Backpacking Down Under: The Journey There!

Delta 777

Backpacking Down Under: The Journey There!

This will be the first post in a series on my trip to Australia with my buddy Dave. We wanted to do a little backpacking for a week or so, and couldn’t think of a better place than Australia! In the series, I’ll cover the following:

  • The Journey There!
  • Hostel Living in Sydney
  • Sydney-Melbourne: Jetstar Airways
  • Wallabies and Penguins in Melbourne
  • Risk of Traveling Standby: My disastrous trip home!
  • United Global First SYD-SFO and SFO Arrivals Lounge

Please keep in mind throughout reading this series that I didn’t have an intention of writing a blog, so the pictures aren’t the best, but I think they’ll show the important stuff. In this post it’s only a few photos!

Delta Economy all the way Down Under!

Back in September of 2012, my friend Dave and I were able to use two “buddy passes” from a family friend (whose a Delta pilot). This meant we had to fly standby, and not only standby, but the 4th level of standby. It goes:

  • S1: Emergency
    • Immediate emergency, family member is in danger of death.
  • S2: Priority
    • Greatly improves chances of clearing standby. Delta employees and their immediate family members receive 6 per year!
  • S3: Standard Travel
    • Normal code for Delta employees and their immediate family members. Unlike the S2 code, it is unlimited.
  • S3B: Parents, Retirees, and Non dependents
  • S3C: Used for employees that are affiliated with Delta, such as their express and shuttle service companies.
  • S4: Buddy Passes
    • This is the level we traveled on. So we were at the bottom of the pile. Fortunately, priority inside of S4 goes by the seniority of your “sponsor”. Our family friend has been a Delta pilot for many many years, so we were towards the top of S4. The buddy pass costed me about $800 or so, but came with the option of getting business elite or first class for every flight, if it was available (which never was, unfortunately).

At this time, Dave lived in LA, so I would be meeting him that Thursday night in LAX for our flight to Sydney….if I could get there.

To say my travel on this trip was a nightmare is an understatement. It obviously says something about my travel addiction, because I still had an amazing time. I’m pretty sure if I brought my fiancee on a trip like this, and we had this much trouble, I may be single….but I digress!

The big day. I drive about two hours to Baltimore Washington International (BWI) to get on my flight to Atlanta. Very standard flight, only about 1:30 hours. Here’s when the trip gets interesting.

Delta 777

My plane from ATL-LAX-SYD!

I get to my gate in ATL and see that I’m about 18 on the standby list of around 25. There are 30 open seats or so from what I can see on the screen at the gate. Sweet! No, not sweet. I was flying on a Boeing 777, a wide-body plane. Basically it fits a lot of people and is one of the biggest planes you can take domestically in the U.S.

Slowly, my name started slipping down the list. 20, 21, finally 24. At the same time, the open seats starting slowly disappearing. How is this happening?? Finally i’m 22nd on the standby list, and the screen says there are 15 seats open. I’m screwed. The biggest problem? My flight was the second to last one to LAX that night. The last one, leaving an hour and a half later, would cause me to miss my flight to Sydney. The plane I was taking to Sydney was the same one I took from ATL-LAX, so i’ll be on the same plane the whole way.

They started calling standby. I kept pleading with the gate agent to see if I could somehow get on. She said, “Don’t worry Mr. Caldwell, you’re fine”. I wanted to trust her, I really did, but the numbers weren’t adding up. Then, a woman and her boyfriend, who were riding standby in S3, just switched from the later flight and jumped me in line. Their final stop was LA. In my head I was furious that I may miss my flight to Australia so they could get home 1:30 hours earlier. I offered to pay them to let me take their spot and wait for the next one. As she’s walking on the plane she says, “Let me know if they don’t let you on i’ll come back out!”….yeah that wasn’t going to happen.

Finally, the wonderful gate agent calls my name! I couldn’t believe it. I take the boarding pass and run down the jetway. I get to my seat, and lo and behold, someone else is in it. This.isn’t.happening. They gave me a seat that was already full! I am about to get kicked off! I ask a flight attendant what to do and she tells me just to take any seat I want. I grab an aisle seat in the middle section. The woman next to me says the man who was sitting here switched seats and is sitting next to his friend a few rows up. Then, the man who was behind me in the standby line, approaches that man to tell him he was in his seat. NO!! I’m really losing my seat this time! As he gets up and starts walking around the plane to tell me to get the hell out of his seat I hear, “Ladies and Gentlemen, the forward door is now closed and we are pushing back from the jet-bridge”. WOO HOO! Even if he kicked me out at this point, I’d lay on the floor, I don’t even care!

Very uneventful flight to LAX. I meet my friend Dave at the gate and we get our boarding passes. The gate agent tells us we literally got the very last 2 seats on the flight. I don’t know how I got so lucky, but someone was looking out for me today! Our flight to Sydney was delayed an hour so we went up to the LAX SkyClub and downed some gin and tonics in preparation!

Delta Sky Club

LAX Delta Sky Club!

An hour later we get on the 14 hour flight to Sydney! After 8 hours of sleep, a meal, and 2 movies, we’ve arrived down under!

Too Long Didn’t Read? Here’s the gist: Almost missed two flights, but didn’t. Dave and I made it to Sydney!

Next up: Staying in and seeing Sydney!

(Sorry for the lack of photos, I promise this is the only post!)



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