The Departure! And the joys of Business Class travel!
Marc, Jacqui and the Z girl took me to the airport. We arrived about, actually i have no idea what time it was when we arrived, but well before we needed to.
Marc, Jacqui and the Z girl
There are queues. All queues are typical queue type stuff, where they have the areas cordoned off and you just keep following the person in front of you until someone says, next please. You step forward and proceed with checking in. Not in Business Class. There is a queue, but a special queue. You are treated differently. You are ushered to a separate area purely for Business and First Class passengers. Good after noon Ms Relf, welcome to the start of your Cathay Pacific journey. Perhaps that is the conversation that happens in Economy Class with Cathay Pacific, but I don’t know as I was discreetly far enough away not to hear the greetings there.
Check in complete in approximately 2 minutes. I am advised that my flight from Melbourne to Hong Kong and my flight from Hong Kong to Paris weren’t linked, but that has now all been taken care of. I’m impressed because I didn’t even know they weren’t linked. I don’t really know what linking flights mean,, but I smile and nod and am appreciative that the customer service person knows this and links me. She also asks if I would still like to be upstairs on my Hong Kong to Paris leg of my now linked flight. I nod and smile again and say, yes, that sounds lovely, thank you. She hands me boarding passes. One from Melbourne to Hong Kong, one from Hong Kong to Paris and another couple of passes, that I don’t really take any note of at the time, because it all seemed to be going along so well, I didn’t feel like I should be the person that takes longer than expected in the queue. We leave the check in area and head for somewhere to feed the Z girl. We opt for a cafe area and decide on coffee and a Danish. On reflection and had I had pre warning, the Danish could have been left at the counter. I’m glad I only had a small portion of Danish. The coffee was warm and not entirely thrilling, but hey it’s airport food.
We then decide to walk through the duty free area and Marc puts his order in for Christmas, birthday, for about the next 15 years. (Just kidding). I really love the smell of men’s cologne. I also have a thing for men’s shoes. I wonder what the couch would say about those musings. I don’t want to wear either the men’s cologne or the men’s shoes but I do love the smell of cologne on men and do love looking at men with great shoes on. I digress.
There is a band playing at the airport. They were outside the doors of no return, they seemed to be randomly playing to passengers as they entered the area close to the doors of no return. I think they are an Indian band, not a native American Indian type band, but a Bollywood type band. The women are dressed in Saris and there is a distinct tone of sitar. Actually, I lie, there was no band playing, there was music coming from a CD player, that from a distance sounded like a band. So i guess in fact there was a dance troop performing, rather than a band. I hope you have the picture now. 7 to 8 performers dancing and chanting to piped music. Random, but not unnecessarily bad. The Z girl stands on my lap and dances to the music, when they stop she claps. The music starts, she dances, the music stops, she claps. Well done Z girl! The Z girl has this thing where she looks at people and wills them to look at her. At home, or with friends she is the centre of attention, and we ask her to do things, like clap, hug, kiss, dance and she pretty much performs. When there are other people around, she stares at them as if to say, well are you going to pay me any attention? Are you going to ask me to perform? When total strangers don’t even give her a sideways glance, she looks as if to say, how rude are these people?
I get my last lot of hugs from the Z girl. She must have had an inkling that we were somewhere out of the norm, and things were different,, as she cuddled into me lots. It was lovely. I gave Marc hugs and then the Jacqui girl. I knew there would be tears on one of our sides when the hug was released. The tears in my eyes, proved it was me. Such a softy I am. There are people filling out cards, and I comment that I haven’t filled a card out. Even though I don’t know what cards they are filling out, but it looks like something I should be doing. I proceed through the doors of no return, after turning, having a photo and watching the doors shut behind me. Well, that’s that. I’m now on my own! Behind the doors of no return is a whole new world. There are more queues. People standing patiently inline with passport and boarding pass in hand. I get my passport and boarding pass out and proceed to queue, when i see a sign that reads, Express pass card holders here. I remember thinking, oh, I got given something by the very kind customer service person, so I check and sure enough I have one of these Express passes. Wow, this Business Class things is really amazing. I proceed to the desk and I am side by side with a person in the not express lane. All that is separating he and I is a piece of rope. He is clearly next in line, but the customer service person says yes thank you madame to me! I am actually embarrassed and say to him to go before me,because looking at the length of the queue he has probably been in line for 20 minutes or so. The customer service person, just says, no madame it is your turn. I walk forward with passport and boarding pass in hand and I hear the magic words. Do you have a customs card? I say meekly, no should I, I don’t know what one is. He holds one up, shows me with a smile on his face and says, they are on the back wall and points and asks me to fill one out and then return and I will be processed with priority. I then realise so that’s what everyone was filling out on the other side of the doors of no return. I dare not look at the man standing on the other side of the rope, as I could feel his eyes burning into me thinking, stupid wench. There are strange questions on the card, and I ponder them briefly, is this trip work, holiday, education, conference. It clearly states, only put a cross in one box. But I am doing all those things. I make the decision to tick conference as that is the primary reason I am going, even though it is for the least amount of time. Then it asks, which country will you be most in. I choose France as again, this is the reason I am going overseas I dutily fill out said card and feel like I at least belong now as I now have the trusty customs card in my hand along with the boarding pass and my passport. I proceed back to the queuing area and sheepishly walk through the express lane again. I again get to the front and again ushered forward before the person on the other side of the rope. Bizarre. It is then that you go through the security area. I unload my bag of my laptop, the charge cords, my mobile, my ipod and load them into a tub. I then put my coat on the conveyer. Don’t know why i did that, but it seemed right. One of the security guys makes conversation and just acknowledges that I’m putting the right things in the right places. I feel pretty pleased with myself at this stage. Capable of putting things in the right tubs is no mean feat. Well aren’t I a dummy. I then heard, Madame! Excuse me Madame! And a security guy taps me on the shoulder and says you have to put your bag on the conveyer belt. Of course I do, i know this, but did I do it? Of course not,, because I’m a doofus at times. I blush,I feebly apologise and he laughs and says, you’re a bit cheeky thinking you could go through without your bag being checked. I have nothing, no comeback, no retort, nothing. I just figure, take bag off shoulder, put on conveyer belt and proceed through the arch and just hope that someone who was on the ‘other’ side of the rope isn’t watching and thinking,, great she has privileges we don’t get and she’s dumb. After that it all goes smoothly. I quickly walk away from the security area without looking back.
Wow, on the other side of the doors of no return, there is a whole new world. It’s a city on its own. There are a multitude of duty free shops, there are cafes, coffee shops, food places, bars, vending machines just the same as on the pre side of the doors of no return, but. It’s different. It’s quieter, there isn’t a lot of noise. It’s almost clinical. I felt like I was almost in a hospital. There are shop assistants just standing around and as soon as you approach something, they are there asking would you like to try this fragrance and that fragrance . It’s a little surreal. It feels like a major shopping centre, but there just isn’t the hussle and bussle. I look in a couple of shops and think about buying myself some gloves. I wasn’t able to purchase any before I left. Side issue – the lady in Kmart looked at me oddly when i asked for gloves. She just said, they are a winter item and we have summer stock in now. I know they are a winter item, but I was just hoping they would have some. Back at the airport.......I can’t find any leather gloves but I find a pair of lamb skin gloves. They look like the type of glove you might get at a market stall. Don’t get me wrong, they feel beautiful, but at $89 I figure someone has ripped the poor lamb off and decide against buying them. I will probably regret it tomorrow morning getting out of Charles De Gaulle airport at 6am,, but hey. I’ll live!
I sit in the boarding area waiting for my flight to board. I am there about half an hour. I know that in my bag I have a pass to the Marco Polo lounge area. Another perk of Business Class travel. I just can’t bring myself to go in there, I figure I will just sit in the normal waiting area like everyone else. My flight is announced as boarding and I hear the magic words, First Class and Business Class passengers please proceed to the check in area with your boarding passes ready. I tentatively proceed and hope that the man on the other side of the rope isn’t there snarling at me.
Then the fun begins. It’s a form of circus. We go onboard, and all passengers board the plane through the front door. I don’t know if there is any airline in the world were First and Business class would be anywhere other than the front of the plane. There are cubicle type arrangements waiting for me. I have my very own little area. We are seated and before I can even take in the surroundings, the most friendly of friendly flight attendants approach and offer me champagne or orange juice. They are both served in glass, actual glass. I take an orange juice and take my seat in my little cubicle. I am totally overwhelmed by all this, never having been even remotely close to anything like this before. We are all seated and then the Economy Class passengers board the plane. They are paraded past us all sitting there sipping champagne or orange juice. It is then that I happen to look up and who should be looking at me, but the man from the other side of the rope. I look away. I can’t smile, I can’t continue to make eye contact. Again, I have nothing for him. I am embarrassed. So while sitting there drinking my orange juice, passenger after passenger walk past and eye off the Business Class cubicle we have. I decide I can’t look at them anymore, feeling bad, so I pick up the magazine and start thumbing through it.
The plane is boarded and there is an announcement from the Captain. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t have any issues at all who is flying the plane I am a passenger in as long as they are fully qualified, have lots of hours under their belt and know the way to where I’m going. I am travelling with Cathay Pacific, and it being an Asian airline, I kind of, maybe stupidly thought that it would be an Asian captain. I wasn’t expecting, Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain, Daniel O’Shaunessy speaking. I sat there with a huge grin on my face thinking, an Asian Airline with an Irish pilot.
He then makes another announcement telling us that we will be proceeding to take off shortly that we are waiting for some missing passengers. They arrive, and it is a man and I assume his son who is about 8 or 9. There are two spare cubicles near me and as they walk past, the boy says, here are spare seats dad. The dad looks up, very flustered and says, we will never be rich enough for these seats, ours are up the back somewhere. They proceed through the blue curtains. It’d be nice if they offered them the two spare cubicles, but I guess not everyone thinks like me.
We prepare to take off and we are given hot face washers. I use the face washer to wipe my hands thinking, it was only orange juice, but ok I will use the said face washer. A silver tray and tong cladded hands appear to deftly deal with the now cold face washer.
I sit back and wait take off.
15 minutes after take off, the seat belt sign goes off, the flight attendants stand and everything starts happening. Drinks arrive. A menu arrives. A complimentary traveller amenities bag arrives. I sit there in awe thinking oh my god, this is amazing. I open the bag, it is a teal coloured bag given for the females and a black bag given to the males. I look inside the bag and find, a bottle of Colgate Plax, a toothbruth, toothpaste, hydrating mist, moisturiser, a hair brush, an eye mask a pair of socks, lip moisturiser and ear plugs. Very nice. I then look at the menu and there are choices. It says lunch menu and all I can think of is it’s almost 4pm, I wonder how it can still be called lunch. Would I like a wine, would I like a soft drink, would I like a juice. The questions come at me and I opt for juice. It seems if you ask for a drink, you get two, you get your juice and you also get a glass of water.
The food arrives. The starter is an anti pasto plate with cured meats and marinated vegetables with a side salad. There is balsamic and olive oil dressing, there is butter, there is salt and pepper containers that are shaped like rocks. Before I realised they were salt and pepper shakers and i thought they were part of an Asian ritual. The whole fire, earth, wind type thing. I am pleased to notice that even though I’m travelling Business Class that when I open my perfectly folded linen napkin, that sits alongside the salt and pepper rocks, that they still think I might do damage with a real knife and I am supplied with a plastic knife. Now let me explain it is no ordinary plastic knife like you see at Maccas. It is a high class plastic knife, but plastic still the same! The forks however are stainless steel.
Then a main meal arrives. I choose the stir fry with steamed rice. I eat a small portion of that as well, as I’m still struggling with eating lunch at 4.30. I keep looking at the tv screen that tells me we still have 8 hours flying time to get to Hong Kong. I am wondering if there will be another meal or if this is it and lunch is really early dinner, which is fine as I doubt I could possibly eat dinner or supper or whatever it would be when it arrives, if it arrives. I forget that I am not at home and pile my plates neatly on the serving tray ready for collection. Maybe others don’t do this as the flight attendant thanks me for assisting her. I smile and think oh, maybe I shouldn’t have done this. I see another trolley coming along and think what on earth could be on this trolley and it is the finest selection of cheese and fresh fruit. I take some because the pineapple looks beautiful. I can’t eat all of it and feel guilty at the waste. I sit back and think, phew, food is done when ANOTHER trolley appears. I look at the offerings on this one and decide i am beaten and decline the flourless chocolate with double cream. I am in awe of those that accept the offering. There is then tea, coffee, liquers. I ask for tea and by now I am more than impressed that the flight attendant has stopped looking at her list of names and knows my name. Very impressive.
Let me give you a run down of some of the passengers. There is grumblebum who is in the cubicle behind/next to mine. I’d say next, but it’s not really next, it’s more behind./next. He grumps when they appear with offers and seems quite rude. There is sleepy head on the other side to me. She has slept since we boarded. There is a man a few cubicles away that has an awful cough and I cringe and feel yuck every time he coughs, which seems to be semi regularly. There is a man who I can only see the top of his head across the way and he has a few tufts of spikey hair. There is the man that constantly gets things out of his bag in his overhead locker. He sits down and then puts that back and gets something else out. No idea what, but he is amusing himself. There is a disabled man not far from me. He has something wrong with his legs and he was in a wheelchair before we boarded and was then assisted to his seat by two ground crew. I don’t know what happens when he needs to use the bathroom. He hasn’t moved as yet, so maybe those things are taken care of automatically. His wife is travelling with him, so she is constantly on her feet. The design of these cubicles means that you don’t actually sit ‘next’ to someone, They are designed in herringbone pattern. If you were travelling with someone there isn’t a great opportunity to be ‘with’ them. One passenger would have to stand next to the other person’s cubicle. Maybe in Business Class people aren’t meant to converse with other passengers. It wouldn’t be fun if you were on a romantic holiday and you had to be separated from that person. It’s good I’m not on a romantic holiday, so I don’t have to worry about that. Oh, and by the way, the man has no idea I exist. I established that. Oh well. I have 5 weeks to get over lusting over the man.
Speaking of romantic holidays, i just watched The Proposal. It has Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds. It was an a girly flick and I can unashamedly say I loved it!
The set up of the cubicles means that to put the food tray into position the media monitor has to be put back in its place until you get the food tray in place. Once in place you can then bring the monitor back out, you just can’t do it in reverse.
I’m trying to avoid sleep on this leg as I would like to be able to sleep on the next leg. It is quite warm in here though, so I’m guessing I will probably drift off at some stage. There are some arthouse movies on the playlist also, so I think I may watch one of them.
All of the window shutters have been pulled down now and it seems a lot of people are sleeping My watch is telling me it’s 8pm Melbourne/Sydney time, so I’m surprised people are sleeping. It’s quite warm in here and I haven’t worked out if there is a fresh air button. I’m going to get up now and go for a walk.
Some hours later, here I am back again. I watched The Ghosts of Girlfriends past, another chick flick with Matthew McConnaughy. Damn he is hot. He is a fine specimen of human male flesh.
I closed my eyes as my eyes are quite dry. I resisted sleep and just lay there for a while.
The lights are all on again now as I think they are just preparing people to wake up. It’s now just under an hour before we land in Hong Kong. My watch is telling me it’s just after midnight Melbourne/Sydney time.
Oh dear, it’s food time. I venture to the bathroom. I have the view of a bathroom from my cubicle. It’s amusing, every time someone leaves the bathroom a flight attendant enters and does something, no idea what.
Speaking of bathrooms, grumblebum (who slept thank fully for some time) is still grumbling, but is also a sufferer of flatulence. Quite disturbing.
The food arrives. There is fresh fruit in a bowl and a ‘thing’ that has strawberries on top. I establish it is cake like and then I get the menu out and realise that these are things listed under ‘refreshments’. There is also mention of noodles or pasta. I’m amused that the fruit and dessert arrive before the savoury. I eat the fruit, don’t touch the dessert thingy and then am offered a savoury meal. I don’t take either. I am then offered soup. I decline that also. There are drinks offered again, the obligatory two at a time. There is alcohol for those that want alcohol.
I then get offered tea or coffee. I choose tea again. Then ice cream appears. I am offered connosieur ice cream, strawberry or chocolate. I choose strawberry.
Oh, I establish what happens in the bathroom, after every passenger leaves the bathroom, the flight attendants spray air freshener and fold the toilet paper back. I always find that such a quaint touch folding the paper back, like in hotel rooms. What does it mean? That the last person to touch the sheets of paper was not the person who last used the paper? Interesting.
It is then that the only hiccup of my flight arises. I am listening to music on the entertainment unit and it freezes. I press all the buttons and nothing, zilch, zero, zip. I sit there and think oh well, no more movies for me and one of the flight attendants walk past and see me pressing the buttons and offers to assist. She then tells me, oh, it’s no good, must be frozen and that she will reset it for me,, but it could take about 15 minutes. I assure her that this is fine. She offers to move me to a new cubicle and offers me magazines. I insist I will be fine for 15 minutes. True to her word, in 15 minutes the system is all working again.
The battery on this is about to die and I really can’t be bothered charging it up right now, so I will turn the computer off and talk about the landing experience, on the next leg of the journey. Wow, I wonder if all the amenities bag and orange juice and champagne on arrival happens on leaving Hong Kong.
Grumble bum has just returned from an extended trip to the bathroom, hopefully he has cured himself of his flatulence issues.
The good Irish man puts us on the ground without even the slightest bump. We taxi to the runway. The set up of these seats doesn’t really mean you have a window seat,, even though you do. I mean the window is there, but you have to strain yourself sideways and backwards to see anything. What is people’s obsession to be the first off the plane? It’s not like we are in a domestic terminal where you get off the plane and if you have no luggage can be out of the terminal in 10 minutes flat once the doors open. People reach for their overhead items and stand. It must be this whole queue mentality. People are genuinely happy to stand in queues. I wait and think 45 seconds after all the queuers have left, I will also leave. The plane lands at Gate 65. My next flight leaves from Gate 64. Now you would think that this would be a really smooth process. Wrong. You get to an area at Gate 65 and there is a sign pointing for exit and transit passengers. As I am a transit passenger, I follow the sign. And follow the sign and continue to follow the sign. We walk, and walk and walk some more. I overtake some of the previous queuers and smile to myself. We finally get to the Transit area. Yep you guessed it, right near Gate 1. I go into the Transit area, get my next boarding pass acknowledged (the one that was ‘linked’ in Melbourne) and am told to proceed through the customs area. OK, my previous rantings of no queuing for Business Class all goes out the window. It is clear that Hong Kong customs couldn’t give a flying brass razoo want class of ticket you have. You stand in a queue like everyone else and wait your turn. There are the by now standard roped areas where you keep going around and around and around until you feel you are somewhat closer to the start of the queue. Some tempers fray in this area. I then hear yelling and thinking, eeeep, I’m glad I’m not being yelled at like that. A Hong Kong customs woman is yelling and I mean yelling at a passenger. This passenger it seems is also in transit. Oh, I forgot, this queue is just for those in transit. I didn’t see where the non transit people ended up. I assume to the luggage collection area. Back to said Customs woman yelling like a banshee. The passenger must have asked at the start of the queue that she needed to get to a connecting flight quicker than standing in the queue was going to take, so she had priority and moving through the non roped area to get to the front of the queue. The customs officer screams, HURRY UP LADY, YOU HAVE PLANE WAITING. MOOOOOOOOOOOOVE. The poor passenger stopped to adjust the strap on her bag. It seems you can’t do this in the Hong Kong customs area. The customs officer keeps yelling and almost pushing the passenger along. I am happy and content to be one of the crowd and stand and proceed in the queue like everyone else.
When I get to the area where someone looks at my passport, it reminds me of a football match entry. There are cubicles where the customs officers sit and there are turnstiles. I expect someone to ask me to open my bag to check for alcohol. I look around and see no football scarves, hats, flags and remember that I am in an airport in another country. It then hits me, I am in another country! What a bizarre feeling. No longer standing on Australian soil, but firmly on Hong Kong soil, well not quite on soil but I’m sure under this building somewhere is soil. I am absolutely busting to go to the toilet. Like seriously! I’m disappointed, I don’t get a stamp in my passport, just a nod and it’s all over. I am through the transit area. Now I have to proceed to gate 64. Yep you guessed it, it’s a long long walk. I find the closest toilet and as soon as I leave the cubicle an attendant goes in and does things. I assume wipes the seat. There are attendants everywhere in the toilet area just standing, waiting. I’m beginning to find this toilet ritual quite bizarre. Clean, but bizarre.
I remember that I have a privilege card in my possession and think, ok, I’m going to use the services of the facilities in The Pier for Business Class passengers. You walk through, are greeted with a lovely smile, they take my card and say welcome, please enjoy our facilities. Wow is all I can say. There are massive TV screens with every conceivable sporting event from anywhere in the world being played. There is a movie on a screen I see. There are lounges there are chairs, there are bar stools. It is huge! There are food places, alcohol places (lots of them). There is all sorts of things. You can ask for a towel and have a shower. I’m impressed that people live this way on a frequent basis. There is almost too much to choose from and I end up choosing iced water. I don’t want to drink too much as I am still planning on getting some sleep on the next part of the journey. I am sitting there and see my colleagues that have travelled from Sydney arrive. There are 3 of them. We exchange stories on travel experiences so far and I am amused to find that one of my colleagues sat next/behind a guy that was absolutely plastered and drank drink after drink after drink. We then proceed to the departure area. I am only in The Pier just over an hour.