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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.
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 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 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.