Across Australia in 4 days – Part 3: Sydney Landing

Originally posted November 9, 2009 ¬ 1:08 AM on previous web server

Previously on Across Australia in 4 Days – Part 2: Kuala Lumpur International Airport

It was 4:51 am Malaysian Standard Time. The aircraft had been in the air for nearly 5 hours. The flight information display on my armrest LCD screen showed that the flight would be in the air for another 2 hours before we land in Sydney.

We were cruising at 1,093 km per hour at an altitude of 36,974 feet, which was equivalent to slightly over 11 km up in the air. Kuala Lumpur was 4,624 km behind, and Sydney 2,111 km ahead. The air show map on the LCD screen showed that we were right in the middle of Australia. Outside air was cold -14 Celsius, but it was nowhere near as cold as -64 Celsius that I had observed above Norway in a flight from US to Sweden in January 2007.

At 5:10 am the cabin’s color LED lighting, what was known as “mood lighting”, came on. The changing color hues were very soothing and pretty and were designed to help weary travelers adjust more easily to a different time zone.

The turning on of mood lighting also doubled as a wake up signal. Five minutes later we were served fruit juice followed by breakfast. The time was 7:15 am Sydney time, +2 hours ahead of Malaysia.

Slightly more than 90 minutes later at 8:59 am the aircraft’s mid-body landing gears’ tires touched down smoothly at Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport.

The quiet landing was immediately followed by the roar of thrust reversers being engaged to direct hot exhaust gases from the four engines to the front, to quickly stop the heavy aircraft. 10 seconds later the aircraft slowed to a crawl and taxied off the landing runway.

I activated the radio on my mobile phone, which had been hibernating in flight mode since the boarding in Kuala Lumpur. It connected immediately to Telstra Mobile and soon after that a text message came in from my brother-in-law in Kuala Lumpur acknowledging my text to him informing of my trip the night before.

We were approaching a gate. Through the cabin window I could see many Qantas planes with their vertical stabilizers in distinctive white kangaroo on red background.

That was to be expected – we were after all at an Australian airport, and a major one at that as well.

7 minutes later at 9:06 am, the aircraft docked and connected to a jetway next to a US Delta Air Lines Boeing 777 which had flown its maximum range across the Pacific from Los Angeles to Sydney.

At 9:21 am I breezed through immigration and then waited at Carousel number 2 for my baggage.

I was a bit apprehensive. There was this distant inner fear that my luggage would not be there on the carousel. The fear of history repeating itself.

In January 2007 I landed at Newark airport near New York after a short 90-minute flight from Washington D.C. My luggage was nowhere to be seen even after everyone on the flight had collected theirs and the carousel had stopped moving!

I lodged a missing luggage report and took a courtesy van to my transit hotel. I had planned to explore New York city while waiting for my flight back to Kuala Lumpur, but the missing luggage with my warm clothing in it had forced me to stay indoors. It was way too cold for me to venture out.

The bag never appeared, and two days later I checked in at the airport for the 21-hour MH91 flight to Kuala Lumpur via Stockholm with only my trusty backpack and laptop computer. No checked luggage, only the carry-ons.

I came out of the reverie back to the present, when the luggage carousel at Sydney airport started to move at 9:35 am. With a great relief I saw my bag. But I had to wait a while for the bag to take a long tour around the hall before it came to me – I was standing at the wrong side of the carousel.

I then went to the queue that was waiting to have their luggage cleared by customs inspectors. In my bag I had packs of granola bars – bars of ready-to-eat compressed oats and cereals, enough to last the four-day journey on the Indian Pacific train from Sydney to Perth.

Australia’s authorities were very strict on the importation of foods, grains, pollen, seeds, fruits, honey, soils, medications and other similar materials. Thus on the landing form distributed during the flight, I had dutifully declared that I was bringing food materials.

The lady customs officer attending to me requested that I show her the food that I had declared on the form. I did. She did not say anything, but turned her attention to my first aid bag, pointing to two blister packs of paracetamol tablets that I always included in my travel bag.

I told her what they were. After rummaging through the first aid bag, she advised me to declare them on the landing form next time, even though they might be normal paracetamol tablets. Yes officer.. Then she let me go. Thank you officer..

The whole episode was swift. It was over within 10 minutes of the luggage carousel started moving.

I had psyched myself for the worst and was quite ready to be held up until the last passenger had gone, as what had happen to me in 2006 at Perth Airport. But it did not happen.

Here in Sydney I was not grilled with the barrage of questions I had endured in Perth – where was I going to visit, why was I going there, who was I going to meet, what was my itinerary, did I have credit cards, why did I bring the GPS satellite navigation receiver, why did I bring the magnetic compass, why did I bring more than one flash drive, why did that particular video clip was in my laptop computer (it was a lecture video), was I there to give lectures (i.e. illegal employment), etc, etc.

I had felt like a fugitive seeking to overstay my visa and work illegally in the country, whereas on the contrary I was a qualified engineer with a degree from a top Australian university, a specialist with master’s degree from a respectable top ten U.K. university and a dignified professional working at a premier telecommunications company in Malaysia.

Thankfully, none of that happened in Sydney. They did not even care to look at my e-ticket which would verify that I had a confirmed return flight back to Malaysia in a week’s time.

I concluded that the raw treatment I received in Perth over 3 years ago was not representative of the country’s border security system, rather it was a treatment I had received from an overzealous young lady officer.

By 9:50 am I was in the public area of the airport’s arrival hall. I found a row of vacant seats and sat there observing the surroundings and planning my move. My next destination was Sydney Central Station where the Indian Pacific was scheduled to depart in 5 hours’ time at 2:55 pm.

At the arrival hall’s information desk, I gathered that the central station was only a short distance from the airport, costing AUD15.00 by coach or AUD15.20 by train. The information desk’s staff recommended that I take the train.

After several minutes’ rest, I opened my suitcase and transferred to my backpack the granola bars, first aid kit, and a toiletries bag. I needed to put into the backpack everything I required for the 4-day journey because once checked in on the Indian Pacific, I would not have access to the big bag again.

I also transferred a light blanket into the backpack. The Indian Pacific website had recommended that Red Daynighter Seat guests such as me bring along a blanket and pillow for added comfort. Well, I had a blanket, but for pillow I would have to improvise.

That done, I made my way down the hall towards the elevator that went down to the airport train terminal.

The journey had turned out great up to then. I had safely arrived in Sydney with ample time to comfortably catch the Indian Pacific for the long rail trek across the Australian continent.

Next on Across Australia in 4 days – Part 4: Face to face with the Indian Pacific


You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>