Sydney Airport – my old friend

Hello old friend we meet again. I’m sitting in the departures hall surrounded by people speaking languages I don’t understand. Happy travellers returning home or starting their next adventure?

Check in and security completed with a minimum of fuss, although note to self – the boots with the metal trims? Don’t wear them next time! Rooky error! I’ve streamlined my packing and look smuggly at those who are wrestling with their hand luggage to get out all the liquids while I pop my prepackaged plastic ziplock in the tray. Hazar! Travel Ninga status restored

I have 90 more minutes to waste and I’m wishing I hadn’t had that extra glass of cheap wine to help me sleep! My stomach is a little squeamish. Is that nerves or a hangover. Both, no doubt. I do hope it isn’t the slightly under heated lamb shank I had last night at the hotel.

How things have changed in the years since I took my first international flight. That flight, to Italy, was my first time ever on a plane. It was January 1982. After leaving Sydney we stopped in Melbourne then Perth then Singapore then Bahrain, and finally Rome. Mechanical repairs at Bahrain meant we sat on the tarmac for six hours, air con off, no food, no water. Thirty. six. hours. Thirty of those confined to a tiny seat. Thankfully I was small and could curl up cat-like. Thankfully, I was travelling with someone I could lounge against without concern. The invisible force field surrounding the chair could be extended – a little. The toilets became blocked. The plane remained in that state until we got off in Rome.

Back in those days international travel was a novelty. At least for my family and friends who hailed from more or less working class roots. My brother had been to London a couple of years before but unless you count Lord Howe Island, my parents had never left Australia. The ex’s dad worked for Qantas, so his family flew frequently on staff tickets. Cheap travel sure, but you didn’t count your chickens until the door was closed and cross checked because you could get off loaded if another paying passenger needed the seat.

“Seeing a friend off” was a social occasion. Your friendship group would drive you to the Airport and as payment, you would shout them a few drinks at the Airport Bar before racing to the gate. I don’t remember if there was any security screening but I do remember that your friends could come right up to the departure gate where there were many teary goodbyes.

In 1982 the decor vibe was timber paneling and 70’s orange. Since then, it’s undergone many, many renovations. Every time I come here there are hoardings covering up more promised improvements. It’s bright and airy with charging points and interesting seating nooks. Tom Hanks’ character could live here quite happily.

It’s beginning to brighten up outside as Sydney starts it’s day. Jets have started to leave as the curfew is lifted. Come on Iain, it’s time to move to the gate.

Iain! It’s a bit early!

Delayed flight leads to writing bonanza

I got an email from Korean Airlines to tell me my flight the next day was going to be delayed by two hours. It was nice that they let me know. It was late on Boxing Day – a public holiday in Australia. Even though I knew the limo company would be closed, I sent them an email “just in case”  to  try and change the time of my airport transfer pick up. Thankfully, they got back to me and we agreed on a new time. Then I got another email from KAL to say the flight was going to be another two hours late. I didn’t want to muck the limo people around with another change so I just resigned myself to the fact that I would be at the airport SUPER early! My pick up would be eight hours before the flight. The transfer company has a policy of getting you to the airport 3 hours ahead of time because of the vagaries of Sydney traffic. It normally takes an hour to get to the airport and then check in, immigration clearance and the security check might use up another hour. I was looking at 6 hours to waste airside before boarding. Sigh!

I stepped out of the minibus and sniffed the air. I love that first whiff of AvGas when you are close to the airport. Apart from the fact you have suitcases in tow, and a passport in your hand, it’s proof you are going somewhere. The heady kerosene-like odour that tells you the tarmac and turbulence are not too far away.

The second clue you are travelling is the queue. As a seasoned traveller (LOL) I sometimes get impatient in these queues and run an internal commentary. Come on people!! You know you need photo ID to get your boarding pass. Get it out of your wallet before you get to the counter.You’ve just been standing in a line for the last 30 minutes watching everyone else hand over their ID. We could be saving about 50 seconds per transaction here if people were ready. What? Repacking your bags NOW? FFS you had all morning to weigh them.

Breathe Robyn! Breathe! You are going on holidays! Just grab a coffee, sit back and watch the people go by.

People watching

The first person to catch my attention is a ¾ age man (you know – older than middle age but not yet old) in his hipster aqua shorts with pineapple print. Then a Russian (judging by the language – Baltic at least) with the close to pornographic photo of two women being ….ah…. friendly… on the front of his t-shirt. I wonder how he got through immigration with that on? The brash, very well dressed Yanks float past in their matching boat shoes, white fedoras and navy jackets.  No doubt on their way to the first class lounge. The mums with toddlers asleep on their shoulders trying to kick their bags along.  They’ve invented trolleys love… I think to myself.

All this, backgrounded by Mariah Carey singing Christmas carols.

I move on, walk around for a while and then get another coffee. I am waiting for my phone to recharge after plugging in to one of the new charging stations that are everywhere in the airport now. No need to sit on the floor and unplug the drinks machine these days. I quickly switch back into people-watching mode. A young woman in front of me is talking on her phone, wearing  earphones,  her free hands are waving wildly in their air. Whoever is on the other end is clearly keeping her amused and she laughs and giggles. So sweet to watch. The young fellow to the right of me is using his phone as a mirror and is picking his zits…Ewwwwwww.

areoplanes through a round window

My phone has 2% to full charge and I still have three more hours to wait.

I listen to the announcements and wonder what happens to those  who are called out as the last people to board? They must have checked in? Did they change their mind and decide not to go? Was there some sort of family tragedy which kept them from flying out? Where they in the car accident that had caused the traffic jam 5 km out of the airport?

More people watching!

There are two African-American guys standing in the line at McDonalds. One has a big guitar like keyboard around his neck and the other has big gold chains, short spiky dreadlocks and gold reflective sunglasses on. They look like they should be famous. Perhaps they are just wankers. A Muslim man walks past with 4 daughters – so many weddings to pay for!

At  noon I decide it’s close enough to beer o’clock and buy a glass of wine which turns into two and hallelujah – it’s time to board.

All in all, the waste of time was productive. I wrote three blog posts. Researched part of a family history I wanted to write and made up character arcs for some of the interesting people who have walked by. Who knows, perhaps I even featured in another bored traveller’s diary.

View across Sydeny airport toward the city

Looking for Breakfast at Sydney International Airport

Sydney International Airport has a secret food hall. You can see it but you can’t get to it. It is filled with people eating pies with chips, sandwiches and having coffee. You can walk past the glass enclosure and peer into the zoo of grazing humans.

Having left my home in Wollongong at 3:10*AM to get here for a 7:30AM flight; I am ready to re-caffeinate and eat. I have circled it twice now, hungrier each time. Looking for the hidden door. Looking for the gatekeeper.

As I press my face up to the glass searching for people entering and leaving to get a clue on the entry location, I realise this café is landside not airside. It remains a tempting mirage of reasonable prices. I have crossed over to the place where coffee is $6 not $4 and it’s half the size. Where food is prepacked and at a premium.

The “Rich Zone” with shops I couldn’t afford normally let alone when I have just forked out $2000+ for a flight!

Who shops here? Someone must…

I look at the people around me wheeling their carry-ons. They don’t look like they can afford it either. Granted, the travellers are in their comfy clothes, but not all tracky-dacks are created equal! On closer inspection, they all look like K-Mart leisure suits rather than Armani to me.  The target audience must then, be those people spending currencies other than the Aussie Dollar where a $300 shirt becomes a measly(?) $200. I remind myself that my mantra is to spend my cash on experiences and not stuff – the path to true happiness and walk on by.

robyn at airport

 

Defeated in my quest for reasonable prices, I sit down to a $6 coffee and a $6 Danish and while away the time till boarding. Thanks to the fact there was no traffic and I was first in line to check-in that’s two hours away!

 

 

(*Yes, you read that right! – traffic around Sydney Airport is unpredictable and the airport shuttle sets the time they will pick you up. Wollongong is a solid hour’s drive away even with no traffic.)