Australian Adventures

It’s a bird! It’s a plane… No really, it’s a plane.

So I finally had time to catch-up on writing my Qantas adventure over to Australia. Whoohoo!

Yes, I know I am obscenely late in posting this. I was kind of hoping the cuddly koalas would distract you from realizing I completely glossed over that section of my trip. But don’t worry; the post is extra witty so hopefully you will find that reason enough to forgive me. And if it’s not, remember all the kangaroo cuteness. Studies show that looking at fuzzy animals makes you happier. So if you’re still angry after you finish reading, just go back a post. Psychology says you’ll feel better. =)

**********

Holy. Crap.

I had never seen a vehicle so massive.

If airplanes were the large birds of the sky, the A380 was a pterodactyl. A no-nonsense lean, mean, four-engined machine. A flock of Canadian geese couldn’t take this bad boy down (too soon?). I drank in the view of its profile through the airport window. I decided it could probably even deflect a small meteor. It was just that massive.

Ever felt intimidated by a piece of machinery? Yeah, that was a new one for me, too.

It was ten o’clock at night and I waited to board the world’s largest commercial airliner. It was an exciting moment for all sorts of reasons:
1) I’d never been on a double-decker plane. And a chance to ride on the largest in the world for the same price as your everyday boeing flight? No-duh, I was excited. Not only was it a cool thing to say you’ve done, but it was more for the same. And I’m all about monopolizing those choice moments.
2) This was the vessel that would transport my happy butt from the States to Australia to begin my Southern Hemisphere adventure.
3) I had somehow managed to convince Qantas to give me a tour of the plane once we were in flight. (I can’t tell you how I did this. I really have no idea how I managed to pull this one off, but I was feeling the Aussie love already.)

My mind started running wild with fantasies of what that would entail. Maybe they’d bump me to business or first class so I could write about that experience? Or perhaps they’d let me wear a name tag and serve some passengers peanuts?

A guy carrying a briefcase knocked me out as he shoved his way to the front of the line. My daydream abruptly ended. I struggled to regain my balance (which is not easy when hauling a thirty pound backpack), smiled, and shook my head in his direction. I guess the fantasy would have to wait. In the meantime, I waited to board with the hundreds of other passengers.

There were two gates. One boarded the business class passengers to the upper deck. At the other the first class, premium economy, and economy passengers waited in said order. I made my way slowly to the very back of the line (is there any other way when you’re carrying your world on your shoulders?) I peeled off my shell and laid it on the ground. I sat on it, resting my chin in my hands.

I observed my fellow travelers with interest, passing the time by passing judgement on their choice in travel clothes. It was a 14 hour flight after all, so I felt fully justified making mental fun of the girl wearing stripper boots.

And we waited.

And waited.

And after what seemed like an eternity (times dog years) we started boarding. The ants went marching one-by-one, handing their boarding passes over to one of the five Qantas employees manning the gates.

There have been very few times in my life where I’ve felt so insignificant, so tiny, so surrounded by others that I felt vulnerable to sheep-herd mentality. This was one of those moments. There were just so many of us.

My mind was easily overwhelmed by this situation and finding my seat didn’t help. What flight have you been on where you were given a dinner menu for economy? Where you could watch thousands of movies and television episodes without handing over your credit card? Where you had access to every genre of music (literally) and could create your own playlist to listen to throughout the flight? My point exactly.

There was even a SkyCam attached to the tail of the plane so you could watch the take-off and landing and pretend you were piloting the mammoth. Even without dropping the ten grand for a first class ticket, I felt like a bad-ass. And we hadn’t even taken off yet.

Flight attendants in Pan Am style dresses and heels flitted back and forth, working hard to get all the passengers in their correct locales. They handed out itineraries to those seated, detailing when all the meals would be served, when we would receive our customs paperwork, and when we could expect to have cabin lights turned back on.

And I thought Virgin Atlantic had their shit together. Huh. I placed the itinerary in the back-seat compartment.

A woman with a sing-song Australian voice rang out over the intercom. She asked us to buckle up and turn on our SkyCam monitors if we wanted to watch take-off. We were officially on our way. I watched the wind flow in visible streams over the wing as we ascended into the air.

As we gained ground (air?) I perused the flight path map with fascination. We sure had a lot of ocean to cover. It looked like nearly three times the distance I’d covered on my trip to Europe. The screen said we were cruising along at almost 600 miles per hour and would be flying at a steady 30,000 feet.

We would spend the next fourteen hours chasing the night to Sydney, spending most of the time in darkness. And in an effort to blow my mind even more, we’d be Quantum Leaping in time, missing Wednesday completely. Did this mean I could read a Sydney paper and prevent something from happening in the States? Would I be the real life star of Early Edition? The thought made my head hurt.

A flight attendant came by to take drink orders. My head spun with all the choices. Did I want juice, hot chocolate, peppermint tea, water or wine? I gave the woman a dubious look, “Since when does economy get free wine?” She stared back at me, equally confused by my question. I shook my head and accepted a water. I turned on The Big Bang Theory, hoping to bring some normalcy to the moment.

Around one in the morning, a flight attendant leaned over the sleeping couple next to me and tapped my shoulder. I jumped and took off my headphones. “No, I’m sorry,” I said in response to her apology, “Penny just kissed Leonard and I was totally wrapped up in the moment.” The curvy blonde cocked her head to the side and blinked at me. I hemmed and hawed, “I really like this show. Can I help you?”

“Are you Hilary?”

I thought for a moment. Was I? (Yes, I was indeed that tired). I nodded after a seven second delay.

She smiled. “My name’s Emma. We’ll take you on a little tour of the airbus now.”

“Oh! Oh, okay,” I said, my body suddenly bubbling with energy. My mind went blank. What was I going to need for this? Oh yes, a pen. And my notebook. Where the heck was my camera?

She watched me in amusement as I fumbled to find everything I needed out of my black hole of a purse. I scooched past the sleeping couple out into the aisle. I mouthed apologies to their glares and then stood tall to shake Emma’s hand.

“Follow me, please.” She turned on her heels and walked briskly ahead of me, her eyes surveying the sleeping passengers. She slipped behind a red fabric partition and into the galley.

I took a deep breath and gained my composure. Then I followed. It was time to see what lay beyond the Qantas curtain.

To be continued…

75 Comments

  • Reply

    larkycanuck

    August 27, 2012

    I felt I should inform Sir Richard Branson of this development as he is of the type to be fanatical about his toy planes and stuff like that. I tweeted him your post plus to the VA boys and girls of America.

    • Reply

      Hilary Billings

      August 28, 2012

      Haha, you’re hilarious! Hopefully he won’t ban me from VA for the rest of my life for dissing his company. =)

      • Reply

        larkycanuck

        August 28, 2012

        where do you head to now?

        • Reply

          Hilary Billings

          August 29, 2012

          Fijiiiii is next!

          • larkycanuck

            August 29, 2012

            Cool. I did my PADI dive certification with a couple out here who were headed to Fiji as well for their first post certification dives (with sharks).
            I chose to dive instead at my jacuzzi tub at home.

          • Hilary Billings

            September 1, 2012

            Really?!? That’s so cool! Which part of Fiji are they headed to? There’s a few places I’ve heard of that do the shark diving!

            And that’s understandable. Jacuzzi sharks tend to be less deadly. ;)

          • larkycanuck

            September 2, 2012

            I dont know where in Fiji. I thought its as big as a traffic round-about.
            Im off on my next Larkycanuck Production White Hat tour soon. Stay tuned for that.

          • Hilary Billings

            September 3, 2012

            Haha! It is incredibly small, but there are over 330 islands, so while it doesn’t take up much space, you could quite possibly never be in the same place. =)

            And I will! I hope I can get tickets! =) =)

          • larkycanuck

            September 4, 2012

            How is the foot healing from that earlier injury?

          • Hilary Billings

            September 5, 2012

            It’s almost all better. But I’m still playing it safe. Thanks for asking. =)

  • Reply

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  • Reply

    Les Petits Pas de Juls

    August 27, 2012

    and?…. how can you do this to us? and let us imagine the rest! :-P
    I know you had fun, I just want to read about it now!
    Cheers, happy adventurer!
    Jul’

    • Reply

      Hilary Billings

      August 28, 2012

      Hey Jul!

      You’re so sweet. I am so happy to hear it left you in suspense. You only have to wait til next week, I promise. The rest will be up next Monday! =)

      And thank you. It was a great experience! Can’t wait to hear the rest of your thoughts!

  • Reply

    juliannayu

    August 27, 2012

    A double decker plane!! That plane sounds incredible – the drink options, watching the take off, making your own play list. LOL! I like how you share your stories, you always have me hanging onto your every word. What a way to end off…haha Looking forward to hearing the rest.

    • Reply

      Hilary Billings

      August 28, 2012

      Aww, thank you so much! Really, I am so happy to hear that you enjoy my writing. You always make me smile. =)

      And I’m looking forward to sharing you the rest! Lots of love.

  • Reply

    Browsing the Atlas

    August 27, 2012

    That’s really cool that they took you on a tour. I doubt any of the American airlines would do that. I’ve ridden on a double-decker plane and naturally, booked a seat on the second level because it was such a novel idea. But then realized that it would take us a little longer to get off and I had a connection, so am not sure I’ll do that again.

    Can’t wait to hear the rest of your story. What in the world did they show you on this tour???

    • Reply

      Hilary Billings

      August 28, 2012

      Oh wow, I never thought of that. Was it at least quieter on the second level? Did you make it to your connection okay?

      Can’t wait to share! That plane is super swish. =)

  • Reply

    comixmaniac

    August 27, 2012

    It reminds me of the Dreamliner plane I rode back and forth from Japan! Though not a double decker, they served 3 actually tasty meals (and a snack) over the 13-hour flight. The plane had tons of American AND international music you could sort into your own playlist, in addition to movies, TV shows, video games, and even manga .I’m not sure if the flight attendants served wine– but I know they served sake! Can’t wait to see the rest of your crazy plane!

    • Reply

      Hilary Billings

      August 28, 2012

      Wow! Sounds like such an amazing flight! How was your Japanese adventure? Do you have pictures? I can’t wait to hear all about it!

      Mmm sake! That definitely sounds unique. Can’t wait to share the rest of the journey!

  • Reply

    sjanima

    August 27, 2012

    lucky you. how I wish I could ride a double decker plane. Keep on posting and safe travel Hilary.

    • Reply

      Hilary Billings

      August 28, 2012

      Thank you so much! I feel very blessed to have had the experience.

      And same to you! Lots of love to you!

  • Reply

    ghummakkad

    August 27, 2012

    I agree. Though I’ve never been on a double decker plane, I don’t think I’ll be comfortable with so many people around me. Looking forward the next post!

    • Reply

      Hilary Billings

      August 28, 2012

      All the people make for more anxiety, but Qantas is very well organized. They keep a military-like schedule and extremely high standards for their customer service. I almost feel like having so many people requires them to be more efficient and helpful. I had to wonder what would happen if all flights had that many people…

      And thank you! I can’t wait to share!

  • Reply

    youngjeninspats

    August 28, 2012

    Most trans-atlantic carriers offer free booze, movies and music…more incentive to travel further!!! And how did you manage to get a tour of the plane????

    • Reply

      Hilary Billings

      August 28, 2012

      The things I’m learning about trans-atlantic flights! Makes me want to travel more internationally than domestically, that’s for sure!

      Do you have a favorite airline?

      Honestly, I don’t know how I managed to pull that one off. It was a surprise to me too! The Qantas people were extremely friendly and accommodating! Can’t wait to share the rest of the experience with you!

      • Reply

        youngjeninspats

        August 30, 2012

        Hawaiian Air is fun because everything is purple and they play Hawaiian music on take off. Tyrolean air gives you chocolate, plays Mozart and has the nicest stewardesses ever. British Airways is brilliant with trans-Atlantic flights (and even have a special class on the plane: in economy class but with business class seats for a bit more money) but you have to transfer in Heathrow, which is as close to a portal to hell as I’ve ever seen, so that’s a down side :-) Another of my favorites was Malev airlines, which was like a flying Hungarian restaurant with surly stewards working on it, but they went bust. :-(

        • Reply

          Hilary Billings

          September 1, 2012

          Okay, well at least I don’t feel so bad now. I always found Heathrow extremely overwhelming, but I thought it was just me. Every time I’ve passed through I’ve just wanted to find a corner and take cover. =)

          Thanks for all the tips! One day I will fly Hawaiian Airlines! And I’m a fan of purple too. Sigh…

  • Reply

    geoffreytv

    August 28, 2012

    You said nothing about the meal served on board. How was it?

    • Reply

      Hilary Billings

      August 28, 2012

      Pretty yummy for plane food. I had grilled chicken and veggies. Have you ever flown Qantas?

  • Reply

    El Guapo

    August 28, 2012

    While I love trans-oceanic flights, I miss the days of the smoking section.
    I remember flying a monster to England.
    Non smoking was packed, but there were only about two dozen of us in smoking.
    Ahhhh…..

    Can’t wait to hear about the rest of the trip!

    • Reply

      Hilary Billings

      August 28, 2012

      Haha. I don’t think I can ever remember a time where there was a smoking section on a plane. But for some reason this comment reminds me of that movie Thank You For Smoking. Ever seen that? Hilarious.

      And can’t wait to share it with you! =)

      • Reply

        El Guapo

        August 28, 2012

        Read the book – it’s a lot funnier!

        • Reply

          Hilary Billings

          August 28, 2012

          I wasn’t even aware there was a book. Thanks for the tip! I’ll be sure to check it out!

  • Reply

    Hailey

    August 28, 2012

    How fun! I can’t wait to read all about it!!

  • Reply

    housewifedownunder

    August 28, 2012

    As flights go (which I hate regardless), Qantas is not bad. They still offer a lot of the nice little amenities that other airlines have long given up. I’m heading back stateside next week for our wedding and the journey there is on a 747 (though I think they are outfitting most of the 747s with A380 seats) and is not as comfortable, but the way back is on an A380. I’ll always pay a bit extra to get the itinerary on the A380. Definitely one of the best long haul jets out there. Looking forward to the rest of your posts about Australia. :-)

    • Reply

      Hilary Billings

      August 29, 2012

      Yeah. This was my first time flying with them, but I’m impressed. And long-haul comfort is always a necessity when you’re on the road so much!

      Looking forward to sharing with you! Stayed tuned! =)

  • Reply

    philthyanimal

    August 29, 2012

    I used to fly Qantas regularly from London to Melbourne, but got annoyed at the limited legroom in cattle class. I tried Cathay Pacific Airlines last year and now swear by them – fantastic service, food, selection of alcoholic beverages to make to journey shorter and very spacious in the cheap seats. They also have premium economy with better seats and even more leg room! I think there’s a complimentary drink on arrival, which isn’t all bad. I better change the subject before I brand myself an alcoholic.

    I’ve never been on the double-decker plane, but hope to get a chance next year (although I don’t know if Cathay Pacific currently have the A380).

    Looking forward to the next episode…

    • Reply

      Hilary Billings

      August 29, 2012

      I’ve never heard of Cathay Pacific. I’ll have to check them out! Thanks for the tip!

      Yeah, an A380 is definitely an experience worth having. =) And can’t wait to share with you the second half!

  • Reply

    gumiii

    August 29, 2012

    You refused wine??

    • Reply

      Hilary Billings

      August 29, 2012

      Haha! Yes, indeed. Not much of a drinker to begin with. And I didn’t want to be buzzed or drunk when I went on my tour. So water it is.

      And yes, I do realize I am a walking paradox. A girl from Vegas should love to party and be a lush. I certainly don’t fit that ticket. =)

  • Reply

    aidaweb101

    August 30, 2012

    Hi Hilary ! I have nominated you for a Very Inspiring Blogger Award. If you wish to accept it, please visit my site for details
    http://aidaweb101.wordpress.com/2012/08/30/awards/
    Congratulations!

    • Reply

      Hilary Billings

      September 1, 2012

      Hi Aida!

      Thank you so much! I greatly appreciate it! =)

      Hope all is well! Lots of love to you.

  • Reply

    bahia

    August 31, 2012

    Regarding the lady in the stripper shoes, my motto is to always wear your biggest shoes because they take up the most space in the suitcase. Perhaps that’s why she was wearing something so uncomfortable?

    • Reply

      Hilary Billings

      September 1, 2012

      That’s a possibility! I never thought of it that way. I always go with wear something that’s comfy but easy to take on and off (for in-flight and security purposes). But you never know!

      Thanks for bringing a fresh perspective! =)

  • Reply

    Ingrid

    September 1, 2012

    My daughter spent a semester studying abroad in Sydney in 2010. She was just as crazy excited about holding a koala as you. She had an amazing time, but flew UA and 747. That plane is huge and would swallow up the baby DC-9’s I used to work on. Looking forward to the rest of the tale!

    • Reply

      Hilary Billings

      September 2, 2012

      Hi Ingrid!

      Wow, it sounds like your daughter had such an amazing time! What was she studying? Does she think she’ll go back?

      DC-9’s huh? It sounds like you’ve had your fair share of adventure also! Such an adventurous family!

      Can’t wait to hear more about you and your daughter. And I can’t wait to share the rest of the story!

      • Reply

        Ingrid

        September 2, 2012

        She graduated in May with a degree in Business from CO State. Studied international business at Macquarie University in Sydney for a sem. Now working so, so job in Denver. She would love to travel like yourself but needs to earn $$. Fortunately no dull life in our household and looking forward to plenty more adventures. Oh, daughter did bungee jumping in New Zealand, hiked Glacier, etc. Trying to get her to blog about it. Skydiving on the to do list !

        • Reply

          Hilary Billings

          September 3, 2012

          Wow! Congrats to your daughter! Sounds like she’s lived a very full life thus far. And I completely understand the need for cash. =)

          But I completely agree! She should blog. A lot of people would love to hear about those experiences.

          I hope you’ll stay in touch! Looking forward to hearing more about what you and your daughter are up to next!

  • Reply

    travellingmo

    September 4, 2012

    My plane to Israel was also double-decker, some sort of Delta monstrosity that was not nearly as lovely as your Quantas flight sounds! And yes, it took freaking forever to get that party bus in the air (trying to get a double-decker plane full of East Coast Jews and Middle-Easterners to sit down and stop talking is a difficult task). But dear Hilary, when the choice is water or wine and the wine is free, one must always take the wine! Can’t wait to hear the rest!

    • Reply

      Hilary Billings

      September 5, 2012

      I have so much to learn from you, oh wise one! Teach me your traveling ways… =)

      • Reply

        travellingmo

        September 5, 2012

        My traveling ways are easy! Most involve frugality and liquor ;)

        One time in Dublin my friend and I had the best idea. If we split a pint of Guiness, we’d be saving money! But then we ended up splitting 2 pints so we could have just gotten our own. Ahh, logic.

        • Reply

          Hilary Billings

          September 7, 2012

          Haha! That’s awesome.

          But that’s okay. Logic is second to drinking. =)

  • Reply

    Sugel

    September 17, 2012

    On one, the flight attendant, halfway through the flight, came and hunkered down next to my seat, pointed her finger at me and said, “I want to tell you that you are the first person today to say please and thank you to me.” I was appalled and asked whether that was standard operating procedure up in first class and she said yes, that first-class passengers often (I hope not often and that’s it’s only occasionally!) feel entitled to the better service and don’t feel obliged to be polite. I thought that was a horrible comment and felt sorry if that was the sort of dismissive behavior she encountered all too often.

    • Reply

      Hilary Billings

      September 17, 2012

      That’s so awful! But how nice that she could share with you and appreciate your appreciation. Hurray for you and good manners! The world needs more of them. =)

  • Reply

    silver account

    September 20, 2012

    On one, the flight attendant, halfway through the flight, came and hunkered down next to my seat, pointed her finger at me and said, “I want to tell you that you are the first person today to say please and thank you to me.” I was appalled and asked whether that was standard operating procedure up in first class and she said yes, that first-class passengers often (I hope not often and that’s it’s only occasionally!) feel entitled to the better service and don’t feel obliged to be polite. I thought that was a horrible comment and felt sorry if that was the sort of dismissive behavior she encountered all too often.

  • Reply

    Erica

    December 21, 2012

    wow, sounds awesome!
    though, I am always a little worried about how much paper they are wasting, and how much extra weight they are adding by handing out those menus and itineraries and such.

    • Reply

      Hilary Billings

      December 21, 2012

      Haha! I never thought of that, you eco-tourism girl! =) I think mine was laminated, but it’s been so long it’s hard to remember.

      • Reply

        Erica

        December 21, 2012

        haha trying to be… remember that campaign when they were asking everyone to use the restrooms before boarding?… no? just me? awks.

        • Reply

          Hilary Billings

          December 23, 2012

          Haha! No I don’t remember that! Which airline made you do that?

          • Erica

            December 23, 2012

            I couldn’t remember so I googled it and found that ANA had asked passengers to do so, but I’m pretty sure I remember hearing about it over here in the US, too.

          • Hilary Billings

            December 23, 2012

            That’s so crazy! I’ll have to do my own Google search on the matter.

  • Reply

    Erica

    December 21, 2012

    ps- most non-US airlines serve some kind of alcoholic beverage as part of the complimentary beverage service. I have sat next to many a Japanese or Korean who starts drinking some beer with their breakfast.

    • Reply

      Hilary Billings

      December 21, 2012

      Beer with breakfast?! Ewww! Or maybe that’s just gross to me?

      And good to know. I guess it just goes to show you how many times I’ve been on a non-US airline ;)

      • Reply

        Erica

        December 21, 2012

        haha well, that was me a few years back before I moved and started mostly flying non-US carriers. I also saw many Japanese men drinking beer with breakfast while traveling in general. The phrase “it’s 5 o’clock somewhere” either has no relevance or complete relevance in Japan. Still haven’t decided.

        • Reply

          Hilary Billings

          December 23, 2012

          Haha. Yeah, I think the jury’s out for me too. That’s too funny.

          But in all fairness, I’m not really a beer girl. I just went to a beer tasting (don’t ask me why- I thought it might be fun). I think I didn’t hate one of the twelve beers I tasted. I just looked at my friends saying, “Sorry- The next time you go to a chocolate tasting I’m definitely your girl!”

          • Erica

            December 23, 2012

            I am a sucker for brewery tours, but I think the earliest that I’ve had a beer is 11, with Sunday roast, right before a cider tour ;)
            Chocolate tasting all the way. Really, I think I’m just a fan of seeing how things are produced locally on a small-scale.

          • Hilary Billings

            December 23, 2012

            Small-scale productivity is super interesting, I’ll give you that!

            Man, I wish I was more of a fan of beer. I feel like if I ever go to Ireland, Germany, or some other major brew hubs I’m going to be missing out on a whole aspect of their culture I just could never understand. Sigh.

          • Erica

            December 24, 2012

            Haha maybe you just haven’t found the right brew. We can go to all 40+ microbreweries in Seattle to try to find you one. I’ll trick you into the trip with a tour of a local chocolate factory… darn. just gave away my plan!

          • Hilary Billings

            December 24, 2012

            Haha! I love it! FORTY breweries? We may need to spread that out over a few days- weeks maybe. Did I also mention I’m a lightweight?

          • Erica

            December 24, 2012

            It rains a lot. We get bored.
            Haha I’ve become one… we may need to find a DD for this adventure. Or take buses :)

          • Hilary Billings

            December 24, 2012

            Ooh! OR we could take one of those horse-drawn carriages! I see good things in our future =).

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About Me

About Me

Hey fellow adventurers, my name is Hilary! After being rejected from grad school, I took off on a solo journey around the world. Now I constantly challenge myself to take on new experiences. This blog documents my journeys from Europe to Fiji, swimming with sharks and living with tribes, to becoming an accidental beauty queen and working for one of the top national media outlets. If you like what you're reading, please subscribe! Here's to the next great adventure!

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