Flights of fancy

I am never a happy flier. I recently endured a five-hour flight to Perth from Sydney, and then a shorter return one of three and a half hours — don’t ask me why they can’t take the short route all the time!

However once airborne, so long as there is no turbulence and no odd noises, I do like to look out the window. I never, ever forget where I am, whereas my fellow passengers seem far more blasé, as if in a train or coach, on the ground, in their natural element, instead of thousands and thousands and thousands of metres ‘up there’, beyond even birdland.

On long flights the plane only flies low enough near the beginning and end for land to be seen as a photo map. I was lucky enough this time for the cloud cover to be thin and fragmented enough to reveal the snow-capped and dusted Snowy Mountains beneath.

For most of the flight it is cloud land, not earth land, that fascinates. On the early morning return flight we were flying east, so towards the sunrise, and I was struck by the way cloudland had a sunrise streak on its horizon — just like ours, and then a cloud layer above — just like ours.

As this was the first time in a while that I have flown Qantas rather than a very budget airline, I hadn’t experienced airline food for some time, and held an unpleasant memory of a rubbery textured vegetable protein slab like a Wettex  sponge. Having ordered Asian/Indian vegetarian options — and there are several — I was impressed with both the lunch and the breakfast I was served.

Later, well fed, sun up and back to the surety of which layer was what, I marvelled at the levelness of the upper horizon of this land, giving it such an appearance of solidity.  Why is it so, does anyone know?

7 thoughts on “Flights of fancy”

  1. Best of luck to your son for the comp., Laura, and do let us know if you spot the spectre! Keep the camera handy.

  2. Well Trevor, you have only to look at the map; Canberra is lower on the map than your area so it’s downhill, isn’t it? Same with Perth, if skewed to diagonally downhill.
    So we need an explanation like Peter’s to explain the anomaly of slow down, faster up. Does your Landcruiser cruise the cloud land?

  3. My family will be flying to Perth in Jauary for my son to play baseball in the national competition, we will be sure to watch out in case we are lucky enough to see the Brocken spectre!
    Cheers, Laura

  4. Hi Sharyn. I dunno whether Peter is correct. I’ll take it up with him when I see him next. You experience the same effect to and from Canberra. Takes 4 hrs to get there (by Landcruiser) and 2 and a half to come back ( to Syd) which is because most of the trip south is uphill. I reckon Perth’d be uphill from NSW? No?
    Cheers from Trev.

  5. Wow Peter, thank you for explaining those high-flying mysteries to me – and to my readers! Will keep an eye out for the Brocken spectre – love the name.

  6. Hi Sharyn,

    The time difference in flying west and east is due to prevailing winds at altitude – a jetstream – which consistanly runs west to east. See an example here:

    The cloud top is a layer of air with different density, like water it will tend to settle in a flatish plane depending on winds and other atmispheric disturbances (e.g. storms) below it. It’s facsinating!

    Another one that got me (that it had a name) is looking down to where the shadow of your aircraft is and seeing a halo effect around it – a Brocken spectre. I have seen this while flying over the snowy mountains to Melbourne:


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