It’s a bird! It’s a plane… No really, it’s a plane.

So I finally had time to catch-up on writing my Qantas adventure over to Australia. Whoohoo!

Yes, I know I am obscenely late in posting this. I was kind of hoping the cuddly koalas would distract you from realizing I completely glossed over that section of my trip. But don’t worry; the post is extra witty so hopefully you will find that reason enough to forgive me. And if it’s not, remember all the kangaroo cuteness. Studies show that looking at fuzzy animals makes you happier. So if you’re still angry after you finish reading, just go back a post. Psychology says you’ll feel better. =)


Holy. Crap.

I had never seen a vehicle so massive.

If airplanes were the large birds of the sky, the A380 was a pterodactyl. A no-nonsense lean, mean, four-engined machine. A flock of Canadian geese couldn’t take this bad boy down (too soon?). I drank in the view of its profile through the airport window. I decided it could probably even deflect a small meteor. It was just that massive.

Ever felt intimidated by a piece of machinery? Yeah, that was a new one for me, too.

It was ten o’clock at night and I waited to board the world’s largest commercial airliner. It was an exciting moment for all sorts of reasons:
1) I’d never been on a double-decker plane. And a chance to ride on the largest in the world for the same price as your everyday boeing flight? No-duh, I was excited. Not only was it a cool thing to say you’ve done, but it was more for the same. And I’m all about monopolizing those choice moments.
2) This was the vessel that would transport my happy butt from the States to Australia to begin my Southern Hemisphere adventure.
3) I had somehow managed to convince Qantas to give me a tour of the plane once we were in flight. (I can’t tell you how I did this. I really have no idea how I managed to pull this one off, but I was feeling the Aussie love already.)

My mind started running wild with fantasies of what that would entail. Maybe they’d bump me to business or first class so I could write about that experience? Or perhaps they’d let me wear a name tag and serve some passengers peanuts?

A guy carrying a briefcase knocked me out as he shoved his way to the front of the line. My daydream abruptly ended. I struggled to regain my balance (which is not easy when hauling a thirty pound backpack), smiled, and shook my head in his direction. I guess the fantasy would have to wait. In the meantime, I waited to board with the hundreds of other passengers.

There were two gates. One boarded the business class passengers to the upper deck. At the other the first class, premium economy, and economy passengers waited in said order. I made my way slowly to the very back of the line (is there any other way when you’re carrying your world on your shoulders?) I peeled off my shell and laid it on the ground. I sat on it, resting my chin in my hands.

I observed my fellow travelers with interest, passing the time by passing judgement on their choice in travel clothes. It was a 14 hour flight after all, so I felt fully justified making mental fun of the girl wearing stripper boots.

And we waited.

And waited.

And after what seemed like an eternity (times dog years) we started boarding. The ants went marching one-by-one, handing their boarding passes over to one of the five Qantas employees manning the gates.

There have been very few times in my life where I’ve felt so insignificant, so tiny, so surrounded by others that I felt vulnerable to sheep-herd mentality. This was one of those moments. There were just so many of us.

My mind was easily overwhelmed by this situation and finding my seat didn’t help. What flight have you been on where you were given a dinner menu for economy? Where you could watch thousands of movies and television episodes without handing over your credit card? Where you had access to every genre of music (literally) and could create your own playlist to listen to throughout the flight? My point exactly.

There was even a SkyCam attached to the tail of the plane so you could watch the take-off and landing and pretend you were piloting the mammoth. Even without dropping the ten grand for a first class ticket, I felt like a bad-ass. And we hadn’t even taken off yet.

Flight attendants in Pan Am style dresses and heels flitted back and forth, working hard to get all the passengers in their correct locales. They handed out itineraries to those seated, detailing when all the meals would be served, when we would receive our customs paperwork, and when we could expect to have cabin lights turned back on.

And I thought Virgin Atlantic had their shit together. Huh. I placed the itinerary in the back-seat compartment.

A woman with a sing-song Australian voice rang out over the intercom. She asked us to buckle up and turn on our SkyCam monitors if we wanted to watch take-off. We were officially on our way. I watched the wind flow in visible streams over the wing as we ascended into the air.

As we gained ground (air?) I perused the flight path map with fascination. We sure had a lot of ocean to cover. It looked like nearly three times the distance I’d covered on my trip to Europe. The screen said we were cruising along at almost 600 miles per hour and would be flying at a steady 30,000 feet.

We would spend the next fourteen hours chasing the night to Sydney, spending most of the time in darkness. And in an effort to blow my mind even more, we’d be Quantum Leaping in time, missing Wednesday completely. Did this mean I could read a Sydney paper and prevent something from happening in the States? Would I be the real life star of Early Edition? The thought made my head hurt.

A flight attendant came by to take drink orders. My head spun with all the choices. Did I want juice, hot chocolate, peppermint tea, water or wine? I gave the woman a dubious look, “Since when does economy get free wine?” She stared back at me, equally confused by my question. I shook my head and accepted a water. I turned on The Big Bang Theory, hoping to bring some normalcy to the moment.

Around one in the morning, a flight attendant leaned over the sleeping couple next to me and tapped my shoulder. I jumped and took off my headphones. “No, I’m sorry,” I said in response to her apology, “Penny just kissed Leonard and I was totally wrapped up in the moment.” The curvy blonde cocked her head to the side and blinked at me. I hemmed and hawed, “I really like this show. Can I help you?”

“Are you Hilary?”

I thought for a moment. Was I? (Yes, I was indeed that tired). I nodded after a seven second delay.

She smiled. “My name’s Emma. We’ll take you on a little tour of the airbus now.”

“Oh! Oh, okay,” I said, my body suddenly bubbling with energy. My mind went blank. What was I going to need for this? Oh yes, a pen. And my notebook. Where the heck was my camera?

She watched me in amusement as I fumbled to find everything I needed out of my black hole of a purse. I scooched past the sleeping couple out into the aisle. I mouthed apologies to their glares and then stood tall to shake Emma’s hand.

“Follow me, please.” She turned on her heels and walked briskly ahead of me, her eyes surveying the sleeping passengers. She slipped behind a red fabric partition and into the galley.

I took a deep breath and gained my composure. Then I followed. It was time to see what lay beyond the Qantas curtain.

To be continued…


75 thoughts on “It’s a bird! It’s a plane… No really, it’s a plane.

  1. ps- most non-US airlines serve some kind of alcoholic beverage as part of the complimentary beverage service. I have sat next to many a Japanese or Korean who starts drinking some beer with their breakfast.

      • haha well, that was me a few years back before I moved and started mostly flying non-US carriers. I also saw many Japanese men drinking beer with breakfast while traveling in general. The phrase “it’s 5 o’clock somewhere” either has no relevance or complete relevance in Japan. Still haven’t decided.

        • Haha. Yeah, I think the jury’s out for me too. That’s too funny.

          But in all fairness, I’m not really a beer girl. I just went to a beer tasting (don’t ask me why- I thought it might be fun). I think I didn’t hate one of the twelve beers I tasted. I just looked at my friends saying, “Sorry- The next time you go to a chocolate tasting I’m definitely your girl!”

          • I am a sucker for brewery tours, but I think the earliest that I’ve had a beer is 11, with Sunday roast, right before a cider tour 😉
            Chocolate tasting all the way. Really, I think I’m just a fan of seeing how things are produced locally on a small-scale.

  2. wow, sounds awesome!
    though, I am always a little worried about how much paper they are wasting, and how much extra weight they are adding by handing out those menus and itineraries and such.

  3. On one, the flight attendant, halfway through the flight, came and hunkered down next to my seat, pointed her finger at me and said, “I want to tell you that you are the first person today to say please and thank you to me.” I was appalled and asked whether that was standard operating procedure up in first class and she said yes, that first-class passengers often (I hope not often and that’s it’s only occasionally!) feel entitled to the better service and don’t feel obliged to be polite. I thought that was a horrible comment and felt sorry if that was the sort of dismissive behavior she encountered all too often.

  4. On one, the flight attendant, halfway through the flight, came and hunkered down next to my seat, pointed her finger at me and said, “I want to tell you that you are the first person today to say please and thank you to me.” I was appalled and asked whether that was standard operating procedure up in first class and she said yes, that first-class passengers often (I hope not often and that’s it’s only occasionally!) feel entitled to the better service and don’t feel obliged to be polite. I thought that was a horrible comment and felt sorry if that was the sort of dismissive behavior she encountered all too often.

  5. My plane to Israel was also double-decker, some sort of Delta monstrosity that was not nearly as lovely as your Quantas flight sounds! And yes, it took freaking forever to get that party bus in the air (trying to get a double-decker plane full of East Coast Jews and Middle-Easterners to sit down and stop talking is a difficult task). But dear Hilary, when the choice is water or wine and the wine is free, one must always take the wine! Can’t wait to hear the rest!

  6. My daughter spent a semester studying abroad in Sydney in 2010. She was just as crazy excited about holding a koala as you. She had an amazing time, but flew UA and 747. That plane is huge and would swallow up the baby DC-9’s I used to work on. Looking forward to the rest of the tale!

    • Hi Ingrid!

      Wow, it sounds like your daughter had such an amazing time! What was she studying? Does she think she’ll go back?

      DC-9’s huh? It sounds like you’ve had your fair share of adventure also! Such an adventurous family!

      Can’t wait to hear more about you and your daughter. And I can’t wait to share the rest of the story!

      • She graduated in May with a degree in Business from CO State. Studied international business at Macquarie University in Sydney for a sem. Now working so, so job in Denver. She would love to travel like yourself but needs to earn $$. Fortunately no dull life in our household and looking forward to plenty more adventures. Oh, daughter did bungee jumping in New Zealand, hiked Glacier, etc. Trying to get her to blog about it. Skydiving on the to do list !

        • Wow! Congrats to your daughter! Sounds like she’s lived a very full life thus far. And I completely understand the need for cash. =)

          But I completely agree! She should blog. A lot of people would love to hear about those experiences.

          I hope you’ll stay in touch! Looking forward to hearing more about what you and your daughter are up to next!

  7. Regarding the lady in the stripper shoes, my motto is to always wear your biggest shoes because they take up the most space in the suitcase. Perhaps that’s why she was wearing something so uncomfortable?

    • That’s a possibility! I never thought of it that way. I always go with wear something that’s comfy but easy to take on and off (for in-flight and security purposes). But you never know!

      Thanks for bringing a fresh perspective! =)

    • Haha! Yes, indeed. Not much of a drinker to begin with. And I didn’t want to be buzzed or drunk when I went on my tour. So water it is.

      And yes, I do realize I am a walking paradox. A girl from Vegas should love to party and be a lush. I certainly don’t fit that ticket. =)

  8. I used to fly Qantas regularly from London to Melbourne, but got annoyed at the limited legroom in cattle class. I tried Cathay Pacific Airlines last year and now swear by them – fantastic service, food, selection of alcoholic beverages to make to journey shorter and very spacious in the cheap seats. They also have premium economy with better seats and even more leg room! I think there’s a complimentary drink on arrival, which isn’t all bad. I better change the subject before I brand myself an alcoholic.

    I’ve never been on the double-decker plane, but hope to get a chance next year (although I don’t know if Cathay Pacific currently have the A380).

    Looking forward to the next episode…

    • I’ve never heard of Cathay Pacific. I’ll have to check them out! Thanks for the tip!

      Yeah, an A380 is definitely an experience worth having. =) And can’t wait to share with you the second half!

  9. As flights go (which I hate regardless), Qantas is not bad. They still offer a lot of the nice little amenities that other airlines have long given up. I’m heading back stateside next week for our wedding and the journey there is on a 747 (though I think they are outfitting most of the 747s with A380 seats) and is not as comfortable, but the way back is on an A380. I’ll always pay a bit extra to get the itinerary on the A380. Definitely one of the best long haul jets out there. Looking forward to the rest of your posts about Australia. 🙂

    • Yeah. This was my first time flying with them, but I’m impressed. And long-haul comfort is always a necessity when you’re on the road so much!

      Looking forward to sharing with you! Stayed tuned! =)

  10. While I love trans-oceanic flights, I miss the days of the smoking section.
    I remember flying a monster to England.
    Non smoking was packed, but there were only about two dozen of us in smoking.

    Can’t wait to hear about the rest of the trip!

    • The things I’m learning about trans-atlantic flights! Makes me want to travel more internationally than domestically, that’s for sure!

      Do you have a favorite airline?

      Honestly, I don’t know how I managed to pull that one off. It was a surprise to me too! The Qantas people were extremely friendly and accommodating! Can’t wait to share the rest of the experience with you!

      • Hawaiian Air is fun because everything is purple and they play Hawaiian music on take off. Tyrolean air gives you chocolate, plays Mozart and has the nicest stewardesses ever. British Airways is brilliant with trans-Atlantic flights (and even have a special class on the plane: in economy class but with business class seats for a bit more money) but you have to transfer in Heathrow, which is as close to a portal to hell as I’ve ever seen, so that’s a down side 🙂 Another of my favorites was Malev airlines, which was like a flying Hungarian restaurant with surly stewards working on it, but they went bust. 😦

        • Okay, well at least I don’t feel so bad now. I always found Heathrow extremely overwhelming, but I thought it was just me. Every time I’ve passed through I’ve just wanted to find a corner and take cover. =)

          Thanks for all the tips! One day I will fly Hawaiian Airlines! And I’m a fan of purple too. Sigh…

    • All the people make for more anxiety, but Qantas is very well organized. They keep a military-like schedule and extremely high standards for their customer service. I almost feel like having so many people requires them to be more efficient and helpful. I had to wonder what would happen if all flights had that many people…

      And thank you! I can’t wait to share!

  11. It reminds me of the Dreamliner plane I rode back and forth from Japan! Though not a double decker, they served 3 actually tasty meals (and a snack) over the 13-hour flight. The plane had tons of American AND international music you could sort into your own playlist, in addition to movies, TV shows, video games, and even manga .I’m not sure if the flight attendants served wine– but I know they served sake! Can’t wait to see the rest of your crazy plane!

    • Wow! Sounds like such an amazing flight! How was your Japanese adventure? Do you have pictures? I can’t wait to hear all about it!

      Mmm sake! That definitely sounds unique. Can’t wait to share the rest of the journey!

  12. That’s really cool that they took you on a tour. I doubt any of the American airlines would do that. I’ve ridden on a double-decker plane and naturally, booked a seat on the second level because it was such a novel idea. But then realized that it would take us a little longer to get off and I had a connection, so am not sure I’ll do that again.

    Can’t wait to hear the rest of your story. What in the world did they show you on this tour???

  13. A double decker plane!! That plane sounds incredible – the drink options, watching the take off, making your own play list. LOL! I like how you share your stories, you always have me hanging onto your every word. What a way to end off…haha Looking forward to hearing the rest.

  14. Pingback: It’s a bird! It’s a plane… No really, it’s a plane. | Home Far Away From Home

  15. I felt I should inform Sir Richard Branson of this development as he is of the type to be fanatical about his toy planes and stuff like that. I tweeted him your post plus to the VA boys and girls of America.

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