For some reason, I decided to go to the other side of the world for Christmas. I may never do it again. Not because I didn’t like Australia (I loved it) but because it takes forever to get there. And spending 23 hours with your knees under your chin on a long-haul flight to the Antipodes will cure you of ever going further than Calais.
When you’re flying economy it’s of paramount importance to choose the right airline. I tried four for size: Cathay Pacific, Qantas, Jetstar and Air New Zealand. Cathay Pacific flew me to Hong Kong. The staff were friendly and smart but, alas, the Boeing 777 was neither. After that, Cathay’s business-class lounge, where I waited for my connection and drank all the free champagne, was a welcome comfort. The flight onwards to Cairns didn’t seem half so bad.
I’d been warned by Ozzie mates that Qantas is a nightmare both to deal and to fly with. For my flight from Sydney to Melbourne I tried to get an upgrade, but was told the airline received so many requests that it ignores them all. And no, I could not use its lounge. I snuck in anyway, drank champagne at 7 a.m. and ate a full English breakfast. In the end, the economy flight was quite pleasant.
Next, I went from Melbourne to Auckland on Jetstar, which had a problem with my luggage. I had bought an extra baggage allowance, but the computer denied it. After lengthy chats with call centres in Malaysia and Mumbai, a lady in the Philippines finally located my booking reference and told me cheerfully that I had, indeed, purchased a 40kg allowance, and I was ushered through check-in. Jetstar is such a cheapo carrier that there was no lounge, but its Dream-liner plane was surprisingly roomy. I was also presented with a breakfast sandwich I had apparently pre-purchased. My luck was in.
Things only went awry on arrival. To safeguard its unique environment, New Zealand is utterly draconian about what you can take into the country. I disembarked to dire warnings of crippling fines for smuggling in food, seeds, plants or pets. It’s a brave traveller who wanders in with a forgotten banana skin in their bag.
To my horror, I was pounced on immediately. A guard grabbed my handbag, dragging it off my shoulder. ‘D’you hev food of eny kind in your beg?’ she demanded. ‘Boris [her bouncy beagle] thinks you hev.’ My bag was wrenched from my grasp, emptied out on to a table, and given a thorough snuffle by Boris.
On my return trip I travelled partly with Air New Zealand. It was a late flight from Auckland, and ANZ’s recently renovated lounge was a godsend. Airy, comfortable and full of tasty snacks. By the time the flight was called, I was stuffed and half-asleep.
Finally, my long-haul saga concluded with the upgrade I’d been angling for all along, courtesy of Cathay Pacific, so I arrived back at Heathrow in style. I stretched out in an actual bed, with a duvet, plenty of pillows, soft socks, a face pack and eyeshade. I had my own swivel screen with films. The airline stuffed me full of four dinners and whatever I fancied to drink. This is the life, I thought. I am never travelling any other way. (Note to self. For 2018: get a job as a banker, or become a trophy wife.)