Recently we flew on an Internetted Singapore Airlines Boeing 777 to Changi. And the experience was… mixed.
Recently we flew on an Internetted Singapore Airlines Boeing 777 to Changi. And the experience was… mixed.
Back on the road again… Rather – up in the air. So I continue one of my fave, recurring themes – flying and planes and all that.
2015 kicked off with some serious avia action for me: I’m already on my 30th flight, having been up in the skies 130+ hours. Not that I’m complaining – I like flying. It’s my version of time-out… It’s the only time I’m able to actually relax! The main reasons are that my phone’s turned off and there’s no Internet. So at last I’m able to wade through the ton of business emails that’s piled up over the previous few days, to read a book, and watch a movie (all of which I hardly ever do on the ground).
But as time passes of late, more and more airlines are pushing their inflight Internet connections. /* BUT!: ‘In the interests of safety all portable electronic devices must be switched off for the duration of the flight; however, our Internet – for a fee: no worries at all!’ I’ll refrain from commenting on these obvious contradictions… */
Anyway, despite normally turning down airlines’ Internet connectivity overtures, this time, just for a change, I thought I’d give it a try…
My experiment took place on a recent Shanghai-Moscow flight on Aeroflot. Everything was fine as usual (besides unexpected and unreasonable slow lines for registration – more than an hour!). Not so usual – but perfectly fine – was the fact that onboard weren’t just the usual suspects – Russians and Chinese – but also plenty of folks speaking Italian and Spanish. ‘Paying ruble prices on Aeroflot via Moscow’, I thought! However, our friendly fellow passengers explained things differently: ‘Never – EVER! – fly Alitalia or Iberia! Much better Aeroflot via MOW.’ Well, well, I thought. Incidentally, more on different airlines and flights and routes, etc. – here.
So. We boarded the plane and off we flew. I agreed to the terms and conditions and finally I connected to plane’s Wi-Fi!
There’s an unusual feeling you get… when you sit by the window on a plane waiting for the end of boarding and your flight to begin, observing the workers shoving the luggage into the hold of the plane… when suddenly you see that they’re all done and walk off… but a single suitcase remains of the ground – all on its lonesome. Big and black. And it’s YOUR suitcase!
At first I was going to call this post something like ‘cattle wagon’. Then I had a think, and figured that’d be too malicious. Kinda like, ‘Shock, horror! The beluga caviar isn’t spread evenly here'; i.e., hardly appropriate outside my little world, really :).
Basically, this is just a bit of a whinge. One of those petty peeves we all have from time to time due to perceived poor levels of service…
So, there I was, sat on one of eight (8) seats in a row – in business class – on United Airlines’ UA988 flight from Frankfurt to Washington, and I was thinking back to a wholly different avia experience – flying from Singapore to New York on Singapore Airlines. That flight took 18 hours – non-stop (!), and there were just four seats to a row (but of course those seats were priced somewhat differently).
But on United the seats were arranged 2-4-2, to make up eight-to-a-row. What made things worse was that half the passengers in the row were faced forward, the other half – backward. I was lucky enough to be faced backwards, and, well, sitting backwards on a plane is one of the few things in this world that really irritate me. Don’t ask me why. Maybe it was because they drummed it into me when younger that sitting like that on a train is somehow not right… I dunno.
Just recently I was flying over Baghdad, accompanied by my traveling companion, A.Sh. We were on Etihad EY53 from Abu Dhabi to Geneva. A.Sh. slept; I didn’t – and took some pics:
I’m a mathematician.
So, based on the numbers alone – with my constant frequent flying – I’m hardly surprised: sooner or later it had to happen – I missed my plane!
It’s happened just once before – back in May 2010, towards the end of one of my customarily lengthy round-the-world tours. I’d… let my hair down a wee bit too low at a conference in Cyprus, got ’20:00′ and ’02:00′ – or something like that – mixed up, and that was that – late. Flight missed. That was in Limassol, heading for Tokyo. In the end I managed to get a flight the next day.
So, now I’ve notched up two missed flights. Still, that’s pretty good considering I fly hundreds of times a year!
This time I was late for my plane leaving London for Nice in France. So how did I manage it?
Well, due to some bizarre oversight, I looked at the wrong place on the piece of paper that had my flight details on it, and instead of having my taxi take me to Terminal 5, I asked the cockney driver to head for Terminal 4! Once I realized the mix-up upon arrival, I got onto the Heathrow Express to get to T5 – but then that took 40 (!) minutes (I’d have been better taking a taxi, darn it!).
This was after the journey from downtown to the airport, which took 80 minutes (London + Saturday = traffic jams). Should have taken the Tube! The following Monday was a bank holiday (national day-off), so maybe that was why there was even more traffic than usual. And we’d left the hotel with loads of time to spare! All the same, the terminal mix-up decided my fate that day. Late. Flight missed. :-/.
But – oh what joy! Turned out that an hour later a second plane would be taking off to Nice “for those who’d missed the first one” ( :%) ). I really needed to race to make that one – and I don’t mean a steady jog but a sprint. But I rushed in vain. The plane stood for another hour on the ground since Heathrow too was suffering from bad traffic (also due to the bank holiday?). An airport traffic jam. In short, it wasn’t my day. The following day thankfully made up for that…
See you tomorrow… Au revoir!
First, some pix. Actually – screenshots from one of my recent transatlantic flights. Notice anything unusual?…:
In the end, my round-the-world tour turned out to be reasonably zig-ah-zig-ah:
The trip turned out to be a high-pressure one, with a tight schedule to fit all the work in and little time for chilled sightseeing. To be honest, it took a lot out of me. I’m real tired. Dog tired. Totally beat, burned out, wasted, done for, dead on the feet, whacked, fried, frazzled, KO’d, ruined… Walking to the gate at Narita airport in Tokyo, I nearly fell asleep while standing on the horizontal escalator thingie :).
Out of the array of programs and films on offer on the screen in the back of the seat in front of me, I often opt for the flight route map. It’s a bit like cricket. Not much happens, what does happen occurs at a snail’s pace, but if you’re one for taking it real easy all day it’s the one to go for!
A few days ago I flew Cathay Pacific from Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh, via Abu-Dhabi and Hong Kong and towards Japan. In Abu-Dhabi I realized I was last here just three weeks ago for the Formula-1 Grand Prix! So yes, once again I’ve managed to pull off a round trip right round the globe: Dublin – Abu-Dhabi – Canberra (and Sydney) – Singapore – Austin – Riyadh – Abu-Dhabi. 1 full circumnavigation + 2 equator crossings.
What stuck in the mind during this global marathon?
First off, that Saudi Arabia is a fiercely dry country – in more ways than one. If you drink alcohol there it’s multiple lashings with a stick, plus a fine, plus jail time for you. But you’ll have a job boozing there anyway – we found absolutely ZERO liquids on offer stronger than coffee or yoghurt. Even in the Ritz-Carlton.
Curiously, no matter what airline, up above Saudi Arabia in its airspace there’s also no liquor getting poured either! Not even a wee dram! Flying in on Saudi Arabian Airlines – well, we kinda expected that. But flying out on Cathay – we had to wait eons for our glass of shampers until we reached UAE airspace! Not that I was desperate for a drink or anything, of course (cough), but a little sharpener would have been nice.
Here I want to mention one other idiosyncrasy of round-the-world multi-stop plane trips.
They come in two flavors: ‘western’ (following the sun), and ‘eastern’ (towards the sun).
Western round-the-worlds are much simpler and pleasanter than eastern. You fly into the ‘minus time zone’, so accordingly sleep needs to come later (better – a lot later), and so in the morning you wake up also later. So, if flying from Moscow to, say, Boston, then at nine in the evening local Boston time, in Moscow – i.e., as per your biological clock – it’s 6am of the following day – already long past bedtime! So getting off to sleep at the impossibly early hour of 9pm in Boston is a doddle, as really it’s 6am for you. The only slight problem with this is you often find yourself waking up VERY early next morning (local time) – like 4am early. (How many times have I been Stateside and been queuing at the ‘Please wait here to be seated’ sign for breakfast at 6am sharp after strutting the lobby and environs for hours already!)
On the other hand, with eastern round-the-worlds everything is just the opposite. Jetlag is always a lot trickier to deal with. You desperately want to sleep all the time, but actually getting to sleep without a little medicinal assistance is all but impossible. Totally zombified! To conquer this condition there’s just one option – to try get your head down in the daytime and sleep for some 12 hours. Better 14 hours. But, alas, it doesn’t always work out: either your bodyclock simply refuses outright (hint: melatonin), or a packed schedule or large doses of extreme hospitality on the part of super nice hosts gets in the way!
Well, that’s your lot for today folks. I’m off for some much needed kip. Night night, sweet dreams, and sleep well!
But for those who can’t sleep – a brain teaser for you:
100 kilograms of cucumbers are made up of 99% water. After shrinking, there remains 98% water. What’s the mass of the cucumbers after shrinking?
Hurray! One of my long held dreams has come true! To fly Singapore to New York – the longest commercial flight route in the world (almost), and probably the all-time longest in the history of commercial civil aviation. The flight takes from around 18 to more than 20 hours (depending on the wind). No stops, one fuel tank, 16,000 kilometers. Strewth!
JFK EWR – thank goodness
// I wrote ‘(almost)’ above… Actually, the longest flight route in the world is the one that goes in the opposite direction – from New York to Singapore. It’s 15 minutes longer, as the wind tends to be kinder in that direction.