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International business travel

Started: 2007-08-10 06:09:50

Submitted: 2007-08-10 06:42:51

Visibility: World-readable

The great part about business travel to foreign countries is I get to visit exciting places for free. The obvious downside is that I have to work when I get there.

On Thursday, 2 August, my last day in United States for two weeks, I headed into work for last-minute arrangements (and to have lunch with some departing coworkers) before heading home by mid-afternoon to finish laundry and packing. I ended up taking two small suitcases, my normal blue Samsonite and expandable Rick Steve's Europe bag. I contemplated various options for transport to the airport (RTD SkyRide and private shuttle operators) but ultimately decided to drive. I finished packing in time to make it to the airport early; Kiesa would have been proud.

I checked in, took the train to Concourse B, ate supper, and met my traveling companion and coworkers Steve. We didn't yet have hotel arrangements for arrival on Saturday morning; I called the guy who set the whole trip up and he called our contact in Sydney to make sure I had somewhere to stay.

The first leg of the trip took me to Los Angeles on a 767-300. The Economy Plus cabin was mostly empty; I had room to stretch out into this aisle seat next to my window seat.

Two hours later, we touched down in LAX and found our departure date. I checked my e-mail (after paying $6 for Internet access) and recorded the details of my hotel, a few blocks from where I had printed directions for.

Ahead of our scheduled 22:39 PDT departure, I had my passport verified (although no one seems to care whether I had the visa I needed to get) and boarded the massive 747-400, the largest passenger airliner in service, at least until the A380 comes into service sometime this year, or maybe this decade. I settled into my center-row aisle seat; I normally prefer window seats, I didn't think it was worth the access trade-off to stare out a window for fourteen hours of dark ocean. The two center seats to my right were unoccupied until immediately before the main doors closed, when a young couple with a one-year-old baby showed up and occupied the seats. I tried not to think about the horrors of a fourteen-hour plane flight with a screaming child to my elbow and begin wondering if I should have accepted the $700 upgrade to business class the automated check-in kiosk offered me. (I stared at the text for minutes, cursing the yield-management system that priced business-class tickets in order of magnitude more than sardine-class tickets until I was at the airport, checking into sardine with legroom, when the total cost my business ticket would end up as $2300. I'm confident I could have talked my employer into paying that up front, but not after $300 extra for Economy Plus... So I tapped "Decline" knowing I would spend the entire fourteen hour flight to Sydney reconsidering my decision.)

After a lengthy wait to push back and lumber into position for take-off, the pilot throttled up and took us down the runway and through the takeoff rotation and we were airborne, heading west across the Pacific Ocean. It was my first time to fly a 747.

I set my watch ahead 17 hours from Los Angeles Times anytime; 2300 PDT on Thursday, 2 August became late afternoon the next day, 1600 AEST on Friday, 3 August. My plan was to stay awake as long as practical, then try to sleep for eight hours, then wake up again for several hours out from landing at 0600 on Saturday morning. This worked as well as I could have hoped; while the rest of the plane slept after midnight departure time, I entertained myself by reading Deepsix, playing New Super Mario Brothers, watching Veronica Mars, and failing to meet my minimum coherency criteria for documenting the trip so far in the now-standard black notebook. I finally gave up and went to sleep around 1930 AEST on Friday, despite the refusal of my seat to recline more than two or three inches, and the attempts by the flight attendants to feed me a snack at midnight, Sydney time.

In between uninspiring movies projected on the bulkhead in front of my cabin (United's 747s have not entered the twenty-first century with personal entertainment), I traced our progress across the vast Pacific Ocean, first crossing the equator, and then crossing the International Date Line. As we maneuvered for landing in Sydney, it didn't seem that I had spent fourteen hours sitting in the same seat; it seemed like a more reasonable long-haul flight time. I credit the time-compressing effects of sleep.