100 Hours in North America (via first QF A380 flight in 2 years)

NSun

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I just returned from a few days in North America.

I initially booked the trip in October when it was announced people in NSW would be allowed to go overseas and it was a simple return booking with QF to and from Vancouver. I had long wanted to visit Canada but Qantas launching year round-flights, the relatively lax entry requirements compared to other nations and the more stable COVID situation there at the time inspired me.

In the weeks that followed I was able to change flights to go via LAX and added on trips to the nearby cities of Kelowna and Calgary - I will explain why I chose these cities when I get to them.

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Two weeks before departure my flight to LAX was changed to an A380 and it happened to be the very first flight back.

I will cover all my flights, my time on the ground in all these places as well as my experiences with local COVID regulations and travel requirements.

Overall it was great to get out and about but of course travel is a lot harder these days.
 
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NSun

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I spent a few days in Melbourne prior to this trip so I thought I'd get tested at Sydney Airport as soon as I got back to SYD - which was about 12pm while my flight departure was at 9.40pm. I was worried that I'd face huge queues but there was no wait at all and my result came back in an hour.

So I went home, unpacked and repacked, returning to the airport in time to check in which was meant to open 4 hours before at 5.40pm. My checkin process took 15 minutes. First you have to have all your documents verified then you go to the actual check in desk.

For travel to the US I needed:
- My International Vaccine Certificate
- My ESTA (although oddly this was never checked at all)
- A negative COVID test in 1 calendar day of departure (which could be either PCR or antigen but I got PCR so I could re-use that test to re-enter Canada)
- A contact tracing form
- An affidavit saying I was vaccinated
Because I once had US citizenship but renounced I also had my certificate of loss of nationality as it had been asked for in the past entering the US but this time it wouldn't be. My passport saying my place of birth is New York City is way too obvious in that respect.

So off to the first lounge where I had 3 courses. I had squid as entree and pavlova in a glass as dessert and in between I had Neil Perry's pork and veal lasagne.
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Now as I mentioned in the A380 thread, Qantas gave us book vouchers as "compensation" for having no entertainment. I noticed after they gave them to me they were standard food vouchers but nonetheless were accepted by a newsagent so I bought Kitty Flanagan's Rules for Life and the Afterpay autobiography.

The terminal was pretty quiet except at a handful of individual gates.
 

NSun

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We left at Gate 8. As usual there were security asking us questions before we could even enter the gate area. The gate agent announced boarding by saying "Welcome to this Qantas A380 flight to Los Angeles - the first in quite a long time". Other than that nothing about it being the first one was mentioned, not even by the pilots.

I was seated in 13K - the mini 3 row cabin at the front. It was the 2008 Skybeds, which I don't mind because climbing over seat mates isn't hard being only 5'9.

Next to me were some people from Queensland who were going to Florida for 3 weeks, they were taking a gamble they'd be allowed back into Queensland quarantine-free by the time they were back - sure enough quarantine rules for international arrivals were lifted just a couple of days later.

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Sadly there was no entertainment - not even a flight map as there had been on some other flights I've taken in the COVID era even with the rest of the system being turned off. I also recalled some photos on Twitter from pilots of the flight in August when it went to Dresden that showed the flight map working.

But this was all we got. So I had to keep checking my phone and guessing how long we had left to go based on what time it was - thankfully it was somewhat accurate.

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Dinner was served quickly after takeoff. Only a salad and bread as entree but had beef fillet as the main followed by vanilla creme caramel.

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NSun

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Managed about five hours sleep then passed the time by reading those books I'd bought at the Airport.

Most others slept for just about the whole time between dinner and breakfast. About half the passengers kept their masks on while sleeping, everyone in my cabin did.

But in the back cabin I saw a few people that'd lowered theirs or put their blanket over their head - in the latter case, you have to wonder. We were told masks were mandatory at the start of the flight but we were never reminded again. There were a couple of people wearing face shields as well as masks and kept theirs on the whole time.

Breakfast was served 2 hours before landing.

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Had a good view of Downtown LA upon landing. I saw several plane spotters at Imperial Avenue watching our arrival.

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Took 20 minutes to get from airside to landside - quick for LAX but then again it was the afternoon. We were all reminded to keep our masks on over the PA, but the officer who stamped my passport wasn't wearing one at all. I said nothing because I didn't want to stir up trouble yet I hoped this wasn't an omen for things to come in LA but this wasn't.

My hotel for my night in LAX was the Four Points and I opted to walk the 2 kilometres there. For me the toughest part of being a pedestrian in the US isn't traffic driving on the right or even the crossings typically not making sounds. No it is the rule that drivers can turn right on the red unless a sign explicitly says you can't. The equivalent turn in Australia, left on the red, is only permitted if a sign tells says you can "i.e. left turn on red permitted after stopping".

The bed was comfortable but the decor was dated and there was a combined shower-tub ("shub") rather than a shower. Also there were pumps from a wall and two of the three were empty.

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There was a pool but opted not to use it because I'd have to go via the lobby which was crowded. As I'll explain later the worries about testing positive for COVID were high even though it'd be less than 2 days before my pre-departure test. If it'd been on its own floor or the lobby was quieter - as in Kelowna - I'd have no worries whatsoever.

Went to bed about 9pm and slept until 6.30am. I would have 12 hours until I'd have to be at the airport for my flight to YVR and put four things on my to see list: Sofi Stadium, LA Grand Central Market, Hollywood and Santa Monica.
 

NSun

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Given Sofi Stadium was closer to my hotel I decided I'd try and walk there first thing. Why Sofi Stadium? Because my NFL team the Rams play there and it is hosting the Superbowl next month.

It was a simple walk down West Century Boulevarde, a busy road that has one of LAX's runways parallel next to it.

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Unfortunately this was as close as I could get to it given construction going on in the area.

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Walked back to my hotel via a parallel road that went through the Inglewood neighbourhood. There were a number of elementary schools and at each of them there were people checking children's temperatures - something I hadn't seen in Australia since 2020. Mask wearing was universal.

I stopped in a grocery store to grab breakfast, I had a simple banana and yogurt. I almost bought this flavour...

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But got a more healthier strawberry option.

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So then went back to my hotel, packed my stuff and went walking to the nearest metro station to LAX. It is on the other side of the airport to the terminals but there is a new line being built that'll have a far closer station.

Caught two trains before reaching downtown. By now it was nearing lunch and I was keen to get something from the LA Grand Central Markets.

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Ended up getting a pizza which took just 5 minutes to make and cost just US$10.50 including the tip.

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The rest of Downtown LA was pretty quiet.

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Then got back on the train and wanted to go to Hollywood but kept getting lost trying to find the Hollywood Line. Seeing the Santa Monica train leaving in just 3 minutes I decided to go straight there.

Everyone was wearing masks and wearing them properly - except one person sitting up the front that would put their feet on the seat and play loud music even with an announcement not to play loud music after stopping at every station.

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NSun

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Santa Monica had more life in it compared to Downtown but certainly wasn't as busy as when I last visited in 2018. Everyone at Santa Monica will visit the Pier and beach but there are several shopping and dining options around.

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Sorry Canberra and Souths fans...

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By now it was nearly 4pm and with an 8pm flight I decided to go to the Airport. I decided to catch a Rapid Blue bus and thought my all day pass would work, it didn't but the driver let me on regardless. In an hour I had been dropped off at a "Bus Terminal" near LAX from which it was only another 2 minute shuttle to the terminals.

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I was flying WestJet and they operate out of Terminal 2. I checked in and got a boarding pass for "Premium". I wasn't sure if it was automatically included in my original QF Premium Economy fare or had been given an op-up but was grateful for it.

Now at LAX most terminals are connected airside so you can go through security at another terminal if it's quieter. Prior to COVID a trick for people flying out of TBIT was to clear security at T4 and walk across especially if going to the QF lounges. I did not because I could access the lounges but wanted to do some shopping at TBIT. I thought Delta ran a bus to T2 (which anyone leaving there from any airline could use), but I was wrong and had to exit and go through security again.

Thankfully TBIT only took 10 minutes and T2 only took a couple of moments. I had low expectations for T2 but it was better than I thought as well as busier. One thing I had been worried about is my flight being late - yes, it can happen with any airline but my particular flight number WS1699 had an awful record in that respect. Thankfully it was on time.

Unlike US airlines we did get a greeting although they don't look at our boarding passes they just offer "wet wipes". I was on a 737-700 and instantly felt like I was on Virgin Australia with the hard product. "Premium" is a 20 seat cabin at the front in a 2-2 layout. We all got full meals and an exclusive toilet which was exclusive via a curtain between the cabins.

But there were only 5 of us in premium and 25 or so on the rest of the plane.

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We were given the option of pasta or a chicken dish (there was a menu but I forgot to take a picture of it) and I opted for the chicken.

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Unfortunately there was only streaming entertainment you'd have to download an app for so I just looked out the window. While I have terrible luck taking pictures out of planes at night, this picture I took over Seattle came out...OK.

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NSun

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I've been to Calgary many times in winter - hope it was worth your quick side trip :) Flames?
I didn't get to see an ice hockey match but I could see the city (or at least part of it) was dedicated.
 

NSun

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It was 11pm by the time I got to Vancouver. Canada has less paperwork (PCR test + completion of ArriveCAN app) but more stringent requirements in needing another test on arrival and isolation until a negative result unless you've only been in the US in the last 14 days.

There were testing booths set up where in the old days people would meet arriving travellers. I would get my results back the next morning. Thankfully negative but unfortunately given the format would need another test to get home.

Ended up catching a taxi to my hotel for ~CA$40 including tip. The evening was soured by the most unpleasant immigration officer I have ever encountered. I'll simply say he was condescending and asked a lot of stuff that I don't think should be any of his business such as what my salary was, my job back home (unfortunately the trip coincided with me being between jobs), the limits on each of my credit cards, what I was going to do on each and every individual day.

The hotel wasn't new but wasn't as dated as Four Points LAX either. I quite liked having a balcony at the hotel and the bed was comfy but for the second time in a row had a "shub".

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Now oddly, the sink and mirror weren't in the bathroom itself but directly opposite.

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By the time I got to bed at the hotel it was 1am but still got up at 6.30am. First thing I did was go for a COVID test - I picked a place called FastTest that operate out of the basement of the Fairmont Hotel.

Now I've had some uncomfortable COVID tests but this was painful - they went 7cm deep and prickled around for 30 seconds. It took a while to do it but the lady insisted Australia mandated it to go that deep, basically touching the 'nasopharyngeal' area. CA$250 and 10 hours later got a negative result. For families obviously that'd be a massive cost but money is just part of it - imaging trying to get a kid to go through that.

Sun didn't start to rise until after 7.30am. The city felt a bit like a cross between Seattle and Auckland. The temperature was ~8 degrees so it took a bit of adjusting to after 20 degree weather in LA.

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The seagulls are twice the size they are in Australia.

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I wanted to visit Granville Island Public markets but turned out to get there I'd have to take a bus or a very long walk well over a bridge and then back around. But I did get to see the walkway at Canada Place which had good views of the "North Shore" and some interesting monuments.

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NSun

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At 2pm I caught the Airport Train to YVR Airport to catch a flight to Kelowna.

One thing to note about flying domestically in Canada is you need to be vaccinated and verify the documents. You may not be allowed to check in online or if you are you'll be stopped at the gate before boarding. Given you already have to show ID to board it's not that much more of a deal for Canadians. But inevitably in Australia QF and VA would have to push out their domestic boarding times if a domestic vaccine mandate was introduced.

Air Canada, Air North and WestJet all accepted my International Vaccination Certificate. All airports were quiet in Canada and not even YVR was an exemption.

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I was inspired by Noel Phillips and OMAAT to fly Air North, Yukon's hometown airline, but wasn't brave enough to go up to Whitehorse. But Air North operate a 45 minute flight between YVR and Kelowna so I decided to take it. I heard Air North had a particularly positive customer service culture - and I saw the crew knew several of the passengers and greeted them even without staring at their boarding passes. And second, to fly on a near 30 year old Boeing 737. They operate the 400 and 500 series and I was on the latter, an aircraft that was nearly 30 years old having entered service in August 1993. Rego was C-GANH.

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Compared to the 737-800s QF has - let alone the 737 MAXs AC has (and I would fly one back to YVR) - it was ancient. But that wasn't necessarily bad, the seats were thicker and I noticed a bit more legroom.

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The entire flight was over mountains and it was spectacular. We did get served a cup of water but, what more do you need on a 45 minute flight?

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Our descent into Kelowna was quite foggy and I could see why when we landed. It had been snowing.

Temperature was 1 degree but it actually didn't feel that much worse than Vancouver, probably because it wasn't as big a drop as it had been from LA and it wasn't actually "snowing" at that moment.

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NSun

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As an IHG loyalist I opted for the Holiday Inn Express which has a free shuttle. I stomached an hour long wait because the ride was included in my rate and it was snowing.

In this hotel I had two double beds, a decent view outside and pretty good food options.
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Couldn't help but go out on a walk and noticed on the next spot one of these stores and I just had to take a picture to send it to some of my "WallStBets" type friends.

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Spent about half an hour pretending to be a kid again in the snow.


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When I got back to the hotel I received my COVID test results from earlier this morning - negative thankfully. I then went into the hotel's pool and hot tub. Forgot to take pics but I was the only one there and could see the snow outside. There's indoor pools and hot tubs and then there's indoor pools and hot tubs where you can see it's snowing outside.

The next morning I caught the shuttle back to the Airport to head on to Calgary where I would spent the longest time looking around of the trip. While the driver the night before didn't say much, this driver was talkative. He was semi-retired and finding a way to fill time, its owners timed the buy terribly doing so just before COVID. He' had noticed a few Aussies in recent days. I have to note he said some were from "Woah Woah" and I said there was no such place. I got him to spell it out and it turns out it was "Woy Woy" on the NSW Central Coast. I may never get back to Kelowna again but I will remember him because it was such a random encounter and he was such a nice guy.
 

NSun

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Kelowna Airport isn't that big but was functional and had several flights. I'd be taking a WestJet Dash 8 over to Calgary, a flight that'd take just over an hour and again go over snowy mountains.

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Made it to Calgary Airport and caught the public bus downtown for CA$11. One cool thing about Calgary Airport was the shuttle service between concourses. It had its own "platforms" at each concourse as well as "pedestrian crossings".

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In theory Calgary was 1 degree like Kelowna. In practice it seemed a lot colder. I needed a beanie and mittens which I didn't in Kelowna. Before visiting Calgary I had been told it was an oil and gas reliant place and was "Wild West themed". I certainly saw the latter although in my view it felt like Adelaide.

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Alberta, the province of Calgary, seemed to have a stricter vaccine mandate than BC in that you even needed it to access food courts. Of course to facilitate this there were staff but only limited seating (80% of seating in the food court in the main downtown mall was roped off) so those who sat there were packed in like sardine cans. OK then.

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I ended up going to this quiet pub next door to my hotel.

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Fried chicken and chips hit the spot.

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RooFlyer

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Before visiting Calgary I had been told it was an oil and gas reliant place and was "Wild West themed". I certainly saw the latter although in my view it felt like Adelaide.

Loving the TR - and great to see the old new place again. Certainly is based on oil & gas (and their support industries) - about 15 years ago, I think the value of the companies listed on the Alberta exchange exceeded the entire ASX. Mind you, Alberta was also the home exchange of Bre-X. As for 'wild west - that too; formerly a major cattle place. Calgary Stampede. A bit more if you want to fill in some gaps retrospectively :)

 

NSun

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By now it was 5pm and getting dark already so went to my hotel. For the fourth night in a row, I had a shub and this was the worst of all because despite the curtain the water leaked onto the floor of the bathroom and into the carpet of the bedroom. Thankfully being water it was dry by the morning.

Unfortunately the hotel had just one lift and I was on the top floor so there were some long waits.

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Spent the evening watching TV and then woke up about 7.30am the next morning. By my standards that'd be a huge sleep in but then again it was an hour ahead of Vancouver and 6 ahead of Sydney. Surprisingly it had warmed up during the night and was 4 degrees so went on a walk around and on the frozen river. I figured it was unlikely to break in light of the construction blocks on it.

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As it was my last day here and knew I had to do a RAT upon arrival, I thought I'd search for some RATs. Unfortunately I couldn't find any - turns out its not just an Australian thing. After arrival in Sydney I'd spend a couple of hours thinking I wouldn't bother as I didn't think it'd be enforced but I happened to get a call from a relative who got some thanks to their occupation so I would use one of theirs.

So at 11am was off to the airport. Unlike with WestJet and Air North I couldn't even check in online without my certificate and it wasn't accepted as valid. Was able to check in. Despite AC and QF being in rival alliances, the check in staff said they'd let QF know where I was in case of delays at their end.

Had lunch at a bar between concourses.

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NSun

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Loving the TR - and great to see the old new place again. Certainly is based on oil & gas (and their support industries) - about 15 years ago, I think the value of the companies listed on the Alberta exchange exceeded the entire ASX. Mind you, Alberta was also the home exchange of Bre-X. As for 'wild west - that too; formerly a major cattle place. Calgary Stampede. A bit more if you want to fill in some gaps retrospectively :)


The person whose experience I was relying on was indeed from 15-20 years ago. But they were right about it being cold.
 

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