Flying long haul

OK, so I’m a bit of an aviation geek, and I like flying. And having flown to the other side of the world and back I thought I’d share a few thoughts on the journey and flying in general.

General

From my previous long haul flying experience I’ve learned:

1. Aircraft are dry; so drink lots of water. Often websites tell you to avoid tea and coffee, advice I ignor but I do limit the quantity of sugar filled drinks. I drink very little alcohol, perhaps wine with an evening meal. In addition to drinking water, if you get offered a hot towel mid flight before a meal, place over your face and breathe through it for a moment or two; the humidity makes a difference.

I also carry moisturising cream in my handluggage (Tesco basics, decanted into a small plastic bottle). For the really long haul trip to NZ I purchased some own brand eye drops which are a help when your eyes get dry/gritty.

2. Aircraft are dirty, particularly the toilets. Just think about the effect 100’s of people using the facilities has on germ transfer. If I’m offered a hot towel when boarding the aircraft I use it to wipe the tray and seat rests rather than me (aircraft cleaners spend about 5 seconds on each seat between flights). I also carry a small hand sanitiser and use it after going to the toilet. Normally I don’t pick up colds from flying.

3. When crossing lots of time zones, sleep is your friend. In general the advice is to get into the time zone of your destination as soon as possible, but my experience of airlines is they don’t make this easy, prefering to keep cabins dark and feed you at odd times. If in doubt sleep is my advice. I don’t often sleep for more than an hour or two in flight but the more rested you arrive the easier it is to adjust. I travel with eye shades, ear plugs and an Ikea soft covered travel pillow; rarely do I use the travel pillow on my neck but half inflated you can stick it into spaces and use it to make yourself more comfortable.

4. In my handluggage I also take some spare clothes, small travel towel and some toiletries (shower gell, toothbrush/paste, travel shaver, mini anti-perspirant). This means that after long overnight flights you can sometimes shower before the next leg and, if your flight is delayed or your luggage lost, you have something clean to wear. I also make sure I wear several layers of clothing (aircraft often feel too cold / too hot) and comfortable shoes (your feet swell).

5 I don’t read that much when travelling but take a book; it’s really useful when your flight is delayed for four hours. I also take a fully charged MP3. Not every aircraft has working in flight entertainment; often people bring tablets loaded with TV / films to watch. A growing number of aircraft have USB and mains sockets so remember to bring the charger! I also bring a spare set of headphones and an adapter to fit aircraft stereo jacks. Some bring noise cancelling headphones; I’ve never felt the need but each to their own.

Flying Emirates: my report.

First leg was on EK20, an A380 from Manchester, leaving the UK 9:30pm for an overnight flight to Dubai, arriving at 7am local time (a 7 ½ hour leg).

A380’s are great aircraft, quiet and modern with wide screen inflight entertainment systems.  The only downside is that they go up quite fast which makes me feel slightly queasy. So overall, I prefer the Boeing 777-300 which is more personal, not least because there seem to be more cabin crew. The Boeing would be even better if Emirates had kept the 9 seats abreast layout in the 777 rather than the narrower (by half an inch) 10 abreast layout. Anyway, shortly after take off (around 10:30pm) we were served an evening meal; drinks and sweet nibbles were served shortly before arrival (along with an impressive sunrise over Iran) and I managed a few hours sleep overnight.

A particular bonus on the transfer in Dubai was the meet and greet service. Seven people came off the flight from Manchester and transferred to our next flight (EK418 to Christchurch) and because the transfer time is short there was someone at the gate to meet us and transfer us, by bus, to the gate of our next flight.

EK418 to Christchurch is a Boeing 777-300, the flight is in three parts, the first leg to Bangkok, a 6 ½ hour flight, left at 9am. It was therefore a bit odd (6am in the UK) to be eating lunch shortly after take-off.  In fairness to Emirates it was lunchtime in Bangkok and the flight arrives early evening local time so lunch makes some sense.

After the daytime flight to Bangkok it was pleasant to get off the aircraft into tropical humidity. Long haul flying dehydrates every part of you; skin included. After passing through security (again) we had about 45 minutes before boarding the aircraft again to walk around.

The next leg is another overnight flight 9 hour to Sydney; evening meal was served before most people went to sleep. Breakfast was served at dawn somewhere over Australia. As with the overnight from UK I managed a few hours sleep. In Sydney we got off again and had a bit longer before boarding; Sydney airport also has free showers so I had come prepared and used the time to shower and try and persuade by body it was daytime (drying the my small travel towel in the hand drier got a few looks!)

The last leg, 3hours to Christchurch includes lunch and a plane full of people who got on in Sydney. People had also joined in Bangkok but the aircraft wasn’t full. There is also the shock value of suddenly being in another English speaking part of the world, but one where people seem louder.

And so, mid afternoon New Zealand time I emerged into the sunshine.

My return flight was via Auckland, so the first leg was on an Emirates codeshare flight operated by Jetstar. Jetstar is a no frills airline but codeshare passengers get a voucher for a drink and the 75 minute flight soon passed.

I had several hours to spare at Auckland airport, sadly the main viewing area was closed, but there were plenty of places in departures to view aircraft and eat lunch (for a reasonable price!).

Emirates fly thee A380’s to Auckland each day, via Australia and mine flight was EK435 via Brisbane. This early evening departure means a 4 hour flight to Brisbane during which an evening meal is served. I chose the fish which was half cold. The flight was fairly empty and I had a row of three seats to myself.

Arriving in Brisbane I went to the departure hall and brought coffee; sadly they don’t take US dollars (unlike most international airports) but they accepted my bank card. At 11pm local time we left for Dubai, a 14 ½ hour flight. For the first time since leaving Manchester the flight was completely full, with no spare seats. An evening meal was served soon after take off and breakfast served a couple of hours before landing. Midway through the flight some hot ‘light bites’ were offered. As well as drinks there was also a tray of fruit in each of the galleys throughout the flight.

I managed a few hours sleep overnight, though I was woken by some turbulence (rough air as Emirates call it). Over the years I’ve got used to the fact that lots of passengers ignor the seatbelt signs and still get up and go to the toilet; some airlines (Emirates, Air France, LAN) don’t seem too bothered by this while others (Flybe, KLM) remonstrate with passengers who get up. However, my free tip for travellers is this, when they tell the cabin crew to sit down it is because they expect it to be properly bumpy. On this occasion, part way through the ‘seatbelt on’ portion of the rough air the flight deck curtly announced ‘cabin crew seats’ and about 30 seconds later we went through some proper bumps – one passenger near me who was trying to get to the toilet discovered they could no long stand up and fell down. (She was uninjured but followers of Aviation Herald will know that each month there are injuries due to turbulence).

Back in Dubai I had enough time to transfer to the next flight. Dubai airport is enormous, there is a monorail train between some parts of the terminal and it took 20 mins to get to the gate for the departing flight.

My last leg, EK17 was another A380 back to Manchester. A 7.30am departure we were served breakfast and later on lunch before arrival. Again there was plenty of space on the aircraft to spread out.

Having not flown Emirates before it was a pleasant experience. The cabin crew are very international, which makes for a varied experience, including the standards of service. Whilst I enjoyed the flights, I don’t think that Emirates economy service is something I’d grow to love. Although every aspect you’d expect is provided; hot meals, free drinks, inflight entertainment (with adverts), pillows and blankets, it all feels as if it is being done on a budget. Unlike Air France / KLM who I’ve flown with quite a lot who have help yourself buffet on the ultra long haul legs.

Finally, I took lots of photos and video clips of the experience and edited them down to make this video.

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