Tuesday, October 15, 2019

A trip to China - Day 12 - The long road home

Time to leave China, and Shanghai. Every other time we have arrived or departed Shanghai, we've had to catch a bus to the plane.  Today, for the first time, we boarded the plane from a gate.
It's too good to be true...
So, here we are going for that on-time departure, and...
There has been an official "muck up" between the agents and the control tower staff in relation to a missing flight plan, so we now look like we're going to be sitting on the ground, in the plane, for at least an hour and a half.
Yes, things like this can happen to foreign airlines in China and there's little hope that the situation will change.  Beaurocacry is Beaurocacry and there's an end to it.
Now, we have the knock-on effect of catching connecting flights out of Sydney with the problems created if we arrive late, having to go through immigration, wait for baggage, collect the baggage, run the gamut of customs because I'm sure there's something we've bought in China that will grab their attention, get to the transfer bus with baggage, get to the domestic terminal and then try to find our connecting flight.  Sound like the definition of madness?  It is.
After some negotiation, well I won't say what I'm thinking, our departure had been moved up to 15 minutes from now, which means pushing back at 20:15, rather then the original departure time of 19:50.
20:15 is here and we're still not moving, but the door is now closed, and I suspect, we're about to start pushing back...
Stand by...
20:30 and we're now pushing back in preparation to leave, 40 minutes late.  It's going to be interesting to see if they can make up any time in the air.  It isn't exactly the smoothest run from the gate to the runway, and it highlighted a few of the creaks, groans, and rattles the plane has.
So much for a quick getaway...
20:51, we take off, exactly one hour and one minute late.  There's that few moments when the engines are throttled back for some reason, the retraction of the flaps not quite as noisy as some other old planes, and the familiar clunk as the undercarriage finally rests in its slot, but at least we'rein the air, and heading home.
Now it's a matter of getting up, through a little turbulence and turning slowly to acquire our heading for Sydney.  As it is 6 minutes into the flight, we're heading towards Japan.  Perhaps they shouldn't allow us to see the flight path, and worry about whether the pilot really does know where he's supposed to be going.
It's 01:27 Sydney time and the flight path programme is indicating we will be arriving in Sydney at 09:39.  Not long ago we were travelling at just over 1,000 kph, but that has now been wound back to 879 kph, as we straighten our course.  it seems going almost in the wrong direction was to catch the tailwinds so we could make up time, but that could only last for so long before we had to correct the heading.
Let's see how it works out.

After standing, sitting, standing again, and then going back to my seat for several hours of fitful sleep it's time for breakfast, and it's then I notice that the arrival time in Sydney is now expected to be around 08:37 which will make it more or less on time.
That impression remains until half an hour before, which is when the plane usually starts it'd descent, and hasn't.  That's a telltale sign we are not going to land at the time indicated.
However, a few minutes later, we start the descent at 08:10 but still showing the same arrival time.  At this rate, we should be going down like a lead balloon.  Either that or we're going to be late.
For those of us panicking about missing our connecting flights, a list of changes is read out by the cabin manager, and our flight to Brisbane has been changed.  We are now on QF520.
So far, so good...
Hang on, now we're being told that there's a delay because of congestion and we will not be landing until 08:45.  Just because they managed to make up some time, it's a case of no good deed goes unpunished.
This is followed by another announcement because we're late we've been allocated an outer bay that requires us to take buses to the terminal.  Just what you want after 10 hours in a red-eye special.  
And it just gets better...
We're on the ground, at the time specified 08:45, and rolling towards our allotted bay when we get another announcement.  There's a broken plane in our bay so we have to sit out on the tarmac and wait for another 10 minutes.
What else can happen?
Nothing thankfully, and we finally get to the bay and exiting the plan by the stairs at one exit.  That's when the euphoria stops.  Halfway down the stairs we suddenly stop.  
There's only one bus and it's full.  Worse, in some cases families have been separated, some are on the bus, and the rest of us still on the stairs.  It's like a Charlie Chaplin comedy movie.
Where's the next bus?  Don't they have more than one bus waiting for a plane with over 200 passengers?  After languishing on the stairs for about ten minutes we hear the Qantas staff member on the ground say there are no buses immediately available.  Obviously, this was to a restless passenger, further down the stairs.  Good thing, then, it's not raining.
Time is ticking away for us to make the connecting flight and we haven't got as far as the terminal to get started on immigration.
It takes a rather long 15 minutes before the next bus arrives, and, as an interesting diversion, what we soon discover to be a double-ended bus that can be driven from either end.  Never seen one of those before.
We get to the terminal, get reunited with other family members, go through the preliminary immigration procedures, down to have our photo taken, and then into the baggage hall.  You would think with all the delays that our bags would be waiting for us.
It takes another fifteen minutes before they come out of what must have been the last baggage container.  With time just about up for making it to the connecting flight, we still have to go through customs, and the line is very long, but fortunately moving quickly.  We declare our stuff as a precaution, and all is well, we can go.
The time is now 10:05.

Our connecting flight to Brisbane leaves at 11:00.
We head for Qantas domestic transfer and when we get there the check-in clerk says we have plenty of time, the bags disappear, and we are virtually the last ones on the bus before it leaves.
Only to be stuck in a traffic jam while two planes are being ferried to another part of the airport.  It's now 10:30 and boarding for the Brisbane plane starts in 10 minutes.
Guess what?  We make it with a minute, yes that's what I said, 1 minute to spare.

However the bad luck continues and just after the plane had loaded and the main door shut with the possibility of an on-time departure, another calamity.
The air conditioner is broken and it's about 40 degrees Celsius in the main cabin.  That's almost unbearable conditions.  A call is out to the engineers and as at 11:20 they are still working on it.  But, mercifully, it is a little cooler.  Perhaps it's working again.
An announcement is made, the door is closed, and we're pushing back at 11:37.  Qantas is not having a good day in Sydney.
I think we won the raffle with this plane, it appears to be very old, with no screens in the seatbacks, but perhaps the onboard wifi could take its place.  The engines starting up with a loud whine, unlike most that just start and are virtually silent.  
Did I just get a hint of mothballs?
11:50 take off and this is where the shuddering starts and persists until the landing gear is retracted.  Then it's just creaks and groans from a tired airframe that's been through a lot of cycles.
Obviously we made it home because you are reading this!

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