There's excitement and positivity in the air as Qantas resumes their Sydney to San Francisco route for the first time in almost 3 years. The route has laid dormant during COVID and there's a lot to celebrate including a party at SFO, San Francisco's Airport that includes appearances by the rock star WAG Brigade, free Tim Tams and other surprises.
It's 7pm when I check in for my flight from Sydney to San Francisco and before I turn to leave, the check-in staff hands me a little packet. "It's for the flight today," she says. It's a Tim Tam wrapped in a sleeve. There isn't a party at Sydney airport (the parties are hosted by the airport) but I'm told that what they lack here will be made up at San Francisco Airport where they are busy planning a gate party.
After having some dinner at the First lounge, I head to the gate 8 when called. It's a short walk that takes only a few minutes - the higher the gate number the longer the walk from the lounge. We board and I head to my seat. This is a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner plane and I'm in seat 1K on the right hand side. The plane is called Emily and is named after the indigenous artist Emily Kame Kngwarreye whose work is displayed on underside of the plane. The business class section has a 1-2-1 configuration and 1K gives me a lot of privacy although the centre aisle seats have a little extra in the way of a compartment for your shoes.
There's an amenity kit on the console as well as plastic wrapped bedding on the seat. The amenity kit has a toothbrush, toothpaste, eye mask, socks a pouch containing a face cream, lip balm and hand cream by Li'Tya.
Champagne is offered but I start with some sparkling water and get settled. The flight crew introduce themselves and offer pyjamas. I get changed straight away and before I know it we're taxiing out to the runway and the flight leaves earlier than scheduled.
A light supper is being served tonight and they ask us to fill in the details of what we want for breakfast before we go to sleep and we can also tell them here if we don't want to be woken for breakfast if we are sleeping. It's hard to choose as there are six choices from a potato and leek soup, a plant based version of potato and leek soup, a chicken kyiv, seared snapper or beef fillet but I end up choosing one of the plant based options.
They bring out the bread on a tray and there's a choice of warm sourdough or focaccia. The focaccia isn't bad although I like it with a bit more olive oil even on the side (there's Pepe saya butter). There's also a small side salad with Neil's moreish classic palm sugar vinaigrette.
Korean style sesame baked eggplant
The Korean style eggplant is like a nasu dengaku with white miso and sesame oil on top and it's actually delicious and full of flavour. It comes with finely shredded pickled vegetables, green beans and rice and I particularly like the soft, melting eggplant and pickles together.
There's a choice of fruit salad, a cheese plate, Pat and Stick's ice cream sandwich or a chocolate dessert. When I tell them that I am tossing up between the chocolate and fruit plate they tell me that dilemma is solved by having both.
I love fruit on a flight as it is hydrating so I enjoy the cut fruit salad. The chocolate dessert is interesting with a chocolate pudding on the base topped with caramel sauce and diced fruit and nuts on top. I like the pudding underneath and scoop to the bottom to get to it. The lovely crew hand out Lindor balls after dessert.
By the time supper is over it's almost midnight. The flight attendant makes my bed for me by adding a mattress topper and there's also a square pillow and quilt.
I wake up around 9 hours later, it's a light sleep mainly because of the toddler in the seat behind me who pretty much cries during the whole flight (surprisingly, her baby sibling sleeps through the flight). The Dreamliner also has an advantage of a higher humidity in the cabin so while I am thirsty when I wake up it's not as urgent as with other flights. During the night the crew have thoughtfully placed a bottle of water within easy reach for me.
The flight has two hours to go so I watch The Whale and an hour before we land they bring out the requested breakfast. I make myself a fruit tea and start with the Urban Remedy green juice made with cold pressed cucumber, apple, pineapple, pear, celery, kale and lemon. I eat the fruit salad and slather the handmade sourdough crumpet by Crumpets by Merna with butter and honey. The main event is a bacon, egg and cheddar breakfast roll with Neil's barbecue sauce. It's actually very good but my stomach is a little confused at this substantial repast. You can also select a healthy breakfast with an egg white omelette, fruit salad, sourdough seeded toast, butter and green juice.
The windows brighten gradually and we land at San Francisco Airport or SFO. San Francisco is coming into summer so the extra few hours of sunshine feels like a balm to the soul. I quickly drop off my bags at the Grand Hyatt SFO hotel and then go back into the airport to check out the gate party for the upcoming Qantas flight from San Francisco to Sydney leaving soon.
The best dressed guests are of course SFO's Wag Brigade, some wearing rainbow colours as it also happens to be Harvey Milk Day. Harvey was an American politician and the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California and May 22nd is a day to celebrate his memory. Terminal 1 was named after Harvey Milk and is the only airport terminal named after a person.
This sweet group of animals call SFO their second home and their presence helps ease the stress and anxiety of air travel and to make travel more enjoyable by putting a smile on passengers faces. This initiative started in December 2013 and has proven a massive hit with animals and passengers. All of the animals and handlers work here on a voluntary basis - pats are free and included in their compensation. Apart from a range of dogs there is also a rabbit, cat and pig.
Alex the Flemish giant rabbit in his car
Alas Lilu the pig is on a holiday but the first animal I see is Alex the Great, a 2 and a half year old Flemish giant rabbit who weights 10lbs or 4.5kgs. Alex has his own car, is a brand ambassador for multiple brands and is the official rabbit of the San Francisco Giants and can autograph his business cards (by way an autograph means chewing on). It took his owner Josh 15 minutes to teach him that trick. Not only does he have his own car but when he flies with Alaska Air he flies first class. All of the money raised by Alex gets donated to bunny rescue organisations to help out his fellow bunnies. Josh tells me that he also plans to open a bunny cafe in 2024 which will be in San Francisco's Japantown.
Fonzie is a 4-5 year old chihuahua poodle mix who loves snuggles more than anything in the world. While Noodles the golden doodle is a 3 year old rescue that looks like he is always smiling. Lia is a 7 and a half year old corgi while Luna is a two year old Italian greyhound born on the 4th July. She got her name because she was born on the full moon and is also a reference to the character Luna Lovegood one of her owner Leslie Kim's favourite Harry Potter characters. Their handlers also carry business cards detailing each of the WAG Brigade's social media handles, likes and history.
All of the dogs have to go through an intensive training period to ensure that they are the right candidates for being part of the Wag Brigade as airports can be very busy places with a lot going on. The animals must be at least 1 year old and they undergo behavioural evaluations; they must like being touched and deal with people politely and not react to wheelchairs and walkers.
This evening, along with the WAG Brigade there's also Matilda the giant kangaroo who is busy handing out Tim Tams to customers at the gate. Platters of complimentary ginger scones are offered to snack on as well as the chance to take a photo with a green screen background changing to the Harbour Bridge or the plane as their background. The flight attendants are the first to get their photo taken at the gate party as they welcome the new route back to the fold. And when it's time for bed Alex the giant rabbit exits in his Mercedes convertible, leaving behind a trail of smiling and bemused passengers.
So tell me Dear Reader, do you have anxiety when flying? Who would you like to meet on the WAG brigade?
NQN was a guest of Qantas but all opinions remain her own.
Qantas now flies three times a week from Sydney (SYD) to San Francisco (SFO).