A journey so simple

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Diary of a senior traveller

IT was just an ordinary flight from Melbourne to Brisbane. A journey so simple.

A flight I had done so often from the Sunshine Coast to Melbourne and back. Yet this time it was different.

It became a journey of self-realisation, one in which you understand what fellow travellers are dealing with. Their joy, their fears, their anxiety and their anticipation.

Travel is a time when we concentrate so much on our own issues and express concern when something changes, something goes wrong with our plans.

A good friend offered to do the airport drop-off and pick-up. That’s always a treat, the airport goodbye and hello. So much friendlier than the shuttle bus that weaves all over the place and takes an extra hour or two.

This trip was short notice. And a long weekend.

I needed to be flexible with timing. The sooner I got to Melbourne the better as Mum had cancer, and was temporarily in hospital.

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Another reason to visit? It was my sister’s birthday. I needed to go as soon as possible. Getting and being there was easy, simply flying direct from the Sunshine Coast Airport.

Socialising with family and friends is always fun, and I relished three days of that scenario in the Melbourne’s outer eastern suburbs. The weekend flew by.

Sunday morning came around fast. The wind blew and rain bucketed down as it does in Melbourne in June. As if blown all the way from the Antarctic.

The maximum forecast was 12 degrees. I remembered the cold of sailing in Bass Strait exactly 28 years ago. Another story of yachting in those unpredictable waters awaits.

With my Myki public transport pass dutifully swiped I stepped onto the dismal railway platform, along with people born in other places.

They all looked as cold as I felt. A benefit of travelling weekends as a senior in Melbourne is that all travel is free.

I wondered if having free public transport always, everywhere, could help in saving the planet. That would be a major move by the governments of the world.

Another issue, a political debate … another time and place.

The train trip to Dandenong is only a few suburban railway stations yet you could be in London when observing the diversity of commuters boarding.

It was only 9am as we pulled into Melbourne’s Southern Cross station, yet each carriage was full.

Many of the passengers had those rolling drag-along bags and were obviously airport bound.

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My backpack was only 7kg, including the carry-on and iPad. I wondered about the weight. Perhaps I’d left stuff at the family home.

Travelling light suits me. I recalled how many trips I have taken excess ‘stuff’.

Not now, that freedom of travel with next to nothing enables me to move quickly, see more and be somehow more independent.

At Southern Cross station I marvel at that network of curved metal forming a roof over the city and country platforms.

I missed a Skybus. That doesn’t matter in Melbourne, though, where public transport is to be envied compared to where I come from.

Soon another coach pulled in and I settled into a one-person seat, reading for a short time, or so it seemed. It’s about a 20-minute drive to the airport at Tullamarine, which goes so fast.

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The driver announced Jetstar terminal to the left. This is so easy I thought.

Yet self check-in didn’t respond to my request for a boarding pass for JQ57 to Brisbane.

My query to the only visible floor staff was: “Is it cancelled?”

“No, just go down to international, your flight is leaving from T2,” the cheery staffer replied. Fine, this is the place where adventurers head OS. A bit of atmosphere I thought.

How strange, flying “internal’’ on international hasn’t happened to me before. Then I began to regret my decision to fly to Brisbane before getting a lift home.

When I walked into the crowds in T2 traveller’s nerves set in. There was no signage to indicate departures.

I wandered, tried to ask at a booth which was signed “Traveller’s Information”.

The desk was manned by some busy people who didn’t see me as they sold new SIM cards to others.

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A rather flustered older lady, Joan, was dragging a huge purple suitcase behind, and the other arm supported an oversized handbag covered by a thick woolly cardi. She struggled to the counter where I waited patiently … at first.

Although impatience was setting in for me, Joan was at breaking point. She was ready and able to abuse anyone who couldn’t help her.

I made a new friend with her and together we negotiated the chaos upstairs to the departure queue.

By this time I was cursing my travel agent. In my mind he was sacked. He was to blame for booking me on an international flight to go home.

But I wasn’t alone. Several others joined the snaking line of travellers for JQ57 to Singapore.

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Just how desperate can one be for a coffee? The two hours I had planned to just sit, read, sip coffee and write at the airport had vanished. Instead I passed through check-in, security and immigration.

Not bound for Singapore, just Brisbane.

Luckily I had not culled my driving licence when I left all the loyalty cards behind. Without my photo ID my boarding that flight would not have happened.

Walking past the duty free temptations annoyed me. I needed a scotch, rum or gin. I was suffering international departure without the perks.

The flight was late departing, and would land at the international airport, not domestic. Glad I thought of that.

Change of arrival point. Brisbane International. That was the text message to my pick-up. And I updated often. It’s looking late! And even later.

Finally boarded. Sitting in designated place, feeling like a trapped sardine yet going nowhere.

Up front I could see the special treatment being bestowed upon those who had paid more. Jealousy is a curse I thought.

When a young lady broke down in floods of tears and apologies the staff were so kind. They let her disembark, followed by a confused young man. The start of their honeymoon?

Her flying nerves must have forced her to abandon her journey today. No doubt at great monetary cost and embarrassment.

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I wondered at what point in the departure process is cut-off for a demand to escape travel.

I imagined a “what if” on one of the plane disasters of recent times … what if you were the lucky one to get out before take-off. That’s what I’d call a lottery win.

The pilot announced a delay. Luggage needed to be removed. Another 15 minutes late. Another text message sent. And yet another one written, which didn’t get away in time.

I discovered that the aircraft has the facility to stop/jam mobile phone communication. I’d calculated an approximate arrival time, and been able to relay that to my pick-up.

My window seat was next to Claire and her granddaughter Kellie on the aisle. Those in wheelchairs get in first and since Gran needed one she was already buckled into seat B and wasn’t moving anywhere.

Kellie suggested I just simply climb over Gran. Sure I thought, picturing me tumbling into her lap as I struggle over past her to my window A. Without thinking I put all my gear overhead into the locker, except the book which Dad had lent me after my request for his help to write a few words.

He simply wandered away to his office then handed over a book and said “read this.’’

It was a self-help book on how to write.

So here I was, jammed into an airline seat, next to a very dear and deaf Gran to Kellie.

She mentioned Kellie was very important – a fundraiser for a major charity. There was a six-hour fitness session on next Saturday, their last chance for the financial year to make budget. With proceeds to breast cancer sufferers and research, it was managed by Mater Hospital fundraising team.

Would I like to partake? Sure I replied. Must raise $500 by Saturday! Hmmm.

Whew, I spy the refreshment cart heading our way. Problem is my money is above, which means climbing over Gran to get at it to buy a coffee. Yes, I am craving for one, had nothing since six o’clock this morning, and that was only weak tea.

Lovely Kellie displayed Aussie generosity and bought me one. Thank you, that meant heaps. She knows what generosity is.

I thought of Joan and her woollen cardigan, who was by now attached to Sharon two seats behind. She was travelling isolated, no one and no phone.

Joan is 85 and recovering from a broken hip. She was flying to Brisbane to visit her daughter who was suffering terminal cancer.

The daughter had been to the best school I was told. She will be the third of the group of five girlfriends to die. At only 59.

Joan’s beloved daughter had injected drugs in her youth and contracted hepatitis C.

Eventually and predictably she developed liver cancer. This spread rapidly to other organs.

Soon she will be dead. The consequences to long term health from her drug-taking youth surprised me.

I was shocked and saddened. Joan was sad, yet still angry. I had communicated several times with Joan’s grandson pick-up but was content that Sharon would do that now.

Joan was lucky that day to be travelling with others who cared. It got me thinking about travel … who you see at railway or airport terminals, who you bump into. Not just the luggage they carry with them but also the baggage.

Let’s face it, if you are not going on holiday or business you are probably travelling for family reasons or issues. Births, weddings, anniversaries, reunions, health issues or a funeral.

We think so much about our needs – check-in, a good seat, smooth journey. We think about our own issues and not those of fellow travellers.

Yet arrival and departure lounges are full of people with so much anxiety and apprehension as well as expectation.

Everyone has a back story. A reason they are there.

They are not just travelling. They are going somewhere.

We see them but its not til we start talking to them that we realise what is their story. Who are they waiting for, who are they going to see.

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This wasn’t a bad flight yet I was so relieved to land. Being concerned that my ‘meet and greet’ event was going to be another airport stuff-up I hurried.

Text messages exchanged. Yet I realised that getting through the processes of arrival and passing through customs and immigration can be lengthy.

With my backpack strapped on I breezed through because I didn’t need to wait for luggage. The time from the aircraft landing to me standing in the traveller collection area took only 10 minutes!

I’d completed the Grand Traverse trek in New Zealand’s South Island in February, and was accustomed to walking with a full back-pack.

What a welcome sight to see my pick-up arrive almost immediately.

That was perfectly timed, it couldn’t have been more efficient.

Thank goodness for mobile phones. Without them that flight arrival in a different airport at a different time would have been a big problem.

Our lives changed so dramatically with mobile phones.

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The day wasn’t that bad after all, I contemplated in retrospect from home.

Lessons learned from the changed flight gave me time to ask people about their journey, then allow them time to answer.

That is when you learn. Everyone has a story.

Settled into my favourite chair, sipping coffee in the sun, I realised I wouldn’t change a thing.

 

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