James Cridland

Trip report: seventeen hours non-stop, Dallas to Sydney

Last time, you may remember, I was excitedly checking my phone every hour to see if my upgrade request had come through. This time, I didn’t need to worry.

Much to my immense satisfaction, Thursday at 10.03am local time, during a particularly busy week, I got a text message informing me that my points upgrade had been successful (for a flight in three and a half days time). The 17 hour flight back home, at the end of an exhausting week full of early mornings, late nights and horrible jet lag, would be in business class — the pointy end, in 4A.

I get to DFW airport using the orange line, a train service that — as luck would have it — stopped directly outside the back of the hotel. As I walked there, I passed another set of Qantas air crew: just checking in, I think, rather than the other way round.

Paying for the train was done with a wave of a contactless card (actually, a wave of a mobile phone for me), and, 72 minutes later (about double the time it takes in an Uber but, at $3, a fraction of the price), I was able to make it to the slightly confusing end of the line — the airport, except not really the bit of the airport I needed, which was a bus ride away in the brightest and most orange bus I’ve ever seen.

Lining up in the premium check-in lane to drop off my bag (I was the second person to check into my flight online), the man pointed me to the nearest line to go through security, which turned out to have a twelve minute queue. I went to another line, advertised as having a two minute queue. This was staffed by shouty TSA people: the ones who think they’re at military school, yelling at people and raising the stress levels of everyone. I excelled myself by forgetting to empty my bottle of water, but I got a nice TSA man and not the shouty team, who emptied it for me, as I apologised profusely.

Then, to the American Airlines Flagship Lounge, which is what you get in DFW. I watched a beautiful sunset, found a Dallas beer that inexplicably I hadn’t managed to try over the last week, ate some cheese and ham, and argued with some idiots on Twitter.

Earlier in the day, I’d met a woman (and client) who, four months earlier, had called me a child murderer on Twitter. She evidently hadn’t remembered, being awfully nice to me, saying that she was delighted to meet me in person. I made one oblique mention of how horrid people could be on Twitter, to which she agreed, and another suggestion that inclusivity was a good thing, even if we don’t agree with everyone’s views, to which she also agreed, and it was clear that this Christian podcaster had forgotten how un-Christian she’d been only months previously. But, that’s Dallas for you, where inclusivity is welcome as long as it’s the right sort of inclusivity, y’all.

Next to me in the lounge, someone had got through to Qantas customer service, and was talking quietly but authoritatively to them. An earlier flight had been cancelled; she’d spent 24 hours in Dallas as a result; she’d missed her fathers’s 60th birthday party, and to add insult to injury, when Qantas had rescheduled her flight, they hadn’t copied over her upgrade request. She was very polite, and had done her research: she’d discovered that there was still a Premium Economy seat available, and that the meal service for that seat had been loaded. It wasn’t Qantas’s fault that her earlier flight had been cancelled, but she argued that it was their fault that they hadn’t copied over her upgrade request. I felt for her, and briefly wondered whether I should walk back to the customer service staff and demand that we swap seats, before remembering that I was shattered after a hard and long week and really wanted a nice seat for my flight home, and that my own personal welfare should really come first. She was very persuasive, and I hope she was rewarded.

To the plane, and to slink into 4A, one of the seats that is closer to the aisle than the window. Were I choosing, I’d have chosen 3A or 5A, where the seat is next to the window, but I wasn’t choosing, being given this seat as an upgrade; and a very nice seat it is, too.

I examine the new business amenities bag, not pictured, which has a number of things inside it, each bagged-up in a brown paper envelope rather than a plastic one. Good work, Qantas, that’s good to see. (I’ve been writing these trip reports for a number of years now, and I do wonder if anyone at Qantas ever gets to read them. I do hope so.)

The food service was, for the most part, a bit mechanical but fine. I opt for the salmon with broccoli and potatoes as the main meal. It was generously portioned, though generously cooked, too; I don’t understand how airline meals are prepared, but this meal had the texture of one that started cooking in 1989: dry salmon, shrivelled broccoli, almost textureless potatoes once you’d cut into the skin. However, it was excellently tasty, so I don’t care: and, it’s US catering, and therefore not particularly within Qantas’s control. To be honest, after a week in Dallas, it was nice to see a vegetable that wasn’t deep-fried.

I have a cheese plate for dessert (I sense someone’s been told to monitor portion size), accompanied by an excellent thing called Musket, a sweet dessert wine that I’d like to learn more about to have at home.

And then, aided potentially by the Melatonin tablet, I sleep. The more-than-10-hour sleep of someone who has not had a proper sleep for a week.

I wake up to the tantalising sound of breakfast being served, although breakfast is a very confusing affair in business. The lights remain off, so nobody wakes up. Each passenger is served separately, around five minutes apart, and the apparent plan is for the slightly robotic flight attendant that we have on this side of the plane to prepare breakfast individually, walk up to the passenger, repeat “excuse me” a few times until the passenger blearily awakes, and then wait for the passenger to try to remember how the table thing works. It’s not the most sympathetic way of waking up, nor the most efficient (though I guess it maximises sleep time).

Breakfast for me was something involving crispy bacon, scrambled eggs and halloumi and spinach in a bread roll. Because breakfast is in the dark, I’m not sure what the halloumi really was, though I can tell you with certainty that it wasn’t halloumi. It was all very tasty, though: a far cry from economy.

The coffee — didn’t we used to get fancy flat white in the past, all foamy and decent? This was the same filter coffee from economy, but in a china cup.

Slightly oddly, while I’d asked for toast, butter and Vegemite, the only things that came was a small amount of butter and Vegemite, and no toast. This underlined the slightly perplexing service, which seemed really rather automatic: everything done fine and to the letter, but no personal touch behind it. I was able to get the human flight attendant to give me a bit of toast, which she delivered on a fresh tray. This clearly confused my assigned FlightBot2000, whose internal programming told her that my tray had been cleared, and therefore she wouldn’t see my additional tray until her internal timeout condition had occurred.

Last time, I mentioned that it would have been nice for the FA to have acknowledged that I’d asked for a (failed) points upgrade when I was given the standard Platinum Welcome in economy. It transpires that the iPad telling them where the Platinum flyers are sitting doesn’t tell them anything about points upgrades: so they aren’t able to say “Hey, sorry the points upgrade didn’t come through this time, but pleased to see you again” etc.

The reverse of this is true, too: the FAs here in business have no clue that I’m on a points upgrade. For many frequent flyers like me, it’s a thrill to get into business, and an excitement to see how the other half live. If the FA knows that, they could potentially acknowledge that excitement somehow, even if it’s acknowledged as “it’s great to see you in business”, or “let me know if you need any help with how the seats work or anything”. It seems a missed opportunity for a human connection.

Mind, I’m not sure that FlightBot2000 is programmed for a human connection. I got no Platinum Welcome, or even any Platinum Exit Interview.

We land twenty minutes early, whisk through immigration, and then, because it’s Sydney International Airport, everything turned to crap. I waited, next to a business client, for my bag. Mine, the Airtag informed me, was “with me”, but spent a good 45 minutes being “with me” before it finally trundled off the conveyor belt (marked priority); while his was still in DFW, and he was in the slightly difficult position of having more knowledge of where his bag was than the people who’s job it was.

As he went off to start the lost baggage process, I tried to queue to get out: another twenty minutes of queuing. It’s never good when the total queue has expanded the space to queue.

And then another fifteen minute queue to get into the Qantas Domestic Transfer Bus of Sadness Bus Station, and another twenty minute queue after dropping off my bag to queue through security (of course, only one line was open at peak time), and then a wait for the Bus of Sadness itself. In order to get onto the Bus of Sadness, you need to scan your boarding pass for some reason, but the scan doesn’t always work and so you just get waved through anyway by a bored-looking bus driver, which reveals that there’s no actual point to scan the boarding pass and that it’s all a crushing waste of time and energy, brought to you by Sydney International Airport, proudly Australia’s worst airport since 1970.

As ever, a pretty good Qantas experience, if a little devoid of any personal charm, until I got to SYD. I’m sure the flight to BNE will be just fine: it’s a shame I have to change in this third-world airport though.