Leaving a tropical paradise like Bali is hard. So hard that I accidentally extended my stay an extra day. I lost track of the date. I’m used to airlines sending a check-in reminder and was preoccupied with the trip to Komodo National Park. In case anyone was wondering,no drugs and little alcohol were involved.
Out of the literally hundreds of international trips I’ve taken over many, many years, I’ve never confused the date. My first clue was the hotel asking if I wanted to extend my stay.
This mistake was costly. I lost out on the return flights in business class on Korean Air and all of the Delta Qualification Miles and Dollars those flights would generate. Adding insult to injury was purchasing a last-minute, one-way ticket in coach for about $900. Ouch!
Oh well, shit happens. No matter how dark the cloud, there is usually a silver lining. Even this expensive and personally embarrassing situation had some positive aspects. .
Posts about the Bali trip:
The only good news in this fiasco was for the first time I would be flying Qantas Airlines and experiencing its famous first class lounge at Kingsford-Smith Airport (SYD). Furthermore, because Qantas is a Oneworld partner of my primary airline, American, I would at least earn American Elite Qualifying Miles and Qualifying Dollars that would count toward my goal of requalifying for American Airlines Executive Platinum and Oneworld Emerald status.
Qantas Flight QF44 Denpasar,Indonesia (DPS) to Sydney, Australia (SYD)
Great Circle Distance: 2,871 statute miles
Scheduled Flight Time: 6 hours and 10 minutes
Class of Service: Economy
Check in Surprise
I got to the airport more than two hours before scheduled departure which is early for me especially since I had checked in online, had a boarding pass, and was checking no luggage. Nevertheless, another frustrating surprise awaited.
The schedule left eight hours and 10 minutes between arrival in Sydney and departure to Dallas, TX. The Qantas agent said I needed an Australian visa. I pointed out that I was transiting and would not leave the airport. That didn’t matter. According to instructions from the Australian government, anyone having a layover of more than eight hours needed a visa, period.
The agent and Qantas would be in trouble if anyone arrived in Australia without the required visa. The Qantas agent accompanied me to a booth near the check in counters where I applied for and received an electronic Australian visa. The visa cost $40.
I spent the time before boarding in the Premier Lounge, an average but still appreciated Priority Pass lounge. I started the short walk to the departure gate a few minutes after scheduled boarding time.
The gate looked deserted. It turns out that Gate 8 is a bus gate. Other passengers were waiting downstairs for busses to deliver us to the airplane.
Qantas 737-800 Cabin and Economy Seats
This plane has 174 seats — 162 economy and 12 business class. Business class seats are arranged 2-2. Seat pitch is 37 inches, and seat width is 22 inches. Economy seats have 30 inches of pitch and are 17.2 inches wide.
The seating arrangement is even more dense than American Airlines’ new “Oasis” design. The new American 737-800 Max comes with 172 seats (16 business and 156 economy), and American is converting existing 160 seat 737-800s to the same layout as well as removing seat back video.
My assigned seat for this flight was 5D, an aisle seat in the second row of economy.
Thirty inches of pitch is practically torture for many passengers on a a full six-hour flight. Fortunately, the other two seats on my side of the aisle were unoccupied. I had the proverbial ‘lie-flat’ economy seat.
The best economy seats
Qantas has no economy extra seats, but some economy seats are better than others. The first row of economy and the two exit rows are the best seats by far. A husband and wife were sitting in 4C and 4D. They were the only ones in their rows. When I sat down, the woman in 4D complained that she would not be able to sleep on the flight because armrests in Row 4 are fixed.
I offered to switch. She declined initially. After takeoff and discussion with her husband, she asked if I still wanted to trade seats. I quickly agreed. The first row in economy has great legroom. She got to sleep and I got to stretch out.
I’d trade a lie-flat economy seat for a seat like 4D any day. I wasn’t planning on getting much sleep and three economy seats don’t provide enough room for me to lie flat anyway.
Qantas partially compensates for the tight seats in coach by providing nice amenities. Each economy seat has a warm blanket, bottled water, and headphones (non-noise cancelling).
All coach seats have seat back LCD video screens. In-flight entertainment options include 15 movies, 250 TV programs and a kids entertainment section. Qantas offers free WiFi on most 737-800s and A330-300s but only on domestic routes.
Departure and In-Flight Service
We pushed from the gate at 21:00, 10 minutes early. IFE displayed a flight time of five hours and 50 minutes. Estimated arrival in SYD was 06:05.
Fully loaded Qantas 737-800s have a range of 4,800 km barely enough to reach SYD. This would be a risky flight flying the opposite way against the prevailing winds aloft. Qantas often operates Flight 44 using an A330-300, an aircraft with substantially greater range.
Takeoff occurred at 21:19. Flight attendants had carts in the aisle for the beverage and meal service 11 minutes later. There were three choices for the meal.
Qantas’ Economy meals are very simple. I was glad to have had some food in the lounge.
Naturally, Qantas serves Australian wines. I chose one that went well with pasta.
Qantas does not charge for beer, wine or liquor on international flights. Later I asked for scotch. It was not offered in coach, but a kind flight attendant brought one to me from business class.
After the meal, the crew dimmed the cabin lights and most went to sleep or tried to. Mid flight, I went to the lavatory at the rear of the plane. Economy was probably about 85% full. Arms, elbows, legs, feet and blankets protruded into the aisle making the trip difficult in the dark.
There are only two bathrooms for 162 economy passengers. That’s a horrible ratio. At least these bathrooms are not the incredibly narrow lavatories on densified American Airlines 737-800s.
When I returned to my seat, I moved to the window and grabbed a couple of hours’ rest before landing.
We approached SYD from the south as the sun rose.
Touchdown was at 06:09. We parked at Terminal 1 Gate 52 at 06:22. The pain was subsiding as I anticipated spending several hours in the Qantas First Class Lounge.
This was a good flight because of the service of the cabin crew, good amenities, and most importantly, I had a row to myself. On the flip side, being in a full row in economy, with 30 inch pitch, on a six-hour flight would be very unpleasant.
Have you ever had a costly or embarrassing travel mistake? Leave a comment. Confession is good for the soul.