LONDON DIRECT: A DIARY
You might not meet the pilot, but here’s what to expect on the new non-stop, 17-hour Qantas Dreamliner flight
I CAN VOUCH FOR THE IMPROVED AIR QUALITY MEASURED BY THE AMOUNT OF WATER I CONSUME AND A CLEARER NOSE
Welcome to Qantas’s inaugural Perth to London flight, and hello to an estimated 17 hours and 10 minutes in the air. So, what to do with all that time on the Dreamliner? I’m about to find out.
Preparations for the history-making flight start before I’m on the plane. I spend a couple of hours in the new Qantas transit lounge at Perth International Airport availing myself of the innovative facilities.
The space, created by industrial designer David Caon, is elegantly casual in a palette of neutral colours. The simplicity is a nice calming antidote before hopping on to the 14,498km flight.
I do a 15-minute stretching and breathing class in the Bodhi J wellness studio to loosen up for the hours of sitting, then move to the shower rooms (No.6 is the one to ask for as it’s about twice the size of the 14 others) to freshen up.
A unique “light therapy” session starts with the press of a button followed by 15 minutes of blue hues. The science behind it comes from Sydney University’s sleep experts and is designed to help reset my body clock to my destination – ie. from 5pm Perth time to 10am in London, and in turn help reduce jet lag. I pass the time having a shower with some sweet-smelling aromatherapy toiletries.
After I hang in the sun-and-freshair-filled outdoor area, I skip the barbecue sausage sizzle and opt for the menu items also devised by experts from Sydney University. Late lunch is a salad of brown rice, kale and edamame beans, a boiled egg, a few cashews and almonds, some raw veg and baba ganoush. All are rich in tryptophan which stimulates the production of melatonin and serotonin and help with the, you guessed it, jet leg.
The all-important hydration starts with parsley and lemon-infused water and herbal tea, and a lamington which possibly doesn’t fit into the health program but is too good to ignore. Other nourishing and comforting options include corn on the cob, pumpkin soup, toasties and fresh fruit.
I order a long black to further jolt me into tricking my body into thinking it’s morning, because my watch is now set to London time and my aim is to stay awake until the evening and go to sleep with the Londoners. Confused? Me too.
The excitement around this flight is sky high and every guest, from Qantas chairman Leigh Clifford and CEO Alan Joyce and various dignitaries and VIPs at the pointy end of the plane to the frequent flyers and aviation geeks at the back, is getting into the spirit of the journey. The flight will make history as the third longest commercial route in the world and the longest for a Boeing 787.
We take off at 6.55pm Perth time on “Emily”, a Dreamliner with livery based on the work of indigenous artist Emily Kame Kngwarreye. A new safety video takes us to some of our national carrier’s prime destinations around the globe and soon we’re up in the air.
Next, a long-haul flyer’s worst nightmare makes herself known in the form of a crying child. The duelling emotions of sympathy and annoyance at the parents is quickly over as the little girl settles in.
Another unwelcome companion, Cyclone Marcus, creates turbulence off the coast of Western Australia. Seatbelts remain securely fastened and passengers and crew remain seated for about 45 bumpy minutes and then it’s all smooth.
HOURS 2 TO 5
The quest to stay awake for a few more hours has me searching for a movie. A stellar roll call of Academy Award winning flicks including The Shape of Water, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, The Darkest Hour,
Call Me By Your Name, and Dunkirk, plus Wonder Woman (definitely should’ve been nominated, by the way) and a stack of other new releases and classics mean finding a way to pass the time is easy. In the end I opt for multiple episodes of a comedy called Great News, which is funny and very easy to watch.
The influence of the wellness experts continues in the air as mealtimes are set later than regular travellers would be used to. This is to help everyone slip more easily into the time zone towards which we are heading.
I start with a Dreamweaver, the signature cocktail made with tequila and lemon, and an arancini ball. An hour later I have Moroccan carrot soup with coriander yoghurt and dukkah croutons, followed by chicken breast with ginger and shallot dressing, bok choy and rice and a glass of West Australian cabernet sauvignon. For dessert it’s baked custard with rhubarb. I’m in business class, so on the Neil Perry-designed menu there’s a choice of three to four meals per course.
Yes, I am kind of cheating by reviewing an ultra-long flight with a lie-flat bed at my disposal but for anyone opting for business class it’s a fast, albeit expensive, way to kill time. The good news for people in premium economy and economy is that there are fewer seats than other Dreamliners which means the seats are bigger, and designed to enhance rest.
I wake twice during the seven-hour sleep but it’s still a good one. By this point the time in London is midnight (8am in Perth) and we’re landing at 5am so I’d say I should have tried to push back bedtime by a couple of hours and woken an hour or so before landing.
Low cabin pressure and high humidity are two more features of the Qantas Dreamliner which have been instigated to, you guessed it, stave off jet lag. This is my second time on the plane and I can vouch for the improved air quality measured by the amount of water I consume – about a third less – and a clearer than normal nose.
There’s a help-yourself snack station in the galley so I have a cup of tea, shortbread and a mandarin. Throughout the journey, others around me have ordered more substantial refreshments like pastizzis, pilaf, and sandwiches.
HOURS 14 TO 17
Shots of espresso and green juice are offered before breakfast service. I have fruit salad (big tick for hydration), and scrambled eggs with sausages and baked beans.
I continue, as I’ve done throughout the flight, to monitor the flight path and stats via the moving map. We’ve passed Galle, Bangalore, Shiraz, Tabriz, Ostrava and Frankfurt and will soon be hitting our final destination.
The previous longest flights I’ve been on were around 14 or 15 hours so this one is not too much longer. The key to surviving so many hours in the air used to be patience, and while that’s still key, the ability to pass time with box sets of extraordinary television shows like Big Little Lies,
Billions, Ballers and Fargo, podcasts, games and music, plus good quality food, make it all the easier.
At 5.04am we touch down at Heathrow and history is finally made.
Dreamliner “Emily” is rich in wellbeing options to stave off jet lag. The author is pictured with Captain Lisa Norman who piloted the historic flight.
THE CAPTAIN AND ME