First Time On A Long Haul Flight – Kota Kinabalu
Our first long haul flight loomed. Having taking my first flight only 10 months before, a daunting prospect was ahead of us.
The road (or more accurately, sky) to Borneo consisted of a journey taking 36 hours and covering just shy of 8000 miles. Even though I now had 8 short-haul flights under my belt, the longest had only been 2 and a half hours. By comparison, the shorter part of the flight to South East Asia was Heathrow to Dubai, which clocked in at 7 hours. The latter, longer part was 9. We then had a long wait before a shorter flight.
We said goodbye to Laura’s parents at the airport and dropped our hold luggage off. We had to provide evidence of onward travel for our flight to The Philippines, as we’d bought that ticket separately, so we were fortunate that Laura had also printed those off. This was also my first time using the hold on a plane, which required a certain amount of redistribution of items into my carry on – along with a hasty repurposing of a drawstring bag containing camera kit.
We wandered around the duty free, which seemed fairly typical from my admittedly limited experience of airports. We ate sushi, which was delicious, but probably easier to obtain over the next 5 months than a big old burger and some fries. Eventually our flight came up, and we walked to our boarding gate.
At the gate I was blown away. A side effect of short haul flights was that I’d never flown on anything bigger than Ryanair’s standard fare. Before me stood an Airbus A380. As a child interested in all things plane-based, I recalled being excited about the announcement of the largest passenger plane in the world, finally knocking the Boeing 747 off its pedestal after 30 years as the largest airliner. Now I was all set to board one.
We were flying with Emirates, so the seating was something I wasn’t used to. Far from the almost coach-like seats on a Ryanair flight, these seats were practically the definition of opulence. They were leather clad, with thick cushions. There was a screen attached to the seat in front. A blanket was provided.
Before we knew it 500 tons of metal, fuel, people, and blankets was hurtling down the runway. The idea of a single plane being able to carry so much stuff thousands of feet up into the air is mindblowing. The takeoff was smooth and we were soon aloft, on our way towards Dubai.
We settled in to make use of the inflight entertainment. Emirates has frequently been voted the best entertainment in the world, and I can see why. The screens in front of us offered – in addition to music, films and tv – the opportunity to play games with other passengers, using a controller (with its own screen) that was detachable from the seat in front. We had a game of Tetris and watched Moana. Before long dinner was served.
As long as I can remember, airline meals have always had something of a bad rap. The merest thought of them conjures up images of bad 80s comedy routines and cheap shots at its quality. The meal that we had was some beefy concoction along with a small block of mashed potato. It wasn’t the best meal that I’ve had, but after a lifetime of hearing bad things about airplane meals, it exceeded expectations by some way. And the thought of the meals of a similar quality being given to 500 other passengers, 30000 feet in the air was a really impressive feat.
We finished off our food, along with the rest of Moana, around the halfway point of the flight.. Knowing that we still had another 9 hour flight off the back of this, we decided to save the other film we were particularly interested in – Kong: Skull Island – until that leg. We spent the rest of the flight watching bits of tv shows as we dozed off and woke up over and over again.
Having taken off at 8pm for a 7 and a half hour flight eastward, we ended up landing in Dubai shortly before 9am in the morning. I think.
It was already 39 degrees – not that we spent more than a few seconds outside of the airport’s air conditioning to experience it fully. Neither of us had snatched more than a couple of hours sleep, but we decided to have breakfast. We found a Giraffe (the restaurant, not the animal) and had a small but slow-paced meal there, whiling away the 4 hour layover. Soon we were off again on the way to The Philippines, this time on a smaller plane (a Boeing 787 for those keeping track), but with similarly decent amenities. We watched the land under us transform back from arid, hazy yellows and browns back to oceanic blues, and eventually to blacks, as night fell upon us within a few hours on the plane. A surprising fact: the nearer that you get to the equator, the more even that days are, throughout the year. Consequently, even at the height of summer, sunset was still due to occur around half 6 in the evening.
I’m not sure if it was the onscreen presence of the King of Apes or the the lack of sleep from the previous flight, or even if it was the accelerated rate of day turning back to night, but the second leg of the flight actually felt quicker, despite being a couple of hours longer.
We landed into Ninoy Aquinas International Airport around 11pm and went through immigration with few complications – beyond finding a pen to fill out a form. Whilst we had debated finding a hotel for the night, as our flight out was at 7 in the morning, we figured it best to stay in the airport.
We found a Wendy’s that was still open and offering food, we had a burger and some fries and slowly (again) munched at them whilst playing Skopa and making use of the airports wifi. As the night dragged on, Laura caught a couple of hours napping against a pillar, while I stood watch.
I had read a good deal about dodgy goings on in NAIA overnight as apparently it is fairly common for unattended bags have bullets planted as some sort of scam. Fortunately we arrived straight into terminal 3 – apparently the most pleasant of the terminals and the main hub for international flights. Upon arriving we saw quite a large number of people kipping out on the floor, but erring on the side of caution, I managed to keep my eyes open, watching the bags like an exhausted hawk. We also checked out the local shop for amusingly named chocolate bars.
Eventually our checkout desk opened and after queuing for what felt like an age, we were able to get through security, immigration and eventually we came to the departure lounge.
We had some time, and some unused pesos, so we decided to get a massage. After 30 minutes, spent oscillating between relaxation and pain, we headed out to our gate and were soon on for our final leg of the journey. A two hour flight to Kota Kinabalu.
By this point we were both completely exhausted, and really wanted to spend the two hours sleeping. However the flight staff on the plane had other intentions. We were treated to a rendition of Despacito, courtesy of an attendant, over the plane’s tannoy system that could only be described as ‘abusive’, along with a game that probably would have been more fun if the flight hadn’t required the assembled passengers to be up for at least 5 in the morning. The rest of them shared our total lack of enthusiasm.
Mercifully, the flight was fairly brief, and we landed into Kota Kinabalu at 11 or so in the morning. We got an Uber straight to the hotel – and pretty much passed out for the following few hours, before waking up for dinner, then falling asleep as normal, somehow dodging jet lag in the process.