The Qantas Diaries

Dispatches from a Fifteen Hour Flight, Part 1

-2 HOURS: I’ve just reached LAX. I’m not afraid of flying. Sometimes I’m slightly afraid of crashing, but I consider that a separate fear. (One is loss of control, the other is mortality. I did a show about fears for nearly three years, I’m very specific about my subsets of phobias.) But I’m not this time, especially since I’m flying on Qantas. I know there has never been a jetliner fatality on Qantas. I take solace in knowing that, even if there’s a horrific accident the plane does crash, I will be remembered as a part of history!

I am, however, afraid of being confined in spaces for too long: I tend to look for the emergency exit (and fire extinguisher) as soon as I enter a new location. I like to be able to get up and move and leave. Fifteen hours is a long time to be in the same place.

-1 HOUR: I just saw an advertisement for new direct flights from Singapore. Imagine flying from shiny clean Singapore, where it’s illegal to not flush a public toilet, to Newark Airport, which pretty much is a toilet.

-0:30 HOURS: I’m boarding the plane in my extra-comfortable plane outfit: a very soft, stretchy sundress. The ‘90s revival has been good to me. My fifth grade graduation dress back in 1998 was so soft I could have slept in it, and the one I’m wearing now is pretty much the same.

-0:15 HOURS: The plane is about to take off but I am annoyed that the Australian woman in front of me has announced to an American seatmate that she didn’t like San Francisco or LA. As a native Californian, I am indignant: you have to at least like one of them. Everybody at least likes one.

-0:10 HOURS: OK, Australian woman just made some very cogent points about homelessness and lack of healthcare in both San Francisco and LA.

0:00 HOUR: We are taking off!

+0:30 HOURS: Two Australians in the middle of the plane are a bit confused at the menu. “What’s an empanada?” asks one, and his friend replies, “It’s like an enchilada, but it’s folded differently.”

+1 HOUR: It turns out I find the Australian accent very, very soothing. This might make things difficult in Melbourne, soothing accents make me sleepy. On my book tour stop in San Fransisco, I had a media escort who was so soft-spoken that her voice made me want to fall asleep. This was a bit of a problem, because a big part of doing a book tour is staying awake. It turns out she spoke like that because she used to teach transcendental meditation in Haight-Ashbury in the ‘60s and ‘70s. At the end of the tour she looked deep into my eyes and told me, softly but directly, “You are adorable and eminently lovable.”

Anyway, I’m still awake.

+1:30 HOURS: Slightly surprised that both the person across the aisle from me and the person in front of me are watching I Feel Pretty.

+2:00 HOURS: I take a break from reading My Life as a Goddess, which is heartfelt and brilliant, and get up to use the bathroom. Also to look for Tim Tams. It is my one desire to do a Tim Tam Slam before the end of the flight. I have been told there is a snack cupboard in the back of the plane, where you can get free snacks all flight long.  

+2:05 HOURS: I go to the back of the plane, but see no free Tim Tams. I have been lied to.

+3:00 HOURS: Holy shit! I just realized I’m going to the Southern Hemisphere! I’ve never been there before! The constellations will be totally different!

+3:05 HOURS: I also just realized I will be in a big city and probably will not be able to see any constellations.

+3:30 HOURS: I eat dinner, which is surprisingly not bad! Also a good surprise: they have a ton of classic movies on Qantas! I put on Cabaret. The musical’s one of my favorites, but I’ve never seen the movie.

+5:00 HOURS: Young Michael York can GET IT.

+5:30 HOURS Cabaret is great, but very different than the stage musical. The film’s plot seems to be taken not from the libretto, but from the original play about Sally Bowles, I Am a Camera. I did a monologue from it in college! Did you know that the inspiration for Sally Bowles, Jean Ross, resented her portrayal as a politically apathetic gold digger, because she was a lifelong communist? Also, did you know this is only interesting to me?

+6:00 HOURS: I pretend I am getting up to get some water, but I am once again looking for Tim Tams. I still don’t see any. A flight attendant walks by.

“D’you need anything?” She says. I jump, and stammer that I’m just looking for water. I don’t want to be an entitled American, demanding chocolate biscuits when no one else gets them. I slink back to my seat, ashamed.

+6:05 HOURS: At least five other people on this flight are watching I Feel Pretty.

+6:30 HOURS: I need to sleep, but my bad back (a 30th birthday gift) is acting up. It’s also not easy for me to find a comfortable position at my height. Everyone always talks about how hard it is for tall people on airplanes, but being 5’0”/154cm is no picnic. When I’m sitting back in the chair, my feet don’t even touch the ground.

+7:00 HOURS: Tried to lean back and use my neck pillow. Still not comfortable. I take my shoes off, but leave on my socks, because that could get me sent to the Bad Place.

+7:10 HOURS: I have taken my socks off. Do I still go to the Bad Place if that flight is over twelve hours?

+7:30 HOURS: No one is in the middle seat, so I swing my legs up over the armrest and try to sleep that way, with my back against the aisle side armrest. Maybe this soft, short sundress wasn’t the best idea: even with the blanket over me, I am in danger of flashing my seatmate.

+11:00 HOURS: I got some sleep! Hooray! I also got a bruise right above my tailbone from the aisle side armrest!

+11:05 HOURS: Now the people two seats ahead of me are watching I Feel Pretty. WHAT IS HAPPENING?

+11:30 HOURS: I go off in search of Tim Tams one last time, and YES! THERE THEY ARE! They were in the back cupboard after all! They just hadn’t stocked them yet. I take a pack, but I will not eat then until I have a proper cup of tea so I can do a proper Tim Tam Slam.

+11:35 HOURS: That sounds so British. Do they even use “proper” as an adjective in Australia? I’m suddenly horrified by how little I know about the country I’m about to visit.

+12:00 HOURS: They’re turning the lights back on -- gradually, which is nice. There’s not enough time to watch A Star is Born, like I’d planned. But I rented Hunt For The Wilderpeople on my phone a while back, so I decide to watch that.


+14:00 HOURS: Breakfast is coming around. I eagerly await my tea and Tim Tams and realize I cannot remember the last time I was without WiFi for this long and wasn’t like, camping.

+14:30 HOURS: I HAVE DONE A TIM TAM SLAM! It is like a chocolate lava cake INSIDE YOUR MOUTH. I am forever changed. I am Paul McCartney singing Got to Get You Into My Life. All is bliss.

+14:55 HOURS: I just realized I’m going to the land of Toni Collette and got excited all over again.  

+15:00 HOURS: We have landed. I am in the Southern Hemisphere. I am in Australia. I am in awe! And I am also not Qantas’ first fatality. What wonders await me down under?

(It turns out, mostly free drinks, new friends, other writers’ brilliant writing, espresso, and possums! But these are all stories for another time.)

Stuff I Did This Week: The Melbourne Writers Festival! Also, a podcast on and about this very platform!

Fake BBC Show Title of the Week: Mum Stole Me Marmite!