It hit me around the 22 hour mark with no sleep.
While waiting for my third flight out of four, I had gotten off the ground to wash my teeth at Changi Airport’s Terminal 1 when an overwhelming feeling of nausea and dizziness overcame me. It was like a wave of seasickness.
I took a few deep breaths and staggered like a drunk to the toilet. “22 hours lost, only 19 ahead of us. 19 to go. 19 to go,” I chanted in my head.
I was so out of practice with long distance travel. In recent years I have not flown more than an hour and a half thanks to Covid.
* 7 international airlines still missing from the New Zealand skies
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A tired masked face looked at me in the mirror. “The worst is behind me, it’s all downhill from now on.” I didn’t realize that at the time, but the next flight would be by far the worst.
Flight 1: Wellington to Brisbane
Airline: Air New Zealand
Seat: 1E (!)
Time: Almost four hours
The beginning of the journey got off to a rather unfavorable start. While sitting in the Koru Lounge (that was as luxurious as this trip can get), my husband and I started smelling burnt toast. We ruled out a joint stroke and started seeing smoke hitting the ceiling. Just as our flight was called, the alarm sounded: “Please evacuate this area.” For several minutes, two rows of passengers in the queue studiously ignored the warnings.
“It was just toast,” I murmured.
We were then ushered outside onto the tarmac and into the gentle Wellington rain when my husband spotted the suspected toast burner. She laughed nervously.
Finally we were allowed back in and after a 30 minute delay we were finally able to start our journey to the other side of the planet.
We sort of dumped ourselves in row 1 (again, that’s about as luxurious as the seating is going to be on this trip). The service was fine and the pancake breakfast was comforting. After initial confusion as to where the entertainment console was located, I made friends with a Sandra Bullock movie and some family Guy.
Flight 2: Brisbane to Singapore
Airline: Singapore Airlines
Seat number: 60C
Time: 7 hours 30 minutes
We had to spend quite a bit of time at Brisbane Airport as it took us almost seven hours on our economy ticket. Brisbane was recently voted Australia’s best airport by Skytrax. It was ok, nothing special but not too shabby either. Although the impact of Covid could be seen in the empty stores on international departures.
The biggest problem was the long line to get our boarding passes. Since our trip consisted of two different tickets, we had to collect our luggage and check in again. It was almost an hour of my life that I can’t get back, but we weren’t in any hurry anyway.
I’ve only been in an A350 once and it was on the sharp end, but this time we were in row 60. The seats are in a 3-3-3 formation and were quite comfortable. There were plenty of movies and TVs to keep us entertained.
During this flight my face mask started to hurt. While many aspects of travel remain unchanged, like airport queues and insane walking distances, Covid’s icy fingers are still present. Mask use has been mandatory on Singapore Airlines and Air New Zealand with near 100% compliance. The same goes for Changi Airport, although few were in action on the upcoming European leg.
Having never worn a mask for so long before, I always thought breathing would be difficult. I was wrong, it was the little straps over my ears. I now have full sympathy for anyone who has to wear one all day at work. My advice – if you’re flying long-haul flights on a mask-compliant airline, test out some convenient options on the road before you travel.
Flight 3: Singapore to Amsterdam
Airline: Singapore Airlines
Seat number: 60B
Time: 13 hours 10 minutes
Changi is still my favorite airport. But as I wrote before, this time I had trouble appreciating it with the tiredness. I hadn’t slept in almost a day and was waiting to pop a pill to send me to sleep on the longest leg of the journey.
At first everything looked fine when we sat down in row 60 (again). The seat next to me in the aisle was free, as was the row in front of us. There were no more passengers coming our way and it looked good that we could stretch out – it wasn’t to be. We heard them before we saw them. Loud screams of excited little children and they came towards us.
The family took their places all around us and for the next few hours the young people kicked, yelled, struggled, screamed and maintained a constant vortex of movement. The parents, who are probably lovely people, were very, how shall I put it, “relaxed” with discipline. Gentle rebuke now and then, mostly to no avail.
So my hopes for a great recovery were dashed. I popped the pill and got some rest during the rare downtime of the test guys and the crew was amazing and the food was really really good but I’ve never wanted to get off a plane so many times in my life.
Flight 4: Amsterdam to Dublin
Airline: Air Lingus
Time: 1 hour 20 minutes
The grumpiness didn’t last long as we explored Schiphol Airport. And this despite the fact that I only slept three hours in a day and a half and my ears are constantly pounding from the face mask and now also from my glasses. After all, I was now only a stone’s throw away from my family in Dublin.
OK, I lied. When I worked out how much two sandwiches, a couple of coffees and two small cans of Heineken cost, the grumpiness returned – almost NZ$60! But even the late arrival of my plane and an even later departure due to two passengers running around couldn’t suppress my dizziness.
A nice surprise was how easy it was to get through security at Dublin airport and the relief to see our bags fall out at the baggage carousel, especially after all the horror stories at European airports lately.
And then it happened. The doors to the arrivals hall opened and there in close combat I spotted my mother and sister.
Damn the tiredness. There were tears, there was relief, there was joy. The long journey was over, but you know what it was worth for this moment despite everything.