Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Bye bye Buxton: August 20, blogging from the belly of Beluga's baby

Oh no. We headed for our gate and the spawn of Beluga is there waiting for us. You know, the Scarebus that killed off the last two 747 stretches. Le whale de la France. That doppeldecker everyone raves about. The A380. Oh well, we couldn't fly internationally this often without encountering one of the occupational Eurohazards. It was too late to say "If it ain't Boeing I ain't going" and ask for the 747 we saw on landing to be substituted, so we submitted to fate without unseemly wrangle.

There were three aerobridges instead of two - one for the top deck. We were in row 44, but that's the second row from the front of the plane! We hadn't flown at the front since flying Aldi Airways in the US when we went to Florida with Jodi. There was a stairway right next to us, and under it was the purser's desk. The stairway was roped off of course (no plebs allowed) so all we could see up there was the ornate bar we're missing out on (I think we'll survive). Whenever the crew came in and out we could see into the flight deck. It's a glass cockpit from window level down, but above the crew's heads there's still the array of buttons and switches which would be familiar to Wash if he was transferred from the Serenity to Emirates.

Seating is 3+4+3 just like on the 777s, but the luggage storage is a different design without as much depth. The rest of the interior is exactly like the newest 777s, like the one we got from home to Dubai a month ago. The windows seemed somehow smaller than they did on the 777, which amazes me. They're more rounded and have a much deeper recess, maybe that gives a false impression of their size.

The "no smoking" symbols are permanent stickers instead of lights - they've finally decided it's pointless to make it look like there's an option. But there's still ash trays in the back of the toilet doors...

The safety video seems to have been slightly updated, destroying a few of our peanut gallery comments by making the instructions slightly clearer.

At about takeoff time the captain came over the PA and told us that due to congestion there would be a delay of about 40 minutes. We were 15th in succession for the runway which meant we wouldn't get pushed back until there was a bit of capacity out there. They turned off the seat belt light which meant we were just as comfortable while waiting as we would be in flight.

But somehow this flight was the worst we've encountered. The other passenger in our row was very nice (unlike the one we had from Manchester to Dubai) so that wasn't it. The service was fine, the features of the cabin were fine, but somehow both of us felt really uncomfortable. Chris was off his food and feeling claustrophobic. I was feeling dried out and unable to concentrate on anything. There's no reason for it, same as there was no reason we both felt much better on Air New Zealand's 747 than we ever had on a 777 of any version. Mysterious!

It was daylight when we took off (about 10:45am) but since we were travelling in the double sunrise direction dusk fell about half way into the flight. We were fairly close to the equator at the time, and it went from sunlight to purple clouds to orange horizon to darkness in about the time it took the drinks trolley to travel three rows down the cabin. There was quite a bit of chop at the time (the cabin crew were told to take their seats at one point) but I have no idea whether it was due to islands, trade winds or dusk. The cabin crew are REALLY good - just before they were told to take their seats I saw one of them pour water into a cup on a tray and hand it to the lady in the window seat in our row, without mishap and without even seeming to make any concession to the way the plane was bouncing. I've heard of internal gyros but this is amazing!

We were over water for almost all of the journey but cut across the bottom of WA (making landfall right over Perth if the map is to be believed) and cut across to the Great Australian Bight (which on some of the maps is labelled the "South Australian Basin"), to avoid some dirty weather around Adelaide. As we passed Perth the display estimated 2.5hrs to destination - which goes to show how much it costs to take off and land, because flying domestic from Perth takes just over four hours. I guess there's a slight difference in speed between a long haul widebody and a 737, too.

Breakfast arrives, and the first thing I notice is that the cheese is branded "Rondele". That makes me think - we already had Jumping Joan as we crossed the equator. There's strawberry jam in the breakfast which is close enough to scarlet so we've covered Pimpernel. So the only dance Jack and Elsie can do that the A380 can't is the Saraband.

Eventually Melbourne came up on the map. Buxton is amazing, Manchester is lots of fun and Dubai blows your socks off, but there's absolutely no comparison with the feeling of home and familiar territory. I sure hope it'll be daylight when we land, the geography challenge around the suburbs is possibly the best thing about flying - apart from taking off of course.

I accidentally caught sight of my chin in the mirror in the toilet. It is rather rough, I'm afraid. At least on this leg I look at least vaguely like my passport photo. The bloodshot eyes are extra though.

What am I looking forward to when I get home?
1. People who know how to hug like they really mean it
2. A bed made for people the size of an R-class driving wheel, with covers I can pull over my head if I'm cold
3. A desk with a chair I can dangle my feet from
4. A radio station I can listen to without bringing the blush of shame to the cheek of modesty
5. Power points with the earth pin on the bottom where it should be

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