There are few things guaranteed to grab my attention more than an article about some new type of aeroplane that has the potential to shorten journey times between Australia and Europe to a matter of two or three hours.
The recent test flight of a hypersonic rocket looks completely terrifying, but then I suppose rail travel struck the fear of God into many people too, when it was first invented.’
I make the trip from Canberra to Copenhagen at least three times a year for work and to catch up with friends and family. My working life has been peppered with spells of long-distance travel and I’ve developed various techniques for coping with jet-lag, packing efficiently and getting through immigration and customs with minimal delay. But all of that is dancing around the fact that the Aus to Europe trip itself is so interminably long. And there are certain things that are guaranteed to make it feel even longer.
Very occasionally, usually when travelling out of peak holiday season, I’ll hit the jackpot, and bag a whole row of seats to myself. Then, purring like a cat, I’ll wait for the ‘fasten seatbelts’ sign to go off, lift up all the armrests, and stretch across all four seats for as much sleep as I can manage on the assumption that, on the next leg of the journey I may not be so fortunate.
Then there are those other trips. Like the one I experienced last week. The Canberra to Melbourne hop was pretty good — spare seats aplenty and, anyway, it’s only an hour and half’s flight.
At Melbourne, I connected with Emirates for onward flights to Singapore, then Dubai, then London, before another short hop to Copenhagen. But here luck deserted me.
Behind me was a man who mistook the ‘touchscreen’ in the back of my chair for a ‘punchscreen’. So determined were his jabs to select songs, movies or play interactive games, that I spent a good few hours in the horse-racing ‘jockey position’ to give my poor back a rest. This would have been fine, except the woman in front decided that the dimming of the seatbelt sign meant she could recline immediately, fully, and for the whole flight. So my nose was now no more than an inch from my own touchscreen. It saved me using my fingers though.
I think this was around the time that the woman next to me –the flight was rammed to the rafters without a spare seat to be seen — leaned to me and, in a heavy, northern English accent, said: “Sorry about the smell. I had a massive curry for lunch and the garlic bread was really strong.” She wasn’t kidding.
Five hours after take off, the flight map showed us finally crossing the shoreline of north-western Australia. Two meals, two movies and a short snooze and you haven’t left the country yet? That’s when the rest of the journey yawns before you like the chasm that claimed Gandalf the Grey in The Lord of the Rings.
We had two medical emergencies, a fainting woman and a collapsing man, the second of which almost saw our flight diverted to Jakarta. Thankfully, an on board doctor was able to administer emergency care and stabilised both.
And so it was for the 15 hours to Singapore and Dubai. There, Garlic Lady was replaced by a Chinese man who spent the final leg trying to cough up a lung without ever once putting his hand to his mouth. That was when I found out how noise-cancelling headphones can not only eliminate noise but also soothe the soul.
Each time one of these trips approaches, I sense I am steeling myself for the possible horrors to come. I find that if I expect the worst, then anything else becomes a pleasurable bonus. And, thanks to this most recent trip, I have a new benchmark definition for what ‘expecting the worst’ might mean.
Suddenly, that hypersonic test flight looks worth a try. I’d miss the opportunity to catch up on a year’s worth of movies, but that aside, two hours of white-knuckle fear seems a fare trade for a sore back, the smell of second-hand curry and potential exposure to pneumonia. Yep, where do I sign up?