Thursday 17 November 2016

The point of it: Canberra by Qantas, train back and an SQ surprise

It's November and that means it's time to ensure I have enough Qantas status points to retain Silver next year. Only I'm not doing a good job of it. It's not just that I get anxious about turbulence. I'm doing something about that. November is a really busy time of year for the whole family and I don't want to miss a thing. So the day after my son's birthday, a day of gale force winds, I postpone my big trip north that would have solved all my points problems.

Now I'm in trouble.

Instead of a three seater in the sky I'm squashed against the train window in a three seater by an obese lady and another who can't be bother to move from the aisle. I'm attending a boring meeting at work on my usual work from home day. And I have to help clean up after a kid vomits at karate.

But I get to snuggle my family at night and that's very nice indeed.

So what do I do about the points? Lots of options present themself. Can I go through with them? I'm really not sure. Plus after Monday's debacle I want to be in the dojo on Thursday and at Alex's presentation on Friday.

Tuesday night is gorgeous. Should have booked an overnight flight up to Tokyo. Too late.

Wednesday morning. Perfect weather. Now. Might get worse later. I check the Qantas app. Can't book anything until after 11am. I want to go now. This weather is too perfect.

Okay, forget the points. I'm going to challenge myself. You know what, I even feel like flying a turboprop today! I'll do a short trip to Canberra and see what eventuates from there. I get out at the Domestic Airport station and walk up to the Qantas sales desk. Yes there's availability on the 9.55 am to Canberra. I book it and go through security.

A quick trip up to the Qantas Club lounge to use their bathroom and a snack. It's quite busy, but I only have a short stay.

Downstairs to gate 16. I snap some photos facing the international terminal, see the massive bright blue Korean Air A380 taxiing to the terminal. Asiana is also flying their A380 to Sydney for the first time as of a couple of days ago.

Boarding commences and we walk down the stairs and across the tarmac to our Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 "Tamworth". I'm feeling confident.

I've got a window seat, as requested, 10D in the narrow tube of the passenger cabin. It's right under the front of the wing, the view obscured by the engine. I don't care. I've done this trip so many times that I'm not here for the scenery.

The cabin fills up but I've got an empty seat next to me and across the aisle. Good.

The two cabin crew do their safety demonstration, then as we taxi out to the nearby main runway First Officer Fogerty welcomes us aboard. It's all good news. On time and great weather!

I'm not challenging myself too much here.

We have to wait for another departure, then it's our turn on the piano keys, facing south.

The engines spool up to the maximum and the acceleration forces me back. Then we are airborne! So quickly.

A right hand turn takes us away from the runway and out across Botany Bay.

The Georges River winds its way Westward, crossed by road and rail bridges. My house lies that way. We follow the Princes Highway and the train line for a while until we reach the dark green of the Royal National Park, from where we turn inland, over Cataract Dam. The land is so clear below, the sky pretty smooth and the seatbelt light is quickly extinguished.

There is only a thin layer of very scattered cloud, which we easily avoid.

The two flight attendants push their trolleys through the cabin handing out decently sized bags of ginger biscuits, bottles of water or juice and tea or coffee to those that want it. The reduced speed of the turboprop allows for a more relaxed serving speed than on the jets.

As we pass over the rural Southern Highlands the sight I was really looking forward to. Lake George appears to my right and it still has water! The wind turbines around it stand almost completely idle and I am glad. Not at the lack of clean energy but at the implied lack of turbulence generating wind.

However, the turbines appear to lie. Our approach into Canberra will be from the South so we begin a wide desceding turn around Googong Reservoir. As we do the aircraft begins to bounce around.

I slow my breathing, as discussed in the anxiety course. The bumps are somewhat expected, familiar from many other flights but absent from the previous two on this route. An overheating phone camera distracts me for a moment as we fly over Canberra's southern suburbs.

It is one of the rougher descents into Canberra that I have experienced, but the turbulence itself is probably only classified as light. I'm okay, relaxing myself does good.

Still, I am glad when we touch down on the tarmac, a little hard for my liking. The nose rotating down makes me feel queasy.

As we turn in towards the terminal I am thrilled to spot Canberra's sole international flight, the Singapore Airlines Capital Express Singapore - Canberra - Wellington. The 777-200 is parked at the international gate, boarding passengers visible through the glass jet bridges.

We bypass Virgin Australia and Qantas Boeing 737-800's and come to a stop at the other end of the terminal, next to another Qantas Q400 with the indigenous reconciliation livery.

No jet bridge for us: we walk down to the tarmac and up the stairs into the terminal building.

Canberra Airport is possibly my favourite in Australia. Modern, very clean, airy and with interesting sculptures and displays throughout. There lots of seating, including some big cushions. There's a "business park" with electrical and USB sockets. Only a couple of eateries (reasonable at that) and an airport newsagent (ie they sell more than just books and magazines), but most are not hanging around long.

I'd be comfortable hanging around here. I'm in no hurry, so I make my way down towards the far end of terminal to where the Singapore Airlines flight is boarding.

I watch the big Boeing disconnect from the jet bridge before being pushed back. It's exciting to see Canberrans finally being able to go somewhere far without needing to pass through another airport.

After waiting for another couple of flights the 777 roars northward and up into the sky.

It's time I thought about my own journey. I want to take it easy and let's face it, another flight will be expensive and offer marginal points benefits.

Plus the PA is announcing that the QantasLink flight to Melbourne was delayed indefinitely as the aircraft had made a hard landing and required an inspection. That might have been our aircraft! So maybe it really was turbulent on descent and not my overactive imagination. The passengers are accommodated on other flights, but it means that there will be limited availability should I wish to fly.

It's a choice between bus or train. Bus is an hour faster than the train, but I'm a train fan.

The taxi delivers me to Canberra's train station with ten minutes to spare before departure. I quickly book a ticket and board, to the annoyance of the young lady sitting in my seat in preference to the one she was assigned.

Two minutes later and we are underway.

I'm not sure that I've ever caught this train in the middle of the day instead of first thing in the morning or late in the evening. I'm looking forward to the opportunity to sit back and relax while the three car diesel electric Xplorer set winds its way towards Sydney.

It's very different scenery outside to the Japanese train I might otherwise be on. The scenic Molonglo Gorge as we slowly creep up out of Queanbeyan, then rolling countryside with views towards a more distant horizon than can usually be seen in a more mountainous country.

I am very hungry so I order a hot meal from the attendant. An hour later passengers holding meal tickets are called up to the buffet counter. The meal isn't good, not up to airline standard. Perhaps the predominantly elderly clientele of the carriage appreciate the overcooked vegetables. No doubt the younger, poorer passengers didn't order it.

Funny how none of them order the curry.

The journey passes through a variety of rural landscapes and past some very pretty little towns. Also apparent are those new developments, leaving one to wonder where the jobs for them are.

I spend time looking out, time working when I have mobile access and in writing this.

The skies outside don't look particularly threatening, though broad low summer cloud is gradually building up, but I'm enjoying this time to myself.

The points? Well, that's a problem for another day.