As part of my move towards becoming a freighter pilot, I had to travel to Sydney today to undertake a week of training in SEP (Safety & Emergency Procedures); NTS (Non Technical Skills, or Crew Resource Management); and the usual induction activities that take place when you start with a new airline. This is my 5th time in 30 years. You think I’d be better at it by now …

Let’s do a blow by blow, shall we? As with all such experiences – I’ve learned a few lessons, so hopefully the mistakes I made today I can learn not to repeat; and instead go on to make new, original mistakes going forwards.

Anyway …

  • I arrived at check-in an hour before the flight. With no check in luggage (through a miracle of packing I got 6 days worth of stuff into my carry on bag) and a domestic flight to boot – I figured that was enough.
  • But this was JetStar (my first time). Booked by PionAir on our behalf and there were three of us travelling under the one PNR. These facts in combination with two of us having checked in beforehand and one of us not – served to be far too much for the self-service machine. After it had rejected my bag for the third time I chased around the terminal until I found Robbie who managed to sort it out. All this took a good 20 minutes and got us a lot closer to departure time than I’m normally comfortable with as regards check in bags. I mentioned that I did not actually have check in baggage but as I tried to escape notice, Robbie was sharp enough to see my bag and in knowledge of the fullness of the flight – made me check it in. You know where this is going, yes?
  • The flight itself was uneventful, placed in the second last row at the back of the plane with my two compatriots. Sitting in row 30 takes me back to the days when I joined Virgin Blue and passengered up and down the East Coast in row 29/30, usually with highly agitated infants in attendance. At least when you sit at the back, you are off early out the back door at the other end.
  • The arrival was into Sydney International and while we all sat and waited with the Fasten Seat Belt signs off after parking for NSW Border Health Protection Force Transport Security people to come on board and checked we actually had passengers – before letting us all file out the front door only, which of course made us the last off.
  • The line inside commenced just after we got off the aircraft (after the jet bridge) and snaked it’s (socially distanced) way through the terminal all the way to the sheep run at the Immigration area (that wasn’t) where they checked our paperwork, asked a few questions, checked ID and then sent us through to the baggage claim area. Along the way someone took our temperature.
  • Baggage claim was like nothing I had ever seen before. There were 200+ individual seats – socially distanced – arranged on expanding rows around the carousels with (most of) the bags going round and round already (it had taken nearly an hour to get this far) – with hundreds of people sitting around watching the bags, waiting to be processed.
  • There seemed to be at most 4 workers doing the processing. For people such as myself – it was a quick look at the approvals, ID and other pre-printed stuff I had done; a review of the form I had to fill in on the plane with all the same details over again for the NSW government, and a few questions. For the lady in front of me who had arrived into Sydney from Melbourne with absolutely no pre-planning whatsoever, travelling with her aged mother who spoke no English – it was considerably longer. I marvelled at the naivete of travelling in this way in the midst of this crisis, as well as the patience and understanding and assistance of the worker person conducting the processing.
  • Eventually I was released from my chair – say 40 minutes after sitting down – and went off to find that my bag did not make it to Sydney. At least it was not lonely – neither did one of my travel companions’ bags. All told in fact – JetStar failed to get 55 bags onto this – the one and only – flight today from MEL to SYD. They were offloaded because of weight and balance problems.
  • Seriously? What kind of sh!tbox (airbus) plane can’t fly for an hour with a mostly full load of passengers and get their bags underneath. That’s assuming you believe the W&B storyline of course.
  • Apart from my toothbrush, deodorant, clothes for tomorrow, clean undies and socks, snacks and a host of other stuff – it also had all my prescription medications in it. Why did I not grab those out when they took my carry on bag and checked it in? Because I’m stupid, that’s why. And clearly quite naïve.
  • Having finally escaped the terminal we wandered around for a while and eventually found the Uber pickup point. The first Uber driver got within spitting distance – then changed his mind and drove off. Really don’t know why. The second Uber driver seemed less inclined to reject us out of hand and took us to the Hotel.
  • Because we are unclean (from Victoria) and required to self-isolate, we cannot leave the hotel here for any purpose other than training. So things such as heading out to replace my toiletries or prescription medications or getting a decent meal or buying a sandwich to take tomorrow are off the cards.
  • Also – because we are self-isolating, they won’t be cleaning the room for the next 6 days either. Still charging the same though.

So – for those of you who are looking forward to travelling when things ease up, I wish you all the best. I for one currently yearn for the days of being stood down from the 777 fleet at Virgin Australia, chewing through me accumulated leave and long service leave, comfortably at home, dialling endlessly into Centrelink.

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Regards, Ken Pascoe