Monday, August 2, 2010

The Journey Begins 7/31 to 8/2

Our around the world journey began with the alarm going off at 3:50 am in Nashville, TN on Saturday July 31st. Our goal for the day was to get on a flight to Sydney by the end of the day. The flights were starting to look pretty full so we decided to head out on Saturday since Sunday's flights looked to be more full than Saturdays. Anyway, we got up and left home around 4:15 am with my parents taking us to the airport. As I mentioned in a previous post we were flying on passes courtesy of Alethea's mom so we had to be flexible and could only get on flights based on seat availability and our priority level. Our first goal was to get out of Nashville. This proved harder than we originally thought. We tried getting on the 5:30 am flight to Atlanta but that flight was full. We then tried the 6:30 am flight. Alethea, whose priority level is higher than mine due to the type of pass she is on was able to get on the flight but I was not. I was the passenger with the lowest priority level and was the only one not able to get on the flight. We weren't going to split up so Alethea didn't board without me. We then took a look at the Salt Lake City flight leaving at I believe 7:45 am. Again Alethea was cleared. It looked like I was too until the last minute when a passenger came running up. She had actually been waiting at the wrong gate for some reason. This actually turned out to be a good thing because if we would have flown to Salt Lake then we probably would not have made it to LA to board the Sydney flight since the flights from Salt Lake to LA were full. We then went back to the Delta Sky Club where we had been camping out since we arrived earlier in the morning and were looking over our options for getting out. Alethea and one of the Sky Club individuals looked at numerous options. We looked at flying to JFK , Cancun (then to LA), and even a wild combination of going to Tokyo then down to Australia. Keep in mind that we are flying on passes that are relatively very inexpensive so the focus was on seat availability and not necessarily price. After seeing that it was going to be difficult to leave Nashville or if we would have left Nashville we would have been stuck in the next city without being able to get to LA. Around 10:30 am or so we noticed a couple flights on American Airlines to LAX. We decided to purchase a ticket on a flight leaving @ 4:50 pm that would have us going through DFW and then on to LAX by 8:40 pm. The cost was only $225. I wasn't too thrilled about this at first since I hadn't planned on spending any extra to fly on this portion of our trip. It turned out to be the right thing to do. One funny thing that happened was that I purchased the last ticket at the $200 rate. Alethea was attempting to purchase her's at the exact same time and when she went to purchase it told her that the cost of the ticket had change and was not over $400. She decided to cash in frequent flier miles and only had to pay $100.

Now that we knew we had confirmed tickets out of Nashville we were able to relax a little bit. We both went into the Quiet Room in the Sky Club and took a couple naps. We also got some lunch and relaxed until it was time for our flight. Our flight from Nashville actually departed a little early and arrived early at Dallas-Ft. Worth which was good since we only had a 45 minute layover. Our flight in Ft. Worth left on time too but we both were stopped while trying to board the flight by a militant gate agent who said our backpacks were too large. Alethea actually had to take her empty purse out before being able to board. I just had to stuff my bag into the empty sample check-in bag frame to demonstrate that my bag was ok which it was and I didn't have to take anything out of it. That is one thing I don't like is because the carry on bag size is so infrequently and inconsistently enforced plus the gate agent in Ft. Worth was so rude. I actually wanted to use some more foul language to describe this incident but I have to keep in mind that kiddos will be reading this blog too :) We both said we got on the first flight with the exact same bag but she said she didn't care about our previous flight. Other than the boarding process our flight to LA was uneventful except for some minor turbulence but we arrived early.

After arriving in LA we proceeded over to the international terminal. We arrived in one terminal and had to walk out of security over to Terminal 5. We had to go to a self service kiosk and re-issue our standby tickets so we could back through security again. We proceeded through security within a few minutes. My bag actually was searched and re-scanned by TSA which was no big deal. We then hiked up to the gate where the Sydney flight was due to leave from and reviewed the standby list screen. The flight was due to leave at 10:35 pm and when we there it didn't look like we had a chance to get on the flight because it was showing full with 13 people on the waiting list and you guessed it I was number 13. I eventually dropped to 15 because two additional people listed over the next 90 minutes. The good thing was that Alethea's mom had actually called ahead and befriended a Delta employee in the Sky Club in LA who said we could spend the night with her if we didn't make the Sydney flight. After seeing that it wasn't looking good we decided to go up to the Sky Club located a few gates down to relax for a little bit. We checked in and chatted with the lady that Alethea's mom had hooked us up with. Her shift was actually over at 9:30 pm and she was going to leave at that time which means we would have to leave with her if we wanted a free place to stay in LA that night. We decided to stay in case a miracle happened. We stayed in the Sky Club and watched online as the gate agents cleared passengers. We enjoyed some snacks and a free beer while we waited. Around 10 pm we saw that more people were starting to clear so we decided to grab our bags and go down to the gate which we did in a hurried manner. We stayed around the gate and starred at the standby list and saw about 10 minutes before the flight was scheduled to leave that a bunch of seats became available. This was due primarily to a couple no shows and a late connecting flight. About 30 minutes before it looked like there was no way we would get on the flight then all of sudden we were both cleared. I believe I was the last person cleared for the flight on the waiting list. There were a couple empty seats but not more than a few.

The flight itself for me was relatively uneventful. It was long though. Flying time for the flight 14 hours and 30 minutes. I almost had a quick panic attack because as we were taxing out for take off the pilot came over the radio and said there was a problem with the radio and they had to pull off to the side and discuss it with maintenance. They were actually able to resolve it after a few minutes. We eventually took off although it was about a hour late before we finally took off. The good thing about the flight was that I was able to sleep a lot. The first bit that I slept was about 4.5 hours. I then was awake for about a hour before sleeping another 1.5 to 2 hours. I was feeling pretty well rested at this point. I stayed up and watched one episode of The Simpsons, thee episodes of the The Office, and 2/3rds of The Godfather before we landed. All the TV and movies are on demand per individual seat which was pretty neat. Alethea had a much different experience. She was sitting next to a lady with two small kids with one getting sick to its stomach before we ever departed. The kid got sick to its stomach again later on during the flight too. I don't think she slept at all during the flight.

We arrived about a 30 minutes late into Sydney at about 7 am. We were able to get off the plane and go through immigration and security pretty quickly. The visa for Australia is purchased in advance and is electronic. We also went through real fast because we had no checked bags which is rare for an international flight. We then called our hostel to see if we could get a room since we actually got to Australia a day early. They were able to put us in a 4 person dorm room. On Tuesday we'll switch to a private room for the next three nights. They also have a shuttle service that was able to pick us up from the airport for free. We checked in and took showers before settling in for a 2 hour nap even though I didn't really need one. We then walked around our area before getting some lunch at a Thai restaurant. After lunch we shopped at a local grocery store. We plan on saving some money over the next few days by buying some breakfast and lunch foods. One thing we ran into when looking for alcohol was that beer is very expensive or at least it is at this grocery store. A 6 pack would have cost the equivalent of $15. We bought the cheapest bottle of wine that we could fine for $5. We then went back to our hostels and relaxed for the rest of the afternoon. We caught up on emails and so forth and will map out the next few days. We decided to take it easy and relax after spending 36 hours traveling to Sydney. By the way the weather is pretty cool as we expect it. It is still sort of winter here. It will be in the high 50's to low 60's while we're here.

Overall I was pleased with our first day(s) of travel. Things didn't look to good at first but we made up for it by getting to Sydney for a little more than we wanted to spend but much less than what a regular ticket would have costs and that was actually a possibility Saturday when we look at seat availability through different airports.

Well that is probably more than enough for my first blog entry on our trip. I doubt I'll go into that much detail with future entries. My goal is to both document our trip while at the same time making it interesting for our friends and family to follow along so I want to balance details with high level summaries. Also, we'll have more or less downtime depending where we are at so that might influence content as well. Tomorrow (Tuesday August 3rd) is our first full day in Sydney so we'll see what happens over the next few days.