In 2014 I had plans to visit family in New Zealand and meet my little nephew for the first time. I decided that since I was going all that way from Toronto, I might as well make it another around-the-world flight, just for bragging rights 😉
Actually, some of the best reasons to take a circular route (even if it’s not around-the-world) are
- Instead of one flight there and one flight back, you can add additional cities/countries to your itinerary while spending less time away (and using vacation days) than if you visited them each separately. It may mean less time at each destination but overall can be way more intense an experience with more stories to share after.
- I don’t know about everyone else, but if I have to fly 13 hours to get somewhere, it means I have to fly 13 hours to get back home at the end of the trip and that flight can be a little less exhilarating knowing that it’s just going back over the same ground and probably in the same airline and aircraft type, and that when you get there you have to go right back to the same job and same problems you left in the first place! Flying a circular route means your last flight is probably on a new airline from a new city flying over new scenery. That’s always a plus!
- I love airports! The feeling of a connecting flight in a strange airport is nearly always appealing, especially since it didn’t come with an extra long drive in traffic or transit to get there. If you have 3-4 hours of connecting time, its a great opportunity to stretch your legs, explore the terminal for shopping, food, and photography options. I find it just helps my body and brain to recharge for the next flight, especially if I’m stuffed in Economy with my 6’5 frame.
- Finally, it’s just a great feeling to be in a foreign city and flying to another foreign city. Admittedly this is the 21st century and we’re not on sailing ships, but that retro feel of escaping from North America and finding oneself in exotic locales is amazing still. I love getting to say names like Frankfurt and Rome and Perth and Haneda and seeing all the different airlines and faces and scenery that we never get to see at home! For those of you who haven’t traveled outside of the US and Canada, it really is a much bigger world out there than here and you don’t really appreciate how much the rest of the world matters until you visit it.
So with 75,000 brand-new Aeroplan miles at hand, I booked the following flights with an open-jaw.
Toronto (YYZ) to Christchurch, NZ (CHC) – connecting via San Francisco (SFO) and Sydney (SYD)
Christchurch (CHC) to Perth (PER) – Connecting via Sydney (SYD)
Perth (PER) to Toronto (YYZ) – connecting via Singapore (SIN) and Istanbul (IST)
With Aeroplan, all the flights to Australia and New Zealand were basically with United at the time, which was okay with me for one reason.
For whatever reasons, I always found the idea of crossing the Pacific in a 747 the coolest, most adventurous thing one could do. I think it comes from all the glamour of the Pan-Am era and how romantic and awesome it all must have felt at the time.
Sure, the connection time in SFO from my Air Canada flight was only 55 minutes as I recall, so I couldn’t really relax until I made it to my gate on time, but there was no other booking option and I would’ve taken any booking as long as it was with the Queen of the Skies. The other downside was a night flight leaving SFO around midnight and arriving just before 7am during darkness, but you take what you can get. And it turned out I got a whole row to myself near the back of the plane for my longest flight to date.
After landing in Sydney, I had a few hours to kill before my Air New Zealand hop across to Christchurch. The international terminal is relatively small and you don’t get great views of the runway for shooting.
What you do get, however, is great views of airport ops with interesting airlines and big planes!
On my way to New Zealand, I had the interesting experience of sitting in the first row where the friendly cabin crew were facing during take-off and landing, making me slightly self-conscious with all my camera-work and recording the flight. But I got a free ANZ pen from them! And the mountains on the western side of New Zealand were tremendous to see.
New Zealand was brilliant with the birds and driving on the wrong side of the road (and blowing a tire on the left curb in the rain) and meeting my brother’s whole new family.
After a week it was back to the airport for a Virgin Australia flight to Perth. This will always be a day long connecting flight and I saw the opportunity to grab a free stop in Sydney to do a quick walk-about. I left Christchurch around 7am and landed in Sydney a little more than 3 hours later. In the airport itself is a subway connection all the way to downtown so by lunch I was walking around on a beautiful sunny day in downtown Sydney! I’ll write a future post with all the birds and sights.
A few bits of advice though if you’re planning on leaving the airport mid-connection.
Give yourself plenty of time when coming back as traffic ties ups, rush hour, even accidents or other delays could trip you up. You will be going through security again and you may have no idea how busy any particular airport could be at any time.
One of the other downsides is that you’ll be stuck with your carry-on the whole time. As a photographer, my carry-on is a big camera backpack with about 20 lbs of gear in it, so I can’t just throw it in a locker without taking a huge risk that it won’t be stolen when I return. By the mid-afternoon, I was wrecked by the weight of it on my shoulders and on my legs. Downtown Sydney is all about walking around and taking pics though so be prepared to make decisions regarding the weight of your carry-on in these types of opportunities.
Some people may ask is it worth it to have a long connection just to get out of the airport? I personally think it is depending on the city and your level of interest. One never knows for sure when our traveling days may come to an end (age, budget, family etc) and I think it’s better to work for a quick opportunity like this rather than ‘hope’ to come back some day, which may be years in the future. And if you find yourself frustrated that you loved it and couldn’t stay longer, I think that’s the best outcome! If you find yourself drooling over your last trip and all it’s memories and have started making future plans, then it was a successful trip.
Pretty soon though, it was time for a dinner-time flight to Perth, again with Virgin Australia. For this one, we got to walk out onto the ramp which is always fun. And after the initial climb-out we came through the most amazing sunset-lit cloud formations I’ve ever seen. Beautiful!
After a dark landing in Perth, I had three days to explore. Unfortunately I brought the worst sinus infection with me from New Zealand and had to see another Doctor in town. I still managed to check out the downtown, Penguin Island, and did some shooting at the airport which you can read about in an earlier post here in my blog.
My trip home to Toronto was going to be a long one though, My next flight was on Singapore Airlines to Singapore and I was really excited! I had never flown anywhere near South-east Asia before and it felt like real exploring (albeit in air-conditioned seated comfort!). The one aspect of this visit that wasnt happy, was that the search for MH370 was still in full swing off the coast of Western Australia. From the terminal you could easily see some Chinese search planes parked on the ramp which were still flying daily I presume. It was very eerie to be in the same area where that plane and its people vanished and I had hoped they would have been found by this point, especially for the families involved.
Changi Airport in Singapore was simply massive and endlessly entertaining. I had a several hour layover so I browsed the stores and ate. It was too dark to photograph much. I hope one day to go back and spend some time in Singapore although I’ve read you have to be careful photographing planes from outside the airport as there may be legal restrictions. Be informed before you go!
From Singapore, it was another Singapore Airlines 777 to Istanbul. Much of the flight was overnight so I didn’t get to gaze down upon India and Iraq, unfortunately. It was incredibly moving to think that I was flying directly over parts of the world I had always heard about (especially Iraq since 2003) but where life was so completely different to most of us, at least here in North America where I’m from. The more places one visits, the more real life becomes in all its glory and evils.
Ataturk airport was the one big disappointment of the trip, however. After landing I had to go through security again as there wasn’t an international transit area, just the regular departure level. And these guys certainly acted the way I imagined old Soviet agents would treat foreigners pre-breakup! No smiles, barely any English, just grunting and pointing.
The terminal itself was pretty big and it had already outgrown the number of flights and passengers it was handling. The new replacement still isn’t ready but it’s desperately needed. Three things jumped out at me and have stuck in my mind since.
1 – Absolutely *NO* USB or power ports anywhere! Even if I had had a wall-adapter, I don’t remember seeing more than one or two outlets, presumably used by the cleaning service. My phone was nearly dead and I was saved only by a beautiful cashier in a small cafe tucked away in an empty part of the terminal. She offered to let me charge up using her own cable plugged into her counter.
2 – The terminal was big and spread out with lots of walking needed to get around, but there were lots of trip-hazard where portions of the floor met other flooring at odd angles. It was obviously a work-in-progress and never designed for it’s current workload. Another example is how many arriving and departing aircraft were parked at remote stands due to lack of gates (including ours).
3 – NOBODY smiles! It was an hour or more until I actually saw an employee smile and it stuck in my head immediately when he did, as opposed to how glum everyone else was. And this terminal was packed with thousands of people!
Anyway, I shouldn’t complain but it was a good learning experience. Expect nothing and bring your own power! I’m glad it was a relatively short layover at around 6 hours.
Apologies for the poor quality here. I think my Iphone4 was having focusing issues and I was truly sick which may explain the shaking.
Of all the flights, this Turkish Airlines 777 flight was the longest and least comfortable due to being sick and packed in like sardines. When we land, I usually sit until everyone else fights their way off, and then I grab my bag and go. This time, when I deplaned, I was shocked. I have never seen an aircraft as filthy and abused as this poor 777! Garbage everywhere…maybe every fully-booked long-haul flight is like this but it was a first for me.
Overall, despite my congestion and flu, this was a great trip around-the-world! I got see the Southern Hemisphere for the first time and meet my brother’s family and new little nephew! Makes me think it’s about time for another trip in the opposite direction 😉
To be continued in Part 3…