Sydney International Airport: a rant

Sydney International Airport is a joke. This is one of the richest countries on earth, so why is the toilet door off its hinge? And why are there always queues outside the women’s toilets. Also why does all the food taste like photocopy paper and why does the immigration area feel like you are trapped in an iron blouse? It’s airless, there’s a smell of yesterday’s donut mixed with armpit and the constant threat of an anal probe.

Sorry to get political, but this is what happens when you outsource to the private sector. Turns out it’s fairly efficient not to clean the toilets properly and not to build enough in the first place (let ’em queue, let ’em queue). It it costs nothing to lease to food outlets at extortionate prices so they cannot provide food that doesn’t taste like a service station. It’s fairly easy to cut off natural light and even easier to provide bad chairs. Comfort, be gone! They want you as uncomfortable as possible so you will get out of your annoying chair and go shopping.

Sydney Airport can get away with being third rate because we have the world’s finest harbour, so anything else, like say infrastructure doesn’t matter. Also Sydney Airport is not on the way to anywhere in particular. We are not Singapore or Dubai, vying to become a gateway airport and not much publicity is ever given to Sydney Airport. As soon as visitors arrive and are shunted into the blinking sunshine their airport hell is forgotten, just a piece of airport roadkill in their great overseas adventure. Ditto as soon as we locals leave, Sydney Airport just becomes part of the pre-travel lead up nightmare. No-one talks about it, no-one mentions the airport in blog dispatches, it’s ephemera in the travel experience.

I realise there are more pressing issues in the world, like say fiscal economics and the scourge of deconstructed pop-up food trucks but Sydney is meant to be a world class city and that should mean it has an airport that doesn’t smell like a hellish bus ride. We’ve already had a hellish bus ride in the skies to get here or we are about to have one, so is it too much to ask for someone in charge to give a flying kangaroo about making the airport a nicer place?


Swindletown: the great caravan park con

Recently I stayed in a caravan park, but not in an actual caravan, instead in a “luxury cabin”. Back in the day, caravan parks were a cheap thrill. Like Target, RSL’s, Thai restaurants and pub meals.

But back to my cara-rant, this luxury cabin slept four and had two rooms. I know this is a first world problem, but the cabin was not luxury, unless you like a lumpy double bed, bunkbeds and plastic bathrooms the size of a broom cupboard.

Lumpy beds and bunkbeds are ok in a first world problem kind of way, if you are going to be charged accordingly (ie bugger all). But this particular “luxury” cabin cost $110 and then $20 for each extra adult. So the total cost divided by four adults was $150.

I would like to know why we are charged more for four people to stay in a space which is designed for four people?

I would also like to know why I was stupid enough (don’t answer this) to book this in the first place when I could have stayed in a motel down the road for not much more.

I’m thinking the real bargains in life are not to be found in caravan parks.

And that maybe a motel is cheaper. So is staying at home.


Economising on air travel chokes me up

Air travel is not what it used to be. These days it is pretty much just like a Greyhound bus, only not as classy. The food is from a place where the sun don’t shine, the seats feel like they are made from steel and rock and even the space waitresses, sorry flight attendants, aren’t supermodels any more. At least the entertainment is good. My very own movie! But wait, you have to pay for it separately.

It does my head in: queues, security checks and glazed attendants with highfalutin titles, like Customer Satisfaction Consultant. Which is especially ironic, given you have to DIY everything, including weigh your own bag and put on your tag and wish yourself a pleasant flight.

The whole experience has become commoditised, a kind of dog eats dog, the dollar is king, mentality. It is amazing there aren’t more deaths in custody, sorry, mid-flight, the way people are squeezed in like sardines in the back of a truck.

If you want to avoid most of the above, then you have to pay a motza just to be treated humanely (ie not sit in economy).

I don’t know who to blame. Is it the airlines who saw an opportunity for a quick buck via cost cutting down to the last sheet of toilet paper? Is it shareholders wanting a profit (to fund their overseas travel aspirations)? Is it the government for failing to regulate on some pretty basic human rights? Or is it us? Have we, just by scratching around for the cheapest route possible, made all the airlines sink to the lowest common denominator?

They say we get the government we deserve, and I reckon that’s true (a whole other blog for another time). I think we have the the air travel we deserve too, but I also think the airlines have been all too quick to oblige.

Fast track to Island Time

“I threw away the watch when I came here”, says Jason of Land & Sea, a sports rental shop on Norfolk Island. “You just have to give into it”.

Jason sure has given into it. The bikes I booked months ago are sitting in Jason’s garage waiting repairs and, by the look of things, will stay there until after we’ve gone. I note that the “Back in Five” sign is permanently on display even when he is there. He tells us he is not making any money so he may as well enjoy himself and he takes Wednesday afternoons off to go to the beach. I’m happy for him, really I am. The world needs more relaxed people. I just wish I was one of them. I also just wish I had the bikes I ordered and am prepared to pay bright shiny Sydney money for would materialise.

But that’s island time for you. From Norfolk Island to Fiji to Tonga to Tahiti, island time is trotted out pretty quickly. The moment a question, idea, call to arms, coffee order or bike hire request is made, good old island time is mentioned and if things get a bit heated, then it’s accompanied by a shrug of the shoulders.

There really is no good retort to Island Time. No point threatening them (if they are a Tongan their pinky finger is fatter than your forearm), sarcasm just drips off their back and straight out complaining about how this would never work where you come is met with yet another shrug and a smile.

But really what is island time? Is it genuinely a way of life or is it an excuse for being lazy? And why can’t they just put aside island time for five minutes to get something ready for a tourist, who ultimately is paying the bills, so that someone else gets to keep living on an island.

Because I haven’t thrown away my watch yet even if I am on holidays.

And another thing about flying pigs

And while we’re at it, (see previous rant) Qantas’s logo “You’re the reason we fly” is very annoying. And a big fat Alan Joyce-flavoured lie.

So that’s why they left thousands of people stranded last year. Ok, the year before last now, but still in recent memory!

That’s why they disrupted thousands of people’s plans and caused people to miss weddings, funerals and pajama parties. Not very customer-focussed Alan Joyce!

If Qantas tells any more porkies like that its nose will be so long it won’t be able to get lift-off. I would much prefer some truth in advertising. Something along the lines of “We are a once-great airline now turned into a notch below Ryanair and we want to scrape together an executive bonus at the expense of staff, customers and anyone who is not called Alan Joyce . That is the reason we fly.”

And that is the reason I don’t fly Qantas.

Pigs might fly before The Flying Dog soars

Saying you think things should be back in public hands is about as hip as saying you like Mormon underpants or chardonnay.

But, unlike Mormon underpants, the idea of putting Qantas back in public hands, is worth exploring.

That’s because Australia is an island. You can’t dig a tunnel and get here, you can’t catch a Eurail train, you can’t drive your car. You have to fly. (OK technically you can get here by cruiseliner or leaky boat but that’s a whole other blog).

Essentially our national carrier is going to be a whole lot more important than say, Switzerland‘s national carrier (which is owned by Germany). And as a nation, we need to be able to send our national carrier to troublespots on occasions to get Aussies out. Thankfully it’s only occasionally, but when it happens we need planes to follow a government directive fast.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t fancy the Australian Government‘s chances (no matter who is in charge) of ordering China Eastern to make an emergency trip to the Gaza strip to rescue some stranded Aussie tourists.

Also, because Qantas is responsible to shareholders and can respond to market forces, ie screw the customer, the price of regional flights is extortionate. Especially when you consider that many people forced to use regional flights wouldn’t necessarily have a spare $490 floating around (the cost of a flight from Sydney to Albury and back tomorrow for example).

Sure, Sydney/Melbourne/Brisbane’s pretty cheap but what if you want to go to Narrabri?  If Qantas were put back in public hands then subsidised flights to regional Australia could stimulate the economy faster than you can say School Improvement Program.

Sure it costs more. But just tax Clive Palmer and you’ve bought yourself a new fleet right there. See – there’s a solution for everything!

The thing is you get what you pay for. Currently we (the taxpayer) aren’t paying for Qantas and it shows. We are left with a dysfunctional mishmash of Asian airline meets Dubai meeting point. The romance has gone right out of it – much like Mormon underwear.

I’d love to see some discussion about it, not just a kneejerk pooh poohing of the idea. We need a reliable national carrier that we can call our own and that really does call Australia, not Dubai, home.

Mike Whitney packs a crystalline punch

I know it’s cheesy with an extra dollop of spray-on cheese with fake bacon bits on the top, but I love Sydney Weekender. This gem of a show has been going to air on channel 7 since the Hawke-Keating administration. Well, I just made that bit up, but let’s just say yonks.

It’s hosted by Mike Whitney, an everyman’s everyman – a knockabout middle aged sporting hero who, by the looks of him, hasn’t done too much in the way of bodyline bowling for a decade or so.

But what he lacks in a six-pack, he makes up for with ENTHUOOOOSIAM. Which is pretty hard to do given he’s been doing the show for so long, and seriously how many free weekends away, farmgate trails and champagne by the beach can a human being do without getting jaded?

Anyway, the point of this rant is that I was surprised to learn recently Mike Whitney travels with crystals. Yes, you heard right. It wasn’t a slip of the typewriter there – Mike Whitney and crystals. It shouldn’t even be the same sentence. What is a member of Australia‘s baggy green club with a beer gut going all woo woo for? He uses them for meditation and they make handy gifts for people he meets on his travels. And a little yellow one protects his luggage. Which is nice.

I’m there, I’m up for a little new age frou frou frivolity myself. Well, why not? Those little coloured crystals are so damn cute, like little boiled lollies, and you need all the help you can get in life. But I’m just surprised that a middle-aged cricketer is into this and admits it!

But it got me thinking. What else is surprising about people? What other pairings wouldn’t you expect (apart from Liz and Shane). Miranda Devine a part-time reiki master? Tony Abbott making Girl Guide Cookies? Bindi Irwin culling kangaroos?

Anyway the bottom line is it’s great to be a bit two (or even three or four) dimensional, to have a bit of yin and yang going on. At the very least it keeps the marketers confused – and that’s got to be a good thing.

The Paris End

The phrase “Paris end” is bandied about almost as much as the phrase “plated up”.

How many times have you heard: Paris end of Collins Street, Paris end of Paddington, Paris end of Narrabri – ok I just made that one up. But here’s the thing: the Paris end of anywhere south of, say Paris, pretty much just means an extra tree and a coffee machine. Or maybe a second-hand bookshop and an outdoor bench.

And higher prices. 

The Paris end is kind of like a wedding/carbon tax/GST/fuel, flood or fire levy rolled all into one.  Coffee $9.50, friand $15.30? Well bien sur, you’re at the Paris end. Someone has to pay for this Parisien je ne sais quoi.

In fact je ne sais quoi is probably what any actual Parisiens who visit any of our Paris ends probably think. Quickly followed by WTF. Grande WTF actuellement. And even more quickly Mega Merde Maximale – call this Paris?

Ok, so let’s give a not-so-Gallic shrug, take a deep breath in and get back to just moderately extortionate coffee prices and call the Paris end what it actually is. Which is a bit of road with an extra tree the property developers forgot about and a dodgy seconds store. Sounds like the Aussie end to me, and I’m OK with that.

Travel articles you’ll never see

John Howard Walking Tour of Kirribilli (with souvenir green tracksuit pant)

Lowdown on Snowtown

From Abattoir to Table Gourmet Experience

Western Lights – M5 Nightly Delights

Lithgow’s Top Scenic Spots 

Darwin’s Sculpture by the Gutter

Foodie F3 (optional side trip to Iguana Joe’s)

Altona Art Walk

Walking Tour of Sydney Harbour

Wines & Mines – Wine Tasting Mt Isa style

Oasis of the Seas – oh pleeeze!

Recently I watched a program on the world’s biggest cruise ship – Oasis of the Seas. This cruise ship is the biggest in the world and is kind of like a telly tubby version of a gated suburb.

With 5,000 passengers and thousands of crew, the documentary focussed on all the things that passengers might need for 7 days afloat. So I’m talking 26 restaurants, beer and 10,000 rolls of toilet paper.

There’s something bizarre about this ship –  and I use that word loosely. It’s more like a drifting condominium having an Amway convention.

In a way it’s nice that human beings have put their considerable brainpower into recreating Central Park on board a ship. In another way, we could be exploring outer space now with that amount of money instead of cruising back and forth from Fort Lauderdale.

The documentary showed all the things we needed to know about life on the world’s biggest cruise liner. So we saw the Captain’s tattoo (a blue butterfly), a man who said he was head chef running fast down corridors, lots of fat people, staff with concerned looks when passengers didn’t return from their shore excursion (leave ’em there I say – which is why I probably don’t have a future in hospitality), someone with lots of hair called Julie (not me) and more fat people.

The doco was kind of like a reverse Survivor – I badly wanted to change channel but I just couldn’t take my eyes off it. Maybe it’s not the best use of moolah the world has ever seen, but what the hell, it sure beats going to war or building more gated suburbs.