Or How 14 hours on my LAX-Sydney Flight Went Quickly!
It was a balmy April evening in Los Angeles and there I was at the bustling Tom Bradley International Terminal – ready to begin my aeronautical journey to Australia. I was taking the Qantas non-stop flight to Sydney, scheduled to depart LAX at 10:30pm with a 6:30am arrival two days later (thanks to crossing the international date line)!
I was excited at the prospect of my very first trip to the Land Down Under for a delicious three weeks of touring. But I was not-so-excited by the brutally long 14-hour plane flight staring me in the face. However, as will be revealed in this “Story From the Road,” I emerged in Sydney smiling & intact, with a serious case of “plane lust” and a fun “stealth” experience to share.
Australia Flight & Trip Preparation
The story began eleven months earlier when I first called American Airlines – with a hope and a prayer – to book a Los Angeles to Sydney flight in economy using my frequent flyer miles. Success! I was thrilled not only to get a “free” flight but it was a non-stop on Qantas, Australia’s national carrier. And it was at a good time conducive for sleeping on the plane.
As the trip got closer, I called Qantas directly to get a seat assignment, well worth the $23 extra fee. As I always do for long flights (when your seat can make or break you!), I consulted the wonderfully helpful Seat Guru website before calling Qantas. Their site lets you look at a detailed seating chart for the actual plane you will be flying on so you can carefully avoid problem seats (like those that don’t recline) and annoying areas (such as those close to busy galleys and toilets).
On Seat Guru, I learned that my Qantas plane was an A-380-800 (which didn’t mean much to me at the time) with a seat configuration of 3-4-3 in economy. I requested an aisle seat (72G) in the middle section with the 4 seats, thinking that these less desirable inner seats would fill up last. And yes, I ended up with an empty seat right next to me!
Time for Takeoff
Back at LAX, it was time to board the plane. As I settled into my comfortable seat, I immediately began checking out the list of movies as I’m a real movie buff. I was delighted to see a really good selection of first-run movies to help the hours pass more quickly. Soon I was lost in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation with Mr. Cruise, interrupted only by the dinner meal service (which was very good).
After the movie ended, I headed to the back of the plane to use the toilet and do my usual “in-place” exercise movements (you know, for DVT prevention and stiff hip reduction!) before settling in for some sleep. While standing there in the larger than normal galley, I began chatting with a friendly flight attendant who showed me the very cool “self-serve snack bar” where you could help yourself to a variety of soft drinks, bottled water, snacks and ice. Great concept!
She told me that this modern Airbus 380 aircraft holds around 500 passengers, making it the world’s largest passenger plane. I had no idea! She then pointed over to the side of the galley to the curving staircase which led upstairs. “Really, an upstairs?” I asked. Yes, she said, informing me that the A-380 is the only plane with a full length second level (the “upper deck”). OMG – I’m really impressed now!
Clearly, I’m not very savvy about the different types of aircraft, although I / we can all easily recognize the wide-body Boeing 747 with its characteristic “hump” at the top front of the plane, housing a small upper deck with premium seats. I later learned through “Mr. Google” that the 747, the world’s first wide body airplane, began flying commercially way back in 1970 while the A-380 (the “new kid on the block”) had its first such flight just in 2007.
To my delight, this flight attendant told me that I could go up the stairs to look, since the last few rows of the upper deck were regular economy before becoming premium seats. Of course, I didn’t have to think twice. New territory to explore and an airplane upstairs – it sounded fun!
Exploring Forbidden Territory
So up the stairs I went, finding a gate at the top where I hesitated to proceed. But almost immediately, a flight attendant named Miguel saw me and opened the gate to let me into the large galley area where he was taking a break. We chatted and I shared how excited I was to be traveling to Australia and about seeing a “double-decker” plane that I never even knew existed.
Miguel asked me if I’d like to see more of the upper deck. “Absolutely!” I said. The timing turned out to be great, as the meal service for the upper deck passengers was complete and the overhead lights had just been turned off so people could sleep.
So, like a stealth invader from the lower class “under world,” I was about to enter the forbidden territory of the hallowed “premium” world! As we walked down the left aisle in the dimly lit cabin, I dutifully followed close behind Miguel, who was shining his special flashlight towards the floor so we could see. We first passed five rows of regular economy seats, then five rows of Premium Economy.
Now we were getting to the really good stuff. The curtain briefly parted as we entered Business Class, with 11 rows of passengers happily tucked away in their full recliner sleeper seats. Yes, I will admit, I felt “lust in my heart” for those seats! Up at the front was a business / first class lounge and another staircase, going down to first class (definitely off limits.)
There was a small self-service bar area to the left (with “real drinks” like wine and spirits) and a lounge to the right. The lounge had a cushioned sofa (with seating for around 5 people) and there was one “night owl” passenger watching a movie on the wall’s flat screen TV. Soon, we headed back down the other aisle, walking past passengers sleeping or quietly watching movies. This “illicit” royal tour had been exhilarating!
Interesting Conversations With the Flight Crew
Upon returning back to the galley, Miguel offered me a drink and I boringly requested an orange juice. Chatting a while longer, I learned that each crew member (flight attendants and pilots alike) gets a 3-hour break on these long flights. On a rotating basis, they head down to the sleeping area, located in the lower level of the plane below the main cabin. There the beds are flat, which is good, but the room is apparently very cold! That’s not surprising with outside air temps at cruising altitude in the ballpark of minus 48 degrees F.
Miguel has been flying with Qantas to the U.S. for around 25 years. He shared that he has hosted all types of passengers – from George Clooney (my long time crush!) to refugees being flown on hosted flites. In referring to the inherent equality of people, I loved his comment that “all passengers sleep the same!” I certainly agree, at least in principle. However, on airplanes some certainly sleep more comfortably than others – and I had just witnessed it first hand!
I thanked Miguel profusely for his kindness and giving me a special experience I won’t soon forget before heading back downstairs to my regular economy world. In the same galley where it all started, I began to converse with a different, very sweet flight attendant. We talked about what sights I was planning to see on my Australia trip . She seemed genuinely interested.
She then shared that she had just begun flying with Qantas four months ago, after flying for Virgin Australia on domestic flights. She was thrilled to be working internationally on this great plane. Qantas flies this long-distance A-380 aircraft from Sydney to four cities: Los Angeles (14 hours), Dallas (16.5 hours), Dubai and Hong Kong. Qantas also flies the A-380 on their Melbourne flights.
In fact, Qantas’ Sydney – Dallas flight is currently the second longest non-stop commercial flight in the world (8,577 miles). Since you might be wondering, like I did, who is #1, here’s the answer. The longest is Emirates’ flight from Dubai to Auckland, New Zealand (8,824 miles). But there is competition brewing for some other truly long hauls so stay tuned.
Finally Time To Sleep
After all this fun schmoozing and exploring, I returned to my seat to take a sleeping pill (my trusted Ambien) with the hopes of getting some Zzzz. Personally, I find that a sleeping pill (plus neck pillow, eye shades and ear plugs) are pretty critical in helping me to sleep semi-upright in economy seats. Luckily, I was successful, waking up six hours later to a still-quiet cabin with lights out.
So I watched two more movies. A good breakfast meal was served 1.5-2 hours out and my last movie finished just before landing in Sydney. As I double checked the time on my watch, I couldn’t believe that 14 whole hours had passed – and so quickly and easily (not the norm)! As I got off the plane, I snapped an iPhone photo (below) through the terminal window of my “double decker” plane to remember this very fun flight.
Yes, as you can see, I developed a serious case of “A-380 Plane Lust!” I had fallen for this beautiful, modern and comfortable plane, comfortable even for us folks in economy. Amazingly, the bathrooms were still clean and fresh at the end of the flight (and believe me, that’s not often the case)!
Just as importantly, it was the friendly and gracious Qantas cabin crew that helped make the experience such a delight for me and I am grateful. It was a great beginning to my Australian Grand Adventure! Off to explore Sydney…..
Seat Guru – http://www.seatguru.com/
Seat Map for my Qantas Airbus A380-800 LAX-SYD flight – Make sure to move down the screen past the first “main cabin” chart to also see the “upper deck” chart.
Comments: Have you also flown the A380-800 aircraft? With what airline / on what routing / for how many hours? What was your impression?
Karen Rohrbaugh says
What a a great tip-filled article! If I am lucky enough to return to Australia, I will definitely search out the Airbus 380! Like you, I am a boomer traveler and fly economy. Thanks for the wonderful tip!
Planet Janet says
Thanks Karen. Glad the article was helpful – flying economy on long flights takes a little more strategy!
Great story! This was a very insightful article. I have never heard of this type of plane. I was only familiar with a 747. Hopefully I will be lucky enough to fly on one someday in the near future.
Planet Janet says
Thank you, Tina. Glad you enjoyed the story! I totally agree with you. Before taking the Qantas flight, I also only knew of the 747 with the distinctive top bulge at the front of the plane with its 2nd story section. I was like a wide-eyed little kid when the flight attendant pointed out the staircase at the back of the plane & then told me I could go up those stairs! Such fun to be so totally surprised.
Janie Kidd says
Who would have thought even the flight could be an adventure? I enjoyed my vicarious tour..and glad to know about Seat Guru.
Again- Happy birthday!
Planet Janet says
Thanks, Janie! Glad you enjoyed the “tour in the sky”! And, yes, Seat Guru is pretty darn handy!
Thanks also for the birthday wishes!
DAIRA PAULSON says
My wonderful son-in-law is a world-wide business traveler. He had accumulated American Airline miles that were about to expire as the company for whom he works changed their primary carrier. He generously gave me his points which were enough to fly round-trip and first- class between San Diego and West Papua New Guinea on American’s partner, Cathy Pacific. It was, a you say, pure lust. My Cathy Pacific seat was wide and comfortable and converted into a flat bed and were arranged to provide quite a bit of privacy. With fresh airline-provided PJs and a full size comforter, I had a good night’s sleep arriving fresh and ready to travel. All meals were served to order and included a wide variety of options. I had no idea how the 1% lived! The service , comfort, and entire environment were truly a marvelous experience. First class flyers are also invited to enjoy the airline’s courtesy lounge, another huge plus with complimentary drinks, food, and lounge seating. Alas, it’s back to economy for us but I haven’t forgotten that great flight experience!
Planet Janet says
Thank you, Daira for the wonderful story! Wow, what an experience you had – in first class, no less! I appreciate your sharing what it was like to be in that “elite” part of the A-380. Sounded wonderful – especially sleeping in a flat bed (and with airline PJ’s)!