The Joys of Plane Travel

by Charles Miller on December 14, 2001

I caught the train from Sydney to the airport. I always get paranoid about these things so I turned up at the airport about an hour before my plane was due to board. I wandered around the shops. I finished reading the last chapter of "Fellowship of the Ring". I had two beers. I wandered around the shops again.

I looked up at the departure screens to discover that there was still an hour to go before my plane was due to board. Bastards!

The reason given for the delay was the late arrival of the plane. Fair enough, they rely on the tailwinds from Perth to Sydney, so maybe they weren't as strong as usual. Cool, that might even mean we'll be faster flying back the other way! Eventually, they had cleaned the plane, I had had a few more beers, and everything was ready for boarding.

We sat on the plane for another half an hour. I could hear the sound of power-tools coming from the left wing, but I was sitting on the right side of the plane so I couldn't look out the window. We all sat, there's not much else you can do on a 747.

Then the Captain comes on the intercom. I kid you not, this is what he said:

Hello, this is your Captain again. I have some good news and some bad news. The bad news is that we've been trying to fix one of our engines, but the replacement part they got for us doesn't fit. The good news is that the only thing wrong with the engine is that the reverse-thrust doesn't work. That won't make us any later than we are already, and it'll only add about two hundred meters to our stopping-distance, which won't ber a problem. We just have to wait for the crew to lock the engine down so it can't go into reverse, and we'll be away.

Way to go to make me feel confident about the air-worthiness of the plane. Charles' prediction: As a result of the constant price-wars of the last decade, Qantas will have its first ever crash before the end of 2005.

The in-flight movie was Rush Hour 2. It sucked. It sucked bowling balls through a garden hose. I watched my DVD of Fight Club, just so I could be a laptop poseur.

Landing in Perth is always unpleasant. Perth airport is just over the edge of an escarpment, so you get all sorts of funky updrafts just as you're going down to land. I was rather glad we were in a big plane - the 747's don't get blown around quite as much as the 727's that usually fly the Sydney-Perth run. However, the Captain fixed that little bit of confidence for me...

We've commenced our descent into Perth. There are some pretty gusty cross-winds down there, so we're going to turn the seat-belt sign on early.

The landing was bad. We got down through what would be cloud-level if there had been any clouds with only the usual amount of turbulence. Then for five minutes or so it was calm, and I was wondering what the fuss was about. Then, for the final approach, the plane was literally veering from side to side as it tried to correct for the wind. I kept waiting for the pilot to abort the landing and fly up again. (A taxi driver later told me that's what a lot of planes had done that day.) I swear, we landed at an angle, and the plane had to be corrected in long, long moments before they could turn on the (partially disabled) reverse thrust to slow us down.

I keep telling myself it's safer than driving in a car. I can believe it intellectually, but my gut is unconvinced.

Addendum: My mother trumped my story. On landing in Perth once, the captain came on the intercom to say "If you see the cabin crew wandering around looking out the windows, don't be alarmed. They're just making sure the landing gear [in the wings] comes down properly."

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