Melbourne to London the long way with the odd problem

Sunday, 28 May 2023

A few years ago I travelled London to Melbourne in about 28 days, all of it on flights of just an hour or two by Low Cost Carriers, airlines like Ryanair, easyJet, Pegasus, Fly Dubai, IndiGo or Air Asia.

Now I’ve just arrived in London from Melbourne, a trip that took 45 days travelling via Seoul and Busan in South Korea – Fukuoka and Yokohama in Japan – Kodiak, Sitka and Ketchikan in Alaska – then Vancouver, Seattle, Bozeman in Montana and San Francisco – followed by London in England, Turin in Italy, Lugano in Switzerland and Paris in France.

For the whole trip to work everything had to connect, flights, a ferry (Busan to Fukuoka), a cruise ship (Yokohama to Seattle) and lots of train trips including high speed trains in South Korea, the Shinkansen in Japan, TGV in Europe and Eurostar from Paris to London. Slower trains too, 24 hours by Amtrak down the US West Coast. And naturally a few thing went wrong along the way, fortunately never seriously:

Flying with Qantas Sydney to Seoul – how many times has departure been delayed because we’re waiting for one more passenger? Often it’s not the passenger’s fault at all, their connecting flight was running late and now they’re doing the running to get on board. But this time it was a flight attendant, she was a last minute replacement for a flight attendant whose taxi had crashed on the way to the airport, seriously enough to put her in hospital. So do airlines have flight attendants waiting at the airport on standby for such an emergency? No they summon one who is on semi-standby at home.

▲ As my Qantas flight was taxiing out to depart a friend on another Qantas flight, heading to Johannesburg, was about to roll

Strong winds and high seas in the Korea Strait might force the Queen Beetle high speed ferry from Busan in South Korea to Fukuoka on Kyushu Island in Japan to turn back. Well that was going to seriously mess up my connection to the Westerdam cruise ship departing Yokohama, the port for Tokyo in a few days time. As it turned out rough weather didn’t stop us although a lot of people were seasick.

▲ Korean weather warning – strong winds and high waves

▲ The Queen Beetle Ferry (manufactured in Australia) which whisked me to Japan despite the high seas and big waves.

More bad weather cancelled the Westerdam cruise ship’s scheduled stop at Kushiro on Hokkaido Island in Japan. So we spent an extra day in Yokohama, departing a day late. We should have taken the opportunity to leave on time, even without the Hokkaido stop, because at the end of the trip we didn’t have time to travel the Inside Passage from Alaska to Seattle, that extra day would have made it possible.

Harbour Air, which operates float planes between Lake Union in Seattle and Vancouver, cancelled my Saturday flight. I had to take Alaska Airlines later in the day, more expensive and less fun.

▲ I still flew with Harbour Air from Vancouver to Nanaimo on Vancouver Islands. Boarding one of their floatplanes, they’ve got 40 of them!

Plus when I checked in for the replacement Seattle-Vancouver flight I discovered I needed an ETA to fly to Canada, like an American ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization). I’d travelled from the USA to Canada twice in 2022 and didn’t need an ETA, but that was by land, I didn’t realise different rules applied to airline arrivals. Fortunately there were no other non-American or Canadian passengers in the queue and Alaska Airlines (often a favourite airline) sorted the whole thing out for me at the check-in desk, made the application, processed my credit card and the approval came back while I was waiting at the counter. Wow!

A technical glitch delayed my Bozeman, Montana to Seattle flight, Alaska Airlines again, and the captain came out to the departure area to explain the problem and that they had to round up a qualified engineer to sign off that it was fixed. It didn’t take long, but I’ve never before had the captain come out to explain things. Good for Alaska Airlines again.

▲ Alaska Airlines, they get my praise!

Flying London to Turin Ryanair cancelled my flight, due to a strike in Italy which was then called off, but too late to reinstate the flight. Still I got a laugh from the audience at an EDT Lonely Planet Italy 50th anniversary of Lonely Planet party later that night, Ryanair mishaps always go down well.

I found a replacement flight with British Airways, a bit later than I would have wished and also it was delayed an hour. My Ryanair flight had cost me £59, the BA flight was costing me £400 until I looked further down the page and discovered that was the cost in Economy, in Business Class it was £275. So I upgraded.

Then the Gatwick Express train from London was cancelled, no problem another train company got me there just as fast.

Finally the day before I took the TGV Lyria train from Zurich in Switzerland to Paris in France a warning came through that the French railway company SNCF might face a strike and my train might be cancelled, it wasn’t, nor was my Eurostar train from Paris to London the next day.

▲ TGV Lyria, the Swiss-French iteration of TGV – Train à Grande Vitesse,