Monday, February 15, 2010

New Zealand 2010: Seattle to Sydney (Wednesday, February 10 & Friday, February 12)

Written in the terminal at Sydney airport, 7:40 am (Sydney time) on Friday, February 12

Wednesday started with finishing off my packing and calling in for a work meeting, which ended up being cancelled.  As I was waiting on the line, Tuesday night’s episode of Lost started downloading, with a projected finish time of 10:35 am, just after when I wanted to leave.  Being the Lost slut that I am, I waited for it to finish downloading and then transferred it to the iPhone to take with me — which took me until 11:01 am, so I had to scramble out the door to get to the light rail station.

I think this is the lightest I have packed for a trip in ages; I pack heavier than this for a weekend country-western dance event.  That’s mostly because I’m travelling with my mother.  Although we arranged to be in the cities on the weekends, so I’ll mange to get out to experience some gay life in New Zealand, I only packed a vest and boots and jock for my leather gear.  It will have to do.  There’s only one leather-ish bar in New Zealand, anyway: Urge in Auckland.

Once on light rail, I called into my second meeting, which we ended just as I got to the terminal at the airport, so it was well timed.  I expect to get a new build or two of the Android version of our software e-mailed to me while I’m here, to do some spot checking. I shouldn’t be able to play music due to international “geoblocking”; (we only play in the U.S.), but I should be able to install and explore the app outside of that.

I flew Virgin America to Los Angeles, with a nice rate of $99 each way, cheaper than other options.  But as a small airline, they have limited flights (just 8 cities at this time, I think), so I had to leave at 12:45 pm, leaving me with a 5 hours layover at LAX.  Mom’s Alaska flight left about the time I arrived, so she had less wait.

Virgin America is tied to Virgin Atlantic and V Australia and Virgin Blue and all that, but not tightly enough to be considered foreign owned (per a recent lawsuit).  They also aren’t tied closely enough for me to get credit for my flights to Australia and New Zealand on their plan.  And they couldn’t check my bag straight through to New Zealand, either (which is odd, since Mom could via Alaska).

The plane had purple lighting in the ceiling, which I think was meant to be calming and such, but made it feel like a nightclub to me.  (Specifically like the defunct Seattle gay bar Manray, whose decor was white wall panels with pastel lighting behind them.)  Each seat had an entertainment center in it, but the movies and TV shows were pay-per-view, and $8 for a movie was too much.  It also had games, but they weren’t especially well done, and one in particular hung my console once and then the controls wouldn’t activate one of the commands.  So I mostly read (the DC Showcase Presents Booster Gold volume) and did crossword puzzles.  The flight to LAX was quite bumpy.

At LAX, I had to get my back and then re-check it on V Australia.  The crew at ticketing was friendly and engaging.  After I checked my bag, I came back to ask about miles and found that they have Delta as a partner, so I was able to get my 17,500 miles or so for this trip credited, which should give me enough for a free flight there, since my Ireland and Amsterdam/Copenhagen/Berlin flights were on Northwest and Delta as well.

Food choices at LAX were piss poor.  The “Food Court” was Burger King and Starbucks, plus a sit-down fish place, and the Burger King prices were $2-3 higher than a regular BK would charge.  Yow.

While waiting for Mom to arrive, I worked on some blog posts.  After she got there, we found a spot with power plugs and I watched an episode of Desperate Housewives Season 3 (thank you, Netflix).

On the V Australia flight — which had gray ceiling lights, a little less like a night club than Virgin America, but which had a bar between first class and business which restored that impression some — Mom and I were separated by an aisle (I had arranged this at V Australia check-in).  The entertainment systems were better than on V America, with a bundle of free movie selections.  (I watched Up, Zombieland, and 500 Days of Summer — all are recommended — and played Zuma.)

They feed you well enough on international flights.  Even though we left after 8 pm, they fed us dinner (I had Japanese curry chicken with bok choy) and breakfast in the morning (I had cream cheese and apricot crêpes). As well, they have a snack area in economy where you can get chips, cookies, cheese and crackers, and water throughout the flight.  Great idea.

Despite V Australia advertising that they have power plugs at every seat (I think; can’t find the reference now), they don’t.  Economy coach gets screwed, so I didn’t use the laptop during the flight.  But with the movie selection, I didn’t need to.  (And of course, this was an almost 14-hour flight, over night.  I did get about 7 hours of sleep, or sort of sleep — the sort you go in and out of as you try to pretend to get comfortable and hope no one passes by and bumps you.  Maybe 5 hours of real sleep.  Maybe I’ll doze some more on the flight to New Zealand.)

On the V Australia flights to and from Sydney, there was a dedicated women’s lavatory in the Economy section, something I had never encountered before.  I’m not sure if it was there as a privacy concession (a woman-only space), a perceived cleanliness issue (no pee dribbles on the floor, but I routinely hear that women make bigger overall messes of public toilets), or just an awareness that women take longer in the toilet than men do and may need extra facilities (go to a concert or sporting event some time and see the long, long line for the women’s toilet).  Regardless, I did use the women’s toilet once, before they announced that it was women-only and where it was.  (It didn’t look any different on the inside.)  I never particularly noticed it getting used more than others.

According to this article, this gender-specific feature is apparently a new idea.  The article doesn’t mention any other airlines having it, even though V Australia does.

We crossed both the Equator and the International Date Line last night.  My first time for each.  So we’ve swapped seasons to high summer and skipped almost a full day.

At the Sydney airport, I cashed a €20 bill I had left from last summer to get some Australian spending money, and bought a horribly overpriced bottle of water (AU$3.90) for Mom and a latte for myself (priced closer to what you’d expect in an American airport, AU$4.45).  And then I sat and wrote this blog entry.

We’ll be boarding in a few minutes, flying Emirates Air to Auckland.  Based out of Dubai, it’s apparently a two-floor Airbus 380 plane.  I’ve never been on one before, so this may be cool.  The flight to Auckland is about 3 hours and a time zone change.

Updated on March 5, 2010
Added links and made a few revisions.
Added a chunk on airplane lavatories.
Updated on March 8, 2010
Added travel map.
Updated on April 1, 2010
Changed travel map to a live one.

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