James Cridland

Julien scares me. A trip report from BNE to London

It’s a busy morning in Brisbane Airport, and possibly there’s a reason for that. A suspicious queue in front of me to check in. On closer look, the bags aren’t going anywhere, so nobody can check anyone in if they have bags, which I do.

I’m invited to use the automated check-in but I wanted to talk to somebody about my passport. I’m going to the UK, where I will enter using my UK passport, but I legally need to leave Australia with my Australian passport, and I’ve yet to fully understand what I should be doing.

It sounds as if it’s easier for everyone, if not me, if I always fly using my Australian passport. The airline will check to see if I have a visa for the UK, which I don’t, so then you show them the UK passport, and the airline are happy, and this is a standard thing, and all is good. Then when I enter the UK, that’s when I use my UK passport. I guess this precludes me using the online check-in, but I don’t much enjoy using that for international flights (and most of the time it doesn’t work anyway).

I get checked in for the first part of my trip, but am told “they’ve put you on standby for the second leg, so I’ll have to sort that”. Earlier that morning I’d got a text saying that I’d got a points upgrade to premium economy for that leg, and it sounds as if that may have been responsible for that. They get me a boarding pass eventually.

We stand, looking at our luggage, looking at the non-moving belt, looking at our luggage, looking at the non-moving belt, looking at other people looking at their luggage, looking at other people looking at the non-moving belt. A bloke wearing a polo shirt and an airport ID card appears, the kind of bloke that looks as if he has a favourite screwdriver. A bloke that is happier in artificial lighting. The Qantas staff can’t do much, so they chat amongst themselves for a bit. Polo shirt bloke makes a call, and within a minute or so, the bags begin to move.

In security, I am admonished for the way I walk through the scanner. I keep my watch on, and have learnt through many years that if you walk with your hands by your sides then the metal sets off the alarm, so I walk with my hands in front of me. The security lady is deeply unimpressed and barks at me to walk backwards again and do it properly. It’s the only job where you can be rude to people and get away with it.

There is, though, another need in airport security - really clear signage for “Laptops: In or Out?” It’s getting to the point where you can’t tell if you should leave your laptop in the bag (and get shouted at) or take your laptop out (and get shouted at). I think Brisbane international is “laptop in” if you’re in the general queue but if you’re in the express lane, it’s “laptops out”.

And then there’s the “iPad Mini - in or out?” game. Sometimes I get told off for taking it out. Sometimes I get told off for keeping it in. Today, I left it in my bag and it slowly went through security. “Who’s bag is this?” said the scanner-bloke. I raised my hand, upon which scanner-bloke noticed this bag was owned by a white bloke wearing a jacket, and waved it through. (Why else would be “who owns this” be a question for security - and why else would glancing at my appearance be enough to send it through?)

To the lounge, then to the gate, where we’re late to board. The lady on the gate walks up to the queue forming in the Premium lane, pushes the big thing blocking the lane out of the way, and walks past saying “YOU DO KNOW THIS IS FOR PREMIUM PASSENGERS ONLY?” to those waiting in the queue. The woman in front of me, seeing the lane is now open, walks slowly forward to the gate, and we all follow, to wait patiently at the Bit Where They Check Your Boarding Pass And Passport. The lady of the gate is horrified. “I DIDN’T TELL YOU TO WALK FORWARD!” she says, and for a minute we think she’s going to pull us all back to wait behind the big thing that she had pushed out of the way, and maybe the big thing would have to be pushed back in the way again for a minute just to reach us a lesson, but she thought better of this and just decided to let us wait.

At the Bit Where They Check Your Boarding Pass And Passport, they check my boarding pass and passport (a disappointing green light notifying that no, this leg is going to be in economy, no points upgrade for you, but it’s only eight hours). I’m then welcomed effusively onto the plane - “SO good to see you again, Mr Cridland” says an FA I have never met before and will never see again - and we eventually push back, a little late, for the moist environment of Singapore. “Cam” comes to see me to express great pleasure in seeing him again, which is nice, though I don’t see him again either. The flight’s fine, though the A330 is a bit tired (and still has the old logo on).

In Singapore, weighed down by an annoyingly bulky box of audio equipment that I am returning to a company in London, I decide that much though I’d like to spend six hours wandering around Singapore, I am probably best retiring to the First Lounge, universally acknowledged as the best on the network, since I have work to do. On entry they request to see my passport as well as my boarding pass - I suspect word has got around about how good it is, and there’s a black market in boarding passes. It is great again; I have a decent coffee and work for a few hours, then a great meal and a drink, and am remarkably productive. Given it’s run by Sofitel, who run all Qantas lounges, I’m fascinated at the difference and what Qantas can learn from this space to help their other lounges reach the same standard. A shower follows, and then it’s to the gate.

In Singapore, they print a symbol of a laptop right on the trays for security. Simple and clear. This is how it should be everywhere. Excellent plan, Singapore.

For this leg, I’ve got a points upgrade to Premium Economy. I am, though, in an aisle seat rather than a window - something that makes me really quite uncomfortable. I know there are people who love the aisle seat - I’m not one of them, preferring the personal space of the window. A man comes and sits next to me, smelling faintly of cigarettes.

Julien comes to give me a wanker-platinum welcome. He genuflects next to my chair, looking up into my eyes, locking me in eye contact, professing his sheer and utter joy at me - me! - flying his humble aeroplane. He would hold my hand if he could, maybe steal a quick kiss, a passionate embrace, possibly with tongues. He is overjoyed at my presence. Although not that overjoyed, since after his short speech of love and respect on bended knee, he adds: “I’m working on the level below,” he says, “so I won’t see you during the flight”. But, he adds slightly menacingly, “if you need me you can always come down and find me.”

He tells me that the staff looking after me here include something like “Beverley male, Beverley female, and Anton”. Weird. Is that really what he calls them? I guess we’ll never find out, since he’s working in first class, not premium economy, and I will never see him again.

I skip dinner, since I’m still full of the munificence of the Qantas First Lounge, and sleep for much of the flight - waking about three hours before landing, and discovering there was a Toblerone left in the galley. Breakfast is the usual Qantas affair of a Mystery Muffin, some fruit, and a hot breakfast, including scrambled eggs that are actually quite tasty, and the curious Qantas “baked beans”, created by a chef who has never had baked beans before and asked Chat-GPT for a recipe instead. If these are your baked beans, Neil Perry, just stop and think about what you’re doing.

I watch my downloaded stash of YouTube videos. Someone restores a 1940s desk lamp. James May gets someone else to cook him a cheese sandwich. The latest edition of Have I Got News For You with Mel off of Mel and Sue. ABC’s Media Watch. John Oliver rants about farm workers and AI. Big Clive distills some cheap cider. Some quite annoying people walk around the hidden bits of Archway underground station in high-vis vests, saying annoying things like “GIVE IT THE BEANS” whenever they turn their torch on. Tom Scott does something wearing protective clothing. A man eats some Lavabread, a thing made out of seaweed which doesn’t look very nice.

I arrive in London Heathrow, with Beefeaters and Shakespeare and theatrical history on the walls, and nothing suggesting the country is any way progressed from the 1950s; and be told that security people are on strike and there might be a wait (there isn’t). Then into the city.