The happy whale
I work in the defence industry and, while I haven’t flown an aircraft or entered into serious studies of aircraft engineering, I get the gist of the aerodynamic principles of lift and thrust. But I’m still a terrible flyer and have left fingernail-shaped scars in the arms of my seat neighbours when I’ve gripped anything nearby after unexpected bouts of turbulence or bumpy landings. The people in whom I’ve caused temporary hearing loss from my swear-bear outbursts of potty-mouthed language don’t count as I’m long gone before their hearing returns.
For several years I’ve wondered how on earth the A380 Airbus hauls its 560,000kg self off the ground and gets into the sky, let alone the engineering wonders of getting more than 360,000kg back on the ground without smashing the tyres and undercarriage into expensive scrap for recycling. It’s bog-ugly but really quite marvellous.
And I must admit the plane was a smooth ride. The usual forward and aft rolls that scare the pants off me during take-off were far more subtle than other aircraft, even from the back rows of the plane where I was seated with the rest of the plebs in Qantas economy class. Banking was like taking a roundabout in a flying lounge chair with not a drop of my water in my cup disturbed.
I was seated in the aisle and a young German visitor sitting next to me was heading home. An advantage of his recent travels was that he had the entertainment screen and console sorted out and within five minutes I was scanning movies, TV shows and in-plane gaming competitions like I was a wannabe Gen-Yer with a goldfish-like attention span.
So, with 80 movies, umpteen TV series and a decent handful of documentaries to choose from, what took my fancy?
Yep, Tootsie. ‘nuf said about my mental state.
Another on-screen feature is the webcam fixed to the aircraft’s tail that provides a live feed of conditions outside. For someone like me who prefers a window seat so I can make sure the plane’s not diving to earth in a tailspin the minute I’m not paying attention, I can watch tailcam and rest assured that the plane lines up with the horizon.
The food was tasty and well-timed as well, and I was happily accommodated without asking even though electronic gremlins had killed off my vegetarian meal request. A lot of complaints have been made about Qantas service in online news commentary in recent months, but I have been impressed consistently by the level of service during my last few trips.
The poor cousin whale
The second (and longest) leg of my travel was from Singapore to Frankfurt onboard Lufthansa’s version of the same aircraft. My impression is that too much project money went into purchasing aircraft and not enough into fitting them out with crap bought on eBay. The TV screens randomly turned themselves on every half an hour during the night, waking anyone within several metres of the glaring light they emitted. The flight data information wasn’t working and with my watch in Singapore time and my brain in Melbourne time, I just couldn’t extrapolate the right arrival time in Germany on a big scrap of paper and a quickly hand-drawn map of time zones to guess in how many hours I’d be off the damn plane. I’d have asked the staff but there were none to be found. I may have also chugged down some Xanax after the tribulations of getting through Changi airport which didn’t help my maths or timezone map drawing one iota. When I finally dozed and woke, I found some penned scrawl on my hand so it seems I missed the paper for some calculations.
Prior to boarding the plane and with another four hundred people queuing to enter the flight lounge for the flight from Changi to Frankfurt, I had no time for anything but to source a boarding pass and freshen up in the toilet. After being coated in another layer of sweat from dashing between terminals on a train and more long walks to flight lounges, I couldn’t give the toilet evaluation system anything lower than a rating of ‘excellent’. If there was a sixth option of “I f**king love your dunnies to death and you’ve made me feel half-way human again,” I’d have picked that one.
Some TV shows on Lufthansa were on offer but they were one randomly-chosen single episodes of quality programs such as Two Broke Girls. Unlike Qantas, there were no USB ports or power sources to use electrical devices and the downlights were like interrogation beacons so I didn’t dare leave mine on to read in case I woke dozens of my surrounding neighbours.
I also think the call for assistance button was broken as I pressed and waited 50 minutes without luck for a cup of water. Finally, an hour later when a flight attendant walked past with a tray of drinks, I took three cups of water and ignored her stunning Teutonic glare that I dared take more than my fair share. (Lufthansa flight lounges don’t have shops once passengers have been through the x-ray trauma again so I couldn’t buy a bottle to take onboard.)
After 13 hours of being locked in the poor cousin flying humpback whale, I was deliriously joyous seeing that the tailcam was now functioning. The ground! A terminal! Only another hour until we can sort our shit out enough to get off! Little did I know then that nearly all of the two-and-a-half hours I had to get to my domestic flight in the same terminal with the same airline would be taken with more queuing with slow people but at least I was in the country and everything else was sure to go to plan …
Crank-o-meter: tired and sweaty