Tickets: yes. Passport: yes. Wallet: yes. Visa for entry to your flight’s final destination: um… can I get back to you on that?
Serendipity, this: only by being so hectically disorganised as to have failed to order my Australian ETA and having to apply for it at the check-in desk some 55 minutes before my flight departed did I learn the valuable fact that Qantas Business class customers don’t have to pay the £40 fee for a new application – “It’s all part of the service,” explained the desk agent. Sometimes it pays to be in a state of chaos, though I won’t be doing this on purpose again.
The “old” direct(ish) route to Australia from the UK used to involve two roughly equal flight-times. Going via Dubai, as on the route Qantas codeshares with Emirates as of 2013, means you get one shortish, seven-hour stint, a break, then a second flight of approximately 13 hours. I stayed awake on the first leg to Dubai, reading, eating, working, and watching telly; there’s an impressive array of films and television shows on the VOD system, including “box set”-style runs of popular TV shows such as Breaking Bad and Masters of Sex; the films include not just the current box-office selection but a back catalogue including, to my delight, A Streetcar Named Desire and Midnight Cowboy.
The pairs of cocoon-like gunmetal seats are arranged in slightly serried rows, so you only ever have one person directly beside you – this seems to cut down, too, on “bleed” from other passengers’ video on demand screens. That’s not the only distraction that seems to have been near-erased here: the A380 is almost unnervingly quiet. The loudest noise comes not from the engines but from the ventilation system; tune that out, and you realise there’s… almost nothing. No sense of the plane battling through the outside elements. In its eerie quietude, you realise space travel must be something like this.
It was my first ever visit to Dubai airport, and I spent my hour or so here reflecting on the tremendous run of good luck that meant I’d managed to avoid the place for the last 35 years. Here, we encounter an unwelcome fresh twist on the modern thumbscrew set that is the security check: this time, you’re asked to take your watch off as you pass through security. I have never encountered this before, and suspect I won’t ever again; what is it with the different things that require separate scanning at different airports? If my watch wasn’t suspicious at Heathrow eight hours ago, why has it become so here? The more cynical observer might note here that of all the things you’re carrying or wearing at this point, your wristwatch is not just among the likeliest item to be overlooked and left behind as you hastily stuff laptop back into bag, Boots miniatures into plastic sachets, etc., but one of the more valuable things. I was reminded of the time a security officer at Glasgow Airport pointed out I had more than the permitted number of liquids in my hand-luggage, and would I perhaps like to jettison this nice expensive-looking aftershave?
Just to make you feel this has been worth it, re-entering the same plane for the second stint involves taking an elevator up to the top deck. Back in the same cabin, I found I’d been moved forward ten seats, from 21B to 11F, the first row in Qantas Business class. I was determined to sleep for as much of this flight as possible, even though it would mean missing a meal – having enjoyed an excellent grilled grey mullet dish on the first leg, I’d been looking forward to trying long-time Qantas collaborator Neil Perry’s take on the spicy lamb soup harira, but sleep won out and I was out before lunch/dinner/whatever was served. The fold-out bed extends fully to an angle just tilted down from the horizontal; best of all, the passenger can easily “make” the bed, which involves simply hooking a padded mattress-cover over the seat, without the staff’s assistance. There’s no nasty synthetic fibres leaving myriad threads on your clothes here, but a maroon blanket of some heavy cotton. You’ll never mistake even the fanciest Business class seat for a real bed, but snuggling into this (in my Qantas Business class PJs) I felt about as toasty and comfortable as it’s possible to, 39,000 feet above the earth’s surface.
On waking – you always open your eyes on these flights hoping against hope it’s a beginning-our-descent announcement that’s startled you awake; alas, there was still a third of the journey to go – I revived myself with the Malin + Goetz toiletries in my handsomely designed Jack Spade amenities bag (female passengers get the Kate Spade version), then went to explore. There’s a little bar area just ahead of Business here, where four or five people can sit on comfy red leather couches whose colour and design somehow recall the seats in an old-fashioned barber’s shop. Here you watch the Flight Path screen – perhaps you could ask to have a movie shown here, turning this space into a tiny airborne screening room – and twig after some time that the countdown to landing moves in ten-minute increments. Before realising this, you blearily stare, no longer surprised that you should be hurtling at 550mph through the troposphere while seeming to get no nearer your destination. I love being in Australia, but getting there can be a drag. Qantas makes it a pleasure. C