Wednesday, 15 June 2016

The teleport to Japan - Flying the Jetstar Dreamliner

.
A warning: This report contains a giant robot, dinosaurs, Godzilla, a teleport, Lego and apples.

Why Japan? Every year for the past eleven years I have made at least one trip there. Am I not tired of it? There are so many other places to visit on Earth.

No, I am not tired of it. Most of us, even the most inveterate traveller, has somewhere they call home. Somewhere familiar where they can let their guard down and focus on simple pleasures. When life gets stressful it is a place to retreat to and hide from the barbarians outside.

But for some the home offers little protection. Bricks are not firewalls against emails and the grass grows tall outside the door. Tasks do not end with the school bell, life stops at night but begins again with the alarm. Such is the society in which we live.

So what about a nice resort by the beach? There are so many to chose from!

The restless, inquisitive mind is not long satisfied by doing nothing. The extrovert will likely want to hit the bars and clubs, to seek out the company of others. And today there are so many tools to tell you where the happening places are.

The introvert would rather avoid the crowds and be avoided by them. The barrage of cultural demands, from language to haggling to not causing random offence are sources of stress.

Japan is an introverted nation and even more so to a foreign guest. Their whole culture is centred around not causing offence, on predictability and continuity in social interactions. Once one has mastered the basic rules then interactions are almost always pleasant.

Yet it is also an endlessly fascinating country with innumerable delights. Each visit offers up something unexpectedly wonderful. And it has trains! Fast trains, slow trains, trains that whisk you between major cities and others that take you nowhere along the most beautiful paths. Wherever you might want to go there's usually a train to take you close to it. Freedom from cars and taxis.

Others must agree with me about the wonders of Japan as tourism has exploded there over the past decade. There are now many options from Sydney, where I live, to Japan. Qantas, Japan Airlines and ANA all fly direct, while Qantas also offers flights via Brisbane and Jetstar via Melbourne, Cairns and the Gold Coast.

I've not flown the Japanese airlines. I'm told they have strict window shades down policies which can be a deal breaker for me. I'm rather partial to Qantas points as well.

Jetstar had a free return flights deal available. Sadly, but predictably, not for the school holidays, so we had to pull Alex out of school for the, now restricted, duration. He's in Year 2, bright, and smart enough to catch up on anything he missed. Besides which, we had plans to focus on some areas he needed extra practice in.

If you have been a regular reader of my trip reports you will know that I frequently suffer anxiety about turbulence. After my last flight back from Singapore with Scoot in January I declared that "By the time we touched down in Sydney I was no longer quaking at the thought of stepping inside an aircraft cabin. I was looking up and dreaming again."

And so I was. A strong El Nino weather pattern meant many clear and sunny days across Sydney. I would stare upwards and feel excited at the thought of flying. I imagined this flight, cruising high, enjoying my meal and watching a movie on the seatback screen. I'd do some maths, just enjoy the experience.

But as the day of departure approached the anxiety returned. With thirteen years of flying to Japan and the region I've got a lots of good and bad experiences to recall. And I have no control over which they will be. Control is the operative word here.

The weather also became less favourable as El Nino weakened and the equatorial clouds returned to the Western Pacific.

I didn't want a repeat of my meltdown in Singapore so I paced myself, tried to ensure I got enough rest before travel.

That's a bit hard when you have to wake up at 4.15 AM in order to make your flight! Jetstar had rebooked us months back on the 6.40 AM flight to the Gold Coast rather than the 7.05 AM we were originally booked on. You might think that it's only 20 minutes, but at that time of morning every minute counts!

We barely made it to the airport before the check-in/bag drop closed. Public transport wasn't an option that early, so we weighed up a taxi ride or hotel room and decided that $160 for 8 days of parking was the best value. The ride to Sydney Airport is a major expense in itself!

Fortunately our flight to Japan was divided into a short trip up to the Gold Coast from the domestic terminal followed by the long international leg to Tokyo Narita.

Although I'd checked us in online we still had to drop off one piece of checked in luggage before racing through security towards the gate, where boarding had just started.

Terminal 2 airside

We took our spots on the right hand side of the aircraft in row 8 and settled into the dark grey leather seats. This was an older Jetstar A320 with the original wing fences rather than the sharklets. I remember when these were all fresh and new, but this one looked well cared for.

A320 interior

Seated now

While we waited for the remainder of the passengers to board the sky outside gradually changed from black to salmon and cyan. I felt calm and relaxed, ready to get this journey started but also wishing I was still asleep in bed.

Fellow A320 at the gate

Qantas A330

Salmon in the sky

The golden orb of the sun peeked across the city horizon as we trundled out to the southern end of the third runway. We aligned ourselves to face north then roared up into the skies. Then a sharp right, bringing the famous Sydney city skyline into sharp relief. Across the harbour then out to sea over Manly before turning again to fly parallel with the coast.

Sunrise!

Port Botany container terminal

As we leave another arrives

Qantas jet base

Sydney's CBD, Central and Haymarket

Harbour Bridge and Opera House

Crossing the coast

Northern Beaches

It was the perfect little flight. Dead smooth with lovely views of Central Coast and Northern New South Wales, a little hazy due to the recent preventative burning. Our Starter Plus fares gave us a total of $15 credit between the three of us which we used to buy a kids snack and activity pack with a fruit bar, fruit juice drink and popcorn inside and a banana muffin and hot chocolate combo for B. I'd devoured the remaining slice of apple pie and cup of apple juice in the fridge prior to departure so wasn't hungry.

Tuggerah Lake

Newcastle

Not volcanoes!

Smoke
Seatback

Kids pack

Muffin and hot chocolate

The Northern Rivers district looked so green and fertile beneath us as we turned towards the coast south of the Queensland border with Mount Warning and the other hills of the Border Ranges looming in the background.

The river is on fire!

Crossing the coast again

Approaching the border

I've always said that the approach into the Gold Coast is one of my favourites and this perfectly clear day was no exception. We curved out to sea, up past the tall skyline of Surfers Paradise and back again for a southerly approach into the airport, feeling like we were almost skimming the sea as we descended parallel to the beach.

No complaints about flight number one. If only the next one could be as good.


Gold Coast airport doesn't have any air bridges but we were soon down the stairs and collecting our luggage from the belt. We then checked in again for our flight to Japan as Jetstar doesn't transfer bags between domestic and international. No dramas.

Not seen Hong Kong Airlines at OOL before

Waving us in

As it was an absolutely gorgeous day outside we decided to repeat what I did last time and walk down to Bilinga Beach. You exit the terminal to the right and walk down past the long term car park and across the main road to the beach.

Gold Coast Airport

Covered path out to the main road

Towards the beach

Looking out towards Surfers Paradise

Playing in the waves

Alex rejoiced in the squeaky sand dunes and naturally got a bit wet chasing the waves. Exercise is supposed to help relieve stress so I practised my karate katas and combinations on the sand and tried to get Alex to practise his. B just admired the view and chased Alex.

Further south along the beach some parachutists landed on the sand.

The weather was unseasonably warm, despite the season almost ticking over to winter. And not just in Australia. A few days prior I had noticed both Tokyo and Sydney sharing the same maximum temperature of 26 degrees Celcius and same clear blue skies.

Now and then the gentle noise of the waves was drowned out by the roar of a jet taking off. I watched bright yellow and white Scoot Boeing 787 roar out to sea and then north, bound for Singapore. We flew them on the last trip back from Singapore. This next flight would let B and Alex compare their 787s with Jetstar's.

Scooting off

Eventually the heat and glare drove us back to the airport. We passed through domestic security and made our way to the Qantas lounge using my Qantas Club membership to gain access. It's modest in size and with no external views, but it served the purpose of giving us somewhere to relax and eat a snack. Alex went straight to the pancake machine, I just had drinks and nibbles.

Kids area inside the lounge

Lounge

A call went out for Tokyo passengers to go to the gate. The queue at immigration was almost non-existent as almost everyone was already inside. The Gold Coast isn't the world's most exciting airport, but it's certainly convenient.

From the indicator board it was obvious that our flight was delayed due to its late arrival from Wuhan. I fell asleep for a little while waiting, bought a drink from the small newsagent. Alex did some home work.

Z's

Jetstar, AirAsiaX, AirNZ, Virgin Australia

Not all guests know how to use the toilets in the airport

Finally, the call came to board the aircraft and we made our way outside. I didn't dare raise the camera to take a photo, which is sad because the silver and orange Jetstar Boeing 787-8 made for an impressive sight. Climbing up the stairs made me realise just how much larger it is than the narrowbody A320 we flew up on. From afar the 787's sleekness makes it look much smaller.

Our 787
The economy cabin is in a nine across seating configuration with three triplets of black leather seats each. Previous experience has demonstrated that the seating width can be a bit tight, but with Alex and B next to me this wasn't a worry. The legroom was adequate for stumpy legged me, your mileage may vary. Headrests are fully adjustable and I found the seating quite comfortable.

What really excited the others was the Panasonic eX2 seatback entertainment. Our Scoot flights had no onboard entertainment, though they did have inflight internet, and it was missed. Yes, we had three tablets between us, but loading them up with movies is generally a pain in the neck (except for mine). The iPads don't work well with the rest of the house's non-Apple systems (my tablet is an Android), including the Google Play movie library. Movies are expensive and they take up a lot of space and getting the others to decide what they want to watch is difficult.

Anyway, I like the (free) flight map and the fact that you don't have to worry about seat back entertainment flying around the cabin in turbulence. So I paid the $10 each.

Boarding

Legroom

Movies

Doors still open

More passengers!

I was a bit disappointed to find that Jetstar had swapped over to the June lineup six days early. I had already planned what to watch. Alien and Star Wars Toys. Not to worry, though the selection was limited compared to a full service carrier standards there was enough old and new to watch.

Jetstar provide bud earphones but I had brought our own. We hadn't even left the ground and B and Alex were already watching.

My eyes were out the window. I setup the Action Camera at the window and calmed myself for take-off. Safe and smooth, safe and smooth.

Action Cam

Like the landing, the take-off from the Gold Coast is pretty spectacular. Roaring up past the canals and the Tweed River we do a 180 degree arc and head north parallel to the long beaches of the Gold Coast. The skyscrapers of Surfers Paradise always make me think of an exotic city on the boundary between the desert and the sea.

Domestic

The runway

Tweed River and Terranora Creek

Surfers Paradise

But there is no desert to my left. Soon we are flying by the Port of Brisbane, the volcanic plugs of the Glasshouse Mountains on the Sunshine Coast. The land below is a bit hazy with smoke from the burnoffs, the pale clouds of smoke drifting upwards from the ground.

Port of Brisbane and airport

More smoke
The crew come around with our prepurchased meals. The other two aren't particularly hungry for their chicken cacciatore, but my stomach is now rumbling. I peel off the foil of my beef teriyaki and discover a dish that tastes much like it looks. The colours are unappealing, a tricolour of green pak choy, black beef and white rice. Too salty and sweet, nothing like the teriyaki I make. Edible, but pity they didn't have the option of chicken katsu with wasabi cheese sauce from last time. That was nice!

Meal tray

Teriyaki Beef

Flight route

The bread roll was not very soft, but the chocolate mousse was good.

B had some issues with her screen locking up that required a reset. The flight attendant that assisted her was very pleasant about the whole thing and returned to ensure that it was all working.

A couple of attendants were locals, the rest were Asian based including one whose accent immediately revealed her to be Singaporean. Our interactions with them were all positive.

We were now heading away from the coast. To the northwest I could see my old haunt of Central Queensland covered by thick cloud, a warning to stay away. Not that I needed one.

Cloud over CQ

Below us were the Heron Island group, marking the start of the Great Barrier Reef. I was curious to see if I could spot the terrible coral bleaching that has afflicted the reef, but the view was soon obscured by cloud.

Coral and islands

Over cloud, shades on!

The electronic window shades were automatically dimmed by the crew, but they weren't locked so I could override them. I left the on at one level or another for most of the flight, partly out of deference for other passengers, partly because I didn't want to suffer headaches from the glare of the Sun out my side of the window reflecting off the wing. I really like this ability to dim the light without cutting out the view entirely.

With the view mostly of cloud outside I decided to start watching a movie. I chose London Has Fallen, the sequel to Olympus Has Fallen which I had enjoyed on a previous Japan flight.

The darkened cabin, like we are underwater!

Though only 9" and 1280 x 800 pixel resolution, I found the screens fine for movie watching. Very responsive too.

It was kind of appropriate, with President Obama and other leaders arriving in Japan for the G7 Summit. Hopefully without the same level of violence involved!

I only managed to watch a single movie on the flight. Partly because I was constantly checking out the view outside, partly because of interruptions from Alex.

He finished The Lego Movie early and was busy playing some of the games on the IFE. He beat the computer at the easy level of chess and decided to take me on using the seat to seat system. It's been years since I last played but I fared better than the computer against him.

Hangman

So Alex decided to watch a movie on the old Android tablet I'd brought along for him instead of his iPad. Unfortunately age hasn't treated it well and it tends to crash.

Meanwhile, B completed four movies in the flight.

There was a young family of four occupying the seats in front of us (one was across the aisle). The young kids were arguing so B offered them some snakes.

Jelly snakes on a plane.

The flight was fairly similar to my last one northwards. High clouds over the Torres Strait with some bumps, then calmer over Papua New Guinea, the clouds parting to reveal spidery rivers, more high cloud and bumps again after PNG. Around the equator it calmed right down and became very pleasant.

South of PNG

Crossing PNG

High cloud

River in PNG

Cloudscape

Reflecting

Now with shades on

It was then I got most of my movie watching done. I never got out the maths text or did most of the other things I dreamed about. The fact was that I was too tired after the early morning wake-up.

The cloud returned around Guam and the skies became rougher again. Nothing truly bad and I don't recall the seatbelt light being switched on, but I did find it unpleasant.

Had our flight not been delayed we would have been approaching Tokyo around sunset. Instead we were an hour away when darkness fell. I was a little concerned that we'd be getting into Tokyo rather late, especially as we needed to exchange rail pass vouchers and get a train into the city.

.

Lucky for the electronic shades!

Natural light this time

Sunset

Darkness will fall!

We were also getting hungry as it was dinner time. Our meal purchase included a "light meal" which turned out to be a ham, cheese and tomato calzone (the other option was vegetarian). Fortunately, this was really yummy. We were also given a tub of water and Tim Tam biscuit.

Calzone
Finally it was time to begin our descent into Narita. I was prepared to say that this was a pretty good flight. Not too bumpy, not too long, I had fun with Alex and, if only I wasn't so tired, felt well.

High cloud as the light fades

One hour to go!

The cabin is waking up

Getting lighter now!

B watching Kung Fu Panda 3

We were seriously descending now, heading down.

And then...

Up and down, rising and... dropping! And again. And again.

Like a speedboat slapping into the waves. I guess this was a pilot controlled descent, perhaps trying to get through the turbulence layer as fast as possible, the automated turbulence mitigation features unable to do anything.

I couldn't see anything out the window causing it.

It was horrible.

At last we were through, the aircraft slowed through the darkened skies. We curved around the Boso Peninsula to approach Narita Airport from the north, city lights visible below. I noticed the windows fogging as we approached the ground, demonstrating the higher humidity of the cabin.

Land, at last!

Almost made it!

Last turns

A firm landing, then the usual taxi to Terminal 3. Like the Gold Coast, this low cost airline terminal only uses stairs, though this time they were covered. Not that it was raining, mind you.

If only we hadn't had that terrible turbulence on descent I would have said that it was a great flight.

Taxiing to Terminal 3

Red alert! Time to leave!

Looking back

The interior of Terminal 3 looks bare and unfinished. There was a long line for immigration with a Chinese flight ahead of us. A couple of Filipino ladies managed the queue. Such a pity that Alex isn't young enough anymore to put us into the priority lane.

As we approached the desk they split me from B and Alex, saying that we would go through faster. Unfortunately, that placed me behind two elderly Chinese ladies and their inability to cope with technology like the fingerprint scanner and photograph meant I was guaranteed to exit long after B and Alex.

At last I got out, met with B who had already retrieved the bag, and we made our way on to the race track to Terminal 2. The 650 metre walk is invigorating after a long flight, but also another painful delay.

The racetrack!

Terminal 2

Finally we got down to the underground JR office, purchased tickets on the Narita Express to Shinjuku (in this case leaving earlier than the Skyliner) and exchanged our 7 day JR Pass vouchers.

Narita Express

An hour and a half later we were reached our home away from home at the Shinjuku Prince Hotel, ate a very late supper of sushi and gone to bed.

Deluxe double at the Shinjuku Prince. Finally outgrown the Semi-B with the three of us.
Shinjuku at night

View out of our hotel window

More view

I told you Godzilla would make an appearance, and not for the last time!
As usual, check out my blog for more details of the trip, but I will provide a summary here.

The next day we caught a Shinkansen up to Aomori in the far north of Honshu, the main island of Japan. It was a bit later than we hoped and the seafood markets were closed, but there was still enough to do. Near the station and our hotel was the Wa Rasse Nebuta Museum which holds floats from the annual Nebuta Parade. These paper and wire floats are absolutely beautiful and well worth making the trip up to see.

Shinkansens now go up to Hakodate on Hokkaido

The interior is better than an aircraft

An obento lunch

Hayabusa

I blame Obama! :) Though we were nowhere near the G7 meeting.

Nebuta float

A kappa. They like cucumbers and children.

Another demon

.

Thirty men carry each two wheeled float.

Museum entrance

Museum building with our hotel, the Toyoko Inn, in the background

Afterwards we wandered around the harbour near the old train ferry that plied the strait to Hokkaido before the Seikan tunnel was built. Only recently the route has been taken over by Shinkansens. The region is also famous for its apple products.

The ferry terminal has seen better days

Crumbling operations room

Main street

Sunset over the station
Dinner was, of course, seafood.

Seafood skewers

I like Aomori. It's one of those quiet Japanese cities that looks a bit worse for wear.

From Aomori we caught the very scenic Gono Line. The Resort Shirakami is a tourist train. You pass apple orchards and rice paddies with sacred Mount Iwate in the background. Then a couple of shamisen players board to entertain passengers with local tunes and songs, providing the perfect soundtrack to the unfolding scenery outside.

Mount Iwate

Rice paddies and forest

Anyone for a used car?

Shamisen players
Their departure signals that the train has arrived at the northwestern coastline of Honshu. For the next couple of hours we are treated to stunning coastal scenery, from lonely beaches to beautiful rock formations. The train stops for passengers to wander around the rocks of Senjojiki and slows to allow passengers to admire other stretches.

Senjojiki

Senjojiki

Jizu at Senjojiki

Reboarding the Resort Shirakami

Windswept trees

The line runs right by the coast

Rice paddies and rocks

Rock formations

.

.

.

.

Rocky beaches

.

We leave the train at Wespatsubakiyama, a gnome ridden resort, and catch the shuttle bus down to Furofushi Onsen where we will be staying the night.

It's still early and we need some lunch and to reserve seats on the following day's Resort Shirakami to Akita, so we catch a taxi to Fukaura. The only lunch we find is prepackaged rolls from a dusty supermarket by the station, but we do climb Oiwa Rock which juts out into the clear ocean.

Our room at the onsen resort

Fukaura, shrine leading to Oiwa Rock

Causeway to Oiwa Rock

Clear water!

Tunnel up through the rock

Looking back

We were alone but for the birds

Local train

A local train takes us up to quaint little Juniko station, from which we catch a shuttle bus up into the ancient forests of the Shirakami Mountains and the Twelve Lakes (Juniko). The lakes and forest are serene, the noise of frogs and cicadas, of burbling streams and waterfalls, the reflections of purple cascades of wisteria on the placid surface. Aoike is an amazingly blue pond, fish darting through its crystal clear waters.

More rocks!

Very helpful proprietor of Wasabi at Juniko. I just wish we had time for some snacks there.

Lakes

Aoike

Aoike

Aoike

Ancient beech forest

.

Wisteria by a lake

After walking around the area for a couple of hours another shuttle bus returns us to the onsen. We change into our yukatas, take one bath inside and then another in its most famous bath, a muddy iron pool right by the sea. B feels a bit uncomfortable inside the mixed bath, especially as it fills up with those who would watch the sunset from there, so we return to our tatami floored room and watch the red sun sink into the ocean.

Sunset from our room

Then it's a big spread of local specialities as we dine privately. I admit that I couldn't stomach all the dishes, but at least we tried almost everything. Some were very nice, others are obviously an acquired taste.

Dinner

.

Sashimi

.

Whelk and liver

Seaweed soba
Snow carrot ice cream

We end the day by falling asleep on the futons laid down on the sweet smelling straw. It's been Japan at its finest.

From Furofushi Onsen we head to Akita and back to Shinjuku in Tokyo where we stay for the rest of the time. We head to Odaiba for Lego, science, Gundam robots and the Statue of Liberty. Then up to the Daio Wasabi Farm and Matsumoto Castle. To Ueno for dinosaur bones.

We shopped for shampoo and Star Wars, model trains and pens. And we ate. We certainly had fun.

The outdoor baths

Wind turbine near the resort. Lucky the Japanese don't believe in that wind turbine health effects nonsense. We had no issue with it.

More scenic rock formations from the train

Nabe at Akita

Across to the East of Japan

The Akita Shinkansen coupled to the Tohoku one.

View from our room on the other side of the Shinjuku Prince Hotel

Shinjuku at night
Shibuya in Lego

Lego Discovery Centre at Odaiba

Shinjuku in Lego

This time Lego Godzilla attacks Shibuya

Ramen

Sony ExploraScience Centre - Alex had to do his learning!

Did I mention that we popped over to New York?

Gundam at Diver City

Oops, I must have missed the No Photos sign!

Gundam

Shinjuku
The Chuo Line train ride up to Matsumoto is very pretty

Wasabi farm - the wasabi plants need to be protected from the sun

At the Wasabi Farm

Rice

Picked wasabi

The wasabi plants are grown in water

Waterwheel by a gorgeous stream

.

Matsumoto Castle

The castle is still in its original state

Azalea

You can climb to the top of the castle
There was a special "Dinosaur Expo" at Ueno's Museum of Nature and Science

T-Rex

He's coming!

The chicken is a relative of T-rex

Meteorite

Excellent display about the history of the universe and our place in it.

Rockets and satellites

Zero

Primitive scanning television

Old computer

On our final day in Japan we planned to visit the train museum in Saitama, but the trains were terribly delayed and we had to abandon that idea.

Eventually it was time to head back to Narita Airport on board the Narita Express from Shinjuku. It too was delayed! We were all exhausted and fell asleep for at least some of the ride. Too short a time in Japan!

The NEX

Back up the race track to Terminal 3. We checked in with around two and a half hours to spare before our flight, which was on time. Yes Japan Rail delayed and Jetstar on time. What has the world come to?

With our two bags now checked in we were free to enjoy the pleasures of the terminal. Terminal 3 is very much suited to its low cost status. The shops are down market and the eateries are food court style with chain takeaways to be eaten on long tables. The airport even provides clothes for you to wipe the tables down!

Food court

Alex had a Freshness Burger, B had yakisoba. I had nothing because my stomach was churning, as usual.

Past immigration there were more upmarket duty free stores. The melon Kit Kats were tempting, but expensive.

Kit Kats, including sake flavour

By the time we got to the gate boarding had started. We climbed aboard into the red and blue mood lighting and I was feeling very anxious. I consoled myself that last time I had a wonderfully quick and smooth flight back to Cairns. It was only about 6 hours of flying.

Airside

Our ride home

On board

Tyson is ready to return home
The other side of my head reminded me that we hit turbulence as we ascended the time before that.

Which would it be?

It was a parade of Qantas Group flights out to the runway, with a Qantas A330 to Brisbane, the Gold Coast Jetstar flight, a Jetstar Japan A320 and us. Much shorter taxi than usual.

The flight to the Gold Coast

I wish we were already at Cairns!

Soon we were off, up into the dark night sky.

Up, up, up!

Over the airport!
And soon we hit what felt to be the same belt of turbulence as on descent. The aircraft bucked like a wild horse, going up and up, then down with sickening predictability. I swore under my breath, hating it.

Then it was over again.

The seatbelt lights switched off.

After about an hour we were fed supper. I was actually dozing at the time. Neither B nor Alex wanted their meals, full from the airport. I opened mine and discovered the same beef stew, vegetables and mashed potato that I'd had last time. Great! I'd liked that dish. Very simple.

Levelled off

Dinner - beef stew

Ten minutes later and we start bumping. The engines slow and the seatbelt lights switch on.

"All passengers and crew return to your seats and fasten your seatbelts."

Oh sh!t.

It must be the jet stream.

I won't lie and say it was severe turbulence. My meal didn't end up on the ceiling and floor. But it was rough, going up and then my guts feeling horrible as we fell down again.

The infant girl behind me had had enough and was bawling her eyes out loudly. I agreed with her and wanted to do the same. The turbulence annoyed me far more that any overtired baby crying did.

The turbulence did die down after 10 minutes or less and the seatbelt lights were switched off, but it felt like a long time. Niggling bumps annoyed longer. I'd lost faith in the skies, didn't trust them. I'd stuffed up and booked a flight with no moonlight to identify the visible cause of the bumps.

As the cabin lights were switched off I dozed fitfully, stared out into the blackness. I couldn't focus on a movie, so I looked through the television shows to distract myself. I chose The X-Files. I'd watched a few episodes when they originally screened, though I wasn't a huge fan. Something escapist was exactly what I needed. Not sure I needed the sudden lurch of an aeroplane as displayed near the beginning of the first episode though.

Darkened cabin

More bumps north of Guam, as usual, though the seat belt light was not switched on. I spotted an atoll ring of bright coastal town lights which might have been that island or another nearby.

Then the skies calmed for a while, became clear and the spectacular night sky revealed itself. So beautiful, I found myself missing the night scenery of the country where the skies are not swamped by city lights. I actually found myself relaxing and enjoying the flight.

Out of the window over Papua New Guinea I saw massive flashes of lightning, like an atomic apocalypse, gradually getting closer. Huge clouds lit yellow silhouetting black clouds in the foreground. It looked very scary as it got closer and closer, but the pilot steered us around the storm clouds with only the merest of disturbances.

Wasn't very good at capturing the lightning this trip

With only an hour left in the flight the cabin lighting was gradually raised and the breakfast boxes distributed to those who had purchased meals. Inside was a bowl of Swiss muesli (no honey, yay! Only sultanas to pick out), a carton of milk, a delicious blueberry muffin and a very welcome orange juice. I quite like the cold breakfast, just a pity there wasn't any fruit.

Breakfast box

Wakey-wakey!

Alex was too sleepy to eat anything.

There was only about half an hour to finish the meal and collect the rubbish before our descent into Cairns. It was all completed and the city lights came into view, extending further north than I expected.

Descent into Cairns

It was good to be back on the ground. The earlier episodes of turbulence had shaken me, but the rest of the flight was quite pleasant.

We exited through the air bridge and up through the pale hospital green-blue of Cairns International Airport. Immigration checked our passports, then our bags quickly appeared on the belt. We were the first through customs, the officers accepting our declarations without checking. These regional airports are so much faster than the major cities.

It was a long walk in the cool dark to the Domestic departures area, inconveniently located on the far end of the other terminal. We checked in for our domestic flight, passed through security and went straight to the Qantas Lounge.

Walking out of the International Terminal

Cairns control tower and the pathetic moon

Much larger than the Gold Coast lounge, it has views across the runway and Jetstar gates. Alex made pancakes for everybody, enjoying the food he'd missed out on the aircraft. I relished the fruits and relaxed on the sofa.

Cairns Qantas Lounge

Cairns Qantas Lounge

All too soon it was time for our next leg down to Sydney on a Jetstar Airbus A320. Fortunately, the gate staff didn't weigh my day pack as it may well have been over 7 kg with all the electronics. Our other bag which they did weigh looked large, but was mostly full of blankets, pillows and crackers. Very light!

I had promised Alex he could sit in the window seat on this leg, so long as I got the middle seat. Had to argue a bit with B over that one. I was a bit nervous of the two and a half hour flight due to the jet stream and rain forecasts.

Good morning!

A320 interior

The cabin crew, lead by cabin manager Bruce with the barely hidden tats, were Cairns based and very "Australian".

We roared into the air and turned across to the sea, giving great views of the airport. I saw clouds ahead and, from past experience of them here, tensed. But the pilot smoothly steered around them and up through a gap into the clear air above.

Yes, the Shorts Belfast is still there

Lining up on the runway

Cairns Airport

Cruising

This is how I like it

Approaching Sydney

From then until just north of Sydney we cruised high above a carpet of white. Alex and B slept and I kept nodding off with small naps.

Our tickets again gave us $15 in meal credits. But we weren't hungry so I just used it to purchase some junk food items for later.

Another perfect domestic flight until we began our approach into Sydney, the Kuringai-Chase National Park and Hawkesbury River visible below. The clouds had started to get higher and off the coast was a very scary wall of them.

Turning out towards the coast...Noooo!

Hawkesbury

Last time I had also had a perfect flight until we flew through the coastal clouds. I hoped we would be routed straight into the airport from the north, flying over my workplace.

But no, we turned out towards the coast.

I swore and sweated.

That wall of offshore clouds was looming ever larger and they looked huge. I watched a Qantas jet, maybe a 717, fly across them as a minuscule speck of white and red.

Closer and closer we got, the terror building in me.

Then at the last moment we turn.

Turning!
Only tiny bumps.

We dodge clouds, find empty spaces as we turn across the sea and  around for an approach from the south. I like this pilot!

Good work!

Looking south

There's a moment over Botany Bay where the aircraft feels like it's fighting the wind, despite the lack of white horses below, then we are continuing on to the runway, down, down, down. And it's over. We've landed!

Cronulla

Across Botany Bay

Landed

CX

Not our aircraft - Peanuts!

Back at the gate it's time to collect our bags, find the car, pick up the dog and drive home. On the way I spy a huge cumulonimbus clouds hovering over the east and am glad I'm not flying through that. And in the days that follow with wild wind and rain I think that perhaps it is good that we returned when we did.

Heading home

But it was too short a time in Japan. It always is.

At the end of the last trip I said I could have jumped back into a plane and continued on. I didn't feel that way this time. I felt like I was tiring at last of flying, that the moments of terror and anxiety outweighed those moments of bliss when you cruise high above everything in a smooth sky.

A few days before our departure I had attended a meeting with a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and marketer. His presentation had the line "Nobody talks about a teleport to Japan."

I had the photo to disprove it.

And I took another one, just to make sure!

And I do think about a teleport to Japan. I want to go back. I need to go back. For now I'll just have to fly to do it.

No comments:

Post a comment