Alright, welcome to winter, mates! Around the world in a day.

“What’s the weather like in Melbourne at the moment?”, inquired the delightful Mary from the bank in the UK.

“Well, Mary, it’s 34 degrees here today, and I know it’s expected to be 1 degree when we arrive in London tomorrow.” I reply.

“Well, enjoy that!”, Mary chuckles.

A simple exchange with a call centre 16,000 km away made me laugh.  Only those who have travelled from Australia in the height of Summer to the northern hemisphere will know the experience.  Being those people carrying heavy winter jackets, scarves and gloves in the airport in Australia whilst everyone around you is barely able to function in the sweltering heat.  It’s certainly an experience.

Choosing to travel differently

Normally, we choose to travel with Qantas whenever we travel.  Mainly for reasons of obtaining or using frequent flyer points, but also a little bit of patriotism. On this occasion, however, a succession of terrible customer service experiences has and exorbitant prices has seen us venture out of our standard suite of airlines.  This time, excitedly, we chose to fly with a combination of Japan Airlines (JAL) and British Airways (BA).

We were super excited to fly with JAL, but less excited (and even apprehensive) about flying with BA.  My partner and I had made a commitment to each other to enjoy the experience and try something new.  And gee, I’m glad we did.

For starters, the flights were less than half the cost of flying Qantas.  So low, in fact, that I was very concerned that we were riding on the coat tails of an ‘error fare’.  For those who are not aware, these are fares that the airlines automated systems accidentally spit out either due to human error or because of some technical issue causing a pricing error.  Nevertheless, we took a gamble and capitalised on the cheap fare and were pleasantly surprised with a ticket shortly after purchase.

The Japanese Touch

JAL’s business class offering provided us with 3 suitcases of 32kg each.  Now, for someone relocating across the globe, having a combined 192kg of luggage is a serious blessing.  Again, this kind of deal is unheard of, but again, we capitalised on this benefit and used it to our advantage.  Luckily, the luggage limit carried through to the BA segment as well, so no stress there.

We were also travelling on JAL’s 787 dreamliner. A welcome change from Qantas’s tired A380’s or other carrier 777’s, which were the norm flying out of Melbourne.  Again, another first for us, as we had not travelled on the 787 before.

Upon reaching the check-in counters of JAL in Melbourne, we were slightly early and had caught the opening of check-in.  This was super cool, as the traditional Japanese welcome was provided to us with all staff standing to attention and providing all those in queue with “Irasshaimase!!” – such an honour!

Check in was super friendly of course and this carried through to our flight.  The plane was super comfortable with our sky suites – sooo much better than what we’re used to on Qantas.  We chose our breakfasts (it was a night time flight) and off we went.  Of course, I took the opportunity to watch La La Land again (seems to be habit for all flights now) and got some sleep.

We’re no stranger to Japanese food and the food on this flight was wonderful too.  The flight crew were super friendly and we had a very enjoyable flight in to Narita in Tokyo.  We headed to the lounge in Narita and relaxed.  There was a strict no-phone policy (unless you stepped into one of the many available phone booths) which was a welcome change from the usual business lounge environment.

We took the opportunity to relax and have showers and a light snack / coffees etc.  No surprises that the coffee was terrible, but hey, we’re in Japan.  Don’t think it’s the national drink!

A warm goodbye was provided to us as we headed to our BA flight. Bye bye, Japan!

The British Touch

Oh, there we go.  We were immediately surrounded with people who were just a little fed up and also rugged up in long jackets.  We were definitely on our way to London.

We had hear horror stories about the BA experience.  Particularly in the BA business class (called Club World) which had 8 seats across.  Generally, a good business class cabin will have no more than 6 across, but somehow, BA have managed to squeeze in 8 across!  When you board, you find out the reason for this.  Everyone is ‘latticed’ across the cabin – seats in the window facing backward with those in the aisle facing forward.  Then 2 middle seats facing backward again sandwiched in the middle.

OK here’s that time to get the most out of the experience again and hope for the best, especially with little things like the video screens not working as we watched the safety demonstration.  I’m sure it’ll work when we’re in the air, although, my optimism was starting to wain.  We were in for a 12 hour flight, after-all.

Alright, it was time to make this flight go as smoothly as possible.  Need to signal to the crew that we’re in for a nice flight – the way to a British flight attendant’s heart?  Ask for some great alcohol and be a little saucy (bordering on a flirt).  Bloody Mary’s it is and a little joke about ‘Only 1 bottle in there?’.  Done!  Flight crew on side!

The flight was surprisingly good.  I hardly noticed facing backward and the crew were amazing.  So friendly and the food was even great.  Those horror stories I’ve heard must be a thing of the past.  We had an amazing experience.  I even took a moment to watch the beautiful snow capped areas of Norway as we flew over.  It was magical.  I will say, however, landing when you’re facing backward is an experience.  It felt exactly like take-off, but when you’re meant to be slowing down, it’s quite confusing.

Welcome to Heathrow, gents

Oh, the good old Heathrow welcome.  What am I referring to?  A long walk, minimal signage and big crowds.  We arrived at Terminal 5 (again, a first) and eventually reached a little train which took us to customs. While I had been in a bit of ‘auto pilot’ to get us to this point (buying tickets, organising transfers, packing, flying etc.), I hadn’t considered how I’d feel when the ‘moment of truth’ would arrive.

We were at the ‘UK Border’, which meant it was time for my visa to do its work.  All of the effort we had put in with jobs, packing up and leaving, returning, applying, waiting had led to this moment.  It was a bit overwhelming and unexpectedly emotional.

We reached the front of the queue, I handed over the various documents, passports etc.  The officer looked through everything, took my fingerprints, stamped a few things and then promptly said “Alright, I’m going on break.”.  OK, so, maybe I had put a bit more importance into this moment than others had, but woohoo… I’m in Britain and my visa is active!

OK, so it’s cold.

Our bags arrived and we met our airport transfer who would take us across town to the East of the city.  We stacked our mass of suitcases into his van and headed across town.  Gee, it was cold in this van – lucky I’ve still got my coat on but it’s bearable.

We arrived at the hotel and hopped out of the car.  OH MY FREAKING GOD.  I immediately started shivering, even with coats on.  What the heck??? We’ve been to London before when it’s been cold, but why on earth are we so cold this time?

London is in chaos due to unexpected snow

Amusingly, this city goes crazy when it starts to snow.  Apparently, it snowed on the night of our arrival.  In some regards, that’s wonderful news  At least it was actually really cold.  In other regards, it was upsetting.  We had missed the snow!  Or, had we? (Stay tuned for future updates).

Welcome to winter, boys.

Have you experienced a massive shock from weather extremes?  Let me know by leaving me a comment

 

 

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