Australia Journal - Flying Visit


A few weeks ago I was sitting at my desk minding my own business when Eamon, our Project Manager, came up to me and asked “Fancy a trip to Australia?” to which, obviously, I replied “Sure, when?” “Two weeks from now.” “Oh dear.” It turns out the person in our company who had been scheduled to go on this trip was unavailable so I was to fill his spot doing some training on the product our company sells (though I do often providing training this training was fairly different so it did mean a lot of preparation in advance).

After my attendance was confirmed and given the tight nature of the trip I quickly went to the Australian Immigration web site to look into the visa situation and figured out that I could not get the normal visitor visa (issued electronically within 24 hours) but rather a work visa as I would be doing work for our company and that this typically takes a minimum of five days up to a maximum of thirty days to issue…it was already six working days before I was going to leave so I quickly filled out the information and provided as much documentation as I could think of to help. Of course, we did not really want to book my flight and hotels until we had the relevant documentation so over the weekend before I was scheduled to go I was biting my nails…By some miracle, only a few days later I got the email I had been waiting for - My visa was confirmed so I hurried about figuring out the flight and hotel reservations. I was going on a trip to Australia…

Of course, this was not my first trip to Australia. I had previously visited with my mother when attending a convention back in 1999 (see Hong Kong/Australia Journal). At that time we flew into Melbourne, in the southern part of Australia then driven around the south-east coast up to Sydney then returned to Melbourne on the direct route via Canberra, the capital city of Australia. This time I would be flying into Sydney, driving to Canberra for my training then driving back to Sydney for the return trip. Making things more complicated was that at the beginning of the week was my wife's birthday (which I did not want to miss) and at the end of the week was my birthday (which I wanted to spend with my wife who had already booked lunch for us). So this was going to be a short trip indeed, leaving late on the Friday, a twelve hour flight to Kuala Lumpur for a three/four hour stop over then another eight hour flight to Sydney arriving, due to the various time zone changes, on the Sunday morning when I would then have to drive down to Canberra - 3-4 hours away - for the training which was to begin on Monday. On Friday, I would leave Canberra to drive back to Sydney for a one day visit before my flight on the Saturday back to London via Kuala Lumpur arriving back home early in the morning on Sunday. This was going to be a battle of both jet-lag and logistics to make sure everything worked out. Was I ready? No chance to really think about it too much, time was fast approaching for departure…

Flight Out

I was not really looking forward to the flight, of course. It is a long way to go then to face a fairly long drive after arriving was not going to be easy. I had determined that I was going to sleep on the flight so that at least I might (?) arrive rested and ready to go so I picked up some sleeping pills. I do not normally use them and am always a bit apprehensive to do so but this was going to be a difficult time.

My wife came with me to Heathrow where we checked in with a bit of a hassle trying to make it clear that I wanted a window but, no, I did not want an emergency aisle, “I want a window seat but not on an emergency exit”, “Well, if you want a seat on an emergency exit, you can”, “No, I do not want an emergency exit seat”, “OK, we can change it if you want”, “No, I am fine with that”, “Well, if you want to think about it, let me know…” (sigh) Frustration. To be fair, this was probably because I was flying Malaysian Airlines which has had, shall we say, a few problems this year with the loss of two aircraft: The mysterious loss of MH370 on it's way to China in March and the shooting down of flight MH17 over the Ukraine in July. Malaysian was the only airline I could find that offered both a reasonable price but also a schedule that did not mean travel times in excess of 33 hours.

Leaving the ticket counter I grabbed some UK money as I realized that if I wanted to get some local currency in Kuala Lumpur for something at the airport it would be best to have something to buy it with - I had only told my bank that I would be in Australia and they tend to stop my bank/credit cards if they see any transactions for other countries. Which is a bit annoying if you happen to need them when travelling.

I enjoyed the last few minutes in London with my wife having dinner at Café Rouge in the terminal. She also had another busy week ahead of her - But most weeks are busy for her and, to be honest, us. Living in London we tend to get out a fair amount which can be very tiring.

Reluctantly, I kissed Mel good-bye at the security gate and passed through. This time the security people were being quite zealous as my carry on bag containing my laptop and various other electronics were flagged for a more thorough check - Unfortunately I was about fifth in a queue for search. About 35 minutes later, my bag cleared, I made my way into the terminal to wait for departure.

The flight for Kuala Lumpur was on the new Airbus A380 - The largest passenger aircraft in the world - Which was completely full. The upper deck of the aircraft is for business and first class passengers so I was shuffled along to my seat in cattle class. I made myself comfortable for the 12 hour flight. During take-off (and landing) we were treated to a live view on our entertainment systems of the aircraft taken from the top of the tail - Amazing. While being given something to eat I watched a couple of films (Edge of Tomorrow and The Grand Budapest Hotel) before taking a sleeping pill and closing my eyes (wish I had remembered my night mask)…

I managed to get about eight hours of sleep. We were given a small baked chicken wrap thing before we eventually landed in KL. As with most flights I was glued to the window as we passed over the lush green rolling hills that surround the airport in Kuala Lumpur. It was still early in the evening so I could clearly see the many palm trees whizzing by as we touched down.

The KL airport is small and we were let out at the far end of the international terminal - one of only four gates large enough for the A380. As I was in transit I did not have to go through immigration so spent a few minutes walking around. In the middle of the terminal is an open area with a small bit of rainforest in it that you can visit but, sadly, it was closed but even in the air conditioning of the airport I could feel the humidity and heat from outside. I did not have any local currency but looked to see what was on offer anyway noticing that “durian fruit” was available (notorious for it's smell and because of this being banned on many forms of public transport - I remember signs on the buses in Singapore with a picture of the fruit and a bit red “X” through it).

Arrival at Kuala Lumpur Airport

I was able to connect to the free WI-FI offered in the airport to have a quick chat with my wife which was very nice. It already seems like a long way away.

Near to where we were let of the plane only a few hours earlier I made my way through a quick security check to where the final leg of my journey was to begin…along with a large number of other passengers, it seems, and a lot of children (sigh). I was looking to get a bit more sleep on this flight to be prepared for the early morning arrival in Sydney on Sunday but I was stuck with the emergency exit (damn it!) and even though the light was out for most of the flight the opening and closing of the toilet door largely kept me awake but I did manage to doze off and on. I gave up on trying to watch any films on the tiny screen that pulled up from the arm rest…The food, well, not great.

The Sydney airport is right on the ocean so it made the landing a bit more interesting but we arrived safe and sound. I cleared through customsvery quickly with no questions even being asked though I made sure to mention my hard-gained work visa (I am sure he saw everything on his computer anyway despite me carrying the relevant paperwork). After I picked up my bags at the luggage carousel I saw a massive queue to exit through security but was shown by a helpful staff member towards a smaller door where there was no queue and I just walked out to the crowded international arrivals hall of Sydney Airport.

Welcome to Sydney

It was jammed with people. I looked around at the signs for anything indicating car rentals but could not see any - “Buses”, “Car Park”, “Taxis”…Eventually I waited a couple of minutes to then talk to an airport “help” desk staff member who had no idea either but at that point I saw the desks along the wall immediately beside the arrival gate! Oh dear. I did point this out to the help desk person and made my way over to do the relevant paperwork.

I had ordered a car navigation system as I was not sure my phone would be able to receive “data” here (or, rather, that it might be terribly expensive) but I found out just prior to leaving that my mobile phone company had an arrangement with Australia where I could use my phone as if I was in the UK - Use it to make (UK) calls and texts as well as data from my normal “plan” without any extra cost so this would make my life a lot easier (my emails are coming in thick and fast - some in response to a Facebook post I made in KL). I also have a road atlas with me that my mother and I had purchased on our last visit (having found local signage not always all that great). Anyway, I had ordered the GPS anyway so made sure I had it as I walked through the doors into the surprisingly cool outdoors (after HOW many hours in planes/airports?) to find my car. It is a big SUV-type thing and not really my type of car but it is one step up from economy and drives quite nice. Being automatic I do not have to think too much while driving as well - Cruise control! Quite a bit different from our Mini, that is for sure!

⇒ Continue to Sydney to Canberra