Tag Archives: airports

Day 1 – Ah, the ineffable glamour of intercontinental travel!

Saturday 17 February 2024  – It all started so well, too.

We are travelling to Antarctica via Argentina, and in Argentina, we arrive in Buenos Aires before a transfer down to the bowels of Tierra del Fuego – Ushuaia, whence our cruise departs on Tuesday. Our outbound flight, a mere 16 hours of it, including popping in to Rio de Janeiro en route, was due to depart at 2210, leaving us the whole of the day to make final preparations before allowing us slightly too long to spend staring at each other with scarcely-concealed tension as we awaited the taxi.

Arrive it did, and whisked us off to Heathrow Terminal 5 with the recommended three hours still to elapse before the flight was due to leave.  The good thing about departing at this time on a Saturday evening is the lack of queues – we cleared security in a trice and headed for the lounge, an indulgence we’d granted ourselves to ease the rigours of such a long journey.

During the afternoon, we’d had a minor attack of the vapours when Tripcase, the website I use to store our itineraries, reported that our flight was delayed, first by 30 minutes and then by an hour. The BA app would hear nothing of this, and in the end even Tripcase shuffled its electronic feet and muttered that actually the flight wasn’t delayed after all.  So, having rescheduled our taxi, I unrescheduled it and so we found ourselves in the BA lounge with some two and a half hours to go.

After about an hour, Tripcase piped up again to tell us that our flight was now delayed by 80 minutes. I decided to ignore this, but then it was BA who had to shuffle its feet and admit that the departure time really was now 2330. So we settled down with a glass of something to await developments.

After about another hour, a member of staff came over, shuffled his feet and admitted that they were about to close the lounge, so we would have to leave. However, consolation was offered in the shape of access to the first class lounge downstairs. Off we trooped, where the Magic Access Code of “249” (our flight number) got us in.

The lounge is vast. And it was pretty much empty,

and underserved in one crucial area,

not that it mattered, since it was by now a bit too late to start in on the gin and also because before very long at all they called our flight anyway, so off we trooped again, through a very spookily empty departure hall.

Our gate involved a train ride. And a Sliding Doors moment. Jane was speedier than I was down the escalator, and headed towards the shuttle just as they announced that the doors were closing. So she made it through, and I, being not about to test whether the door mechanism had a “do not crush travellers” safety override, didn’t. This left me as the single person awaiting the return of the shuttle, another spooky and lonely experience.

When you are in an airport departure hall separated from your passport and boarding pass and you’re waiting for the shuttle that will reconnect you, time passes, I can tell you, slowly. But Jane and I reconnected at the gate, where they were just calling our group for boarding.

It was immediately apparent that this boarding process was not going to be straightforward. Instead of heading towards the aircraft, we were shuffled into one of those zig-zag queue arrangements.  This is the situation, then, at 22.32.

Here it is again at 22.53.

20 minutes of standing with a 13kg backpack whilst not knowing why the actual fuck we weren’t  being allowed on the aircraft was very frustrating, particularly since it looked like the odd individual was drifting past the queue and moving on. There were also a lot of people in BA suits doing the “walk fast and look worried whilst talking into a mobile phone” thing, which is rarely a comforting sight.

Eventually, some moments after they had vouchsafed that they were doing “final security checks”, we were allowed on to the plane, which pushed back at 23.25, so decently on the rescheduled time.  The nice captain came on the blower to apologise for the delay, which was caused by a technical problem with the original aircraft (an Airbus, so, whatever the problem was, all its doors were still attached), and we were all jolly glad that BA could rustle up a spare.

From that point on, things proceeded as expected, except that I declined a drink or dinner; it didn’t seem a good idea to have Fillet of Hampshire Pork Loin or a Butter Chicken Curry at midnight if I then wanted to get some sleep.  So I just got my head down. I think this is the first time ever on an intercontinental flight that I haven’t had a drink or watched a film. They even had Oppenheimer available, but I spurned this offer in favour of some shut-eye.

The rest of the journey passed off entirely uneventfully. We stopped for an hour or so in Rio de Janeiro whilst all of the crew and a good number of the passengers were exchanged for new versions, and eventually arrived in Buenos Aires at around midday. The formalities at the border were swiftly dispatched, and our bags duly arrived on the carousel about three minutes after I started getting worried.

We were met by the impressively well-organised Mariana, who whistled up a driver to take us into the city. On the 40-minute journey she told us about all the great things we could do: antique market! wine tasting!! shopping!!!  Since we’re (a) only here overnight and (b) only one of cares about only one of those things, we let them pass, but worked out the bare bones of a plan that suited us for when we get back to Buenos Aires, on 13 March.  In the interim, we got a couple of recommendations for places to eat.

At the hotel our room was ready for us (praise be!) and so we relaxed a bit before going out for a walk. Obviously.

My original plan was to include some pictures from the walk, but actually it was a very engaging experience, one that is well suited for its own blog post.  So, this post is merely a self-indulgent ramble about the vagaries of intercontinental travel. The next one (a) takes the story on a little further and (b) has some more interesting photos in it.  I will now start writing it whilst you skim through this one.  See you soon, I hope!


The next stage of the journey – North! to Alaska

Tuesday 9 August 2022 – If you’ve read yesterday’s installment you’ll know that we reached Heathrow with no problem beyond the usual apprehension that bedevils us in the quiet time before the taxi arrives for major travel. The rest of Phase 1 of the journey – getting out of the UK and into Vancouver – was generally very agreeable and entirely crash-free.  The Air Canada plane was, I think, quite new and certainly spiffy, with little touch screens for doing everything: selecting in-flight entertainment, controlling the aircon, configuring the seat.

The choice of in-flight entertainment movies was very impressive.  I didn’t count the total offering of films, but I reckon it must have been around 100 – new releases, classics and cult offerings.  My normal choice is to for escapist rubbish, typically out of the Marvel stable, but I noticed something that really took my fancy, standing out because it was first in the list due its name – A Hard Day’s Night. I wonder if there’s anyone out there who doesn’t know that this is a Beatles film?  It’s not a classic, but the songs in it are classic early Beatles numbers from 1964. The nostalgic sentimentalist urges which lurk embarrassingly close to the surface within me immediately settled on this as the first film to watch.

(The Beatles LP that featured the film’s songs was the first 12″ LP that I ever bought.  It was expensive – 32/6d, or £1.63 in modern currency – and I treasured it. Until I gave it away, that is.  I think my brother took it off my hands when I decided that I was only interested in classical music, which was in turn before I became a fan of prog rock before turning back to classical music.  Musically, I’m just a tart.)

(Another parenthetical note.  32/6d is nearly 97 Mars Bars – they cost 4d in those days if memory serves. Today, a Mars Bar is 65p, meaning that the equivalent cost to me, a 12-year-old was just a whisker under £63.  Never let it be said that LPs are expensive these days.)

I actually went to see the original Hard Day’s Night film in the cinema, and, on watching it again, realised how much about it I had forgotten.  It’s a Richard Lester musical comedy film, and so its credentials are reasonably good. Although it doesn’t stand up to today’s cinematography in any way, I hugely enjoyed watching it; a wonderful burst of nostalgia, both musically and otherwise as I was reminded of the songs and successfully recognised some peripheral actors in the film whom I wouldn’t have expected to see. I’m particularly proud to have identified a young Robin Ray, who had just a tiny cameo.

Culturally, the rest of the flight was a basket case as I went back to escapist rubbish which seemed mainly to feature Benedict Cumberbatch being American and Strange. I managed to squeeze 3.98 films into the journey, with just the climactic 15 minutes of The Batman unwatched due to the plane having come to a halt outside the Vancouver terminal (see later). Jane tried to persuade me out of the intellectual doldrums of these films to make sure I’d seen some of the scenery as we approached Vancouver.  We both had a go at taking photos of the view, which was excellent. But, again, see later.

Jane also got some good shots as we got closer to Vancouver itself.

Once landed, we then needed to get ourselves to the airport hotel, a Fairmont. The process was smooth and largely stress-free.  The airport has a plethora of electronic passport gates which worked well, and also allowed us to assert that we were free of the Dreaded Lurgy; there was a final check by a border guard and then all we had to do was to hand over our ArriveCAN receipt and find our bags.  There are many, many carousels at Vancouver airport and one has to walk past quite a few before finding a screen telling you where to look.  We found our carousel and only had to do a few minutes of The Carousel Stare Thing before Jane’s bag came out.  Having invested in baggage trackers, I was a bit concerned about where my tracker was telling me it was, which was still at Heathrow.  However, it turned out that it was teasing me, as the bag turned up just a couple of minutes later.

Finding the hotel was a process which had a promising start, as there were signs, but the navigation grew a bit more challenging as we debouched into a huge arrivals terminal now devoid of any hotel-related guidance. We (i.e. Jane – I have my male pride to think of, here) asked someone and were pointed in the right direction  which turned out to be up another level at the other end of the not minuscule terminal building – another non-trivial walk for my poor backpack-oppressed shoulders – and were soon checking in.  Easy as it was, the process carried with it one disappointment, albeit a relatively minor one.  Fairmont is part of the Accor hotel group, and, for reasons lost in the mists of time, I have a loyalty membership; since the vast majority of the hotels on our holiday are Fairmonts, I’d fondly imagined building up a huge reservoir of loyalty points as we went.  This turned out to be illusory as the nice check-in chap told us that you need to book the hotels as an individual to accrue points. Since all ours were travel agent bookings, these didn’t count. Sigh 😒. Still, we got free WiFi, so it’s not an entirely lost cause.

From then on, the day proceeded exactly in line with my previous experiences of air travel to west-coast America: feeling a little tired and a little hungry despite being fed twice on the plane; heading to the bar for a snack and a drink;



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after said  drink and snack at the bar – a good one, incidentally – suddenly feeling very tired; going to bed earlyish and falling asleep immediately; waking up at 3am and finding it difficult to get back to sleep.

However, we both managed to get a reasonable quantity of sleep in a very comfortable and well-organised room. We took breakfast in the hotel.  It was table service only, so no browsing of the buffet for healthy items, and food choices that were rather too complex for my jetlag-ravaged brain.  In the end, we had a good, substantial breakfast before heading off to hand our bags over to the tender mercies of the international baggage transfer system.

Air Canada recommended we get checked in some three hours before the flight to Anchorage, so we were in plenty of time at a very quiet check-in area.  Bag deposit was easy, if conducted through more checkpoints than I’m used to, and we eventually found the Maple Leaf lounge in the terminal building.  At this point, we realised we’d made a tactical error, in that we could have had a perfectly decent breakfast in the airport lounge and saved ourselves the $100 that breakfast had cost us.  Reading my brother’s blog of his Canadian odyssey had set my expectations that things in Canada were expensive. The reality still stings a bit, though.

And finally, the North! To Alaska! part of the journey was a really pleasurable, nay unique, experience. We were cordially greeted by the cabin steward, a very agreeable chap called Hugh Chetwynd, who did a superb job of swift and efficient service for all his (#smug) business class customers whilst keeping up an engaging stream of cheerful conversation. One nugget he vouchsafed as we were awaiting departure was that the view during the trip should be excellent, as they were expecting clear conditions and flying up along the west coast.  Rather delightfully, there was a spare window seat available on the other side of the plane, so I moved from my usual aisle seat and both Jane and I were able to get the benefit, and got some great photos from each side of the plane.

The view was sensational!  When we were in Jordan, a tea stop above Petra advertised itself as having the best view in the world, but, frankly, what we saw knocked that into a cocked hat.  Here’s a taster.

I don’t believe I’ve ever been been fortunate enough to take as many worthwhile photos as I managed on this flight, all the way from Vancouver to Juneau, before the weather closed in and clouds obscured the view.

Whilst I was busy taking photos from one side of the plane, Jane was equally busy on the other side, so we have a vast number of excellent images. I won’t bore you with the photos here, but you can see them in this separate post, which is a treasure trove for anyone who is interested in aerial photos of lakes and mountains.

Excellent service, wonderful aerial photos and free no-extra-charge gin & tonic – what a heady combination!

Once the clouds obscured the view, since the same films were on offer today as on yesterday’s flight, I was then free to catch up on the final 2% of the film I had failed to watch to the end – The Batman. It was very much in line with the rest of the film – too dark to see what was happening most of the time, lines muttered in voices too hoarse to understand what was going on and plotted in such a manner that the first two drawbacks made the whole thing an incomprehensible mess. But I’d nothing better to do and nowhere else to go, so I got a sort of grim sense of closure out of wasting those extra few minutes of my life.

When we arrived at Anchorage it became apparent that the passport check that we’d undergone in Vancouver represented the international border with the USA, because we simply walked out to the baggage carousels with no further checks.  It took a few minutes for the bags to arrive which we spent in amiable travel bragging with a couple who had been seated behind us in the plane; they were very obviously very well-travelled and we are polite people, so we let them win; the upside is that we got a couple of excellent tips for when we travel to the antipodes.

Whilst we were awaiting our bags, the driver who had been booked to take us into town joined us by the carousel and so once we’d picked them up we were swiftly off for the 15-minute drive to the Hilton Anchorage hotel, which will be our home for the next two nights.  The weather was cool – just about 13°C, and slightly drizzly – but we’re optimistic that it will be dry tomorrow.

Our most important task is to arrange for pre-cruise Covid tests, theoretically available just down the road from the hotel.  Our cruise line, Silversea, runs (at least on paper) a desk in the hotel lobby and so we hope to get firm guidance about testing there. Once tested, we hope to take a trolleybus tour of Anchorage to get some kind of idea about the place. That will be the subject of tomorrow’s entry, so do please come back and join me there.