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The Cold Front: Flying home


I knew that the cold front was coming. The news was filled with stories of the chill sweeping the eastern states. Initially both cold fronts were supposed to pass through while we were in Tasmania, leaving stable air in their wake. But nature is fickle and now we would be flying into the high winds striking Sydney and the coast.

As usual, I feared the turbulence that such weather might bring. The night before I had pored over weather maps and turbulence charts, had looked for alternative actions. Unfortunately, the only way out of Tasmania is by sea or by air. And normal life was scheduled to resume so delay wasn't really an option. So I went to sleep feeling anxious.

I wake feeling physically sick. On the last day of my holiday and here I am with a bug. I check the weather again. Looks like we might be in for a smooth cruise, but that colourful patch covering the area between Canberra and Sydney has me worried. I have been on far too many rough flights in that area to have any confidence.

But it's no use telling the rest of the family. I lost all credibility with my fears of non-eventuating turbulence on that turboprop flight between Kuala Lumpur and Johor Bahru. It offers comfort to me as well.

I don't eat anything. My stomach is churning too much. We pack our bags full of fruits, vegetables and cakes and check out of the hotel. It's a fairly quiet drive out to the airport, my phone instructing us on the path. We drive into the Avis rental car spot and are met by their representative. Then we walk across to the terminal to the departures area.

Jetstar check in
I try to use my frequent flyer card to check in through the automatic kiosk. It is rejected, so we join the fairly long queue in front of the desks. Only later do I notice that the reason for the rejection is that my Qantas Frequent Flyer Card can also act as a charge card and the machine is treating it as such. As I paid for the flights using a different credit card it has rejected it.

I've only paid for 15 kg of checked in luggage, but at the desk it registers as 20kg. Out comes one bag of apples, to be added into a spare carry on bag. 17 kg. Toiletries out. 16 kg. Okay, that'll do.

We pass through security and reach airside, which has a few shops and looks reasonably modern. Our flight is delayed by seven minutes, but there isn't enough time to visit the Qantas Lounge. Suddenly, I hear my name being called back to security.

I'm lead out and into the luggage section. There's something wrong with my bag.

Batteries. I have forgotten to remove some standard alkaline batteries. I put them in my carry-on bag, then pass back in through security. Our flight is already boarding. Lucky this is a small airport.

Airside

The gate

We stroll out on to the tarmac across to our Jetstar Airbus A320, a chill wind blowing our hair. At least the other two aren't fighting for the window seat today, letting me sit on the right in row 10 without any argument. I notice this is an older A320 with non-functional audio controls in the armrests, elastic netting seat pockets at knee level, extra padding on the seats and extra seat pitch. I prefer it this way.

Legroom

Rear of seats

On board

The crew prepare for departure.

Refueling

Sharp Airlines

Not our luggage

I settle in, more resigned than anxious, though really not feeling well at all. B hands me an extra sick bag, just in case. The person behind me must have felt worse. The flight attendants tell him the front door will close soon and it will be too late for him to go to the bathroom, ask him if he can continue on the flight.

Obviously not. He is escorted out the door and off the aircraft.

It's tempting, but no, I'm going home. I can hold it in for now.

The captain comes over the PA and apologises that we will be leaving even later now as, by law, they will have to unload the passenger's bags for security purposes. Then he says the magic words that I have been so longing to hear.

"We are expecting a smooth flight up to Sydney."

Finally the doors close, the safety demonstration is performed and we taxi out to the runway as a QantasLink 717 lands.

Must get Alex on one of those one day.

I can see a cloud bank up ahead of us. I hope we turn before it.

Taxiing

Clouds

The runway with the 717 at the other end.

And we are off down the runway, rotating up into the air as our shadow shrinks beside us. Across the coast and then we are turning, away from those clouds but beneath others. It's okay, they are thin.

Our shrinking shadow

Across the coast

Banking transaction

We are over farmland, then only a few small bumps as we fly across the ranges and up above the cloud into the blue sky.

Farms and grey

Heading up

In between clouds

And over!

The seatbelt lights switch off and I relax, listening to music and staring out. B and Alex activate the iPad and play Plants versus Zombies.

Seatbelt lights off!

The carpet of cloud becomes more patchy and I catch sight of the Eastern coastline of Tasmania below. I wonder if we drove along these areas a few days before. No, we are further north than that.

Carpet of clouds

Georges Bay

Sun shimmer

North

The meal trolley is wheeled down the aisle. Blonde, long faced Kellie, who looks like a real Queenslander, and more compact Belinda are pushing. A male flight attendant of Pacific Islander stock is looking after the rear of the aircraft. We have $15 of meal credit to spend. B and Alex order Nissin pot noodles - it's Japan again - while I order the Kids' Deal of Byron Bay Cookie with Smarties and a Sprite lemonade, which I share with the others.

We leave the land and are over Bass Strait, the gentle ripples of water disappearing under increasing cloud. I'm actually enjoying the flight now. It's a smooth cruise through morning skies, relaxing and comfortable next to a happy family.

Over Bass Strait

Somewhere...

The cloud hides our re-entry over mainland Australia. Due to the delay I have no real idea of where we are or how far we have to go. Eventually I catch sight through cracks in the cloud of what looks like snow on a dark landscape. Are we over the Australian Alps or further north and seeing the effects of the cold snap?

Snow?

Based upon my study of FlightAware the night before I'm guess that we are taking a more inland route to the southerly flight. The captain announces that we will make a turn over Goulburn and soon begin our descent with about half an hour to go.

Sure enough we begin our turn and I see the familiar yellow grasslands of the area north of Canberra. As we descend I can see that there is a gap between two thickish looking cloud bands. Okay, this is where I start to get nervous.

Clouds!

Somewhere near Goulburn

Southern Highlands

We make it through with only a few small bumps and suddenly I can see out towards the coast. The end is in sight!

Out towards the coast

Wollongong with Lake Avon in the foreground
Despite my many flights between Sydney and Canberra we seem to be taking a bit of a different path to usual, bisecting our normal routes on our way into Sydney from the south. We fly over Engadine, then turn northwards and cross the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor.

Lake Cataract

Engadine and Heathcote

Nuclear Reactor

Looking back

Out to sea I can see a thick bank of clouds. I hope we are not going to have to pass through them before we align with the runway, not like my last flight.

I can feel the wind getting stronger, but it's not until we cross the beaches south of the Royal National Park and out to sea that it really hits. I can feel the aircraft fighting against the wind as we bank and curve northwards. The aircraft is shaking, but we have slowed and the rises and drops don't feel so bad. At some stages it feels like the wind is so strong and our speed so low that we are going nowhere and about to be pushed backwards.

Crossing the coast

Coast down to Wollongong

I hold on tightly. White horses dance on the surface of the grey blue sea beneath us. But what is that ahead? It looks like they suddenly stop and the sea ahead is relatively calm. Protected by Botany Bay? I don't see how it could be so. Or an example of how local weather can be, even these winds?

The two sections of water

Indeed the wind does die down when we cross into that area. The aircraft no longer has to fight quite so hard against the raging sky as we align ourselves with the main runway. The old Caltex Refinery at Kurnell is visible close outside the window as we determinedly descend across Botany Bay. The final few metres are smooth and we touch the ground.

The horses have bolted

Kurnell Peninsula

Caltex

It's all imported now

Port Botany

Slowing down
I'm happy. That really wasn't bad at all, despite the wind gusts the winter cloud. It was a really good flight.

Our aircraft has to wait for a gate, as the wild weather has caused delays. Another Jetstar A320 departs and makes space for us. I can see the bright orange #jetstargeneration 10th anniversary plane right next to us.

Qantas A332 domestic

Seeya, thank you for vacating our spot!

#jetstargeneration


We hurry out of the plane and to the luggage belt, where our sole bag soon appears. Then we are off on the train and bus home, while I deal with emails and server upgrades on my phone, already back at work though outside the office.

The other side

Luggage belt

Tasmania was fantastic. There just wasn't enough time to do everything we wanted, to catch the tourist trains, to see the wilderness, to stay along the lonely coast and to indulge in the restaurant and meals that we wanted to eat. All of us, even Alex, talked about how we want to return. The flights too were fantastic. So they might have been delayed, but that's not an issue if you aren't in a hurry. The magic of flying, the magic of a destination, even one so close, is still there.

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