I thought I would give you a run down of the plane experience. Most of our flights depart in the vicinity of 11:00 am. National Geographic helps us get through the airport by preprocessing passports and filling in those customs forms, which the first few times you traveled were interesting, but got old about 25 years ago. All we have to do is sign them. We go through regular security, though of course, it’s not as stringent as U.S. security, head to our gate and just get on our plane. The only waiting in airport chairs we’ve had to do was when the main tour flight from Cusco was delayed.
We then head to our seats on the plane. For the first half of the trip, we have been in one set of seats; those will be changing on the next flight. The National Geographic people sit in the back. We’re in four across from each other, which is nice. We get out iPads (which have our books and movies on them, in addition to the slides of the Nat Geo presentations), our headphones, any blankets we want (I get out the Algebra textbook), store stuff under the seats in front and tuck in. I’ve found the ambient temperature to be slightly warmer and therefore better than a commercial flight. Aili and I then begin a pattern of books-movies-math-computer games-etc.
There is “only” one meal on the plane, though it’s a good one. It is served at a very leisurely pace, and usually arrives around 2:00 pm, which is why you hear me all amped up about snacks for Aili, who has usually finished a significant bag of nuts by then; she’s definitely getting her magnesium. The meal service starts with a welcome drink when we board. In the beginning, they were pouring champagne, but I think we’ve all moved on to the smoothies or fruit juice. Before we take off, they’ve asked us for our order, which seems to always have a vegetarian option, a seafood option and a meat, and includes recommendations for paired wines. They will bring a glass of wine long before the main meal comes, usually with something small to eat as well, like veggie chips comes or nuts.
If there are two lectures for that flight, we receive a lecture of more than 50 slides before or after the first course. The courses are reasonably substantial for airline food, given that most of the meals are lunch. A second lecture may follow the dessert courses. Some of the lectures are over an hour long. Aili gets a little fidgety, but does well, given the complexity of the talks. Usually, early in the flight, the trip doctor visits every seat and asks how people are feeling. During the flight, people occasionally get up and walk around; everyone is friendly, but mostly involved in their own entertainment system.
When we came in to the Great Barrier Reef, the pilots flew the plane about 500 feet over the reef, this way and that way, so that we could see the reef from both sides of the plane… and not just one reef but multiple reefs; it was at least an extra 30 minutes of flying time, and I think the flight crew was sincere in showing us a good time— not just trying to wait for a gate to open. The views were breathtaking.
Somewhere in the middle of the flight, usually while they are announcing plans for the next day, our passports and customs forms will be handed back to us. Occasionally, across the South Pacific, a flight attendant walked up the aisle spraying pesticide all over the plane... it might have been three or four times as we crossed the Pacific.
When the flight lands, there seems to be a little more waiting around than usual on a commercial flight; it might be the same amount of waiting around but just seems longer because the aisle is wider, and fewer people have to get off the plane. The Nat Geo people come from the back to the front first to intercede on our behalf. Eventually, the doors open, and we’re off to the one guy at the airport who does customs at that hour… at least that's what happened on Samoa. Depending on the location, Nat Geo picks up our luggage for us (Samoa, Easter Island) or we pick it up before going through customs (Australia).
All in all, the time on the flight goes quickly.