Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Melbourne Day 0: On the red kangaroo

The previous days had been pretty unnerving, hearing of the disgruntled Qantas aircraft technicians having had a short stop-work order, heavy fog in Melbourne and worst of all, the past few days' records of QF10 (the flight I was taking) showed some massive delays of 8 and 12 hours.

This trip had better go right. I was going with my parents, as they wanted to have someone accompany them while they see the world. It's a package tour, cause they don't like planning and arranging things by themselves. Neither do they trust me to do all those. Typical problem of parents refusing to admit that their children can be better and more experienced than them at some things...

So with the flight confirmed at 1945h, we went to the airport early to get some food. Saw the porky A380 taking off on the journey to the airport. From afar, it looks almost stationary in the sky. It's impressive how that chunk of lard is able to fly looking at its (relatively) tiny hairdryers on its wings.

Popeye's chicken is seriously overrated! The chicken was rather tasteless and overcooked, though that bready scone thing and the mashed potato's decent.

Way ahead of schedule, so took some random photos of aircraft landing and taking off. Yay for 6x optical zoom and image stabilisation.

Got the boarding pass from the tour agency guy, then we checked in and went through immigration.

In a short while, I spotted the bird I was gonna fly in.

Hung out at the bookshop until it was time, then waited to board the plane. The flight started in London and connects to Melbourne through Singapore, so there were a number of cranky-looking, sleep-deprived Englishmen. There's this cute guy who looks totally like Harry Potter.

It's a pretty clean bird as far as aircraft go. No ugly blackish stains around the joints and rivets. Not too shabby for something built in 1992. Though the Boeing 747-400 model is easily 20 years old, it's still the latest incarnation of the 747 and is more than sufficient for current-day use, though it's somewhat of a fuel guzzler compared to more efficient modern jets. For decades, there was simply no comparison to the 747 in terms of the payload it carries, until the A380 was rolled out.

Mighty jets like the 747 and 777-300 take forever to load up, because you got about 400 people shuffling through the 2 narrow aisles.

We took off right on schedule, and the aircraft used up every last metre of the runway. No surprise, every seat on the plane was filled and it was carrying enough fuel to travel almost 7000km.


On the Qantas plane, you could already start to see various aspects of Australia on it:

- Flight attendants ranged from young to senior, reflecting their non-discrimination for older workers (SIA retires its Singapore Girls at 35 and only selects the most good-looking of applicants - are they running an airline or a brothel?)

- Flight attendants of various races.

- Safety briefings are a detailed and serious affair. Australians have a very strong safety culture. Take a gander at their cyclists and manual labourers and you'll see them donning high-visibility safety vests.

- People are warm and talkative. The pilot would give long speeches to the passengers before taking off - I learnt that the plane was not only made in 1992, but that it was named the 'City of Ballarat'. The weather in Melbourne was going to be good, the plane was heading in a south-south-east direction, blah blah yada yada. Really different from the brusque and stoic announcements elsewhere (with the exception of an extremely talkative Filipino Jetstar pilot.)

- Australian food. Victoria Bitter beer (good beer!), Australian butter. And lots of coffee. Which, ironically was the cause of a Qantas flight losing electrical power in Bangkok earlier in the year. The coffee ground clogged the sink which in turn caused a leak through a cracked shield, and the water shorted out the electrical systems on the plane. They landed safely though, since the 747 is one of those older non fly-by-wire planes that didn't depend much on the electrical system.


That was dinner. Yuck.

That was breakfast. Not so yuck. Qantas isn't known for good economy class food.

I didn't get any sleep. The passengers from London apparently were too jet lagged and milled around the plane throughout the night. The 747 isn't known for quiet engines either. Just watched Kite Runner and The Simpsons (they have new episodes, unlike ye olde episodes that I saw on a Singapore Airlines flight last time), too groggy to really watch anything heavier. At least the in-flight entertainment system worked well, and had more than enough to entertain me throughout the 7 hours.

There were some serious tailwinds, so we reached Melbourne early, by a cool half an hour. The air was slightly foggy, which was to be expected after days of bad fog in Melbourne the past few days. Not much of a problem though.

Cleared customs, then quarantine. They're really strict about not letting food or plant or animal products through, in an effort to reduce the spread of foreign agricultural diseases. They want to take full advantage of the fact that the whole of Australia is physically separated from other agricultural regions of the world and therefore, free from many diseases and pests.

Not such a good thing to be early, considering that setting foot outside the airport at 5.15am isn't going to be of much use.

And so, Day 1 of the trip begins.

No comments: