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Travelling

, 6 Mar 2001
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My ramblings on long haul flights.
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Airports

Airports all look the same - they just differ in the distance between the check-in counter and your gate. Pittsburgh has the longest connecting walkways I've ever come across, SF can be the most confusing, Seattle the strangest (gotta love the subway ride and the escalators), and Orlando the most frustrating. LA the most depressing, and Vancouver the nicest. Philadelphia has the best shopping (and rocking chairs!), Seattle the best coffee, Melbourne the best beer and Canberra the shortest runways. Even so, they all seem to buy their chairs, their check in counters and their smiles all from the same place. Once you are on the plane it's the same view ahead that you always have. The same little pocket with the same laminated instructions showing relaxed, smiling passengers (all 4 of them) departing from a plane that is bobbing merrily in the ocean after a gentle emergency water landing. If you've ever done much travelling, and ever seen the movie 'Fight Club' then you would have to relate to the seen where they replace these cards with versions showing screaming passengers jumping from a burning plane in a panic.

Travelling all over the place and seeing different cities and different cultures is excellent, but it can be exhausting, and boring, and sometimes lonely, not to mention extremely inconvenient in the little things - having your affairs (and your lawn) looked after back home, dealing with receipts in 3 different currencies at tax time, the fun of jetlag and the whole "guess which season we are in today" thing. And luggage. Even so, once you have the bug it's hard to give up.


Packing

I have packing down to a fine art. Every nook, every cranny, and every shoe is a potential storage space. My suitcase never bulges, but it's a little dense black obelisk of mass that has the check-in clerks narrowing their eyes at me to let me know that, should their back go out while they are hauling my stuff, they will hunt me down like the deceiving baggage stuffer that I am. My carry-on is the picture of efficiency. Water, Mars bars, chewing gum, cd player, book, tickets, wallet and laptop. Long haul flights get the addition of moisturiser and earplugs and a packet of tissues for the person with the cold who always seeks me out on these flights. I even had a security officer show me the trick of turning your bag upside-down when you put it under the scanner at the security gate. This way you can rock the bag underneath their "maximum bag size" barricade at the front of the scanner's conveyor belt, effectively allowing you to expand your bag's size and cram one more Danielle Steele novel in an otherwise full bag. It's the little things that set the seasoned jetlag junky apart from the wanna-be's.


The flight

The accommodation is a little dodgy, but the views are great.

So what's a 15hr flight really like? Much more fun than a 22hr flight, so I'm told. It's the weirdest thing waiting at the gate for boarding. The North American accent is a lot cleaner than the Australian mumble, so after spending a few weeks away from home it's always a shock to meet up again with fellow Aussies. Do we really sound like that? Oh man...

Once on the plane there is the usual jostle to get your carry-on's stuffed into the overheads, then the settling in where you take out the essentials (CD player, CDs, books, emergency rations, inflatable life raft, etc) and then the internal battle as to whether or not you take off those boots that you've been wearing day in, day out for the last 2 months. Too late to do a surreptitious odour check.

I always go for a window seat on long flights, since it means you can steal other peoples pillows and build a comfy wall of cushions against the window. The other option is to go for the last centre rows at the end of the plane. Sometimes you can score big time and be the only person in that row. Fold up the arm rests and you have a full length bed. 

Seats to avoid:

  • Window seat on an exit row (the door means you have no leg room)
  • The row in front of an exit (the seats don't recline fully)
  • The row directly in front of the movie screen (unless you are severely myopic)
  • The rows anywhere near the screaming 2 year olds, the snorers, the loud talkers, or the rows next to the washrooms.

The flight itself is usually as much fun as a visit to the dentist. You sit, you fidget, you climb over the person next to you to get out and go for a wander. You ponder over the choice of the Chicken or the Pasta, and you watch the guy in front completely fail to hit it off with the cute, now slightly annoyed, girl sitting next to him. You listen to your CDs, read whatever books you have, and then try and do the impossible trick of falling asleep in a chair roughly the site of a shoe box. Repeat for 15 hours. There are sometimes fun bits, like raiding the galley while the hostesses aren't watching to pilfer packets of chips, or the periods of turbulence where you start thinking back to the stories of the wings of a jumbo can bend up to 45 degrees, and you wish to God that this was not the time to test that theory, or the times when you sit at the back of the plane in the rear walkway with your legs up against the wall drinking Baileys and discussing the breading habits of hedgehogs with some guy you have never met before.

Eat before you fly. Trust me on this.

Breakfast is always some variation of eggs or fruit. Once the descent starts you feel like you are waking up out of a very weird dream. Has it really been 15hrs? You get your stuff ready, fill out the immigration forms, and adjust your watch and try and remember what day it is. The bit where you land, and then stop, is without a doubt the best bit. The bit where you walk past the business class seats and see how big and comfy their seats are is possibly the worst.

I'm not scared of flying, but I can imagine getting that fear. I was on a flight once with a girl who used to fly all over the world continuously as a sales rep. One day she woke up and just couldn't do it anymore. Like a switch had been thrown, she had the fear. She looked completely normal at first until I started talking to her and realised that she had this 5 second delay between me asking a question and her answering, and also this slight sheen of perspiration. She spent the flight popping tranquillisers and taking Chinese herbs, and by the end she was, like, really, really relaxed.


Customs and Immigration

Again, it was me who got searched at the airport, but I think it was because I had a snowboard under my arm and was looking a little seedy. The customs officer made it clear that they knew what sort of shenanigans went on up at Whistler and that I better not have any drugs in my bags. In a way it's nice to think that I still look young and foolish enough to warrant this kind of attention, but in the end I think I'm just going to wear a suit next time and save on the 30mins trying to repack my bag after their ministrations.


Jetlag

Jetlag is a weird thing not easily described. I don't sleep well on planes so by the end of my trip it had been around 30hrs with no sleep. I got home at midday to warm, bright, burning sun (ahhhh...) and then tried to be productive until it was dark enough to sleep. At lunch you are famished. At dinner it feels like midnight so you just aren't hungry. You just feel weird. A mixture of over-tiredness and the desire to fall asleep at 2pm, while being unable to get back to sleep at 2am. Sleeping tablets and exercise do wonders.

In the end I do enjoy travelling. You feel kinda special, and as a foreigner you always have lots of fun (though not necessarily accurate) stories to tell the natives. Duty free shopping, the chance to pick which season you would like to be in, the creative accounting, luggage shopping and the excellent people you meet are just some of the better parts of the whole deal. You also realise just how similar we all are, and what an incredibly small place it is that we live in.

License

This article, along with any associated source code and files, is licensed under The Code Project Open License (CPOL)

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About the Author

Chris Maunder
Founder CodeProject
Canada Canada
Chris is the Co-founder, Administrator, Architect, Chief Editor and Shameless Hack who wrote and runs The Code Project. He's been programming since 1988 while pretending to be, in various guises, an astrophysicist, mathematician, physicist, hydrologist, geomorphologist, defence intelligence researcher and then, when all that got a bit rough on the nerves, a web developer. He is a Microsoft Visual C++ MVP both globally and for Canada locally.
 
His programming experience includes C/C++, C#, SQL, MFC, ASP, ASP.NET, and far, far too much FORTRAN. He has worked on PocketPCs, AIX mainframes, Sun workstations, and a CRAY YMP C90 behemoth but finds notebooks take up less desk space.
 
He dodges, he weaves, and he never gets enough sleep. He is kind to small animals.
 
Chris was born and bred in Australia but splits his time between Toronto and Melbourne, depending on the weather. For relaxation he is into road cycling, snowboarding, rock climbing, and storm chasing.
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Comments and Discussions

 
GeneralCustoms inspection PinmemberDavid Cunningham6-Mar-01 17:25 
GeneralRe: Customs inspection PinmemberChris Maunder6-Mar-01 17:35 
GeneralRe: Customs inspection PinmemberJeremy Davis16-Aug-01 0:56 
GeneralRe: Customs inspection PinmemberDavid Wulff20-Aug-01 11:54 
GeneralRe: Customs inspection PinmemberVasudevan Deepak Kumar20-Jun-07 23:46 
GeneralFirst/Business class - not as good as you've heard PinmemberMichael Dunn6-Mar-01 15:56 
GeneralRe: First/Business class - not as good as you've heard PinmemberChris Maunder6-Mar-01 16:42 
GeneralRe: First/Business class - not as good as you've heard PinmemberMichael Dunn6-Mar-01 18:10 
GeneralRe: First/Business class - not as good as you've heard PinmemberChris Maunder6-Mar-01 19:02 
GeneralRe: First/Business class - not as good as you've heard PinmemberTom Archer14-May-01 8:42 
GeneralRe: First/Business class - not as good as you've heard PinmemberDavid Cunningham6-Mar-01 16:43 
GeneralRe: First/Business class - not as good as you've heard PinmemberChris Maunder6-Mar-01 17:05 
GeneralRe: First/Business class - not as good as you've heard PinmemberTrollslayer30-Apr-04 1:48 

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