Qantas seems to offer a Latest US to Australia Flight Deal sale at the drop of a hat so it’s become a habit of mine to visit their website at least once a fortnight to check out their latest fare. Not all that long ago I was taken back by the ridiculously low fare of a Dallas Fort Worth to Sydney flight; I thought Qantas must be celebrating some important event in it’s history; maybe the 65th anniversary of it’s first trans-Pacific service to the USA. Back in1954 Qantas flew a Lockheed Super Constellation from Sydney to San Francisco, and then to Vancouver. It took around 30 hours flying time to San Francisco and required fuel stops at Fiji, Canton Island, and Hawaii. I booked a round trip fare for the Dallas Fort Worth to Sydney 17 hour flight; the world’s 7th longest nonstop flight.
A month or so before leaving I started practising for the 7th longest nonstop flight by sitting in a chair for 2 hours a day. I rehearsed squirming and fidgeting, and dropping objects and picking them up by keeping my knees together and bending at the waist. I increased the sitting time by 15 minutes each second day. I did chair sitting in the late afternoon, and sat by a window so I’d be bathed in changing light; late afternoon sunlight changing to dusk, and then evening darkness. Qantas programs the lighting onboard their Airbus A380 superjumbos during the 17 hour flight to acclimatise your body rhythms to Sydney time.
After I reached 3 hours of non stop chair sitting I put another chair in front of me so it touched my knees. I propped my I Pad on that chair, at a slight angle, so I could have an in-flight back of seat entertainment screen; I limited myself to watching YouTube television comedies and police dramas. During the third week of practise chair sitting I put a variety of foodstuff into small plastic containers; warmed frozen meals in one, fruit and yoghurt in another, and a green leaf salad with a packet of single serve vinaigrette salad dressing in another. I sealed the warm food container with aluminium foil, and the others with press and seal. I wound sellotape around a plastic knife, fork, and spoon. Every afternoon as the sun was setting I served myself a balanced meal on a small plastic tray.
I knew that the Dallas Forth Worth International was a huge airport; it’s got it’s own postcode and an estimated 69 million passengers a year travel through it’s 5 interconnected terminals. I think there’s three times a day that an airport is at it’s chaotic best; midday is one of those times. My Omaha flight arrived at DFW close to midday. People rolling their carry-ons were rushing from passenger screening to boarding gates, or hurrying between gates and terminals to catch connecting flights. I joined the melee and allowed it to carry me to the International Terminal D moving walkway. Terminal D is bathed in unchanging light; soft fluorescent light combines with the light reflected from the gleaming floors of the wall to wall arrival and departure plasma screens; it has it’s own shops, cafes, restaurants, and food court. It’s a self contained city that should have it’s own postcode.
But it wasn’t just the thrill and predictable chaos of DFW that caused me to feel a sense of intoxication; I was travelling out of the US for the first time using a US passport. Twelve months ago I was honoured to be granted USA citizenship.
The waiting area of Terminal D’s departure gates are defined by fabric covered, low chairs. Before a flight’s scheduled boarding time a mixture of bored and excited passengers arrive, and do their best to lounge on the low chairs. At first the strangers, who’ll soon become fellow travellers, sit apart from each other; at least four chairs apart. Each waiting passenger defines and protects their space with a collection of carry on hard-side spinner suitcases, duffle bags, and what ever else they’ll try to squeeze into the overhead bin. Soon they’ll share the closeness of an airplane seat; their thighs will touch and they’ll experience the closeness of a shared armrest.
Qantas shares a departure gate with Qatar Airways. I had a lengthy lay over so I first sat with the waiting to board passengers of Qatar Airway’s non stop flight to Doha. I chose a dark blue fabric covered seat in a row facing the walkway and boarding gate. The seat gave me enough room to practise my Toe Raises and Leg Extension exercises; I was hoping to prevent venous thromboembolism. As time went by the empty seats were filled by the bored, and excited Qatar passengers. A passenger, sitting in the row behind me, asked if I would keep an eye on his carry on bag for a few minutes; when he returned he sat in the empty seat alongside me.
At one time, whenever an Aussie took a taxi they’d always jump in the front passenger seat so they could chat with the driver; it was just two blokes having a chat. Their chat usually started with; “been busy, mate?” And so I was soon chatting with the fellow traveller sitting beside me.
Me: G’day; been busy, mate?
Fellow Traveller: Hi there
Me: Waiting for the Qatar plane?
Fellow Traveller: I work over there; one month on one off. I do it once a month to Doha and then after a two hour layover catch a connecting flight. What about you?
Me: Na, the Qantas flight to Sydney mate. Look’s like you’ve got a few handicap people on the flight
Fellow Traveller: You ain’t seen nothing yet
Me: (After about 10 minutes of chinwaging) Strewth, one plane can’t have that many people needing a wheel chair; there must be ten or fifteen queuing up there now
Fellow Traveller: You ain’t seen nothing yet; I’ve seen as many as one hundred wheel chairs waiting to board
Me: Fair Dinkum?
Fellow Traveller: They say they need assistance with boarding so they can be first on the plane to avoid the rush and crush; as soon as they get on board they’re up walking about, lifting up their carry on suitcases, and going to the bathroom
Me: There’s a few of them up out of their chairs now; walking about talking to their mates, stretching their legs. Crikey, there must be thirty chairs there now.
Fellow Traveller: The wheel chairs are moving; I’m in business so we’ll be boarding soon. Have a nice day.
Me: See ya.
I nodded to my fellow traveller when he looked back from the boarding gate. Just before he disappeared into the passenger grid locked jet bridge he smiled and nodded. I pushed down into my seat and finished off 10 Heel Raises and 15 Leg Lifts.
I spent my Qantas waiting time with Heel Raises and Leg Lift repetitions. When I looked toward the gate several Qantas employees were preparing for the QF8 boarding; and wheel chairs were starting to gather. Wheel chair handlers started approaching the mixture of bored, and excited passengers; their dogged persistence reminded me of the hawkers and beggars of Calcutta’s Howrah Station. The announcement “we’ll begin boarding passengers needing assistance first” caused a random chaotic motion of wheel chair handlers. The wheel chairs were empty!!! Wheel chair handlers were frantically weaving through the cramped narrow aisles desperately searching for passengers. The boarding procedure began and a meandering line of passengers formed. The downcast wheel chair handlers started to leave; no one needed a wheel chair to board QF8. I showed my boarding pass and made my way into the jet bridge’s grid lock.
One of QF8’s cabin crew greeted me at the plane’s doorway as if I was a long lost mate. The doors closed, and the cabin crew did their thing with the yellow life jacket as QF8 taxied away from the boarding gate. The world’s largest passenger plane accelerated down the runway and took off into the darkened skies; seventeen hours flying in the dark. Two days later we would land in Sydney’s early morning light.
I was starting on my third repetition of Toe Raises and Leg Extensions when a cabin crew member arrived alongside me with a food and drink trolley. I was about to greet them with a broad smile and a “G’day mate nice to see you again” until I realised it wasn’t the crew member who greeted me as a long lost mate at the plane’s door. They handed me a white plastic tray stacked with neatly arranged plastic food containers; some covered with shiny aluminium foil, others a snap on plastic lid. How the different shapes fitted together reminded me of Tetris, and the mind teaser puzzle game Rush Hour Traffic Jam.
I moved the pudding container, bread roll, and plastic packaged cutlery to make room for a cup to be soon filled with warm tea. I looked down at the now shambolic food tray and started to move, and shuffle, the plastic packaged biscuits, the salad container, the small packet of salt, and the vacuum sealed cheese; desperately trying to fit the puzzle back together. The half opened chicken with peas and rice was balancing on the edge of the food tray and threatening to spill it’s contents into my lap. The crew member who’d greeted me as a long lost mate at the door walked by, and with a smile and a wink pointed to the food tray and whispered: “slide the pudding top right mate”
As I was slipping on the in flight headphones to watch on the seat back screen the second episode of season one’s Big Little Lies I started to wonder why the butter on the food tray is always rock hard. The tray holds warm, sometimes hot food, and it’s been stacked together with forty or fifty other food trays in a humid food trolley. I’ve found it impossible to spread the rock hard butter onto an in flight bread roll without dropping chunks of butter between my legs. I soon forget about the hard butter conundrum because I was being consumed by Big Little Lies.
The cabin lights had changed colour and were a dark warmth. My eyelids started to feel heavy. My head started to drop onto my right shoulder, and my brain began to relax into dreaming mode. It was time to reach into my Qantas amenity kit and find the eye mask and earplugs.