Have no fear of burning your mouth when eating the inflight meal in Qantas economy class. The meal warmers at the paupers’ end of the plane must have one setting: cool. Hey, you might even find a frozen woolly mammoth in the middle of the veggie lasagna. OK, that last bit is an exaggeration, but it’s a pity the Qantas “cattle class” meals (which are notorious for running out) have a reputation for arriving lukewarm at best. Why? Cathay, Vietnam, Thai, Singapore – the Asian airlines’ meals have to be opened and left to cool before consumption.
REACQUAINTING WITH QANTAS
This is my first Qantas flight since ditching the disappointing Australian national carrier 4 years ago, and I’m on what I dub the “M&M flight”: Monday Midday, Melbourne to Singapore. It’s a fair fare – all airfares have leaped lately as fuel prices soar – I like the daytime departure, and the cabin crew are friendly. And digital-savvy: “If you like my service, please go online and say so – don’t forget to hashtag Qantas,” ebullient Ana tells a bubbly bunch of Aussie ladies as she serves their second drink with their (tepid) lunch. It’s good vibes, all round. My mini bottle of a cheeky Embrazen shiraz warms the soul where the limp lasagne failed (it was tasty and wholesome, if only it was not cold). The passenger on my left only nibbles at his “pre-ordered meal”, the passenger on my right takes one mouthful of her Asian chicken and declines the rest, saying the food is cold and the chilli is way too hot. Oh the irony! You just know the preferred passengers in Business and First, sitting above you – literally, as they are seated on the top deck – are being fawned over. For more than a decade, Qantas management’s attitude has imbued an elitism; a segregation in travel. There are the important “us”, and then there’s “them” down the back there. But so long as Ana and her cabin colleagues keep up their good service and friendly fun, the flying majority will remain happy in economy class and perhaps stay loyal to the Flying Kangaroo.
MIRACLE ON A MOTORBIKE
Moses. This motorbike taxi bloke from now on is known as “Moses”. The way he parted the storm clouds, all the way from Bui Vien Street to Ho Chi Minh City airport, was nothing short of a travel miracle. Or maybe an even better moniker is “Charlton Heston”, the actor who played Moses in the movie. After all, Heston also played Ben-Hur – and starred in that unforgettable scene with the racing chariots weaving and dodging, trying to “knock off” each other. Today, there was thunder and lighting to our left, to our right, to the north, to the south, and yet my man has delivered me – via Vietnam peak-hour traffic, a dirt road and the wrong way around a roundabout – to the International Terminal “bone dry” and in one piece (though my crook back is screaming for painkillers). And then he’s charged me double – a whopping 6,000 dong (USD25), while telling me how much he “loves Melbourne, Australia: Number 1”. Maybe “Charlton Heston’s agent”, is a more appropriate nickname.
IT’S SENSIBLE TO BE SUS
Stop staring at the clock, it won’t tick any faster: I’m bored and sitting at HCMC Airport, waiting to check-in. A man in his early 20s, wearing black framed glasses, shorts, a tired looking T-shirt, thongs and looking very much like a stressed out uni student, approaches me and, in a good effort at speaking English: “Excuse me sir, but I was wondering if you can please help me to buy a ticket.”
Me: “Why? What’s the problem?”
Student: “I must catch the flight but my card has been declined. Can you please help me? I can pay you back…”
I watch “uni student”, who has small markings on the ankles and calves of both legs – which may be from bed bugs or needle tracks but let’s presume bed bugs – walk the length of the departures area several times and approach middle-aged men of Western appearance. But to no avail and he eventually wanders off into the crowd, empty handed.
I really do hope I misjudged the guy and that he was genuinely seeking assistance. I mean, at least he didn’t ask me to carry his backpack on the flight for him …
(Article from Asian Journeys magazine, August-September 2019 issue)