Well, I’ve finally made it out of the country and back on the road. Travelling feels both intrinsically different and yet inherently familiar at the same time – as oxymoronic as that sounds.
I’d been watching the travel nightmare stories on the news over the last few weeks and armed myself with very low expectations of a) arriving anywhere remotely near my scheduled arrival time and b) my suitcase managing to make it to the end with me. Those pictures of the ‘Heathrow Luggage Carpet’ were a bit hard to ignore and did not exactly instil confidence. In an attempt to ameliorate being left standing around a baggage carousel waiting for luggage that no one could locate, I have picked up some AirTags and popped one in my suitcase. At least I’ll know whether or not it is there and be able to decide to leave without it or not? *shrug*
First leg was a domestic hop BNE to SYD because business airfares to London ex BNE were $2-3k more than going from SYD when I was booking. The plan to fly business was in part because I’m nowhere near travel fit! Two years of being stuck at home, and recent surgery on my hands meant I am trying to take it easy as possible. I got a message saying to be at the airport 90mins before my domestic flight due to ‘peak demand at this time’ only to get there at 0930 for a 1100 flight to find a completely concourse, both at the check in, and security screening. Either I am the only idiot who was doing what they recommended or the recommendation is an overreaction. Meh… just popped into the Qantas lounge wait.
Boarding call to head to the gate and there I found ALL the people and barely 2 in every dozen people were wearing a mask. It feels awful to be surrounded by maskless people coughing and sniffling when you know Covid cases are still around 5000-6000 each day in Qld and you know 20 people died from Covid yesterday and another 19 died today. People have just given up. There is a mask requirement in place, but no one is policing it at all. The flight to Sydney was uneventful. While everyone was reminded repeatedly to wear their masks on the plane when they’re not eating – I’m getting the feeling the policy is an effort to protect the staff more than the passengers at this point. Don’t care, whatever makes everyone keep their mask on while we are stuck in the plane!
Now because my hands are still lacking in strength, I had decided to jump into a taxi to get from the Domestic to the International terminal, rather than taking the free shuttle and having to heft my bag about and possibly end up standing and having to hang on. I planned to give the driver a generous tip for the convenience to me and the pain in the arse I knew it was for him to return and go to the back of the cab queue. I told the cabbie that I only needed to go to the International terminal and he loaded my bag and I got in the car and he started driving and then said “The meter isn’t working ma’am, it has technical problem, but you can still pay by credit card and I can still give you receipt, ok?” Now I’m immediately doing that internal sigh thing you do when you know someone is about to try and rip you off… and I said to him, “Legally you’re required to have a functioning meter – should this car even be on the road if the meter doesn’t work.” He started pfaffing with it saying “It sometimes work, sometimes not, ma’am.” He then logs into his system and surprise the surprise the meter is working. I watch as he clicks a few buttons and it says $9.90 and then turn to my phone, I look back up as we are nearing the end of our three minute drive and it says $35.40. I said to him, “Excuse me, why is the meter saying this trip is $35?” He replies: “It’s the airport tolls, ma’am.” We’ve driven <5km I argue with him saying we haven’t gone through any tolls and definitely didn’t drive under any toll gates, so please break down the fare for me. He claimed it was $5.50 flag fall, $4.40 airport fee and then the three minute drive and the tolls. I responded by saying: “What’s your cab number, please?”, as I leaned forward to photograph his meter and ID. He said “4116, ma’am.” Followed by a pause, then says “Why?” And I responded by saying I work for a transport consultancy and we work with taxi companies all the time, and that his company is one of our main clients. That I didn’t appreciate him trying to rip me off like this, that the fare should be barely $15-18, and that the last cabbie I reported for trying to rip me off got fired. Well, didn’t he back pedal… He spent the remainder of the drive into the International Terminal apologising and saying he won’t charge me the tolls and saying over and over, “Please don’t report me, ma’am. I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” I said I’m not paying more than $20 for this trip and that is being generous, I gave him both barrels about ripping off tourists and giving a bad impression to the city and our country, and landed on blasting him on, “You wonder why everyone prefers to use Uber now!” He just kept saying “Please don’t report me, ma’am. I’m very sorry ma’am.” … meh, by that point it was too late, he’d already been reported to his head office. Why does shit like that keep happening? I swear I don’t have single good cab story in the last six years (come to think of it since the market became saturated with ride share options).
Anyway, I leave the sad cabbie and head into the terminal to find the Sri Lankan Airline checkin counter – and it’s not open. :/ I arrived in SYD about 1300 and my flight had been scheduled to leave at 1630 but I had received a notification that it was now leaving at 1825 so the check-in counter wouldn’t be manned until 1530 which is a pain in the arse and there is zero seating on the public side of the terminal. It was then that the one staff member who was at the counter said, “Your flight isn’t leaving until 1955 now.” *ugh* I managed to go for a wander and find a seat near a family who were at least pretending wear their masks and figured I just had to wait it out… Eventually, 1530 rolls round and I’m (yay, business class) in a very short queue, I check in and head towards security, where that was an enormous hidden queue as 3 out of a possible 17 security points were open. Staff shortages were evident everywhere. Eventually get through security and get myself settled into the Qantas Business Lounge – but not before a ‘discussion’ with the front desk who was “sure we don’t have reciprocity with Sir Lankan Airlines”. Oh yes, yes you do! Another long wait ensues in the lounge but at least this time there is a comfy chair and free alcohol… what are you gonna do.
Eventually we are loading onto the plane and I gotta say, I don’t like the attitude of my fellow passengers with the business seats – they’re literally pushing people out of the way and barging through the crowd to make sure everyone knows they’re the ‘not like them’ waiting around for economy rows to load. One guy was tut tutting the whole time as people were trying to get their tired and confused children to comply and get out of his way and they just seemed boorish… I was trying to fade into the walls and not be all forward. I mean, I’ve flown business plenty of times before but obviously not often enough to be all pushy and entitled about it.
Sri Lankan business class is all of 28 seats or so and there was about 10 of us in the cabin. So I have to say the service was excellent. By the time we got boarded and champagne’d (and I use the term lightly, as they serve some hideous sparkling white wine from India which I did not want a second glass of!), I could feel the days ‘hurry up and wait’ fading away and I settled in for our 11 hour flight to Colombo, leaving only four hours after the originally scheduled departure. Meal service was swift and polite. Food options were excellent and the meal I chose was very tasty. The inflight entertainment was neither here nor there as I had my iPad loaded up with TV shows and movies. I watched about 4 episodes of This Is Us and then lay my seat down to go to sleep… and jesus titty fucking christ if that isn’t the best thing on a long haul flight ever, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle! The seat reclines fully flat and you can roll and sleep on your side comfortably if you want to.
Next thing you know, I’m being woken for the inflight service prior to landing. We were originally scheduled to arrive in Colombo at 2300 local but instead were arriving at 0130… not sure how that works, leave four hours late and arrive barely two and a half hours late, but I do know we were at 40,000 for most of the flight and the pilots seemed to have the hammer down. All good, we get to Colombo at the appointed ungodly hour and I silently thank Mr K for suggesting that I book an in-airport hotel for an 8 hour stay as my flight didn’t leave until 1300… until that is, it got pushed forward to 1215 and then pushed back to 1400. I don’t know – but this time I’ve given up on the schedule and am just hovering about hoping the staff don’t let me miss my flight. The Serenediva Airport Hotel was nice and tidy, their fancier rooms being all booked out, I found myself in a lime green abomination with a comfy bed and a clean hot shower. I managed to get to sleep around 0230 and didn’t wake up until 0800.
I still had a few hours until I had to leave the room, but desperation for a cup of tea without long life milk drove me out of the room at 0930 towards the Sri Lankan Airlines Serendib Business Lounge. Best cup of tea I’ve ever had – shouldn’t have been surprised… we are in Sri Lanka! Managed to amuse myself in the business lounge for hours, aided by the recliners in the Quiet Room and the chatty ladies in the ‘foot massage’ corner… yes, the Serendib Business Lounge in Colombo has a partitioned off room where you can get a free foot massage. Damn, but this international travel on a business ticket is something I could get used to! Eventually it’s time to load again and we are advised to head to the gate. Again, some of my ‘fellows’ at the front of the plane are acting like entitled parts – once even asked someone to move out of the gate seats set aside for business passengers so they could sit down and wait the ten minutes before we board completely oblivious to the fact that this poor soul may have been stuck in that seat for literally hours between their connections.
Second leg was as uneventful as the first. Lovely service; the Purser even came and introduced himself and asked if I needed anything at all to make my flight more comfortable. I asked for some fresh masks if they had any, and he came back immediately with three… never mind I’m the only person wearing one at this point. Weirdly after my day of doing very little in the lounge, I managed to doze off and on in my flat bed most of the way to London. I was already aware that I had never done a long haul and arrived so free of back pain before – I couldn’t believe how well I pulled up when we got into London. I had sore feet, (but that fibromyalgia shit doesn’t really go away and there had been queueing on concrete, but my back felt pretty good.
Arrive in London at 2230 – again I don’t know how we leave so late and get there nowhere near as late, but I wasn’t complaining. Walked straight through to passport control, no lines, did the passport/photo thing, walked through to the baggage hall anticipating disaster and noted there was a lot of unattended luggage laying about but made a dash to the bathroom while I waited to see what horror was going to ensue. Came out of the loos and stood near baggage carousel number two feeling a bit, ‘yeah what are the odds’, and opening up the Find My Stuff app to see where my suitcase might be (half expecting it to show up as being in Colombo still!). To my surprise, I opened the app, and it showed my suitcase with ‘with me’, I looked around for less than ten seconds and spotted my bag. Unbelievable. With a small laugh, I collected it and waltzed through customs. Without a doubt one of the BEST transits I’ve even done, even though it was a full 46 hours since I left my front door! My previous record of a hideously painful 40 hour trasnit from Quetta to Brisbane left for dust.
Came out the doors to be greeted by a cheerful Stephola who sped us off proficiently through the London traffic to her little village whereupon we had a couple of calming drams of Hellfire Sloe gin and then sleep. 🙂
It’s good to be out and getting ready to see new things again – but yeah, I am so not travel fit! It’s gonna take a awhile to get back in the swing of things.