Sunday, December 16, 2007

San Francisco to Sydney... posted delayed

San Francisco to Sydney, Australia

By the way, don’t even go to the SFO international terminal until you are close to ready to board. There is so much more selection for food, shopping in the main terminal… Because it is very much time related, if you get there early you can be nearly the only person in the terminal….kind of spooky. The “regular” Red Carpet Club is just to the left of the incoming security… (the International First Class Red Carpet is down further, and I understand is nicer, but no one will tell me how…) However, at SFO, if you want to leave the international terminal and go back out and come back, that is a possibility (don’t try that in Sydney!)

Red Carpet Club SFO International…quality is pretty good… nice views, and a good number of power plugs.. excellent wireless T-Mobile connectivity (though that’s probably because hardly anyone is there). (Food/view is actually better in Red Carpet Club domestic terminal than in international terminal (and lots more power plugs)… So, I suggest you stay in the domestic Red Carpet club until you need to go to the international terminal. PS.. OTHER BIG DEAL… when you leave the terminal where you came in from Washington dc… there is a little queue to take a bus to the international terminal. It goes back and forth every 15 minutes… I wanted to go shop for books…check out the restaurants etc… and then decided I’d stretch my legs and walk to the international terminal to get a little exercise.. WRONG ANSWER. So I’m walking along the corridor… and all of a sudden I’m outside the security barrier… I talked to the TSA agent and she said they usually had a sign that said you are leaving the control area, but someone had bent it, so it wasn’t there… Well I asked her, can I go back? Even though I was still in controlled space, she said no, I’d passed the point of no return. That probably annoyed me more than anything so far…(the bus I spoke of before, keeps you within the security cordon).

So, I’m used to the paradigm where you arrive a few minutes before 30 minutes before boarding time…so, for these big birds, they start boarding 45 minutes before… and if you are first or business class, they expect you to board up front on a separate walkway. With the big birds, they have two entrances to load, and they close the first/business class entrance after the first few minutes… So if you come at 40 minutes before boarding time, you get to go into the economy entrance… (Unless as I found out, you follow some strident passenger asking to get into the first/business entrance and just follow them in….)

So for the long west bound trip to Sydney leaving at 10:30 PM PST they appear to want to get you to sleep as fast as possible. Though those that know me, know that I was asleep by the time we did the roll off the runway. My classic is that I wake up just as they start the food service. They fed the first class cabin and the business class cabin quite quickly. Dinner was a menu of selections, and they had plenty of everything…i.e. no “well that’s already been selected etc”**. The appetizer was melon, shrimp and prosciutto. That was quite fine. For the main entrée, there was a beef filet, a chicken breast on rice and a salmon dish. I had the chicken dish…and it was good, but after the appetizer, and the fact I’d eaten a snack before getting on the plane, I left most of it.

The current business class seats have the separate swing up individual movie screens. (ps, over the next year international business class will have less seats, but much nicer seats) The movies playing are Ratatouille, Ultimate Gift, Transformers (LOUD) (the longest movie), Star Dust, No Reservations, The Invasion (this channel was toast the entire trip), Bourne Ultimatum, The Santa Clause 3…. You quickly figure out what is the longest movie, because the entire movie set won’t restart until the longest movie is done—(and someone points out to the stewards that the movies need to be reset)….

My seat was 8G. We very quickly elevated to 38,000 feet for the flight. It appeared our flight “ground speed” averaged about 550 mph. By two hours into the flight I had my initial rollout nap, dinner, and they killed the lights suggesting we all go to “bed”. The business seats I’m in I can completely lay out horizontally… though that’s because I’m 5 feet and ½ inches…. Anyone any taller is probably crunching up… but I had the seat at the rear bulkhead, so I had no reason not to lean back full out… (I’m always a bit reluctant to lean full back when someone is behind me…. ) anyway, I went to sleep and basically had 3 bouts of 3 hours of sleep over the next 9 hours. The total flight was 14 hours and 15 minutes. It was a little longer than normal, because we had to divert due to thunderstorms. By the way, those of us used to listening to the pilot channel on United on channel 9—I guess there isn’t anyone to talk to over water… because it seemed to be dead except for the first and last part of the flight.

Well, it was so dark/quiet, the next time I woke up, I felt odd, (since everyone else was dead asleep), so I didn’t get out my computer. Also, I realized I hadn’t pulled out all the things I would want to use on the trip from my “suitcase”….. and realized I should have done that, because it’s a lot more awkward pulling items out a suitcase (including undies etc…) vs pulling items out of a briefcase…and many items were deeply buried. Second 3 hour wake up call I did pull some stuff out of the carry-on and started up my computer. The battery (fully charged supposedly) died within 10 minutes of start. So I started to assemble the power converter, and couldn’t find the right connector. So that nixed the computer for the rest of the flight.

With a dead battery, no charge available on the plane, I was not particularly happy. So as I put the useless computer stuff away… I pulled out my Bose headphones again.. (I had been listening to them ever since we had lifted off until I brought up the computer) to listen to the next set of movies. As I put the headset on, the right earpiece broke off from the headband. The earpiece was just dangling from an internal wire. No way to really make it work unless I held the earpiece to my ear all day….. So, I change to the United headset—no noise cancellation and a lot less comfortable… I’m thinking 0 for 3 on technology, and as best as I can tell, I’m carrying a computer and accessories that are worth no more than the weight of a few bricks to carry around for 121 hours.

Interesting… leaving SFO at 1030 pm… you are in solid dark night for 12 hours—incredible starfields… which unfortunately were not my normal viewing so I didn’t recognize anything within my limited knowledge. Everyone kept their shades down… but whenever I was awake, I kept noticing the emergency door area kept having flashes – I thought it was just running lights, but realized later, it was lightning from the thunderstorms we were dodging a good part of the 2nd half of the flight.

So, I woke up about 90 minutes before landing, and somehow had a much better attitude of adventure and decided technology challenges weren’t going to interfere with my enjoyment of Sydney or any other place. They slowly woke us up, fed us fruit plates or omelet (I highly recommend fruit plate when ever offered!). And we landed. For those so interested, we landed on “16 Right” to a slightly overcast and frankly muggy place where the temperature was about 72 degrees. As we were taxi-ing in, they pointed out one of the new AirBus 380 planes (with 500 passengers just a few feet behind and beside us). The pilot recommended we quickly exit the plane because when the 380 started unloading, immigration/customs would fill up very quickly. By the way, from the time I turned the wireless on for my Blackberry, it took less than a minute for messages to start coming in. How’s that for connectivity!

By the way, on the map on the little movie screen, islands that were shown on the map close to our flight path after Honolulu and Kona were Apia, Nadi, Papeete (Papeete was east of our flight path)

Now, just for some of Tyler’s questions about how my quick entry/exit and various destinations would affect immigration/TSA etc.. My first cut was this agent on arrival in Sydney. I decided just to answer any questions asked, not to volunteer. My form showed I was coming in from San Francisco—that it was a “layover” and that I was spending 1 day in Sydney. (those are some of the questions asked on the immigration card). So, I get to the agent and he says.. oh, just a layover. Then he asks me when I am leaving.. and I answer ~8PM (I didn’t have itinerary in my hand and thought that was what it was approximately).. Then he asked me where I was going and I said San Francisco, and he said OK. Stamped my passport and let me go. Guess he thought better to get this crazy out of country back to the USA??

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