Originally, arranging a celebratory curry lunch commencing 10 hours before a 13-hour flight to Singapore seemed a little foolhardy. My first concern was the potential effect of a spicy meal on my digestive tract and, therefore, on my fellow passengers. My second concern was the fact that I’d be attempting to celebrate immediately prior to driving down to Heathrow and therefore couldn’t indulge in the normally requisite celebratory alcoholic beverages.
Despite my concerns, the lunch seemed very successful and most enjoyable, at least from my point of view. What a joy a bunch of good friends and family is. I had a beer and some of my beloved chicken jalfrezi; I could drive legally and my fellow passengers could jolly well look after themselves. After all, today was special. Festivities broke up at about 4:30 PM and we headed for Heathrow with bags of time to spare, even for Franco.
You may be familiar with my approach to air travel. Why give yourself any time pressure? There are many things that can conspire to make arriving for a flight traumatic; the day needs to be written off to the travel and you might as well get there very early as sit at home thumb-twiddling wondering when to leave. Get there, get parked and checked in as soon as practically possible. We parked at 5:30 PM and were checking in by 6:30PM after a stress-free journey.
We actually checked in twice. Que? We were to be travelling on an Airbus A380 Super Jumbo so I was a little concerned about check-in lines, one of those things that can conspire to cause stress. As early as we were, we spotted a couple of tasty Qantas ground staff standing near almost empty check-in desks and were directed to a stand of “self-serve check-in” terminals. Francine bravely went ahead and checked us in, correcting her passport information on file. The machine produced our boarding passes, tags for our bags, complete with mostly intelligible instructions for affixing them, and seat assignments. We returned to the two tasty Qantas ground staff and were now directed to the still largely empty check-in desks where a real human again wanted our passports and sent our bags on their journey into the bowels of Heathrow.
What’s with the lengthy “self-serve check-in” process if we’ve still got to go to an operator at a check-in desk? Why couldn’t we just get it all done on one visit to the check-in desk? What exactly does the 2-stage process save and for whom? We went through to the departure “lounge”.
At this age I must be wiser ‘cos I’ve finally figured out how to pass three hours in terminal three in a civilized manner: you sit in a wine bar, first slake your thirst with a pint of Staropramen and then sip your way slowly through a very reasonable bottle of Chenin Blanc. I’d had my celebratory drinks and was flight-ready. Excellent!
We’ve spent several intrigued moments watching A380s on flight test from Toulouse in the south of France where they are built. Unlike us, you see, the French still manufacture things, in this case the world’s largest passenger aircraft. Finally seeing the inside of one of these behemoths would be very interesting. We were tail-end Charlie downstairs: row 86. I looked for a set of machine guns to down the occasional Focke but could find none. Shame, really, that would’ve passed the time quite admirably.
Most/all of the rows downstairs are 10 across, 3-4-3, like a 747. The maths gets disturbing in row 86. It seems worse than it is, though. The upper classes upstairs must be pretty thinly spread because the seating capacity on the Qantas A380s is “just” 450. At least there was a modern seat back entertainment system to pass the 13 hours flying time. Trying to get the sound to worked passed a good deal of it.
Sound up and running, I got bored utterly witless watching Lincoln and wished the sound was still defective. Spielberg has clearly lost it. There are good political dramas and this isn’t one of them. I looked further. As well as the usual “aircraft track” channel showing you how depressingly little of your 7000-mile journey is behind you, the A380 had a new channel up its sleeve tagged Skycam. Skycam is a camera mounted in the leading edge of the tail fin looking forward along the enormous fuselage into the sky before you. All being well, for 12 hours of a 13-hour flight, the sky before you remains unchanging aside from teh occasional cloud, and consequently Skycam remains almost as boring as Lincoln. However, watching the final 30 minutes up to and including the touchdown on the runway was certainly a new experience. Great fun.
We’ve arrived. It’s warm and steamy – a great improvement over an English winter.