James Cridland

Trip report: two Emirates flights and one train

I leave the hotel pushing my bag along. I’m in Islington, the home of the Business Design Centre (which had a big conference) and a grubby tube station called Angel which has rather too many escalators for its own good.

This time last week, I’d have taken the Northern Line “northbound” (actually, westbound and slightly south, but let’s not quibble) to Kings Cross St Pancras. From there I’d have taken a slow Circle Line train to Paddington, and changed to a different train to get me to Heathrow.

But that would have been last week, because this week, I travel southbound — really southbound — to Moorgate, and change for the Elizabeth Line, which will instead whisk me to Paddington, and via train change, take me to Heathrow.

Confusingly, you get off at Moorgate to change to the Elizabeth Line which has a station in London Liverpool Street. The interchange is all below ground, and it’s this way because the Elizabeth Line trains are very, very long and big. They’re proper, full-size trains, only underground. This has never happened before anywhere in the world, you’d assume from the excited press coverage of the line, which opened three days ago, so let’s not mention the stretch between Moorgate and Drayton Park. Or, you know, Paris.

The Elizabeth Line has absolutely been built for space. The connecting tunnels are huge, and, as is normal for new bits of station, entirely un-advertised in. Everything feels new and fresh: in fact, the steps feel kind of dirty, since they haven’t yet been worn clean and smooth by tens of thousands of passengers.

I board the Elizabeth Line train, which is behind doors on the platform. I don’t get a Platinum welcome, nor a welcome drink, but there is wifi (which doesn’t yet actually connect to anything), and the seats are big and comfy. A quick, comfortable and smooth journey, I end up in Heathrow in good time.

I suffered with the Australian Government DPD app yesterday in the hotel. Every product manager and software engineer who was responsible for that app should sit down on the naughty step for a few hours and think about what they’ve done. But, at least, I’ve done everything correctly, and sail through check-in and security.

I’m flying Emirates today. I didn’t book Emirates; but my original flight was cancelled within a few days of booking it in January: I’d originally got the LHR-PER flight, but then Western Australia managed to cut themselves off from the rest of the world, and flights couldn’t go that way, so Qantas rebooked me onto Emirates, who, by my initial seat allocations, seem to not be thrilled at the prospect.

I go to the Qantas lounge. “You do know you can use the Emirates lounge, don’t you?” I’m told. I do. But no. The Qantas lounge is home; the coffee is better, the food is custom-cooked, not some hotplate stuff, and it gets very quiet just after 12 when all the Melbourne fliers catch their flight via Perth.

Finishing my work, curiosity takes me — via a few shops — to the Emirates lounge. I was right to have gone to the Qantas one: the Emirates one isn’t as nice, with worse coffee and food, and chairs jammed into every part of the floor. But, I download some random YouTube videos and drink some water.

Next to me, a family of two glamorous Arabic women, and either Dad or Husband, sit in a fug of expensive perfume, surrounded by designer-label branded goods. One of the women is taking photographs of everything for her Instagram, directing Dad/Husband to “stand here, no, not there” and pose with coffee cups. This continues for over an hour. It exhausts me, let alone Dad/Husband, who appears to take it all with good grace but is clearly nonplussed with it all.

We board late, and I wait for the AMAZED MAN WATCHING LIVE TV on the in flight video, narrated by Andy Peters. I hope he hasn’t been repl — — THERE HE IS!

Also on the inflight video is a glamorous Arabic woman using the inflight wifi to take pictures of herself for Instagram. I’m kind of pleased that the family in the lounge will clearly be in first and I’m stuck in 62K, a seat that at least is a little further forward from Emirates original suggestion of the second back row. I sit, with my mask on (it’s Emirates policy).

This is a nice, brand new, A380, and 62K is not too bad, with space and everything. I settle down to a YouTube video of a man taking trains to get as far away from London as possible in twenty-four hours, accompanied by a knitted turtle, and become aware of something occurring close by.

Thump. Pause. Thump. Pause. Thump thump thump. Pause.

In 62H, the aisle seat, there’s a twelve year-old kid who is watching a video on the screen. He’s hitting the play button and letting his hand thump down on the armrest. Then pressing the volume up. Thump. Then the volume down. Thump. Then he rewinds a bit. Thump. Then he plays it again. Thump.

His mum is in the middle seat between me and him, which I’m grateful for, until she decides to swap places with him. So he sits next to me, watching a Marvel movie in a stop/start fashion.

The food takes quite some time to arrive back here in the wilds of 62K, and I almost fall asleep, but not quite. There’s a butter chicken with rice thing, which has suspiciously tender chicken, and a product called a “Delice”, which describes itself as a brownie encased in chocolate mousse, topped with salted caramel sauce. It’s a product in three shades of brown, and I’d have called it a sponge. I eat a bit of everything to pass the time. I watch a YouTube video of a man building a very small display, and someone else testing some LED bulbs.

Surprisingly, this five hour flight includes two meal services. Who’d have thought? A cheese sandwich comes round, made out of one of those buns that will never go off, some cucumber, and some of that sort of cheese which is indistinguishable from butter; and a drinks round again. I have a coffee, and watch a video of a man opening random things from Wish.com, and another man explaining why there are no bridges over the Thames in East London. To my left, the kid still presses buttons almost non-stop.

I look at the available podcasts, to discover nothing I recognise with the exception of Lineker & Baker, which last released an episode more than two years ago.

We land in Dubai at about midnight, and after doing security, I disappear up to the first class lounge for a shower and a beer.

The fifteen hour flight to Brisbane, departing at 2.30am local time, starts with excellent news: I’ve been carefully watching my seat, and I’ve scored a row of three to myself. It’s a different experience — with the FAs giving every passenger a face mask and hand sanitiser. After we take off, the FAs walk the aisles with a Polaroid camera, taking pictures of families on their flight and giving them the photo — nice touch.

This is a very long flight, and normal behaviour in a long flight is to wait until the food comes round, have a beer or a wine, and then fall asleep. Emirates helps this by… wait, no, they don’t help this at all because the first meal is BREAKFAST. Accompanied by COFFEE. Yes, it’s 8.30am Brisbane time, but how is this going to help me fall asleep? I have some orange juice with my breakfast, which is better than Qantas’s breakfast, which isn’t hard.

Then, the econo-bed comes into its own. The armrests go up, and I manage a good seven hours sleep, in spite of an over-average number of screaming babies and the people sitting behind me turning a light on to read.

A few hours before we land, it’s time for dinner. I think I missed a mid-flight snack. Dinner was roast chicken in gravy, and was really rather good. I had a beer, too.

I idly consider using the wifi, which in this aircraft is just charged by the hour (not by bandwidth used); but then decide that another snooze is a good idea.

Then: yawning slightly, I watch us land on the nose camera. It’s rather good at night — the runway ahead of us, the skyscrapers of the centre of Brisbane to the right.

And so, home. But, sadly, not for long: for the end of next week beckons a complicated trip into the US and Canada.