Monday, 29 November 2010

Validation Trip - Part 2 - Getting in to Australia

So, what happened after I got off the plane? (Which incidentally landed into Brisbane forty minutes early). It was a reasonably short walk to immigration, where without any queue I handed my landing card to the officer - for the first time with the "Yes, I have a criminal record" box ticked.  With no mention of my trip plans or visa, he told me that I would have to be referred because of my character issues.

Here we go! I thought, but the lady that dealt with me was lovely.  She took a photocopy of my landing card and asked for brief details of my criminal record, which she noted on her photocopy.  When she asked about any previous visits to Australia, I decided to come clean and admit that my criminal record was previously not declared.  "I don't want to hear" was her reply and she waved me through to the baggage reclaim.

Baggage reclaim was also painless, my bags were neither first nor last onto the belt.  I did notice that another plane landed whilst I was waiting and I thought I would likely be competing with the new arrivals in the queue for customs.  Luckily, this feeling didn't bear fruit and having ticked the "Items to Declare" box I was directed to have the contents of my suitcases inspected.

Sadly, the Border Security "Nothing to Declare" film crew were nowhere to be seen and my chance for TV was lost.  Again the officer who dealt with me was a really nice guy, he didn't bat and eyelid at the amount of baby clothes, documents and old photos I was carrying.  Happily neither the wooden duck nor the Harrod's Flap Jack tin that I was carrying (as a gift for my mother-in-law) were considered a risk to Australia's flora and forna.  So with everything hastily stuffed back into my suitcases I passed bleary eyed through the sliding doors into Australia proper.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Validation Trip - Part 1 - Getting to Australia

Well I'm back from my partner visa validation trip to Australia - and what did I learn? For one, I have to agree with Richard & Judy when they said that "The Girl wth the Dragon tattoo" is a difficult book to get into.  I'm a 150 pages in and still not drawn into the plot..

Having arrived at Heathrow on a National Express coach, I set about trying to unburden myself from my luggage and get to the departure lounge.

The Singapore Airlines check-in area was easy enough to find within Terminal 3, but there was a long line of people waiting to drop-off bags at the 'Online Check-in' desk. Having checked-in online and printed my boarding card at home (and not wanting to queue unless I really had to!), I decided to plead ignorance and went straight to an Economy desk.

Everything was going well, right up until the moment when the agent dealing with me said "Sorry, you're not entitled to 40kgs baggage - as you have a return ticket". Having checked and double checked this fact with the Singapore Airlines contact centre, I was ready for a fight. Luckily, I'd brought a copy of an email I'd been sent by customer services - which the agent took away to discuss with her supervisor. Two minutes later, she apologised and checked my bags in. Unexpectedly each bag was also 2kgs overweight, but it didn't cause me a further problem.

On to the plane itself, people make a big fuss about the Airbus A380 or 'Super-Jumbo'. Personally, from an economy seat perspective things were largely the same as any other wide-bodied aircraft. In fact Singapore Airlines have the same seats and entertainment systems across their entire 747, 777, A330 and A380 fleet. The only differences I could spot were: 1. The A380 has an upstairs economy cabin, which is less crowded with the seats in a 2-4-2 formation and 2. In the upstairs economy cabin, there is an additional storage bin at seat level alongside the window seats (large enough to hold a laptop or to stuff the pillow and blanket into) and 3. The connectors that allow you to plug your iPod into the entertainment system are slightly different (the standard Apple AV cable will still work on both, but on the A380 you need to use your iPod headphones for audio). All the Singapore Airlines aircraft use the twin mono style of headphone socket, so if you want to listen through your own earphones you'll need to bring an adapter with you (how I was mocked for buying a couple of these "just in case").  Being a double decker, you also have the option of going up and down the stairs to use the toilet - a novelty in itself.

As for the in-flight experience, Singapore Airlines and the Singapore Girls cast a shadow over every other airline I've flown with. Even in economy the service at all times was attentive. A menu was distributed soon after take-off and generally for each main meal three choices were offered (a balance of Western and Asian food).  Hot towels were distributed before each food service and drinks were regularly refilled.  More than once, fellow passengers were offered alternate meals when it was noticed that their first selection had gone un-eaten.

And as for how they dealt with families travelling with infants and small children? They were just amazing. Older children were treated as having special dietary requirements and served their meals first. Parents with babies were asked which parent should be fed first (so that one could remain in charge of the baby and the other could eat unmolested). For the babies, multiple choices of jarred baby foods were provided - as were nappies. Compare this, to BA, who don't even offer a meal to kids under the age of two travelling without their own seat (nor did they offer any assistance to my partner when she was travelling alone with our baby).

Krisworld - the name given to to the Singapore Airlines back of seat entertainment system - offers more films and TV shows on demand, than you'll be able to watch - even when you add the hours spent sat in your seat on the four legs of a return trip to Australia. For music there is a wide selection of radio and audio CDs to choose from. I especially liked the ability to create a playlist of tracks from the many CDs on offer. It also offers a selection of games, airport information and flight-path map.  Speaking of the map, my inner child sniggered when the Japanese city of Fukuoka was displayed.

I'd like to say that I arrived refreshed and rested into Singapore, but I'm not sure if that can ever be true after twelve and a half hours in a cramped economy seat? All I can say is it was a relief to land and we exited the plane without delay. Although another quirk of the Singapore Airlines experience is that the curtains that divide the cabins are kept closed, until the premium passengers have departed. So for a few minutes, you're left wondering if the doors have been opened.

Once in the Changi airport transit lounge, I only had time to change into a pair of shorts, get some Duty-Free and drink a quick coffee before needing to join the queue for security ahead of my departure to Brisbane. I was almost nearly tempted to by an iPad, at over a £100 less than the equivalent UK prices! (I would have had difficulty explaining it away to my partner, so thought better of it).

Having done the long leg from the UK, it was a pleasure to hear that with a favourable tail wind our flight time would be reduced to less than seven hours. Again - after take-off - menu cards were distributed and the service matched what I had received on the A380. Apart from a few bumps of turbulence over the Northern Territory the rest of this part of the journey passed unremarkably. be continued....coming soon - Part 2 - Arrivals and my week in Oz...