Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Qantas vs Emirates

In all of my trips overseas, I have only ever flown long distances with Emirates. This time, on my flight over to the states, I got to experience Qantas and compare the two. Qantas has always been Australia’s premiere airline but after my flight, I have to say that Emirates is a long way ahead of Qantas for a large number of reasons…

1. At the Qantas check-in desk, the clerk was upset because I didn't have a printed itinerary. I have never had to have one before, but for some reason, the Qantas guy wanted to see one.

2. When boarding the plane, it was absolute chaos. There was no seating directly in front of the gate so people were standing around and lining up well before the flight was called. My seat was at the back of the plane and although they called my section up early, the queue of people was already blocking the entrance and I could not get through. I ended up having to wait and then took about 15mins to make my way to my seat at the rear of the plane.

3. Qantas manages to squeeze in another class of ticket with ‘premium economy’ class. All of the seats are colour coded so as you make your way through the different zones on the plane, the seats change colour and get smaller and closer together. I travelled in ‘economy’ on Qantas, however, to get the same service and standards as ‘economy’ on Emirates, you have to fly ‘premium economy’.

4. In ‘economy’ on Qantas, the seats are ridiculously close together. If the person in front of me reclined their chair, the TV screen almost hit me in the face. On top of this, the legs of the chair were positioned directly between my feet, which meant I could not put a bag under the seat and I couldn’t cross my feet. The guy beside me decided to put his bag under the seat but because of the chair leg in the middle, it meant that he took up half of my feet room. On the up side, the chairs on the Qantas plane are made of carbon fibre which looked pretty cool.

5. When you get on an Emirates flight, you are given a number of things. Waiting in your seat is a pillow, blanket & headphones.  You get a hot face towel when you board as well as another mid-flight.  For the long-haul flights you also get a kit with socks, sleep mask, tooth brush and tooth paste. On my Qantas flight that lasted exactly 19hrs59mins, I got a pillow that took up the only room that I had in the tiny seats, a blanket that no one was using because the air conditioning at the rear of the plane was not working to capacity and it was about a million degrees and a set of head phones that only had one speaker working.

6. The selection of movies on the Qantas flight is much smaller than the selection on Emirates. Emirates has a wide range of new release movies as well as a selection of older movies and world movies. Qantas seemed to only have a handful of new release movies but a lot of old ones that I have already seen.

7. On the Qantas plane, the toilets are almost half the size. You can barely move inside them and they jam 3 toilets into the corner at the rear of the plane so that two people cannot exit the toilet at the same time because the doors would hit each other.

8. They have less meals on the Qantas flight. During a 15hr Emirates flight, I have received 3 meals but on a 20hr Qantas flight, I received two. Despite this, Qantas did have a lot more snacks including a shelf of snacks at the rear of the plane that you could go up to and take whatever you wanted.

9. When they served meals on the Qantas flight, they went down one side of the plane and then served the other side. This meant that you had to watch others eat for half an hour before they swapped sides and served meals down the other aisle. On the Emirates flight, meals are served on each side at the same time so you stomach isn’t rumbling while you watch others eat.

10. If you are asleep on the Qantas flight while a snack or meal is being served, you miss out. I missed out on an ice-cream on Qantas because I was asleep. On Emirates, you have stickers that you put on the top of your chair to tell the flight attendants to wake you for meal service or to let you sleep.

Despite all of these differences, there is one thing that Qantas and Emirates have in common… There seems to be no sense to the order or the time that they serve their meals. Which time zone are they going on? Do they change time zones in the middle of the trip? On the Qantas flight, I got to eat ‘lunch’ at 2pm and ‘breakfast’ was served at 4pm in the next time zone. Lights were dimmed during daylight hours at the destination and the lights came on for snacks to be served at the equivalent of the middle of the night. Why not mimic the time zone of the destination so that people can get used to it and reduce jetlag? There seems to be no sense at all the order things are done during a flight. Qantas also gave out the immigration arrival cards at the start of the flight and by the time the 20hr ordeal was over, a lot of people had lost or forgotten about them!

So overall, I definitely recommend flying Emirates over Qantas. Ironically, Emirates and Qantas have hooked up and recently announced that they are now partner airlines. Although I cannot compare prices, ‘economy’ on Emirates is way better than ‘economy’ on Qantas. To rub salt into the wounds, it has now been 24hrs since I arrived and they are still trying to locate half of my luggage as it seems my bike was unable to make the flight for some reason.  

Friday, April 19, 2013

I choose life

I have had my fair share of crashes on the bike, both while training and in races. At the end of a race, it can get pretty chaotic at the pointy end of the field so over the years, I have developed a bit of respect for the crazy sprinters that are brave enough to try their luck each time. The same way that you have respect for the clown at the rodeo whose job it is to distract/confuse/enrage the bull.

Today I received a sobering reminder that cycling can be a dangerous sport and when you crash at 50+kph, it can hurt. A friend of my managed to hit the deck hard in the final sprint of a club race and landed on his face, knocking himself out and breaking his nose. He slid along the bitumen for a while before coming to a stop in the middle of the track and leaving a pool of blood.

(Please note: I did not take this photo while he was laying there in pain. Someone else did!)

Many other cyclists stood around and were reminded that sometimes taking the risk is just not worth it. In the past, if a final sprint is a bit hectic, I would simply sit up and let others contest in the craziness. I would remind myself that it wasn’t worth the risk and that I had other responsibilities to worry about such as work and family. If I broke something, I could be up for thousands of dollars to replace it. After all, it’s not like I was doing it for a living.

Today, as we stood around and waited for the ambulance, something occurred to me. Now, I DO do it for a living. Does that mean I can no longer take the safe option and think of my other responsibilities? What excuse do I have now? Can I still choose life at the end of a race when people are touching handlebars at 50+kph?

Regardless of this, one thing still remains the same. There is nothing worse than the searing pain that you feel when you have to take a shower with road rash all over your body. Nobody needs to experience that pain and I don’t think there is ever really a time when it is worth the risk.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Eat to Ride or Ride to Eat

The way I see it, there are two kinds of people that cycle: Those that ‘eat to ride’ and those that ‘ride to eat’.  Generally, I have always been the latter, using cycling to allow myself to eat pretty much whatever I want without the associated guilt trip. Doing a 6hr ride meant that I would burn enough calories to be able to eat the equivalent of enough food for two average people. During this time, I have maintained a steady weight without any problems for a number of years.

More recently, I have had to change my ways in an endeavor to lose the last couple of kilograms to get down to my optimum racing weight. This has meant that I have had to ‘eat to ride’ and consciously think about everything I eat and how it will affect my performance on the bike. To help this process, I decided to give calorie counting a go, to see exactly what my bad habits are and where I can make improvements. With calorie counting, I have come to a few conclusions….

1. When I stop cycling, I am going to get HUGE. On day one of calorie counting, even after a 4hr ride, I had to hold back on snacks and food. Riding my bike for extended periods of time is all that’s preventing me from consuming 500% of my recommended daily energy intake and ballooning out.

2. I eat a lot of food and I mean a LOT. It’s not until I see it all in a list in front of me that I realize just how much food I consume. If I could donate just half of it, there would be a few less starving third world villages.

3. A lot of food that I thought was relatively good, is surprisingly high in calories. For example, bananas, which I generally eat by the truck load, are high in calories. Almonds and other nuts are also high as is the average full cream, flat white coffee. As a general rule of thumb, if it’s green and leafy, it will be low in calories. If it’s white or yellow, it’s going to be high in calories!

4. Even the smallest treat will blow the calorie budget. A single muffin, chocolate bar, pastry or other treat can have as many calories in it as an entire low calorie meal. The problem is, temptations are everywhere. From the chocolate bars next to the register at the supermarket to the single extra piece of toast with butter at breakfast to a bottle of juice or flavoured milk, empty calories are EVERYWHERE.

5. Most products are way bigger than they need to be. No one really needs a ‘King Size’ Snickers or a ‘Venti’ cup of milk. It is just a heap of extra calories. Delicious, extra calories. Apparently, over the last couple of decades, servings sizes have grown exponentially...

6. I can understand just how easy it is for someone to put weight on. Riding a bike gives me a rather large calorie deficit that I get to fill with whatever I want, however, what does the average person do?? Those that commute to work in a car to sit at a desk all day, then drive home again in the evening do not get the opportunity to do any exercise and burn any excess calories that are so easily consumed.

None of this has really come as a surprise and I suspect that deep down, it is something that most people know anyway but just choose to ignore. It is just a lot more alarming when it is sitting in front of you all the time and you are constantly thinking about it. Despite this, I will keep counting for the next few weeks and ‘eat to ride’. Maybe it will make me appreciate those small treats a little bit more. Maybe.