so loud that their companion rushes over and tells them to be quiet, is on the phone telling someone that they’ll be in Sydney at 2pm. 2pm! I’m getting in at 12.45pm.

QF521 BNE-SYD

On to the plane, which is (as expected) full. The inflight wifi now starts with an ad, I notice, but no longer asks for my name and seat number. I never dared type in any old rubbish (1A, Scott Morrison) in case my wifi would be denied, but I’m pleased it’s slightly less privacy-invading. The ad appears unsold, because it’s an ad for Frequent Flyer credit cards (any of them).

An uneventful flight later, accompanies by those biscuits that are misleadingly described as “chocolate” but are 12% coconut, and a brown liquid misleadingly described as “coffee”, we touch down in Sydney.

SYD

I walk into the international bus transfer bit. There isn’t a US immigration agent there any more asking questions (that comes at the gate); instead, I instantly walk onto the bus with no queueing at all. Yay. I celebrate by drinking the water in my water bottle, knowing that I’m due another security line any minute.

A few weeks ago I bought an Apple AirTag, in spite of not owning an Apple phone: my research led me to the quite useful discovery that the app works with iPads as well. I put the AirTag into my check-in bag after I bought it: and get the iPad out of my bag to take a look where it is. Excitingly, I can see that my bag has come with me this far. That’s rather excellent.

We touched down at 12.35pm, and SYD-I security is very quick (in spite of being denied any access to the priority lane). I’m through by 1.05pm, and in the First lounge shortly afterwards.

SYD First Lounge

I reload the Qantas app, hopefully, hoping that an upgrade might show up. It doesn’t.

I order the bang bang chicken from the menu. “Ah, sir, with the bang bang chicken salad, it’s actually duck.” Oh. Okay, I’m sure that’ll be fine. It is presented to me within a few minutes, as “your bang bang chicken salad”. It was duck.

The flight is late and will leave at 16:40, and but we know that. The app says so, alongside the big sign saying that an upgrade has been requested. No news as yet about the upgrade. I’m fine with Premium Economy, I guess, even if it isn’t an upgrade to full business. It’s a 15 hour flight, so even that would be nice.

It gets close to 16:10, boarding time, and we’re told that the boarding is actually going to be in about 20 or 30 minutes time. The monitors (well, the fancy flappy sign thing) robustly sticks on 16:40 as the leaving time.

I occasionally check the Qantas app to see the news of my upgrade. No news yet. But looking at the seat map, the two seats next to me are both allocated, perhaps blocked for me. It isn’t a very full flight, so I’m assuming that at least I’ll have a spare seat next to me; but the upgrade would still be nice.

News filters through about Alan Joyce, Qantas’s CEO, who is to make an apology about his airline being a bit crap recently. Part of that apology is to give all Frequent Flyers a year’s additional status. I’m impressed, before remembering that this isn’t quite as generous as the media think it is, since it’s actually nothing new — my year is up in November, and Qantas has already rolled over my Platinum status for another year, even though I might have hit it anyway). The email, which I got later, says “we’d like to confirm the extension of your Platinum status into 2023”, so it’s not a new thing, they’re just confirming it. I idly wonder whether any of the media will report that. I bet they won’t; Qantas buys a lot of advertising.

I hit refresh again, and the app tells me that boarding has closed for the flight. Slightly concerned, I ask at the desk. “I hate that app,” she says, surprisingly annoyed-sounding. “No, boarding hasn’t started yet. Don’t worry, we’ll tell you when boarding is starting. That bit on the app will change.” I good-naturedly gesture at the “upgrade requested” sign and say “I’d rather that one changed, too!” I get a sympathetic look. But the upgrade request can happen as you hand your boarding pass over at the gate, I know that. I’m cool with it.

And, finally, we get to the aircraft, which is now scheduled at 17:20.

I cross my fingers and hand over my boarding pass. Will the upgrade fairies strike at the last minute?

QF7: SYD-DFW

Business class has a new amenities bag, adorned with a celebration of 100 years of flying. It looks as if it’s made of leather, and is a fetching blue shade.

I admire the new amenity bag for a second — but no longer than that, as I walk past business into my economy seat in 42A, squashing past the two generously-built American girls who already occupy seats B and C.

Sigh.

The American girls settle in for the next 14 hours 54 minutes, with a tube of Pringles and a big pack of medicinal-smelling chewing gum. After we take off, they get out an iPad Pro, and Netflix. If I’ve worked it out, they’ve got one AirPod each. Let’s hope the movie they’re watching isn’t too panned too aggressively.

A passenger apologises for getting in the way of a flight attendant, who shrugs it off and says “It’s my job to say sorry to you.” It must be a bit demoralising to see your boss essentially put his hand up and say that the airline he runs is a bit rubbish.

I get a Platinum welcome. I am effusively told how splendid it is to see me on board. (I idly wonder if their iPad that has told them to come and see me is aware of my failed upgrade request, but it doesn’t appear that it does). I ask whether there is any space further back: there is, but it’s an aisle seat one row in front of the loo, and, thanks, but no. There’s a reason I book 42A — it’s near the front, it’s a window seat, but importantly it is also not next to lav-whiff corner. I can’t imagine that after fifteen hours that loo will smell too fragrant.

I enjoy a sesame chicken salad that wasn’t duck. They also had the Little Creatures beer.

And then, eight hours in, while I was trying to sleep, it started.

Sometimes, people break wind in aeroplanes. It happens. But this. This was something on a whole new scale.

It was quite a smell. A pong that had me rushing for the air vent. A possum died in my carport once, and that was a bad smell, but this was something far worse. You could almost cut the air. It was the kind of smell where you breathe in a tiny, tiny amount, and you can still smell it, so you hold you breath for a bit, and then try another tentative breath to discover it’s worse.

If a smell was a colour, then this was a dark, dark, almost black, stench. Someone, somewhere, had dropped their guts in a most spectacular way.

And then, the smell was gone.

I literally breathe a sigh of relief.

But, fifteen minutes later, it was back — an unwanted and unasked for repeat appearance, like a Scott Morrison press conference. It was an intense, warm, brown smell, one that seemed to dim the lights upon its arrival, one that came with its own weather system. The sort of smell that could kill small birds.

I don’t want to cast any aspersions, but on the outbreak of each stench of Hades — and there were several more — the American girl to the right of me did suspiciously move in her seat a little. Charitably, she may have been trying to escape the same foul, fetid, wretched odour. Or she may have been at least partially responsible. We will never know, since it isn’t the sort of conversation starter that I really excel in. “Hello, I’m James, I’ve got to ask — was that tremendous trump yours?”

Just after one of these bottom bursts, a flight attendant with a very loud voice walked past offering warm party pies. I declined. For some reason, I was quite off my food. Especially the mystery party pies. (The flight attendant coming round with the party pies was so loud in announcing them, I think he woke up the whole plane).

A fitful sulphur-laden sleep later, and we’re woken for breakfast. The Qantas hot breakfast is, sadly, a new low in an already quite low experience. 18 hours languishing in the foil tray hasn’t helped the “egg”, and the rest is pretty inedible. Thank heavens for the little yoghurt, the only bit I ate (although I also used the hack of “when they ask you for coffee or orange juice, ask for both”).

Off the flight, and into a completely deserted immigration hall, with every single booth occupied by US immigration officials. Congratulations, Dallas, this is how to do it! I make it to the hotel, and, an hour later, see the Qantas crew for the DFW-SYD leg, who are staying here, it seems.

Smells aside, the flight was fine, and the earlier cancelled flight was also fine; at least, nicely handled automatically. The delay was fine, too, though the app’s behaviour was curious.

However, I’d have liked some kind of acknowledgement from Qantas that I wasn’t going to get the upgrade, or some kind of acknowledgement from the FA once on board. It feels rather as if the upgrade request was ignored, and even a “sorry not this time” would have made me feel a little more valued.

My trip back? Spoiler… I got the business upgrade.

Trip report: seventeen hours non-stop, Dallas to Sydney
_I get the FlightBot2000 service, but enjoy the business of being in business_blog.james.cridland.net