And so it begins. My life has been packed up into a few suitcases, defying the laws of physics by remaining under the maximum weight. I did resemble a pack mule though. Handy hint for the day: wearing a motorcycle touring jacket in an airport will get you noticed, and not always by those you want to take notice. As the security officer pulled me aside and explained the procedures for a explosive residue scan in a thick Russian accent, it was all I could do not to snigger, as a dozen hollywood blockbuster moments suddenly came to mind. But I suppressed my inner James Bond, and the scanner obviously missed the copious amounts of fuel and oil residue on my jacket and boots.
The flight plan: Perth to New York City via Sydney and Los Angeles, with long delays at each stop. The damage: just short of 36hrs.
The first flight was good. But then, it's unlikely to be a terrible flight when it was free (go frequent flyer points!) and the booze (also free) is flowing.
In Sydney, the first major obstacle presented itself. It appears that US customs require proof of purchase of a flight out of their country, regardless of how you plan to exit. My flight home from Santiago wasn't going to cut it. So 1 fully refundable ticket to London from New York later, I was ready to head to LAX. In the end, it's probably a good thing I had 8 hours in SYD, as it meant things weren't rushed. As it turns out, the immigration department didn't even check.
The 14 hour flight to LAX obviously messed with my head, as I left a bag in the baggage claim and passed through quarantine. I realized pretty quick, but security being what it is, couldn't go back and pick it up. I'm seriously considering changing my name to Murphy at this point. Again, things turned out ok, as the staff at LAX were able to get my bag onto my NYC flight.
If there's one thing I've learned about air travel it's this: the most important decision to make other than the carrier is the plane. It sounds obvious, but how many people would choose their flights based on the kind of plane that will be flying that day? I chose the SYD-LAX route based on one factor - the Airbus A380. The largest commercial passenger carrier in the world, the A380 is a marvel of technology and engineering.
First flown in 2005, the Airbus A380 has a maximum takeoff weight of 600 tonnes (larger than this will damage the wings), and could accomodate 850 economy class only passengers. At full capacity, it requires 2.75km of runway to get off the ground, and must shed 200,000kg before landing. QANTAS, as with most other airlines, carries around 525 passengers, the difference representing the extra space requirements for the higher classes. It can travel for 15,000 km on it's 320,000L fuel tank. Assuming it used a full tank of fuel to move 850 passengers, it represents 39.84 passenger km/L. the 4 Rolls Royce engines each produce 320kN of thrust, yet remain quieter than the engines on a 747.
All of this adds up to an enjoyable experience, critical when you're expected to sit in a seat for up to 14 hours. On this note, it appears the US TSA forbids passengers congregating in numbers (eg lining up for the toilet) on any flight bound for America, although how they'd police such a policy is unclear. But back to the A380 - in seat screens and legroom are far more important to me than which airport around which I will aimlessly wander for a few hours. LAX though has to rank as one of the most hopelessly designed airports ever. Terminal 4 alone has several screening areas, all with inadequate space. The result - a team of employees moving travelers through waiting areas resembling cattle pens.
For all my flights I chose QANTAS, for several reasons. They were reasonably cheap, especially when frequent flyer points are considered. From a patriotic point of view, QANTAS are the logical choice. But more than that, it's the comfort factor, and a feeling of home. At the end of the trip, a familiar accent sounding over the plane intercom is a welcome pleasure. Factor in the (still) superior safety record, and QANTAS is a clear winner.