Friday, May 16, 2008

Getting Down Under

The plan was to take a 4:30 PM flight from St George to LA on Tuesday, May 13th, then go from LA to San Francisco on a 6:15 PM flight to get us there 3 hours before the flight to Sydney left. The Sydney flight was wide open for first and business class and only had 8 standbys. That was the plan, here is what happened.

The 4:30 PM flight out of St George left an hour late and we got to the gate in LA for our flight to San Francisco just after it left. Actually, that turned out to be a blessing, but more on that later. We went over to the Customer Service desk to see if we could get on the next flight to San Francisco and actually had our seat requests for that flight and the Sydney flight in hand, but kept talking with the UA agent about the LA to Sydney flight. The agent was a great guy who checked on the LA flight to Sydney again and even though I had passed on trying the LA flight to Sydney because of cargo concerns and 22 standbys listed I figured were all ahead of us and past experience getting bumped there, we eventually decided to stay in LA and try the flight from LA to Sydney. The UA agent printed our seat requests and off we went to get some dinner and wait for the 10:26 PM departure.

This was a great learning experience in more ways than one. The first was the flight was delayed 20 minutes due to "weather", but it was great outside. Finally learned that there were good tailwinds on part of the Pacific route over and since no international flights can land in Sydney earlier than 6 AM, the flight had to be delayed to avoid getting there too early. Boarding was getting close to being completed and we were still patiently checking the display panel to see if our names had cleared, but nothing was happening until an announcement was made for any remaining standbys to come to the desk. We went up along with another couple from Chicago traveling on their nephew's buddy passes and were surprised to be asked if we wanted first class even if we couldn't sit together. No problem, Cindy and I both got first class. The gentleman across from Cindy was a UA mechanic from Sydney on his way home after some stateside training and he told her he had been scheduled on the San Francisco flight, but had flown down to LA to catch the flight we were on because the San Francisco flight had been cancelled. UA came up a 747 short and since the San Francisco - Sydney flight had a low load, it became the sacrificial lamb. If we had gotten out of St George on time, we would have wound up in San Francisco with a cancelled flight to Sydney and may not have been able to get back to LA in time to catch the flight we were on.

But that was the end of the good news. Less than an hour out of Sydney, our flight was diverted to Brisbane, an hour+ north of Sydney, because Sydney was fogged in and nothing was going in or out. We landed in Brisbane around 6:30 AM and sat on the ground while the plane was refueled and waited for the fog to lift in Sydney and clearance to fly back. No one was allowed off of the plane in Brisbane. Regulations limit how long pilots and flight attendants can work in a 24 hour period without mandatory rest and it appeared we would have to wait for a relief crew to come to Brisbane to fly the plane once Sydney cleared up. Around 9:30 AM, word came we were cleared to leave for Sydney, the fog had lifted enough to allow landings and we got a break because the crew was given permission to fly the plane back to Sydney even though they were past their duty limit. Being in first class was great because we had room to walk around, got sandwiches and drinks, and were close to the purser and knew what was going on.

We finally got into Sydney and parked in a cargo area, no gates were available at the terminal. We rode a bus over to the terminal and being in first class we were the first ones off the plane, yeah! We got through customs with no problem and then hustled to the Domestic Transfer section and found the longest line I've ever seen there. It took us an hour and 15 minutes to get to an agent. Needless to say, we missed the last morning flight to Perth and the next one at 5:50 PM was sold out. We made the 7:20 PM flight and finally got to Perth, retrieved our luggage, and met Elizabeth around 11 PM, and that included a 3 hour time change from Sydney. For the trip, we spent 2 hours in the St George airport, an hour and 15 mintues flying to LA, almost 5 hours in the LA airport, about 20 hours on the plane we boarded in LA before finally getting off in Sydney, 8 hours in the Sydney airport, and 5 hours on another 747 going to Perth. Our 45 hour journey to Perth turned out to be an endurance test, but we made it and a bed never felt so good as the one we slept in last night, Thursday, May 15th.

More will be coming later on our visit, but I wanted to post the trip over while I still had the detail in mind.

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