Sunday 18 July 2021

The Whale and the Elephant (June 2009)

Part 1 SYD-SIN

Welcome to my latest, and longest, trip report at over 11,500 words and many, many photos. I wanted to share with you in full the experience of flying on Qantas' A380 and 747-400 aircraft. The report is broken it into 4 parts, one for each leg of the trip.
All around me those lucky enough to travel overseas were flying the new A380's with Singapore Airlines or Qantas and here I was stuck on A330's, usually with Jetstar. Much as I enjoyed my flights with Jetstar I wanted to experience a full service airline once more and I wanted to fly an A380.

At the same time I also wanted to fly again on a 747. My very first flight overseas was on one of these birds, as was my favourite flight of all time, en route to Heathrow and Paris on my honeymoon. When I watched those 747's take-off across Botany Bay or ascend above my house I would dream that I was on that classic aircraft.

Work provided me with an opportunity to travel to attend a specialist workshop in London. I paid for my own tickets, taking advantage of the very cheap airfares on offer with Qantas. My routing would take me to Singapore on an A380, then 747's to London and back to Sydney via Hong Kong.

The journey began with tears. This was the first time I was to spend so long away from my wife in over 8 years of marriage and the first night away from my 7 month old son since he came home from the hospital of his birth. Even a day spent at work away from them was difficult enough, so I had no idea how I would survive a week.

I arrived over two hours before my flight was due to depart. The Qantas check-in lady was unable to check myself and my backpack in for the full length to London as there is a maximum 12 hour gap between flights.

Once I had collected my boarding pass there was little else to do but change some currency at the ANZ branch and sit and be with my wife and son. The international terminal is a construction zone, the wonderful views of the food court and waiting areas hidden for now. Besides which, neither of us felt like wandering.

Final sad goodbyes and I stepped through the gates into the immigration queue, filling out the familiar green form on autopilot. There was now little time to do anything but go to the gate and wait for boarding to commence.

I had spent my last trip flying in abject misery, fearful of non-eventuating turbulence, scared that my 4 month old son would be tossed around, listening to him cry with sickness on the flight up, myself sitting in an aisle seat unable to relax and enjoy the view out of the window. Despite my sadness at being away from my family, I did not want to repeat that previous experience. I tried now to recall the excitement and adventure of air travel.

I ran the gauntlet of the mirror-ceilinged duty free store crowding both sides of the path to the gate. No, I don't want to try any perfume!

The gate had big windows through which I could see the whale of an aircraft that would fly me to Singapore. It was VH-OQA, Nancy-Bird Walton, the first of Qantas' A380 fleet. I just cannot find the stubby, bulbous Airbus A380 aircraft beautiful. That beluga-like hump above the cockpit, the fat wings and a too short body just don't compare favourably to the classically sleek lines of most jet aircraft. But I do love to watch them fly and it was exciting to see the Singapore Airlines A380 lift slowly off the ground outside the gate windows.

It was a beautiful day outside, blue sky and high white cloud crossed by a couple of long streamers of contrails. The type of late afternoon that would have me dreaming of being on a 747 or A380 as it disappeared towards the northwestern horizon as I trudged back to Epping railway station on my way home from work. I tried to recapture that feeling of longing while not betraying the sadness of leaving B and Alex behind.

While the gate staff of QF5, a 747-400 flight to Singapore, desperately called for the last remaining passenger to board, threatening to remove her luggage from the aircraft, I watched the operations outside. An Etihad A346 was taxiing out, dressed in pink, black and checked colours. Then a brown white and gold UPS MD-11F arrived to deliver its freight cargo, rolling across the skyline of Sydney's CBD.

ETD: 16:25
ETA: 22:30
AIRCRAFT: Airbus A380

The number of passengers waiting at the gate hinted at the large capacity of the A380. I'm pretty sure that the flight was full, at least in the economy sections. There we multiple jetbridges and multiple entrances from each. Which you passed through depended on the class of the ticket you were flying on. These were displayed on LCD screens above the doors of the windowed jetbridge.

I was downstairs in the economy section. As I handed him my boarding pass the male flight attendant greeted me by name and pointed me towards my seat, 69A.

No arguments with the wife this time over who gets the window seat! I pushed my bag under the seat in front of me, pulled out my camera and explored my surroundings.

I was the "wag" quoted in the Australian from as likening the green seats of the Qantas A380 to those of certain CityRail trains. The truth is very different! I was located in the "green" section of economy and actually found the seat covers, the knitted black and green fabric, quite attractive, especially when lined up against the clean white interior of the aircraft.

The seats themselves were very comfortable with good lumbar support and a forward sliding mechanism that made it quite nice to recline the seat. I loved the carbon fibre rear shells of the seats. Not only did they mean that drink bottles and knees inserted into the storage net no longer caused bumps in the back, but the material itself was eminently strokable. So obviously light, yet so strong and very nice under the fingers.

One not so good aspect was the seatbelt. The familiar lift-up buckle had been replaced by a car-like button mechanism. Surely this would be more difficult to operate with injured hands in an accident situation. Mine kept slipping longer and I think one of the two passengers next to me had some issues with him. They asked to be moved, but the only spare seats together were right at the back of the aircraft. Fortunately, he was able to use his engineering skills to fix the problem.

Another issue raised by the detractors of the pre-official Qantas A380 were the entertainment unit controls in the armrests. There was concern that passengers would accidently press the call buttons. As the controls are actually stored under arm-rest flaps this shouldn't be an issue and their location means less chance of tripping over a wire from a seatback mounted system. More about the IFE soon.

The cabin still felt very new; shiny and clean. Such a change from the tired old Qantas 734's and 763's I had flown on over the past few years. Rather than the horizontal stripes of those interiors, here there was just a hint of the Qantas honeycomb pattern on the walls.

Once I had settled down in my seat it was time to investigate the inflight entertainment system. I liked the widescreen format seatback touch display. I'll play with movies and television later, but first I want some music for take-off. I was delighted to see "Soundtracks" listed under the music categories, then horrified to discover that it was just showtunes and pop soundtracks like Romeo + Juliet and Saturday Night Fever. Where are the John Williams scores?

I had to make do with the available classical music. At least there were some more modern selections available there, like Copland and Gorecki. I programmed in some of those, then switched over to the real section of interest: the tail mounted camera.

It wasn't the clearest picture, but it was cool nonetheless.

I was located just behind the A380's massive wing. Not the best for round views, but an overwing position is more stable in turbulence than near the rear of the aircraft.

Finally, we undocked from the terminal and began our taxi out to the runway. By now I was quite familiar with the safety briefing, but I still thought about the exits and brace position. I checked the safety card. Interestingly you are now allowed to use wifi (but not Wimax) on board, along with GPS receivers.

The safety demonstration was displayed on the video monitors and by the young cabin crew. Gee, Qantas' chief pilot isn't that boring. Though I think I know the demonstration off by heart, I always think about the exits... You never know...

Demonstration completed as we taxied along, the crew handed out menu cards showing the meals all the way through to London should I be flying that far, along with the timings of the meals.

The captain piped up over the PA, welcoming us all to the flight and informing us that it was perfect flying weather outside, the best aircraft in the world was equipped with the latest weather radar and that he expected a smooth flight to Singapore. The turbulence wuss in me loved hearing that! But, he continued, just in case we should leave our seatbelts on. Those on the right side would get great views of the beautiful city of Sydney as we took off and flew northwest towards Richmond and over the Blue Mountains. Oh, and we should use the tail camera to watch the takeoff.

I had intended to do just that! As we lined up on the runway, the golden setting Sun to my left, I looked through my playlist and selected the most appropriate music I could find, switched to the tail camera view and sat back to enjoy my first flight in the A380.

To the music of Ravel's Bolero we trundled along the runway with far less acceleration than in any other aircraft I have flown. Slowly, ponderously, the whale took flight. I alternated watching the tail camera with peering out the window at the darkening suburbs under the dirty brown and orange sunset light.

It was a smooth take-off, the A380 bludgeoning its way through the air with sheer inertia born of mass. Finally, I was on one of those aircraft I saw on my way home from work flying into the northwest. It was I that was off on the adventure, my dreams a reality. If only my family were there to share it.

Seated just over the rear section of the Airbus' massive wing I could see little on the ground. The light was fading quickly, the sky dark steel, the land fading to soft pink. In flights past I have enjoyed gazing out at the Australian landscape in the evening light, watching the light reflect of the fleeting rivulets of distant summer rains. But it was not summer and the day was too short to provide much light. The vision from the tail camera disappeared to a single flashing strobe atop the aircraft's fuselage.

The crew came through the cabin to serve dinner. The choice of main was chicken and tofu in a soy and ginger sauce or braised lamb in a wine, garlic and tomato sauce with potato and green beans and peas. I had eaten Vietnamese cuisine for lunch and was looking forward to sampling as much Singaporean food as possible, so I decided to have a western break with the lamb, which was very flavoursome.

I think I was the last to get the lamb as the attendant apologized to the row behind me.

It was served in a tray with sides of a mesclun salad with lemon dressing, which proved a little tricky to eat in the confines of an economy class seat, a tasty and soft Turkish bread roll, Bega tasty matured cheddar cheese and crackers and a Cadbury milk chocolate. I selected an apple juice to go with it.

No dessert was served with the meal (unless you count the chocolate), but the crew came through later to hand out pine-lime Splits. After such a nice meal, these cheapo packaged ice/ice cream combinations were a major disappointment. Save on the crackers, drop the roll, even the chocolate, but give us a decent dessert Qantas! If it must be a packet ice cream then how about a Dixie Cup or a Weiss Bar? Even a Magnum would be better.

With nothing to see outside it was time to re-examine the inflight entertainment system. The detailed flight map showed us taking a surprisingly NNW course into Queensland, though we were about to make a more westerly turn. The last times I had flown to Kuala Lumpur and Singapore we had flown over Broome in Western Australia, but our course this time was more northerly, crossing the coast over the Northern Territory. Any ideas? To avoid the West to East jetstream?

I liked the fact that you could listen to your playlist while viewing the flight map and the tailcam. Also that you could pause a movie, switch to those other views and switch back, although to do so you need to go back through the menu system to the movie that you were watching and resume it.

The movies and television programs were divided into a number of different categories. The television choices were interesting. I was excited to see that "Little Britain USA" was available, but when I went to view it all I got was a blank screen! Pity the only Doctor Who episode was "The Next Doctor", which I had seen far too recently.

One channel was called "The Edge" and its selection looked like that of SBS on a Friday night, with documentaries like "Love me, love my doll", "Transvestite wives" and "A womans' guide to brothels". I applaud Qantas for being bold enough to screen such material, embarrassing as it might be for a passenger to watch it!

Unfortunately, it was too the latest crop of just released cinema movies to have made their way on to the system. In my somewhat fragile emotional state I felt like something light and fluffy. "The Watchmen" was the only actionish movie and looked too dark, the rest were serious dramas or chickflickish movies that I would rather share with my wife.

Luckily another channel had the list of Oscar winning films back to 1969, so there were plenty of choices there. I selected "Patton" which I had seen once before on television and enjoyed. The night before my home music server had randomly played one of the tracks from the Patton soundtrack album and I had felt like watching it again.

A pre-movie message warned that the film was unmodified from the original. You could tell, because halfway through the movie was replaced by a black screen with the word "Intermission" written on it!

I couldn't watch the entire movie. I just could not focus. My attention span seems to have decreased after baby Alex. It difficult even to watch a one hour television program now without being interrupted!

At one point I think I heard someone playing the harmonica in the cabin, which wasn't as whisper quiet as I had been lead to believe. I took out my MyLO to type some notes, plugging it into the socket behind the row in front of me. The passenger in the aisle seat asked if I had wifi, taking out a PDA, but I explained that, despite appearing in the onscreen guide, it had not been implemented yet. Pity! I did love the power socket though.

I missed my wife, missed being able to chat with her. Normally, she is right beside me when we fly and I don't mind the lack of electronic communication, but tonight I felt cut-off. I was sad and I needed to let her know that I loved her, so picked up the entertainment control/phone from out of the armrest, swiped my credit card, and wrote her an SMS for US$1.90.

Typing on the firm QWERTY keyboard was difficult, as was the onscreen keyboard. There is an option to email yourself a copy, presumably for no cost, so I used that to send her the message via email as well. Just 160 characters, but it was enough to feel better.

The crew walked through the cabin with a hot chocolate service. Surprisingly nice hot chocolate, not frothy, but with marshmallows. I've had a lot worse from expensive cafes. Love the concept.

The couple next to me helped themselves to lots of chocolate chip biscuits and softdrinks from the snackbar at the rear of the aircraft. Trapped in the window, I couldn't be bothered to go to the effort of going there myself. I asked the attendant for some fruit and was given a cold, crisp apple. They alternated between apples and bananas according to her.

"Why do you have to make me feel so constipated?' sang Weird Al over the IFE.

It was a pretty smooth flight, though we hit some chop near the border between Queensland and the Northern Territory then over Timor. It always seems to me that flights get bumpier as soon as the cabin crew start serving meals! The only time the seatbelt lights came on were as we passed over the southern tip of Borneo, just as the crew began serving supper. A few small drops, it wasn't too bad, and only lasted 10 minutes.

Thankfully the "refreshment" as it was called differed from the menu's "cheese ravioli in mushroom and basil sauce", instead replaced by "penne and roasted vegetables in pesto sauce." I hate mushrooms, but love pesto, and this unneeded additional meal wasn't too bad at all.

It was served with a rockmelon and honeydew salad, topped by a single grape, and a Tim Tam. I asked for a lemonade, but they only had ginger beers remaining out of the softdrinks. I suspect that the passengers' snackbar raids had depleted their stocks.

I must have fallen asleep after the meal, only to be woken by my neighbouring passenger to facilitate the collection of my food tray. Soon afterwards, with half an hour's flight time remaining, we began our descent into Singapore.

As we dropped closer and closer down I switched the screen to the view from the tail camera. Below us, the waters around Singapore were filled with the lights of many, many cargo ships waiting to use the port facilities. But on the screen ahead of us, to the forward left of the aircraft, were flashes of lightning, distinct from the flashing aircraft strobe. The weather forecast had said storms, but I hope that we wouldn't have to fly through one to land. That would be rough.

Watching us approach the runway on the tail camera was pretty amazing. Down, down, down towards the path of lights. Then a couple of thuds as our wheels touched down on the tarmac. Welcome to Singapore!

It was like viewing a computer game with the tail camera as we taxied towards the gate, past a wider variety of airlines and aircraft types than can be seen in Sydney. Before long we were disembarking from the aircraft and into Changi's Terminal 1.

I had been really impressed with Qantas' A380. The seats were comfortable, the service good, some interesting entertainment options. The worst aspect of the aircraft was the cabin windows. It was almost impossible to get a clear view out of them at night due to the gap between the panes causing undue reflections. Other than that, no complaints from me! I hoped that I would enjoy the 747 flights just as much.

Terminal 1 was looking tired and rather run down. As the travelators moved us out from the gate area I thought I caught a glimpse of a colleague from a sister division of my workplace going in the opposite direction.

Prior to passing through immigration I spotted a Bengawan Solo kueh shop, so I had to stop and purchase my favourite kueh lapis (the cake, not the agar-agar type).

Immigration was pretty quick as usual. It's not like there is any agriculture to protect and the tropics are usually the source, not destination, of pests. Then it was collect my bag and out of the gate!

I was only staying a night in Singapore, so I didn't want to lug my big backpack around with me. Left luggage is hidden away on the bottom floor, and worked out pretty cheap at SG$4.30 for 24 hours.

The tourist office informed me that, at 11:35pm, I had just missed the last train for the night and recommended that I catch the airport shuttle bus or a taxi. I opted for the shuttle bus and it proved to be a blessing in disguise.

As I waited for the shuttle bus to leave I tried, unsuccessfully, to take advantage of the free airport wireless. It's necessary to sign up and the sign up script seemed to be broken. Perfect Singapore wasn't looking so perfect right now, at least at this terminal.

The minibus drove us out upon the wide motorway from the airport, the canopy of tropical trees lit by the amber streetlights. I love these late night arrivals into tropical countries as there is always some life to speak of at any time of night.

My journey was relatively short as I was the first drop-off for the bus. I had chosen to stay at the Hotel 81 Tristar in Geylang. It was a discount hotel, quite far from the tourist action of Orchard Road and Marina Bay. According to the Lonely Planet guide it was in Singapore's red light/gay area, which, I can assure you, was of no interest to me.

However, the area was one of the reasons that I had selected the hotel, along with the broadband internet and pricing half that of many other areas. Geylang is a Malay Muslim area and the late night activities meant plenty of food! I love the Malay and Indian cuisines of Singapore and Malaysia, but because my wife is of Chinese descent, the relatives usually take us to the Chinese areas and I miss out. This was my chance to pig out on my kind of food.

As the bus drove down Joo Chiat Road I could smell durian in the air from the shops nearby. It's not a pleasant smell, to put it mildly, but it brought back memories of previous stays in Malaysia and Singapore

Right beneath the hotel was Mr Teh Tarik and, despite being well fed on the flight, I could not resist a Milo Tarik and a banana roti, followed by the kueh from the airport and a drink of Kickapoo. It took three goes for the hotel to find the right room for me, one with working broadband. It was okay, a place to sleep, then tomorrow to eat!

Part 2 SIN-LHR

I didn't sleep long, had to wake up to chat with my wife online, then go down to eat. Murtabak and Milo Ais for breakfast. Then a wander through the local bric-a-brac shops, more kueh, and a walk past the historic shophouses of Joo Chiat Street, eating popiah, buying curry puffs, deciding there was no way on earth I could fit the otak-otak into my stomach.

I caught the MRT to Bugis and went computer and mobile phone accessory shopping in Sim Lim Square, which took a long time. Wandering around Bugis Junction I began feeling very hot and very tired. All I wanted to do was swim in a pool and fall asleep. I decided to go to the airport early and find a place to rest.

On the way I was distracted by the Albert Street hawker food market, discovered a stall selling my favourite kueh and ate 10 sticks of satay (the minimum purchase) as well! I so wanted to eat the green pandan rice, but I was about to explode. (Would I still explode anyway in the reduced atmospheric pressure of flight?)

The airconditioned interior of the MRT train that delivered me to Changi Airport provided welcome relief from the tropical heat and humidity outside. The line runs to Terminal 3, which is a work of art in comparison to the current state of Terminal 1. What a pity I that my departure was from the latter!

The automate rubber tyred Skytrain transported me across to Terminal 1, cranes visible over the Terminal's canopy. Outside, dark clouds were gathering threateningly across the sky.

I retrieved my backpack from storage and returned to the departures concourse to check in. Though I had checked in early, the only window seat that I could obtain was towards the rear of the aircraft. I was feeling very nervous. The Bay of Bengal has a reputation for turbulence and I recalled my only other flight from Singapore to London, on British Airways, 13 very unpleasant hours of bumps and shakes.

The terminal was absolutely crowded with Malay Muslim travelers, many families, milling around, chatting loudly. On the departures board I could see a delayed Saudi Airways flight with a departure time unknown. I made my way through the crowds to the GST refund stand, where they checked my meager purchases.

Things were a lot quieter once through security. I asked the officer if there was some special event on, but she replied that it was always crowded like this.


I was tired. Really, really tired. I had not had a full night's sleep the previous night, nor many before. I've never used a lounge before, can't afford the membership fees or flights that permit complimentary access. However, on the Changi brochure I had picked up inbound there was mention of an open lounge, the Rainforest. I rode the escalator up to the mezzanine floor to the lounge's entrance.

I looked in my wallet. There wasn't enough money for access to their napping beds. I could have used my credit card, but in my addled state I decided that I didn't want to spend the additional bank fees associated with that transaction, so I gave up and returned downstairs.

Last time we stayed in Singapore I could not rave enough about Terminal 1's facilities. While my wife used one of the daybeds in a darkened, quiet area overlooking the runways I was busy taking advantage of the free power and LAN sockets on a nearby desk to reply to emails. Now, both were gone, the area probably hidden away behind the boarded up construction area.

There were still free internet terminals, not all working and with sessions limited to 15 minutes. At least the information desk created a temporary wireless internet account for me so that I could use my own computer.

But the daybeds were missed! In fact, there was almost nowhere to sit in our end of the terminal, except for the departure lounges themselves, and ours wasn't open yet.

Eating and shopping options were also pretty limited. A Bengawan Solo (more kueh!), coffee shop, a minimart, lots of luxury shops but little else. Few views outside. I hope that the renovations deliver a Terminal 1 to the standards implied by Changi's other terminals. Right now it is not representative of a great airport, little better than Sydney.

Eventually I parked myself upstairs at the Burger King, where there were views outside, along with a childrens' play area and, nearby, an outdoor smoking spot (thankfully the smell didn't enter inside). I wasn't hungry, but I ordered a dessert to validate my use of the facilities.

Outside, there were a few operations taking place, but I couldn't muster up the enthusiasm to care. A storm cloud flashed in the background.

I was feeling very low at this point. I was exhausted, I was missing my family, I was apprehensive about the upcoming flight. All I wanted to do was collapse into a hotel room or just fly home again. I could do none of the things.

I took out my MyLO, a discontinued Sony handheld media device with wireless internet capabilities, sort of their version of Apple's iTouch, and loaded up the built-in Skype software. Fortunately, I found my wife online and I made the Skype call.

We chatted and chatted for over an hour, all for free (okay, I pay for internet at home, but you get the idea). By the time we had said our goodbyes I was feeling a whole lot better, so much happier. I even felt confident about facing up to the turbulence. She has that effect on me. We met online, before it became fashionable to do so, so we know a thing or two about communicating electronically.

It was almost time for the boarding lounge to open. After a few false starts while crew were passed through security, we finally had our own chance for our carryons to be rescanned, our persons metal detectored. The queue moved slowly, but I was one of the first in the line and so got a seat in the lounge.

Boarding was first for children and those requiring special assistance, then for those with higher class tickets and those economy passengers at the rear of the aircraft, which included me!

ETD: 23:05
ETA: 05:25
AIRCRAFT: Boeing 747-400

The Boeing 747 holds a special place in my heart. My first ever flight overseas, back in 1995, was on a Singapore Airlines 747 Megatop. Since then I've flown on 747's with MAS, BA, KLM and, more frequently, with Qantas. Looking from the front, the 747 has a misshapen, highly distinctive, profile. But when I would see the 747 out of the terminal windows as I walked to board, or when I watched them race down the runway across Botany Bay, then they spoke adventure. There was an old fashioned sense of ornateness in their design, the last of their generation, like comparing the QE2 to the streamlined modern cruiseliners is how I think of the 747.

Since the beginning of 2007 I had made many flights overseas, but they were all on A330's, with the exception of a short hop from Hong Kong to Tokyo on a Cathay Pacific 744. On that flight I was too exhausted to care, worn out by too many flights across China. Something about those A330 flights felt different to those previous trips on the 747, but I struggled to identify exactly what that something was. I was determined to find out as I stepped on board QF5 from Singapore to London.

I could start with the interior. Despite the new red fabric on the seats, the Qantas 747's interior looked aged. The plastics were yellowing a little, you could tell that the aircraft was well used. The overhead storage bins were squarer than on the more modern aircraft, making the ceiling feel lower, while the size of the centre toilet and storage areas also dominated. But to tell you the truth, I really didn't mind. In fact I think that these features, combined with the wide 3-4-3 seating actually made the aircraft feel larger and more solid. Maybe this was the key difference!

The seats were not as comfortable as on the A380 and the seat backs were certainly not "strokable" carbon fibre. But, hey, these were standard Qantas economy class seats and I'd survived many hours on them before. The small non-touch IFE screens were a disappointment after the A380, but I much preferred the 747's windows.

I removed the blanket from its plastic wrap, placed it over my legs, and tried to relax as we taxied out across the field of lights. Pity there was no tailcam on this flight!

The 747 felt more powerful, more forceful, during the take-off as we confidently leapt into the air. Indeed, the power of the engines was apparent during the whole flight, even if the speed wasn't much different to that of the A380.

We must have had the wind at our backs because the captain announced that we might arrive in London up to an hour early. Yay!

During the first part of our flight we tracked up along the west coast of Malaysia. City lights were recognizable below and there was much of interest to see in the night. Past Penang it was time to leave the coast and to cross the feared Bay of Bengal.

For much of the first few hours of the flight, from Singapore until about halfway across the Bay of Bengal, it was a bit of a rough ride, as if we were driving across a bumpy ride with constant shaking. But, despite my fears, it really didn't bother me. I just coped. Few drops helped, but I just didn't feel the apprehension that has spoiled other flights. And no seatbelt lights! Not once on this flight!

At one point we had the most magnificent sight of flying through high cloud. Normally it is nothing but an indistinct haze, but even this high there were individual cloud shapes silhouetted against the bright Moon. Racing past these close cloud outcrops at over 900km/h there was a real sense of our speed.

One and a half hours into the flight we were served a late supper. The choices were "Beef in a rich tomato sauce with potato mash and steamed vegetables" or "Jalfrezi style fish with rice and spiced pineapple". I had no idea what Jalfrezi fish was, but it sounded more interesting than the beef, so that's what I chose. It was a kind of sweet and sour sauce while the warm pineapple seemed to be in egg, but overall it was quite nice. I was still recovering from gorging myself from the hawker stalls, so I could only pick at the meal.

Sides were a so-so cucumber and bean salad, a bread roll and a yam and sago pudding. I only skimmed the top of the dessert as I dislike the gula melaka (palm sugar) syrup, but I applaud Qantas for providing a real, regional dessert or higher quality than an ice confectionary.

I must have fallen asleep after the meal because I missed the hot chocolate run, much to my disappointment. We were also given a snack pack containing bottled water, Menthos sweets, Oreo biscuits, a Toblerone chocolate and an apple. Not really very representative of Australia!

Sometime in the night I accepted a banana as they were handed out in the dark by the cabin crew. I love the fact that they serve fresh fruit on the flights.

While the IFE screens were not as impressive as on the A380, there was one critical advantage: Little Britain USA functioned on this one. I watched the entire series, mindless disgusting entertainment which certainly helped to while away the hours. The entertainment system crashed towards the end of my watching, requiring a reboot which also seemed to involved turning on and off the cabin lights. At least the system was equipped with a fast forward option. Most of the other passengers were too busy sleeping to care.

Little Britain is a gentle comedy about dogs...

...and men in suits!

Once across the Bay of Bengal we began our voyage over the subcontinent. The many lights of the Indian towns peeked out from beneath the clouds. Pakistan was darker, but still provided its share of interesting sights below. Over Afghanistan, a single light became noteworthy. I could just discern the snowcapped peaks of the folded, tortured landscape below. To the north east was a line of storms, flashing threateningly without touching us.

Outside of Afghanistan the cities regained their glory, glittering jewels on black landscapes, so beautiful.

Over the glowing Mashad in Iran we turned to cross Turkmenistan and the Caspian Sea into the Ukraine. Halfway across and the first glimmerings of dawn arrived, a pale glow to the East. We crossed the coast of the inland sea at Astrakhan, oilfields visible below sticking out into the waters.

As the glow in the sky increased more and more details on the ground below became visible. Around Kharkov the landscape looked flooded by many rivers. But most of these were shimmering rivers of cloud reflecting the first light.

The ride became a little bumpy again, but nothing intolerable.

I snacked on a slice of kuih lapis and relaxed to admire the sunrise. The orange light reflected off the red seat covers, intensifying the glow throughout the cabin. That's one of the things I love about flights with the Qantas Group, they have an open window policy. The cabin silhouetted against the early morning sky while you drift far above the carpet of clouds is what flying is really about, in my view.

Our route overflew Warsaw and Berlin. Outside I could see contrails appearing metres behind the engine exhausts. In the distance over German skies I spotted another aircraft whose shadowed contrails gave the impression of belching a thick cloud of brown smoke.

With a little more than an hour and a half of flight time left the crew began to serve breakfast. The choices were cereal or omelette with bacon, sausage and tomato ragout (and a broccoli sprout), both serve with a raisin Danish, fresh melon fruit salad and orange juice. I was hungry and very picky about my cereals (they all seem to have honey and/or sultanas), so I selected the hot omelette. Like all the other meals so far, it was very tasty. The German woman next to me had a special meal of some sort, served, as all the specials were, prior to the main service.

Naturally, it was bumpy during the meal service!

The cloud cover over Europe began to break up as we departed continental Europe over Rotterdam and crossed the English Channel. The first hints of morning were starting to creep up on the island of England.

Military turboprop flying towards and below us

As we crossed the English coastline the Customer Service Manager announced that we had began our descent and gave us the usual spiel about safety. But then he began to describe how our flightpath should take us over London, giving us wonderful views of the city below, subject to the vagaries of Heathrow air traffic control. He stayed online for much of the descent, pointing out London's many landmarks. After over twelve hours in the air it was wonderful that he shared his enthusiasm about what must have been a very familiar sight.

The aircraft dropped towards the grey cloud layer below, then eventually punctured it, revealing the vista below.

Say what you will about the Heathrow experience, but the approach to the airport is incredible. Fortunately, I was on the right hand side of the aircraft and my rearward position worked to my advantage with stunning views of the city below against the suffuse orange glow of sunrise.

My first view of London was on our honeymoon when we were also on descent into Heathrow. Then, as now, I was excited by the view. I had grown up with a lot of television and literature from the UK, yet I was not particularly familiar with the country itself. Apart from a few flights in and out from Heathrow, primarily to Europe proper, I had only spent two days wandering around London.

Despite this, I could readily identify many of the landmarks below. Just as we had overflown the Sydney Olympic environs en route to Singapore, now we crossed over London's Olympic site, still very much under construction. Hopefully the Beijing Olympics were Britain's 2005 Ashes series and 2012 will be their 2007 Ashes!

Our winding route then took us over the Millenium Dome, then views of the Thames, Tower Bridge, Canary Wharf (hi Torchwood!), Westminister, the Kensington area, then the rounded canyon rows of suburban housing.

Finally, we aligned ourselves with the runway at Heathrow, there was the clunk of lowered gear and the whir of flaps further deployed. Down, down, down, landed!

While we hadn't shaved a full hour off the flight time, we must have been early, one of the first into Heathrow. The airport was quiet with almost no visible operations as we taxied towards Terminal 4. The CSM warned us that we may have to wait a while for a gate to be made available - it felt like they weren't ready for us yet.

It didn't take long for the airbridge to be connected with the aircraft and for us to deplane. We hurried out, passenger eager to be off the aircraft that had carried them aloft for almost 13 hours. I was not in any rush myself, for it was still so early that there was nothing much for me to do yet.

This being Britain, despite the near deserted terminal there was still a long queue at the immigration desks. But me being Australian and used to our own strict immigration and quarantine restrictions, I was not particularly fussed. At least our luggage arrived quickly.

Terminal 4 was dark, old and worn. The ceilings exposed ventilation tubing and once out landside there was virtually nothing of interest. Last time we visited London we caught the Heathrow Express to Paddington, but this time I decided to save money by catching the Tube directly to Earl's Court.

The Terminal 4 station was deserted. The only way to buy a ticket was using the vending machines, and none of them took notes! What a stupid system, as you generally don't receive coins from the moneychangers. Fortunately, one of the vending machines took cards, but when you add in bank fees that's a lot more than the 4 pound ticket! Fortunately, I had a Travelex card with left over credit, so I got my ticket, but I'm not certain the other passengers were so lucky.

It was a pretty little ride from Heathrow to Earls Court. Some of it was above ground. The sky was clear blue, the trees bright green and the wildflowers colourful. When we stopped and the doors opened I could hear the birds and the insects. I had to change trains at Acton Town, but that was no drama as there was no need to change platforms as well. Fortunately my line was open, as many were closed for trackwork on the weekend. Yep, just like Sydney.

Part 3 LHR - HKG

After very little sleep on the flight, I was quite exhausted when I arrived at my hotel, the Barkston Gardens, so named for the gorgeous private park opposite. I waited in the lounge, hoping to be allowed to check into my room early, used their wireless internet service to Skype my wife.

Unfortunately, it looked like none of the rooms would be ready until the afternoon, so, despite my exhaustion, I decided to go out into London and explore. Last time in London I was greatly disappointed that I had missed out on the museums after having got lost in Harrods. With only two free days on this trip I was not going to make the same mistake again.

That day I saw (in order of visitation) the British Museum, the National Gallery, the Science Museum, the Museum of Natural History and the Victoria and Albert Museum, then I walked back from the V&A to Earl's Court. The amazing thing was that I got something worthwhile out of each museum and gallery. Aviation buffs shouldn't miss the Science Museum's aircraft and space displays, though I personally found the mechanical computers and mathematics exhibits fascinating as well.

The next day I caught the Eurostar to Brussels, then travelled onwards to Ghent. I had booked the Eurostar tickets online and printed them out, but I still had to wait for the long security checks. The train itself was very uncomfortable as the economy section comprised facing seats divided by a thin table. There was very little legroom and my daypack was squashed up on my lap as I required easy access to it.

On the opposite site of the carriage sat an American who, as is their wont, needed to constantly verbalise his thoughts, disturbing the Englishman who just wanted to do some work. Thankfully I had my earphones.

I can't believe that Belgium isn't a more popular tourist destination. When I stepped into the town square at Ghent my jaw just dropped at its magnificence. I need to return to show my wife this place. And buy more chocolate! The funny thing was that I didn't see anywhere selling Belgian waffles and ice cream, but I did see an Australian Ice Cream outlet. (In Australia, we buy from New Zealand ice cream shops or European outlets!).

Like Heathrow, the chunnel is obviously slot constrained. Our train was late arriving into Brussels and we missed our slot out, greatly delaying us. I didn't care, but a Japanese couple opposite me did, having to rebook some forward travel. The trilingual customer service manager was extremely apologetic, but informed them that automatic compensation required much longer delays. I guess they were just used to the extreme punctuality of the Japanese railways, where even a 20 minute delay on a rural line gets a station master booking taxis! I can't say I blame them for their displeasure. A Shinkansen is far more comfortable than a Eurostar and with far more legroom.

The next three days were all about programming Plone, so there's nothing more to say about that here, except that, on the final day, I noticed my tutor viewing It turned out that he also loathed turbulence and was deciding when to fly back to Sweden based upon the turbulence forecasts! Yep, I've done that!

See my London gallery for more city sightseeing

I had no such choices unfortunately. I woke up early on the Friday, chatted to my wife, packed my bags, quickly ate breakfast, then caught the Tube back to Heathrow station. This time there was no changing trains, so I could just relax all the way and watch the aircraft descending into Heathrow through a clear blue sky. Clear skies, a midday flight, I was looking forward to this leg of the trip.

Inner London seems like a planespotters dream with constant flights low over the city. My location at Earl's Court seemed as good as any to admire the aircraft on descent into Heathrow.

Not all flying vehicles were conventionally powered

VA vs the BA London Eye

I arrived early into Heathrow's Terminal 4.The check in desk area is small and dingy and there are few, if any, shops around. The check-in staff's standard of English was quite poor, but it turned out that I had already checked in online for the flight, even though I hadn't got through the entire process to the generation of the printed boarding passes. Not a problem! I asked if I could get a window seat further forward than 55K, but I was told the aircraft was full. According to the computer the economy section had a -4 in it - overbooking?

With nothing to detain me landside I quickly passed through security. Airside, there were a few more shops. A big duty free store selling the usual range of perfumes, liquors and souvenirs. A branch of Harrods, mainly luxury items, confectionary and tea, and more souvenirs. A bookstore and a couple of newsagencies, luxury goods shops, a coffee shop or two, bar and restaurant. As at both Sydney and Changi there were boards up hiding ongoing terminal renovations.

I was feeling bad that I hadn't purchased anything for my wife in London, only goods for my son, so I bought a couple of small items from Harrods and the duty free store.

I had a number of hours to kill before boarding my aircraft but once I had explored the terminal there was little else to do by watch the airport operations. There were good views of the runways and environs through the glass frontage of gate 7, so I parked myself there for a while.

One of Heathrow's runways was being used for take-offs, the closer one for landings. I observed all sorts of airlines and aircraft rarely seen in Australia. Lots of the A320 family, especially from BA along with their 747's and 777's, but also a SAS MD-11, KLM 737's, Virgin Atlantic attractive A340's, the hopelessly archaic red and white liveries of Air India and Air Mauritius, the far nicer blue and yellow of Jet Airways and many others. The Singapore Airlines A380 even made an appearance, its squat form standing out amongst the crowd.

A Kenyan Airlines jet was departing from the far end of Terminal 4, but the terminal seemed to be devoted mainly to Continental Airlines, with 777's and a 757 parked at the gates, and Qantas. I observed three of the latter's 744's on the tarmac in front of us. I could not help but get excited about flying one of them.

ETD: 12:20
ETA: 07:10
AIRCRAFT: Boeing 747-400

Eventually, after much sitting around, the time to board finally arrived. I rather liked the midday departure time as it meant I would get some daylight sightseeing in without needing to wake up too early.

Adjacent to us, and leaving first was another Qantas 747 to Singapore and onwards to Sydney. I was bound for Hong Kong on this flight. The aircraft had a refurbished interior with the red seat fabric and premium economy section. I noted how the grey honeycomb pattern on their plastic seat backing was scuffed already. I was ten rows further forward than on the last flight, in seat 55K.

Seated adjacent to me was a very nice father and son, the latter who politely offered to let me place my bag under the front of his seat as he wasn't using the room. I declined the offer, but the kid set a much better example than the aisle seat passenger behind us.

This middle aged Australian sourpuss was talking loudly on his mobile phone to a prospective employer about Oracle database work. I gather that his current unemployment status must have precluded him from flying in business class because he appeared to take up a lot of the cheerful English cabin crew's time with complaints. Complaints about what, I don't know because I had earphones on to drown him out.

We were asked to leave our seatbelts off while the aircraft refueled at the gate, presumably to allow for faster evacuation should something go wrong. Then it was time to back away from the terminal and taxi out to the runway. There was certainly more activity now than when I arrived into London. We had to stop suddenly before crossing the first of the runways while a BA 747 landed.

We continued our journey past maintenance hangers and parked aircraft. Adjacent to a Virgin Atlantic hanger was a rusty green mockup that looked like a stumpy hybrid of a 747 with a trijet.

After a reasonably long ride, during which time the crew completed the safety demonstration, we arrived at the runway. The powerful engines thrust us back against the seat and in a distance much shorter than the A380 took, we had ascended into the air.

The previously clear sky had been replaced mostly by cloud. Unfortunately, the view was not as good as on the flight in, farmland, motorways, houses and factories, but I snapped away all the same. I even saw a circus down below. The ascent was rather bumpy, but the seatbelt signs were quickly extinguished.

Once above the cloud layer the sky was a brilliant blue. What an exciting time to fly!


Back over continental Europe again!

Our flightpath skimmed the northern edge of Western Europe, slicing across the Jutland Peninsula and over the patchwork of fields on the islands of Denmark. Ferries could be seen plying the routes between the islands. Europe is a fascinating place from above, the molding of the countryside by thousands of years of humanity highly visible from above.

We must have flown through some of the turbulence observed on the website the previous day, for the ride was a little bumpy.

Two hours into the flight we were served our lunch/dinner. It was a choice between Lamb Casserole with Baby Onions, New Potatoes and Beans, which is what I chose, or Red Braised Chicken with Water Chestnuts. The salad was Roasted Butternut (pumpkin) and sage. There was also a bread roll, crackers and beautiful soft French cheese. I selected a Coke to drink, but was handed a 150ml can of sparkling soft drink with vegetable extracts!

Later, Twix ice creams were handed out. Better than the Splices, but still...

Landfall came over Poland or one of the Baltic States. I wasn't looking too hard. We were flying East towards the terminator between night and day, so this was going to be a short day and night for the passengers on the aircraft.

As we flew across Russia and the old Soviet republics all I did was gaze out the window and struggle to listen to my MP3 player. My noise reducing earphones had broken and none of the alternatives was performing up to scratch.

The view outside was gorgeous, truly flying high above the Earth.

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Dusk arrived at a wintery five hours into the flight, more like the Southern Hemisphere season I had briefly escaped. Over what I assumed was Kazakhstan the land was scarred by the pockmarks of white salt lakes, the red dusk light generating landscape reminiscent of Australia's interior. This must be the northern remnants of the Aral Sea, the lands below poisoned by chemical remnants of a collapsed cotton industry, the rivers diverted away from the inland sea, leaving toxic dust and misery in their wake. It is a sad, sad story that all should learn from.

Soon afterwards darkness descended, stealing the view from outside.

I tried watching "The Watchmen" on the IFE again, but just couldn't get into it. Unfortunately, the Oscar winning films aren't available on the IFE in the 747's. Instead I switched to "The Simpsons" as something that I could watch without focusing too hard.

A couple of times during the trip a message flashed up on the IFE reminding passengers that there was to be no smoking anywhere on the aircraft, including the toilets. I gather that some passengers couldn't resist. I felt sorry for the crew on this flight.

The captain had earlier announced that the flight would be smooth until China, so I was dreading crossing that border. It was still dark when we did, but I noticed cities lit brightly in the darkness below, their fine details discernable through the clear skies even though we were many kilometers up.

It was still darkness when we were fed breakfast. I had the vegetable omelette with baked beans, bacon and asparagus, along with a croissant, fruit salad, yoghurt (which I didn't eat) and orange juice. Maybe my tastebuds are more sensitive at altitude but the meals were really tasty, especially the bacon.

As morning arrived a suffuse blue-grey glow enveloped the cloudscape outside, with high cloud above us and another layer below, blocking the view of the Chinese landscape. I was disappointed by this as China is a fascinating place from above, if you can penetrate the almost everpresent layer of smog. Towards the south a large cloud mass flickered ominously. The promised turbulence never really eventuated, but the sky certainly looked dramatic.

The sun rose higher and the gloom disappeared, to be replaced by a bright blue sky above a carpet of puffy white clouds. The captain announced that we had begun our descent into Hong Kong from the south. Out across the sea the clouds became scattered and we could see the water below. It was now midnight London time, but here we could see the Sunlight shimmering off a placid ocean punctuated by dark islands and many, many ships.

The aircraft turned to align itself with the airport and we drifted down towards the runway. As we dropped below the height of the mountains I caught a glimpse of Tian Tan, the giant Buddha, atop one of them. Then we touched the tarmac. Welcome to Hong Kong!

The airport was quiet at a quarter past seven. Not dead, but not yet fully awake. We taxied past numerous Dragonair jets resting on the tarmac, before passing a Qantas A330 and nosing our way into ou

Part 4 HKG - SYD

At last we reach the final leg of the journey...

Four hours later I was awake and down in Citygate buying half priced shoes, clothes for baby and wife. Then off to Hong Kong Island and Pacific Plaza for more clothes for my wife and a swimsuit for me. I could see the hotel swimming pool out of my window and wanted a swim! It's a fair ride by MTR train to downtown Hong Kong and requires changing trains.

I was hungry, so I rode the MTR to Yau Ma Tei in Kowloon for that classic Nathan Road view of Hong Kong's neon and tenements and a really bad meal of chicken and noodles. Plus a ginger custard at the Yee Shun Milk café. It was dusk now and I was looking forward to a quick swim and a rest before tonight's flight.

When I finally got back to the hotel room I took out my boarding pass just to confirm the flight time. It was then that I discovered that I was wrong about the boarding time. It wasn't 10:20pm, it was 8:20pm! I had to get to the airport NOW! So much for the swim! I rushed to stuff everything back into my bags and raced down to the lobby. Fortunately I just made the minibus and the Qantas departures area was the first stop. Also fortunate that I already had my boarding pass.

Security was painfully slow and as I reached the gate the PA was already stating "Final boarding call".

ETD: 21:10
ETA: 07:55
AIRCRAFT: Boeing 747-400

I wasn't the last to board. My name has only ever been called once before and that was due to a train fan of a cousin needing to take me the long way to Adelaide Airport via the passenger train terminal.

Once down that aerobridge and into my seat and I could relax once more. So much for exploring Hong Kong Airport!

The first thing I noted was that this Qantas 744 hadn't been refurbished. It still had the blue seat covers , no premium economy and no first class either. I didn't mind, because after two other refurbished 747 flights this was a change. I was in seat 35A, nice and forward. I was a couple of rows behind where the centre rows began, behind the stairs to the upper deck. I like the spot, again it gives you that sense that you are on a large aircraft.

The flight was fairly empty, with plenty of empty middle seats. Our departure was delayed while the pilot waited for refueling paperwork to be completed. I was still exhausted and actually nodded off while we waited.

Eventually everything was ready and we disembarked from the terminal, heading off across the field of colourful lights that is an airport at night. I paid cursory attention to the safety demonstration, utterly familiar now with the aircraft. Then, without much ado, we powered up into the dark night skies.

As we took off there were some wonderful views of Hong Kong city at night. Then we entered cloud lit up by the lights of the aircraft.

The captain switched off the seatbelt sign and immediately there was the clack-clack of many belts released, despite the warning that they should be left on at all times when the passengers were in their seats. The next night a Qantas A330 hit turbulence en route from Hong Kong to Perth causing a few injuries amongst the passengers and underlining the seatbelt requirements.

Fortunately, although the first few hours were a bit rough, we suffered no similar experience. I had been a little nervous, for in the lobby of the hotel had been a level 1 typhoon warning - a possibly approaching typhoon.

Despite the distance from the typhoon on the map I wondered if we had hit some of the outliers of the weather system when, less than half an hour into the flight, a spectacular lightning show became visible out of my window. Many inter-cloud bursts flashed not that far away. But our flight, as it had been on all other legs, was unperturbed.

Dinner was served, either a braised chicken in tomato and lime sauce with parsley potatoes or pork in a sweet bean chilli sauce with egg noodles and asian greens. I ate the chicken, as the lime sounded nice. The meal was accompanied by a cucumber and snow pea salad, a bun, a Tim Tam, and finally a dessert that I could fully appreciate; a mango, sago and pomelo soup. Nice meal, much better than the one I paid for in the restaurant (that's what you get if you eat along Nathan Road. I was in a hurry, okay).

The rest of the night was spent in a fugue state, listening to my mp3's (I had purchased another pair of noise cancelling headphones in Hong Kong) and occasionally drifting off. The flight was incredibly smooth around the equator. Not once did the seatbelt lights come on, not even near Guam!

Breakfast was served as the first glimmerings of dawn appeared over the horizon. I had the scrambled eggs with bacon, mushrooms and slow roasted tomatoes (eating neither the mushrooms or tomatoes) instead of the Chinese breakfast of stir fried noodles, pork gyoza and sui mai. Yoghurt, fruit salad, a fruit bun and orange juice rounded out the tray. I was going to have to get used to eating cereal again after this flight! I enjoyed my breakfasts on Qantas as they were all very tasty.

As I was on the left of the aircraft I had spectacular views of the sunrise. It is a gorgeous time of day to fly over northern Australia, with the skies so calm and a carpet of cloud far below. I'll let my photos tell you the rest of the flight towards Sydney.

Before I knew we were on descent into Sydney. We passed through the cloud layer, but beneath us the valleys of the undulating land north of Sydney were still shrouded in morning fogs. We continued south, with perfect views of Sydney's central business district, the Harbour Bridge, Opera House, Anzac Bridge all visible below.

Our flight path actually took us past Sydney Airport, south past Cronulla and over the Royal National Park before we made our turn left and over the ocean. Down across Botany Bay, the morning waters so serene, disturbed only by the odd boat, before we touched down, back on Australian soil.

As we taxied towards the terminal I saw the Singapore Airlines and Qantas A380's parked, the Emirates bird taxiing out for its flight to New Zealand. I also saw plenty of Qantas 744's. Both types are wonderful aircraft and I had a wonderful time flying each.

I emerged from the aircraft glad to be going home to my family. Before I made it through customs I had a brief argument with a middle aged peroxide bleached Hong Kong woman who had blatantly shoved into the line when everyone else was calmly queuing. As they do, she was extremely aggressive in return asking if "I was a man or a gentleman?" I just ignored her, so as not to give her any face. What I should have done was to tell her that a polite lady would have said "excuse me". It still felt remarkably satisfying. Pity that they didn't bust her for anything at customs. It would have made a nice Border Security moment!

As I waited 15 minutes for the next train to take me home (a ride that cost me over $15) I reflected on the fact that, whatever is wrong with Sydney, it is still a nicer place than London. And it was good to going home to my loving family.

So, which do I prefer: the Whale or the Elephant? It's so difficult to say! Qantas' Airbus A380 was so comfortable in economy class and the entertainment options were a step up from the 747. Loved the tail camera too! The downside was the windows. On the other hand, the Boeing 747 had fantastic windows for sightseeing, but the seats were a bit less comfortable. Not uncomfortable, just not as good as in the A380, something that could be rectified with a refit. The A380 reached a higher cruise altitude faster, but its performance felt ponderous. You could really feel the thrust on the 747 as it powered into the skies.

One thing I am certain of is that I prefer both aircraft to the A330.

It was nice to fly long-haul on a full service carrier again after so many trips on Jetstar. I don't want to take anything away from the budget carrier, especially from their wonderful crew, but there is something really nice about a good seatback IFE and decent meal service. Even just a flight map makes a big difference.

I really enjoyed my meals on the flights, though I can see that the portions may be a little small for some. One area Qantas needs to improve their catering is desserts. Cheap packet ice creams don't cut it for me, especially when I've had so many fantastic desserts with them in the past. Cut the cheese and crackers, the bun, but not the dessert... please!

One item I was confused about were the amenity packs. I only seemed to get one on the HKG-SYD leg, when I needed it least. Not that I ever really use them anyway...

It's difficult for me to say much about Qantas' cabin crew on these flights because I so rarely interacted with them. Most of the time I was off in my own little self-sufficient world, earphones on and hidden away in the window seat. When I did interact the experience was always positive and I have no complaints. The CSM's commentary on the descent into London was one highlight that stood out.

Over the past few years I have stepped out at Sydney after flights long and short and said that I wanted to give up flying, that I can't handle it anymore. Not this time! In the space of a little over a week I had completed over 40 hours of flight in economy (not that I've ever travelled in any other class) and for the most part the experience had been highly enjoyable.

So enjoyable, in fact, that I soon booked another return trip on the A380 to Singapore in August/September, this time with my whole family flying (sans dog). So stay tuned for that trip report, where I'll be able to properly contrast the whale and the elephant.

If you want to read more about my time in Singapore, London and Belgium then please see my travel blog. You can also view the full set of photos online, plus those of previous trips on my photo gallery.

If you've made it this far, congratulations! You may also be interested in reading my extensive set of previous trip reports (not in order).