Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Down Under

Latest update below the map.  In the departure lounge for Mackay.

I haven’t been on a 747 since I was 19 years old when I flew TWA from JFK to Madrid from Air Force tech school to my first duty assignment.  It’s an amazing airframe with a remarkable past and was built from concept on paper to first flight in two years.  Two years seems like a long time, until you consider the engineers used slide rules and rubber erasers.  OK, two years still seems like a long time, but the 787 Dreamliner took over four years from concept to flight - and that was with the aid of computerized design and modeling.  I’ve been on this 747 for only two hours and already it feels like four years.  But I digress.

I spent an hour or so in the Qantas lounge and was surprised at how lavish it was.  This airline knows how to treat their passengers – open bar, massive buffet, showers, spacious seating with private TVs, you name it.  American Airlines’ Admiral’s Clubs are dumps compared to Qantas.  I made my way to my departure gate, which was literally the furthest gate in the international terminal and stuffed my computer and camera bags into a small duffel so I could carry my helmet onboard and not break any carry-on quantity rules; you know, ‘cause I like to follow rules.  When they called the Business Class passengers, I was ready with passport and boarding pass in hand.  The gate agent scanned my pass, they light blinked red, and I shit you not, he said “Mr. Wilson, there seems to be a problem with your reservation”.  I may have just shat you not in that last sentence, but I was about to genuinely shit myself for real because he was serious.  He pulled me aside and when he couldn’t resolve it, called a supervisor from another gate.  As it turns out, the seat I selected 331 days ago when I booked this ticket had been given to another passenger.  I wondered when I saw seat 15A on my boarding pass and knowing that I had selected 17K.  I had my reasons, but they aren’t important now.  What was important was washing out my drawers and getting reassigned.  Apparently, the guy who took my seat was a regular and has uber elite status on Qantas.  I may have been booked in Business Class, but I was essentially a nobody to Qantas who was flying for “free” using American Airlines frequent flier miles.  I had to give up my seat to some self-entitled elite passenger who thinks he’s special and knows everything because he flies this airline all the time.  I wonder if anyone I know knows anyone like that?  Again I digress.  My reassigned seat was fine; a window on the upper deck, just on the other side of the aircraft.

I chose a window seat on the upper deck when I booked my flight.  I don’t know why I wanted the upper deck.  It just seemed cooler somehow.  I wanted a window so my GPS tracker could find signal.  Nevertheless, I was shocked to see how many empty seats there were up there; 17K notwithstanding.  Everyone who wanted it could have their own row.  This 747 has been retrofitted with little private passenger compartments and full lay-down seats.  After we boarded, the flight attendant offered to make up my bed for sleeping.  He had a thick Australian accent and I had no idea what he wanted me to do, so I just did what the other passengers did; stood up and stepped aside.  After he installed a fitted comforter and a pillow (a real pillow; not one of those oversized Kotex pads that smell like beer and pretzel farts that American uses) he offered me some pajamas.  I was pretty sure I knew what he was offering this time and I opted out.  After all, who the hell puts on pajamas on an airline?  Well, apparently everyone.  Everyone except me, that is.  Within minutes of having our beds made, the entire upper deck looked like a slumber party with all the attendees wearing the exact same gray pajamas.  Honestly, they looked like WWII POW uniforms.  With a little less flare, they could have been a dead ringer for the American Airlines flight attendant uniforms that (thankfully) never took off after the USAir merger.  In my bright orange and blue KTM Racing shirt and denim shorts, I looked like the guy who crashed the party without an invitation.

I knew that I needed to stay awake for at least half my 14-hour flight so that I could sleep the last half and would awaken close to our 6am arrival time; setting me up to be on the Australian time schedule with minimal jet lag.  I figured this would be easy as I would be wired for hours on adrenaline alone.  Then they dimmed the cabin lights.  Then they switched on these soothing neon looking glowing tubes in the ceiling and killed the cabin lights completely.  Combine the soothing darkness with the synchronized constant roar of the 747s four jet engines and you have an irresistible recipe for slumber.  Fortunately, I brought my own anti-slumber recipe; 5-Hour Energy Shots!  I slammed one just as my flight attendant walked by and he stopped, asking “Not planning to sleep are you?”  I replied that I needed to stay awake and started to explain why, but he seemed about as interested in my reason as I was in his pajamas.  He was probably thinking, Oh no. Not another one of those…  

I settled in and began nesting.  This jet has more personal storage than Hillary Clinton’s personal email server.  On most flights, passengers are fighting for precious square inches to stuff their belongings into overhead storage or under the seat in front of them.  I couldn’t even reach the seat in front of me and the overheads, like the seats in the upper deck, were mostly empty.  I shoved my helmet into one overhead and dumped my computer and camera bags into the storage bin next to my seat so they would be within easy reach; you know, for when I was wide awake and needing entertainment.

I began goofing off with my GoPro camera and a tripod; playing with the seat/bed controls and raising and lowering the divider wall that separated me from the other (lazy sleeping) passengers.  I was chatting away and did something that cracked myself up.  I don’t recall what it was, but it must have been hilarious.  It was either that or the fact that I had been up for over 20 hours and hadn’t slept decent in days.  Whatever the case, I turned around and caught the flight attendant turning away quickly, as if trying to not get caught looking.  I mumbled something about having fun for my friends back home and he replied “I knew there must be a story”.  When I told him I bet he’d heard them all, he smiled and replied “Yeah, well, I thought I had…”  That’s when I realized that I was the only passenger on the upper deck who was still awake and began writing this entry.  I need to stay away another two to three hours and I’m losing steam fast.  I’ve read my GoPro manuals, played with my night vision monocular, reorganized my IBM email folders, and dammit, nobody is answering the seat-to-seat phone calls!

Oops. Just woke up from a short nap.  So much for my plan.

It's poop:30 and there's a line for the lavatory.

I scrolled through the list of “hit” movies and for some reason landed on “How To Be Single”. This turned out to be a tripe-filled yuppie fest featuring a bunch of whiny (well, all but one) New York chicks that consumed 90 minutes of my life that I’ll never get back; even though those 90 minutes were a mere fraction of the hours I spent while stuck in a southbound 747.  With four more hours still to kill, I watched "Dead Pool".  Meh...

7:00am Brisbane Time, June 1st
Landed and have been waiting for my checked bags for almost an hour, only to learn that they didn't make it over - despite my personally delivering them to Qantas' international check in counter seven hours before my flight.  They said they know where they are and they will deliver them to me in Airlie Beach on Friday.  I'd be a liar if I said I wasn't nervous and pissed.  I can deal with the inconvenience of not having a change of clothes, but my riding gear is in those bags.

Gotta connect to Mackay.  Pressing on despite Quantas' screw up.  Just hoping they'll keep their promise.