Into Australia - A hard rain's a-gonna fall

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November 26th 2018
Published: January 26th 2019
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It was another rainy day in Taipei, which seemed fitting on the day we were leaving. We left the apartment about 11.30 am and Steve found the way to the airport rail shuttle service with no problem. All that time we spent in the basement market area finally paid off! The only problem was we weren't sure if we needed to go to Terminal 1 or Terminal 2 so we opted for Terminal 1 which happened to be right. Good-o. We were still too early to check in our luggage, but that eventually opened at 1 pm. They had a really neat system where you had to wait and watch your suitcase go through a further X-ray screening system behind the check-in counter before leaving the area.

We were now travelling on a flight which was not part of our Round The World ticket. We were going to Australia and including that in the RTW ticket added lots and lots of ££££s to the cost. It was much cheaper for us to buy a flight ticket ourselves and was another reason we visited Taiwan - the tickets from there to Australia were bargain bucket prices on an airline called Air Asia X. We were soon to find out that there was a reason for that .....

Our journey was two-legged and involved a change at Kuala Lumpur. Mere minutes after we had checked our luggage in I received an urgent text from Air Asia X. The text informed us that our connecting flight in KL had been 'retimed' from 0005 hrs to 0300 hrs. Not 'delayed', we noticed, no chance of any claims for compensation there, just 'retimed'. Anyhoo, not much we could do about that.

We finally boarded our Air Asia X plane, which was pretty ancient, had no in-flight entertainment and the only food available was that which had been pre-booked. Yes, Air Asia X is the equivalent of Ryanair! OMG. We had wondered why we had seen many of our fellow passengers eating just before boarding. We still thought, at that time, that a meal would be served on the plane. Nope. We later learned that eating your own food on the plane was absolutely not allowed - I think even Ryanair doesn't go that far! And the plane was sooooo cold. We were completely unprepared for that and were clothed for arrival in Australia, not freezing on a plane. Blankets were available 'for rent' (they didn't miss a trick!). I did have a cardigan and a lightweight jacket with me, but they still weren't enough to keep me warm in the frigid conditions. I'm convinced they turned the thermometer down to sub-Arctic to encourage us to buy hot food and drinks and to 'rent' one of their blankets! I wouldn't give them the satsfaction! We could tell the seasoned Air Asia flyers - they were the ones wearing down jackets and woolly hats! Steve did the manly thing and gave me his jacket as well, while he toughed it out in a t-shirt!

We were glad to land in KL at 7.45 pm to escape the cold plane, the screaming children (two immediately behind us were eventually separated by their parents but only after some of my withering stares!) and all the coughing passengers whose pulmonary problems only seemed to worsen during the flight. Hallelujah - a modern, warm airport for which I was most thankful given that we now had to spend 7 hours there, 'in transit', because of the 'retimed' second leg of our journey. We had a really tasty Burger King there, if that's not a bit of an oxymoron, but it came with mushrooms and was really nice! I was so hungry by that stage though, that I think my tastebuds would have relished the proverbial scabby donkey.

We found a quiet corner in the waiting area and managed to get two soft seats. I don't know why airports don't provide more of these, opting instead for hard single seats with armrests so you can't lie prone on them. It must be a deliberate policy but seems almost cruel, especially when you have a long layover. Most people just slept on the floor with their luggage as a pillow and, given it was night-time, there was relatively little footfall to disturb them. Underneath the escalators seemed the most favoured spot. We set the phone alarm in case we nodded off but didn't need it in the end.

The gate for our 'retimed' flight opened at 2 am and we started boarding at 2.40 am, pushing a 3 am take off. Not going to happen, I thought. And indeed it didn't. The pilot mentioned a slight delay due to some problem with a plane in/coming from/going to Jeddah. What that had to do with us I wasn't sure. Anyway, Mr Pilot said it wouldn't be long and he wanted to get in the air asap because a severe storm was due. Please don't say things like that to me, a nervous flyer! So, we sat there on the tarmac for an hour, strapped in our seats, going nowhere, surrounded by tired, crying babies and fed up, coughing passengers who seemed to have followed us from the previous plane to this one. What a shambles.

And then the rain started. Just a bit of drizzle at first, then proper droplets which grew into hailstones that I could see bouncing off the wings and the tarmac like perma-frosted popcorn. Great, I thought, now we're going to have to wait even longer for the storm to pass. The wind buffeted our stationary plane about and I hoped the laws of gravity, about which I know nothing, were greater than the laws of electrical storms and gale force winds, about which I know even less, and that we would somehow remain steadfastly stuck to the ground. It was blowing a hoolie when the lightning arrived - vivid, streaky strikes of it that lit up the heavens as they reached for something on the ground to burn to a cinder and I hoped that wouldn't be us. Now, Mr Pilot thought, now is THE best time to test my driving skills and put my plane into the skies! I could not believe it. Down the runway we trundled, lurching from one side to the other in the wind, the engines screaming to gain speed as hard as the rivers of water on the ground tried to slow us down and, just as it seemed I had got my wish of staying stuck to the ground granted, we eventually became unglued and took to the air.

I spent the next ninety minutes with my head stuck in Steve's shoulder to shield my eyes from the electrical storm lightshow taking place just outside my window. Mr Kamikaze Pilot said we should clear the turbulence once we got above 7,000 feet but either he was wrong or we flew for a very long time below that level. Every time I lifted my head up from Steve's armpit, mainly when I needed to breathe, the night sky was illuminated by another flash of lightning. Steve said my timing was perfect after he had failed to convince me that it was just the wing tip light I could see flashing on and off. Err, no, even I'm not daft enough to think one little light bulb could turn night into day .... The one positive outcome was that the cabin was now very quiet - I think the turbulence had rocked the babies off to sleep and sheer terror had stunned the coughing people into stopping breathing completely.

So, after another cold, bumpy and somewhat scary flight we finally arrived in Perth, Australia at about 9 am. Surprisingly, there was no time difference between Taipei, Kuala Lumpur and Perth so that was good. We made speedy progress through Immigration, baggage reclaim and Customs though we made it longer than it needed to be by using the old-fashioned, queueing up process rather than the e-passport access route because we wanted a stamp in our passports this time round. Even then, a stamp of arrival wasn't a given and we had to ask the man nicely to put one in for us, which necessitated a brief visit to another counter but, as ever, the accommodating Aussies were happy to oblige. I rebooted the trusty mobile phone and was eventually able to connect with a service provider long enough to telephone our car rental people to arrange to be picked up. 'Where are you?' the lady on the other end of the line asked and for the moment I found I couldn't tell her. 'Er, Taiwan? No, wait a minute, that's not right - Kuala Lumpur! No, still wrong - we're here, in Australia, Perth to be precise!' I triumphantly declared as my addled brain finally caught up with my global position. I think she thought I must be a complete idiot and when she asked if we were outside the International Arrivals terminal I finally understood her question and managed to mumble some sort of affirmative before we got cut off. Duh.

We had arranged a hire car through Ace Rentals because we had used them previously in our travels in Tasmania and New Zealand and had found them to be very good indeed. We were quickly collected from the airport and taken to their offices to pick up the car. I think they thought they were doing us a favour when they gave us a free upgrade though our initial response was that a bigger car with a bigger engine was going to result in bigger fuel bills for us! However, it also came with a bigger boot and, given the amount of stuff we ended up putting in there, that was a blessing! A few bits of form-filling and we were on our way. Australia, here we come!


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