Friday 8 July 2011

Hell, and how it happened to me in the heavens.

My flights were an experience I'd rather not ever repeat.

Begin Tuesday afternoon, with selling my car. The buyer I had fell through, so I went and saw a dealer - who wanted some paperwork from Qld Transport. This is 5.30pm - and my flight tomorrow at 2pm, dictates getting to the airport around 11am so I can say goodbye to my family and get through security and whatnot.

At this point I stress out. Just a little bit.

I get home and repack my bags so that I won't get charged the earth, have dominos for dinner, and collapse in a stupor of nervous exhaustion around 11pm. I sleep poorly, partially because of nerves, and partially because I have an epic cold leading to both noseblowing and racking, convulsive coughs at intervals.

I'm up at 6am, jittery and tense, because before getting to the airport, I have to provide myself with significant quantities of tissues, breakfast, papers from Qld Transport, and a receipt for the sale of my car. Of relevance here is that Qld Transport offices don't open until 9.30am Wednesdays, and it's school holidays, so they're packed out with tests and such.

Breakfast got skipped, because I can get something at the airport, and there's food on the plane, right?

I get my tissues and head on over to the Qld Transport office. Standing room only. Fortunately, it turns out that the papers I want were simple to get, I had the right documents on me to get them, and I was at the counter for less than 5 minutes.

10.15am, at the car dealer. The bloke I need to talk to is in a meeting. Cue stress.

11am, out of there, being driven to the airport by the wonderful @limobyjames. Stress levels lowering, slightly.

At the airport, I checked in, and as I was walking away from the checkin desk, the lights go down. The power outage takes the checkin system offline, slowing checkin for everyone after me, the poor blighters. Time for a chat and coffee with my family (not enough time) - we're interrupted by an announcement telling people on my flight to go through security now, as the power outage is making it slow. Being the good airport citizen that I am, I bid farewell to my family and head through security - which takes all of about 5 minutes. This annoys me, because while I approve of quick security processes on principle, I could have spent more time with my family. Grr. It's now about midday.

I wait for my medication to settle, and go get some lunch from noodlebox. They take their sweet time, and get my order wrong. I get my correct order at 1.25pm - and my flight is called for boarding at 1.30pm. I eat what I can of my noodlebox in the queue, chug a Coke, and board my flight.

2pm, getting ready for takeoff, I'm told that the gluten free meal option definitely contains dairy. This makes me feel ... not great. It'll be around midnight, Brisbane time, before I can get a meal at Chiangi airport in Singapore, making it about 28hrs between meals for me. My travel agent was informed by Qantas that the gluten free option was also dairy free. I struggle through the flight - the plain rice and greens are safe enough, but not really enough to stave off the tired/nauseous/headachey feeling that I get when hungry. The lemonade and coke help, but aren't food. Of course, I was also constantly blowing my nose and coughing, which I'm sure wasn't any fun for my seatmates, either. The staff tell me they've radioed ahead and that my next flight should have a vegan meal for me.

The descent into Singapore is not something I want to remember. My left ear did not pop for nearly an hour, and my right only with difficulty. I was trying all the tricks, none were working. It was incredibly painful.

12amish, brisbane time, we land in Singapore. My medication has worn off, and I'm staggering from tiredness. I've got a four hour layover here, and I wander around looking for food. I find some chips which are incredibly gross - I get through about two before I can't eat any more. I find some crisps that are better, and have some juice, but it's not enough. I can't find anything else that looks safe. Of course the staff at the fast food don't know what's in their products - when I can get them to understand what 'dairy' means. At this point, I'm not in good condition - people keep asking me if I'm okay. I catch sight of myself in a mirror, and I understand why - my face is entirely red, my eyes are swollen and red, and I generally look pretty bad. I get to my gate, and collapse to await boarding. I'm trying not to fall asleep, because I know I won't wake up - I don't want to miss my flight. I don't dare take my medication, either, because I've had a small amount of food - I don't want to make the nausea I already have worse. We take off at midnight, Singapore time.

The flight from Singapore to England I remember as a series of wakeful moments, where I would cough convulsively, blow my nose, feel guilty about waking my seatmate up, sip some water, and go back to sleep. My tissuebox is emptied when we're over Eastern Europe somewhere, so I fall back on pursepacks and reusing tissues as much as possible. Food situation much the same as the flight from Singapore - no vegan meal for me, stuck with the occasional softdrink or juice, no actual food as such. My head is incredibly painful, my face feels like it's burning, each breath rasps in my throat, and I struggle each time I cough to not retch as well.

We land 6.25am London time. My seatmate (an incredibly kind young man) gets my things from the overhead lockers, and we disembark around 7am. I stagger as fast as I can through the seemingly endless corridors to get to border control and baggage pickup. I think I probably walked nearly a kilometre. Once I get my bags, through customs, I see Steve - we meet and I can't let go. This flight was bad enough to do by myself, but if he hadn't been waiting, I would have been in significantly more dire straits. After discovering that there was nothing worth eating at Heathrow either, we go buy me an oyster card and catch the tube home. Once there, Steve heads off to work, and I grab eggs, bacon, and potato waffles from the mini-Tesco downstairs and cook myself a long-awaited meal. 40 hours without an actual meal, while ill.

Travel with a strange food intolerance sucks, and travel with a cold on top of that sucks worse.


  1. Well done. I applaud your tenacity. Those flights are hell, indeed.


  2. Wow. That truly does sound like hell above Earth.

  3. Oh no :( That sounds just awful. That painfully long flight is bad enough with a full belly and perfect health it must have been hell for you.

    Welcome to London though! Hope you're on the mend.

  4. Sounds like hell, Elspeth, definitely.

    I'm on a gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free and sunflower-free diet so I have to bring my food everywhere.

    My Dad is English and we have not been able to go over due to my diet and my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

    Please update us regarding your diet and whether London has Orgran and other gluten-free and dairy-free options.

    Hope you are enjoying London, Elspeth

  5. Hey Clarissa,

    To be honest, the hypersomnia (aside from the struggle to stay awake in Singapore) probably made the flight significantly more bearable. Although the anxiety over medication made things worse. If I was unable to sleep - that would have been really, really bad. And I have had precisely no jetlag, which is REALLY awesome. I understand though that CFS, like hypersomnia, can make travel insurance a little tricky.

    Anyway - just in case, for my next flight, I am going to be taking some instant soup or cup-of-noodles. I'm registered as vegan now with Qantas. A small amount of gluten I can put up with, although I don't eat fruit or salad, so I'll probably still go hungry on the way back to some extent. Problem is, eating things I don't like when I'm hungry makes me super nauseous, which is not an improvement on hunger-nausea.

    There does seem to be rather a good range of gluten free options here, at least with regards to supermarkets. Dairy free is, as it is in Australia, a right royal pain in the posterior. Fortunately, I'm handy in the kitchen, so I've mostly been buying fresh produce and cooking it up. It's also possible that I'm simply in the wrong area to have a good range of those kinds of options - Vauxhall seems to be kind of woollongabba-ish. Close to the city, but not really catering to a high economic strata. I can't really speak to egg or sunflower, as those are both things I include in my diet for calcium and protein.

    Still, I guess it's much the same as in Brisbane - just finding where to get stuff. It does seem that there are more (ie, greater than one) restaurants and such around that are allergy-aware - even Pizza Hut for instance has an amazing allergy sheet, and the labelling on products is much better - states ingredients, a list of possible allergens (usually wheat, milk, soya, egg, nut), and sometimes whether there could be a processing or sourcing contamination. Also, you can order online from the grocers relatively easily - I haven't done so yet, but I'm told it's very simple, and of course their online range is the full range, not just what's available in your local/s.

    I assume things will get easier with time as I get a better feel for London. But right now? It's no worse than moving to a different area of Brisbane.

  6. Hi chaoticallyme! Thanks for the welcome and reading my post :) If you don't mind me asking, how'd you find my blog?