This blog entry is being written from the Hotel on the morning after our arrival. It is still dark outside but as I've been tossing and turning in bed for some time now I felt I needed to record yesterday before the relevant details faded.
Act 1 - Moruya to Canberra Airport. A totally uneventful drive up the Clyde Mountain along the Kings Highway. Lots of roadworks but no serious delays. Jenny commented that there must be an election in the offing, local and State authorities demonstrating their determination to honour their promises. I'm of a more charitable mind and figure it is the first chance they've had to recover from the rains and holiday traffic of the past month. Either way, it is just another expensive band-aide on this glorified bullock trail.
Act 2 - Canberra Airport. Natalie dropped us off at the recently opened 'new' Airport Terminal. All shining and looking very new. We haven't been there since I stopped flying for work back at the turn of the century. Domestic passengers are provided with a totally self-service check-in. Scan your e-ticket, print your luggage tags, deposit your luggage and proceed to 'Security'. There's even a facility to have your boarding pass recorded on you smart phone and then presenting your phone at the boarding gate. How things have progressed from the hordes that queued to be served by too few clerks during the early morning rush.
We were processed by a very relaxed young lady who even had time for a chat, we were very early and not rushed. There was no drama making our way through 'Security' and out to the departure lounge. There was a time when Canberra had only six to choose from, now there are 14 !! Quite an improvement. Everything was bright and shining but Jenny noticed there were no water fountains. An oversight or design flaw??
Right on schedule the Dash-8 arrived and we proceeded down the stairs to the tarmac where we surrendered our carry-on as it was considered to be over-size. Quite understandable when you see the size of the overhead lockers. She's only a small aircraft, two seats either side of the central isle and if you're over average height, you need to duck your head to walk to your seat.
Act 3 - Flight to Sydney. It would be nice to say 'short and sweet'. Well short it was. So short in fact that hostess didn't have time to make her way more than half way along the seats before the 'fasten seatbelt' sign was on. We were handed a small bottle of juice as she flashed past. The plane rocked, pitched and bounced for almost a third of the way into Sydney Airport. I suspect the turbulence was a combination of a strong wind, what looked like a developing storm and the small size of the aircraft. Despite early indications to the contrary we landed safely and were linked up to the air-bridge. There was some congestion as we crowded around a door at the side of the air-bridge to retrieve out 'carry-on'. One unfortunate received his in many parts as the zips appeared to have given way, his demeanour didn't improve a lot when he was offered a large plastic bag.
Our next flight was departing from the International Terminal and we were directed to Gate 15 where we joined a small group of anxious passengers - the time remaining to make a number of connections was running out fast.. The staff at the gate placed a green sticker on our boarding passed and hurried us down the stairs where the bus was waiting to take us to the other side of the airport.
Act 4 - Boarding Flight QF7. With our 'magic' green dot as an authority, we were ushered through immigration and 'Security'. From there it was a hurried walk through the maze of 'Duty Free' stores to Gate 8 with barely time to relieve ourselves along the way. The Airbus A380 was patiently waiting for us and despite being 'late' there was no-one boarding yet. Staff informed us that they were waiting for the interior of the plane to cool down !! We may have been rushed but there was no drama. One reason for that became apparent when we found our way to our seats. There were fewer than one in four seats occupied in the economy section at least. Something like 80 instead of over 300. We sat there for quite a while because the plane was still being refuelled for the long flight ahead. Finally we took off on our 15 hour flight to Dallas/Fort Worth.
As we flew North-Easterly across the Pacific into the night we were served dinner by a crew who had time to chat. All very relaxed. With all that spare space it was possible to find a set of three vacant seats but I just couldn't settle. I did manage to doze but was well short of 'rested' by the time we were roused for breakfast. Shortly afterwards we commenced our decent into DFW.
Over-all the flight, whilst long, was tolerable, but 15 hours is just too long to sit in one place. We also found the 'Entertainment' programs to be at a lower standard to what we'd experienced on Cathay. We arrived at this massive airport at about 13:45 Texas Time.
Act 5 - DFW and On to Fort Lauderdale. Arrival at DFW was very efficient although still rather tedious. First stop - Border Protection. With self-serves terminals many of us managed to quickly find our way through. My processing worked as designed and I was passed through in minutes. Scan your passport, take your photo, scan your fingers and answer a few questions after which the machine spits out a docket with all your information. Mine was acceptable, Jenny's was rejected. She has lost a lot of weight and her face has changed significantly over the 10 years since the passport was issued. I waited anxiously for some time as she was re-directed for manual vetting.
Next on to Baggage Collection. Although it had been 'booked through' there was something about possible unaccompanied baggage getting onto the aircraft.
On to another Border Protection station where our 'entry dockets' were matched to boarding passes and we were directed to the most intense 'Security' screening we've encountered. Hats off, belt off, shoes off, jacket off. All electronic items, laptop, smart phone, camera and Kindle in a separate tray. Nothing in any pockets and through a full-body scanner.
Another daunting challenge - how to find Departure Gate A11 in an airport with four active terminals and two more under construction. Each terminal with something like 40 departure gates. Not really a problem with the wonderful Sky-Link train that whisks you around from one terminal to the next or all the way around. Quite marvellous. We alighted in Terminal A and followed the signs to Gate A11 through scenes reminiscent of Dubai, more people than seats and crowded food outlets.
The previous flight to Las Vegas was still waiting to board. First time today we've had time to observe the passing parade. There is a noticeably nonchalant atmosphere at this domestic terminal. Frequent unintelligible announcements go completely unheeded, unheard or just not understood. People went about their personal pursuits oblivious to what or who was around them.
Most noticeable of this behaviour was when the Gate was opened for boarding. The staff tried to graduate the flow by requesting the infirm, the First Class, frequent traveller status holders and any military to proceed. Groups 2 to 4 were asked to refrain from boarding until called forward. No way !! After one or two wheelchairs fought their way through the waiting crowd they just stampeded. No one was turned back or told to step aside further demonstrating that the staff had no control.
Observing the size and number of 'carry-on' items I suspect these hardened and seasoned air travellers knew it was the only way to ensure room in the overhead lockers for their gear. Some of them unloading theirs up to four rows either side of their assigned seats.
The 737 was fully loaded and mercifully the flight was smooth and short, just on two hours. Complementary beverages were offered but snacks or food were only available for purchase. We landed at Fort Lauderdale at about 2045, retrieved our luggage - all had arrived thankfully - found a taxi and were dropped off at the hotel within 30 minutes. More about the hotel tomorrow.
So ended this longest day for us.
If you want to look at what I've been up to you can view my latest photo by following this link to the image for Today
Wishing you good health and safe travel.
Have a great day and stay well.
Cheers .. Tony