Adelaide via Sydney to Beijing on Qantas

So this was my first international flight. We all have to start somewhere. To be honest back then I noted very little and was just engrossed in the experience, so here I am writing a bit about it many years later. But it was an important stage and decision to once again ‘jump in the deep end’. The fact such a decision seems so minor now is testament to how much has changed.

It was booked with credit received from a cancelled trip to the film school in Sydney. A few hundred dollars return to Sydney was not unusual at the time and the ticket to Beijing cost around the one thousand mark. This was the first time I noticed that the cost was based on the origin and destination, that the domestic sector on an international ticket only slightly increased (sometimes even reduces) the total. Qantas is the major carrier in Australia yet it is very Sydney centric, a problem that has dogged it for many years. It is very common to connect, particularly from Adelaide, through Sydney or another eastern city. The Sydney to Beijing route I flew has since been cancelled with no hint of restarting after many years.

The flight

Route Map

The first flight was entirely typical for me. A domestic between Adelaide and Sydney had become my primary route, shuttling back and forth for study. However today I would be using the transfer desk for the first time. Australian terminals are mostly divided quite distinctly between domestic and international, for historical reasons. In many cases this means terminals are on opposite sides of the main runway, including in Sydney. Qantas operate a bus service which operates air side and gives you some good views of the airport operation.

Arriving into the international terminal one needs to pass immigration and go through security once again. This was new but the international terminal was not. I had several times taken an international tag flight between Sydney and Adelaide which continued onto Singapore.

Onboard the little I can recall, it was nothing particularly special but being a new and exciting experience I did not find the economy seating uncomfortable at all, and the long flight wasn’t so long particularly as a day flight. Operated by an A330 aircraft has two seats on each side and four in the middle. These were quite new into the fleet at the time and each seat had personal entertainment, again pretty good for economy at this stage. Importantly the plane was half empty so got to share a set of four seats with a young woman. There was a chance to lay down and move around.

A lunch and a dinner service was offered as we passed over SE Asia and Hong Kong. There were small but properly printed menus even in economy. One other thing which now seems slightly unusual were amenity kits were also handed out, rivalling some poor business class ones. The bags were on lanyards and an ideal size to hold a passport, I imagine intentionally. They contained socks, toothbrush and paste and possibly a couple other items.

Arriving into Beijing the first thing that struck me was the smell in the air. Real pollution was new to me. Second was how little English would be spoken here. Looking back now, it was one of the worse places to go in that respect but again beneficial in the sense of jumping in the unknown. We arrived into the new terminal 3, the largest airport in the world at the time, built for the 2008 olympic games. It was late night, dark and the airport seemed rather quiet. Eventually retrieving my bag I walked into arrivals to find my friend and his future wife.

In some respect it is sad to see the lack of writing or photographing but that is how much of life is like. This was before smart phones in the contemporary sense. I had had several 3G phones and used Java apps including Google Maps, so was ahead of my time a bit. But the phone cameras remained rather poor. Fortunately I had a rather compact point and shoot camera to use for the remainder of the trip. However thinking back it is how much we miss and forget, the structure is there but the colour that details my life and my feelings are lacking. That said I got up to many things in China which I’m happily able to detail.


These are probably the first flights where I intentionally kept the boarding passes. After this, it is one of the things I have done as a keepsake, generally I dispose and recycle everything else. In addition with many hours of reading through ACARS logs on various servers I have been able to work out aircraft registrations for nearly all my flights.

QF740 ADL-SYD, on a Boeing 737-400 VH-TJM in economy, seat 7C. Flight length: 1:55 hr, 723 miles.

QF105 SYD-PEK, on a Airbus 330-300 VH-QPF in economy, seat 36D. Flight length: 12:40 hr, 5,570 miles.

A long flight, a true introduction to long haul flying but it would turn out to be my longest in economy too. By the time I got into serious frequent international travel I had discovered many of the ins and outs of various loyalty schemes.

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