The Longest Day Might as well jump

Alarms? Who needs 'em. Neither of mine woke me up on Sunday, because I awoke before them, at about 0330 local time in Jakarta - that is to say, 2130 Saturday night UK time. Figured I might as well get up early and onto an earlier bus than I'd originally requested: 5am it is. I've done the hop, I've done the skip, it's time to jump home.

The hotel room's shower was the most powerful I've ever used, proper invigorating and easy to get the temperature right. I almost felt human when I left the room, though the lack of air conditioning in the corridor and reception was kinda unpleasant.

Checked out and waited for the driver to turn up and take 4 of us away. The minibus was much more pleasant than the military shuttle effort of the previous night, though almost as awkward because of the guy with the surfboard taking up the entire aisle.

Most of us wanted out at T3. I managed to clamber out first, it's about 0510 so just over 2.5 hours until my flight. There's security as soon as you enter the building, after which the place is mostly deserted. A member of staff rollerblades around, and the premium check-in desks are nearby.

I picked up my boarding pass back in Melbourne but strolled up to the business class desk regardless, figuring perhaps I could buy an upgrade to first class like I did on the way out. The question seemed to confuse the hell out of the staff. First, the woman walked with me over to the first class desk where she had a bit of a chat (in Indonesian) with a member of staff there, which seemed unsatisfying to all parties.

Next she took my boarding pass and walked away to ask someone else. Similarly unsatisfying, she told me she'd have to go fetch a manager while I have a seat. OK. This really didn't seem like such a bizarre or complex request to me but whatever. A few minutes later she reappears, looking a bit confused, and clutching what I think looks like a new boarding pass. Hang on, they haven't just upgraded me for free have they?

No, they haven't. It's my original pass after all, and she tells me they cannot process an upgrade because I'm within 4 hours of the flight. Pfft, really? I upgraded much closer in than 4 hours in London, and who on earth is going to turn up before 0345 on a Sunday morning? Behave yourselves, Garuda.

Anyway. Fine. I'm in business class. That's not a bad thing, and to be honest it's probably for the best that I didn't upgrade, financially. So through security (again) I go, and immigration. There's still virtually no-one around, and after a bit of a walk I find myself at the entrance to the first class lounge. Damn it. Round the corner to business I go, a long lounge with only 3 other passengers in it.

First things first I grab some breakfast. I'm pretty hungry, and the food looks pretty great. There's a varied selection of things so I get two plates: sausage, rice, potatoes and veg followed by egg and rice puffs and some dumpling things. I opt not to try "chicken porridge". It's all pretty nice, as is the diet coke I wash it down with. There's no self-pour alcohol and besides, it's probably a bit too early, don't you think?

With no-one around I explore a bit. It becomes apparent that actually this lounge is better than the first class one. There's loads more to do: a cinema room, some reflexology foot massagers, smoking and prayer rooms, a big balcony area with more food, a creche area, more variety of seating, etc. I sit down and have my feet pummelled for 15 minutes in "sports recovery" mode and y'know what, they really do feel great afterwards.

What I should be doing is blogging Saturday. I start, but stop fairly soon because by 0710 or so I'm fidgety and anyway the lounge is now actually moderately busy. I go for a wander toward the gate, wondering why on earth a brand new terminal in a hot country's airport doesn't bloody have air conditioning. What it does have, though, are fans in each pillar which blast out cold air in your face if you walk too close. Also a statue of WRATH.

I learn another Indonesian word: "eksekutif" means "executive". And I wonder what a "reconciliation room" is.

The plane is at the gate. Lots of shops are closed. The departure boards only list the flight as having a destination of Singapore, not London, which seems like it would confuse less experienced travellers. There's a sign at the gate saying people going to Heathrow need to have their bags go through yet more stringent security due to UK government requirements, but this turns out to be bullshit.

Once boarding starts, they announce it's for business class only right now. Loads of people thrust forwards and get turned away one by one. A few of us make it through and I'm down the airbridge, turn left, and at seat 6A. Hang on. This seat... it looks cramped, and a bit tatty. What's going on? I'm actually pretty underwhelmed - at first glance it seems like a worse seat than on the previous flight, the only benefit being having no-one next to me.

But, once I've settled in I think nah, I'm wrong: this is decent. The TV screen is closer, there is less forward room and my feet have to cramp quite close together into the cubby hole, but the table next to me is great and I will very much enjoy having no seat mates. The table doesn't come out of an arm rest and the power sockets and remote are all much more convenient to reach. Yeah, this'll do nicely actually.

I do have phenomenal curtain envy though. Why did I put myself in the first row of business class? Now I can spend the whole damn flight staring at the curtain between me and first class, wishing I'd managed to score an upgrade. Fucking first world wanker woe is me, how will I get over this. Oh, champagne? That might help. It is almost 8am after all.

The monitor welcomes me to flight GA826. The man on the tannoy welcomes us all to flight GA806. This is flight GA86 to Singapore and onward to London. The first little bounce is only going to take about an hour and a quarter, and Singapore is an hour ahead of Jakarta. I don't really understand how that is, considering it's further east, but whatever.

There's reasons we fly a short bounce to Singapore first: apparently, Jakarta airport's runway can't actually deal with a fully loaded 777 so it has to take off far from fully fuelled. Thus they sell this as a service to Singapore in its own right, plus Singapore to London, as well as the fully through service. Being such a quick first leg I'm not expecting much service but in fact there's a decent breakfast choice, orders for which are taken before take-off..

I realise on all previous flights I've never looked at the inflight magazines, so I have a quick browse through. They're all rubbish. Time to plane spot a bit instead.

The runway is shared by landings and takeoffs, which is cool to watch. I've pllugged my headphones in and am watching Friends. Here's a show which has aged pretty badly, eh?

Food arrives virtually the second the belt signs are off in the air. I asked for the nasi goreng and holy crap, it's the spiciest dish I've ever had on a plane. I get the hot food hiccups, which has never happened in the air before. It's lovely.

The woman in 6E, who had stood up while we were taxiiing ready for take-off, heads straight into first class once we're cruising. She gets escorted back out in a great hurry. I carry on watching and being unimpressed with Friends, and wondering what happens at Singapore. Do I have to get off? Do I have to take my stuff?

There's turbulence, again. They announce that we're descending already and yes, I have to get off and take my stuff and be back an hour and 10 minutes after we land. As we taxi to the gate I glance up towards the cargo terminal and I swear blind I can see the Antonov An-225 up there, the biggest plane in the world. And as I type this, over a day and a half later, I realise I am yet to look up whether I really did or not. Gimme a minute here...

Hmm. No, seems I didn't. Oh well. So yeah, there I am off the plane at Singapore. I love Singapore airport. We've come in to gate B9 at terminal 3 at about 1020, and there's a sign telling us to be back there at 1130 for 1200 take-off. Most people going onward to London seem to just be hanging around by the gate, or perhaps nipping to the loo. I fuck off to the butterfly garden.

It's not the name of a pub. It's a butterfly garden. A greenhouse full of butterflies. Airside.

Singapore airport also has a cinema, a 24 hour food hall, a hotel, a rooftop bar with botanical garden and live music, etc etc. The corridors with shops are spacious and the whole airport is just so much my favourite in the world I think I should go visit expat Alex just so I can spend more time there. I mean it'd be nice to see Alex too, of course.

Butterflies like pineapples.

I stood still for a bit with camera in selfie mode, hoping a butterfly or two would land on my hat, but they don't.

Anyway anyway anyway. That wasn't actually what I was here for. I wanted to pop into the lounge, just to sample it but also to try and finish and upload my blog post. It was a bit of a trek, but the receptionist was very welcoming and told me the flight would be announced so no need to worry.

I grabbed a drink and typed furiously, only managing to reach a little way through the Melbourne airport experience before the announcement came. Damn it. Upon leaving the lounge I'm given really confusing advice on how to get back to gate B9: apparently I can walk the wrong way first, then get the monorail, in order to get there quicker? This seems ridiculous so I just walk, fast enough to break a proper sweat.

Back at the gate there's more baggage security. I've been x-rayed 3 times already today, bloody hell. After emptying all my pockets into a tray I ask if I need take off my watch and am told no; the machine beeps alarmingly when I walk through, but not when I do it again without the watch. God damn it!

The gate area is crowded but boarding starts immediately and at 1138 I'm back in 6A. There's new crew, all smiles, and I'd love a champagne thanks. My pad is getting pretty frayed, and I only now notice the comedy list of potential uses printed on the inside rear over.

The captain says flight time is "approximately 12 hours and 41 minutes". The airbridges are still attached at our supposed departure time and the inflight entertainment screens haven't been working at all; an engineer leaves, looking a bit stressed, and the crew prepare to do the safety demonstration manually. Surely we won't be without entertainment for almost 13 hours!?

No, we won't. Everything works as it should and the only thing the crew do is point to the nearest doors, and bow at the end. I start to watch Mike & Molly which is brainless "fun", and look at all the ships in the water around Singapore.

U-turn over the airport

Once in the air continue blogging. I pay for wifi in the hope I'll be able to upload from 35,000ft, have my food order taken, and get a new champagne plus salmon canape. Food isn't going to arrive for 60-90 minutes, if I'm OK with that.

As we fly over the top end of Indonesia towards Banda Aceh my iPad picks up a second wifi network, one called Lake Toba. We're flying over Lake Toba at the time. How on earth - or indeed, above the earth - am I able to get that signal?

There's turbulence over the Straits of Malacca, because of course there is. I've never had such a series of flights with so much turbulence as the ones on this trip and it's really bloody annoying. I finish my blog post and get on the plane wifi, which works fine for reading stuff but uploading doesn't work at all. Shame.

Food arrives. There's a fruit salad with a very lovely sauce.

Then chicken with asparagus and potato. It's nice, but not quite as spectacular as that stuff on the Melbourne to Jakarta leg. What helps is that the champagne keeps getting refilled without me asking.

Cheese and port go together well, especially now that the port is actually port and not dessert wine.

After the food service, all the cabin lights go out and the blinds are pulled shut. I'm a bit annoyed by this: it's a flight from 1200-1855 local times (the Singapore to London leg, that is) which is 100% daytime. I don't just want to stay awake drinking the whole way, I actually think it's sensible: sleeping in the middle of the day is daft when going westbound, you're more likely to get jet lag than just having a particularly long day and being tired at the correct time a couple hours after you land.

But I'm in a minority of 1 on this plane. Even Helen, chatting to me on Facebook, is telling me to get some rest. And when my empty glass is taken, rather than refilled, while I'm in the loo I get the bloody hint. Fine. I turn my seat into a bed and get a couple of hours shut-eye, against my wishes.

It's not that comfortable as it goes. My feet are really cramped, there's so little space at that end. But whatever, it's of course way better than the majority of folk on this plane up the back. Once I'm awake again, I listen to a bunch of podcasts and try repeatedly to order booze from the food+drink thing on the TV screen, but it's the only option which doesn't work. So instead I just alternate between playing Threes and idly browsing the internet. It's a bit meh, mostly because the entertainment options are so scarce. I do have some stuff downloaded on my iPad but it's not tempting me.

Turbulence is really bad for a while over India and later the Middle East. By the time we reach Turkey orders have been taken for the next food service, and I've asked for a whisky on the rocks. Now we're talking.

Oxtail soup arrives first, looking a bit different to the same choice on Saturday's flight but tasting every bit as delicious.

Garuda's best food in the air is fish. Hands down. This is cod, and is totally delicious.

The fruity dessert is too small for how nice it is.

The second whisky is way larger than the first. Are they trying to get me drunk?

As we fly over the Danube I ask for a cheeky "finish as you started" champagne, and buy some Indonesian crackers to take to work. While having parallel conversations with Helen and Chris about how amazing inflight wifi is, the inflight wifi disconnects me, hoisting me by a petard.

It looks like we're going to arrive early. Helen's warning me about the horrible hot weather which awaits me on the ground. I think I'd prefer the -51c air around us over Germany. Clouds ruin any chance of a pretty view of the Netherlands, but they thin out as we cross the channel and I like looking at wind farms off Kent.

Like this one.

Over Greenwich we pull a 360 while descending, and then another circle further on. London looks amazing from above as always. I get a cracking view of Clapham Junction railway, if you like that sort of thing.

London City airport and the Thames Barrier. Cool.

Greenwich park. Did I take this photo on the meridian? Sure looks like I did.

BRITAIN'S BUSIEST RAILWAY STATION

Ooh, reservoirs. And then Richmond Park and views to Kingston, Surbiton, etc.

And then, Heathrow. I'm back in the UK! It's the shortest taxi ever, we're at the gate a full 35 minutes before scheduled arrival time. This is Terminal 3, which I realise I am unfamiliar with for arrival in comparison with T5.

The arrivals procedure seems to be:

  • Walk a mile and a half through corridors
  • have your phone go completely mental, typing all kinds of gibberish by itself and being almost entirely unresponsive to swipes or taps

This started happening as soon as I'd turned airplane mode off on the ground. I sent Chris some gobbledegook too. After two reboots I get enough control to be able to call Helen, which startles her as much as it aggravates me. I explain how I'll be unable to be in touch by text during my journey, which itself will not now be an Uber because I can't bloody swipe anything. Gah!

In the long but quick queue for the automatic passport gates, a bloke angrily confronts a member of staff: "IS THIS THE QUEUE FOR ELECTRONIC PASSPORTS? WHERE'S THE NORMAL ONES? THIS IS ABSOLUTELY DISGUSTING". He joins the much slower manual queue while the rest of us flow quickly through the efficient machines.

My bag comes out fairly quickly, unscathed from its overnight in Jakarta. I'm soon landside, with my coat on because it's the best way to carry it. I'm so uncomfortably hot, bloody UK weather. I reboot my phone another twice, manage to type "Tentative hello" to Helen while not having a signal, and pop to WH Smith. After the purchase of a Coke Zero I put the change in a pocket I forget has holes in it, and spill all the coins over the floor like a fucking idiot.

Things aren't going so well. When signal returns, so does the gibberish. So I call Helen again, but lose signal mid conversation. For fucks sake.

The corridors to the bus station are long, but full of travelators. However, none of them going in my direction are working; they're either just off, or entirely blocked behind temporary walls plastered with photos about how they're being improved. It doesn't feel like an improvement right now.

At the bus stop, after the 4th or 5th reboot, the phone seems to be behaving itself. I get on a 285 to Kingston. After it makes its slow way through the airport complex and surrounds, we reach Hatton Cross tube station at which point everyone gets booted off the bus because it's now terminating here. For fucks sake! But, while everyone else piles off and onto the next 285 coming in immediately behind us I spot an arriving X26 express: 2 stops to Kingston, a 5 minute wait, then a bus to Surbiton.

It's 8.30pm, a mere 68 hours after I left Kevin's house. Helen's waiting for me outside my front door. Welcome home, me.

Created By
Darren Foreman
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