Day 1: SYD-LHR on a huge plane

I’d actually already written this up on my iPad but for some reason it decided that it wouldn’t upload the document to iCloud. Not realising this, I upgraded to iOS 7 and sometime during that phase it got magically deleted and without being on iCloud, didn’t sync back. This is actually what I’ve been able to rewrite from memory.

So. It’s happening. I’m actually leaving to go on exchange to the UK! After working like crazy for nearly a year to save up the funds for this trip I’m finally doing it. The process that started sometime last October when I started applying and going to information sessions is finally paying off. All of those forms, applications, documents and general university administration has led to this very point in time.

After a huge dilemma with my original airline (Emirates – always read the small print with these airlines), I ended up flying the exact same route on Qantas. That is, Sydney to London via Dubai. I also get to say that I’m a patriotic Australian because I support my national carrier. Anyway, I arrive at the airport with heaps of time, check in my bags, farewell the parents and head to the gate. At this stage it hasn’t quite hit me yet that I am leaving Australia and my parents behind to travel halfway across the world for basically half a year. What is more concerning me is that my flight is taking ages to board. Thanks to Sydney airport not having sufficient capacity to deal with the new super jumbos like the A380, my flight was delayed due to delays in another flight to Fort Worth (damn Americans) that was using the same gate.

Finally the flight to Fort Worth left and I was able to board the plane. It was my first time on the A380 and man is that plane amazing. I was lucky enough to get a seat on the top deck of the plane (yes, it’s that big). Qantas have reconfigured their planes with around 30 economy seats and 30 premium economy seats on the top deck with the rest being business class. This meant that I actually got to board using the business class line (as there has to be a separate airbridge to the top level). It also has the advantage that the cabin is super quiet as there are far less passenger, there’s generally never a queue for the toilets and the flight attendants get to spend more time with you than they might have downstairs. The only disadvantage that I see is that due to the fact that it formerly had far less seats, Qantas have not reconfigured the overhead bins so storage space is very limited. Either get on early to get a good space or ask the FA and they’ll be more than happy to store your carry on elsewhere.

Upper deck of the Qantas A380

Upper deck of the Qantas A380

TIP: I was in seat 36F which SeatGuru says to avoid (due to proximity to galley and toilet) but to be honest it’s perfectly fine as the line to the toilet is on the other side and I’d argue that being close to the galley is actually a pro. I would however avoid 36D at all costs. It shows as an aisle seat but in reality it’s not unless you’re a twig. It’s right next to a bulkhead and you get served food through a 6 inch gap like you’re in a prison. It’s also terribly difficult to get out to the toilet (much like being in a window seat without the view) and you’re right next to the toilet too.

The last time I flew Qantas was about 9 years ago when I flew their 747’s to Shanghai. It wasn’t the most pleasant experience and I’ve never flown Qantas since that time preferring to fly China Southern each time I go back to China (the value for money is just to good). So when I discovered that Qantas had revamped their seats and in-flight entertainment system, I started to change my mind about the airline. Their iQ system is very comprehensive (although apparently not as good as Emirates) with a lot of new movies on there. I was actually able to catchup on a lot of movies that I had missed in the cinemas including Iron Man 3, The Hobbit and Star Trek: Into Darkness amongst others. There’s also a good selection of Oscar winning movies, classics like Forrest Gump, a nice variety of music and radio as well as news and TV shows. One of the cooler features of iQ I thought was Skycam which showed the view from a camera mounted on the top of the tail.


Skycam showing the plane leaving leaving the terminal at Sydney International

One of the other niftier features on the new A380 is the snack bar. As the name implies, it’s basically it’s a self serve facility stocked with biscuits, drinks, fruit and other goodies. Great if you want to grab a soft drink or a midnight snack and don’t want to wait for an FA to reach you.

TIP: Given that this was the first time I had changed time zones so dramatically I wanted to try and avoid jet lag as much as possible as my schedule was pretty hectic once I arrived in London. What I usually like to do is change my phone/watch/laptop or whatever other time device I have to local time and then sleep/wake according to that. Pushing my watch back 9 hours to BST meant that I needed to body to believe that it was 8am when in actual fact the time in Australia was 5pm. This is where that large movie selection comes in handy, although I also had my iPad loaded up just in case I got bored with the in-flight selection.

Yes, the variety of the in-flight entertainment is quite broad

Yes, the variety of the in-flight entertainment is quite broad

After a 14 hour flight, we landed in Dubai where is was absolutely boiling. I could feel the heat in the airbridge walking from the plane to the terminal despite the fact that it was around 1am local time. The airport at Dubai is huge and quite impressive. I’ve got a 2 day stopover in Dubai on my return home so I’ll find it very interesting to explore the city. Unfortunately due to the delays in leaving, we didn’t get much time in Dubai and I didn’t get a chance to explore duty-free. I was also pretty tired at this stage but the crew managed to turn the plane around way faster than the allocated time. Unfortunately due to the code share with Emirates, I didn’t get the same seat on the next leg of the flight and due to my lowly FF status I was put way back in the tail of the plane on the bottom deck. This meant that I had to line up with the majority of the other passengers when boarding this time. At least I got more overhead bin space.

Typical airline fare, at least it was nice and warm (looking at you China Southern)

Typical economy airline fare, at least it was nice and warm (looking at you China Southern)

The next leg was only around 6 hours and despite being on the lower deck, wasn’t as noisy as I had thought as they turned down the lights and everyone was asleep. Despite the A380 being one of the quieter planes that I’ve been on, I was still grateful that I had noise isolating headphones with comply foam tips (those things are amazing) to block out most of the ambient noise.

According to the flight tracker, this was somewhere over Romania. So pretty

According to the flight tracker, this was somewhere over Romania. So pretty

But after that 23hrs and 30 mins I finally landed in London. It was then that it finally hit me that this exchange thing was happening. When I saw the roofs of those English suburban terraces as the plane descended lower and lower into London. By this stage I was so sleep deprived that I was barely functioning. I was running on auto pilot getting off the plane, heading through immigration and collecting my luggage. Here I was, finally in England! A dream since I was in high school finally coming true!

Fast lane immigration ticket

TIP: Be nice to your FA! I know that it’s their job to help you but it doesn’t mean that you have to treat them like they’re your servant. I ended up with quite a few perks including this little card which I suspect was for Business and First Class passengers. It essentially let me skip the massive immigration queue at Heathrow and go into the fast lane. While not quite as fast as the EU/UK line it was certainly a heck of a lot faster than some of the people I knew who went through the “Other” line. Other perks that I got included nifty little snacks when I was up on the top deck, because there was no snack bar up here, the FA left out a tray of various yummies and said that I could get whatever I wanted whenever. I suspect that they were for the people in premium because I certainly didn’t see anything as good as that on the second leg of my trip when I was on the lower deck.

Check back for the first day of my adventures in London!


Categories: Travel

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