On Sunday I flew from Beijing to Hangzhou, and had… issues. Which made me realise I hadn’t been on a plane since I flew from Guilin to Beijing back in JULY! That’s FIVE MONTHS without going on a plane! Quite weird for me. Anyway, that was another messed up flight, and a story I never got around to telling here.
So, my most recent plane escapade! I checked in for my Shanghai Airlines flight (a cheap airline under China Eastern) and was waiting at the gate. By the scheduled boarding time a large crowd were lined up and waiting. Ten minutes after the boarding time it was announced that our flight was delayed due to a mechanical problem, and they didn’t know when the new departure time would be. Out the window I could see the belly of the plane was open for inspection. An hour later a lady started yelling in Chinese – no loudspeaker announcement. I could see cranky responses and figured I should take a look. Turned out they’d cancelled our flight and were rebooking everyone individually. Those with checked luggage (like me) were escorted to baggage claim. I made the mistake of going to check-in, and was re-directed to the ticket office. I was booked on an Air China flight in two hours’ time, and given a hand filled receipt in place of a ticket.
Of course, Air China flies out of Terminal 3, so I took the airport shuttle across and successfully checked in for the new flight. I even bonded with the check-in girl over our manicures. The benefit of the change was flying on a nicer airline out of a nicer airport, but it had me arrive in Hangzhou 3 hours later than planned. Mildly irritating, but nothing like what happened back in July.
In Guilin, my sisters and brothers-in-law had left for the airport dim and early. I spent a day in Guilin with my parents, then accompanied them to the airport and waited to check in for my flight, which wasn’t for a few hours. When boarding time came I was waiting at the gate. And waiting. A “delay” sign went up. An hour after the scheduled departure time, they gathered us and told us to follow, we would be taken to a hotel to “rest”. One staff guy actually made a point of finding the obviously foreign among us to make sure we understood, and watched to make sure we stayed with the group.
We were put on buses and taken around the corner to an airport hotel. We each showed an ID card/passport and gave them our boarding pass, in exchange for a room key (they held onto the boarding passes until we checked out of the rooms). I helped translate for a Swiss guy who was concerned about missing his connecting flight that night (from Beijing to Switzerland). He had been visiting China for a few weeks and was due back at work. After asking a lot of people questions, I discovered that the plane we were due to fly to Beijing on was still in Beijing – a big thunderstorm had hit and messed up the flight schedule there. They assured me we would be called when they had any news.
An hour later a woman came through the halls knocking on the doors and calling us down to the cafeteria for dinner. I didn’t particularly feel like joining a table of 10 strangers so I managed to convince the staff to let me take a little food back to my room. It took a little more prompting to get them to sell me some water bottles, but I managed. In my room I discovered stir fried cabbage, 2 skinny chicken wings, half a boiled egg, and rice. Not bad, actually.
We hadn’t had our checked luggage returned, and for once I’d only brought my handbag with me as carryon, so I had NOTHING with me. I quickly finished the only book I had and most of the unsolved sudoku puzzles. I texted a few people and heard stories about the weather in Beijing – lots of flooded streets, standstill traffic, people abandoning their cabs, all sorts of insanity. Around 9pm I called down and asked if there was any news; I was told we would have a flight out in the morning.
In the morning I was preapring to leave the room when the heavy knocking and shouting started up, calling everyone down for breakfast. I went to the lobby and came across the same Swiss guy I’d helped out the night before, and two Canadian girls. They were trying to get their boarding passes so they could leave for the airport. The staff spoke no English so this wasn’t working well. I told the reception girls we were checking out and going straight to the airport without breakfast. Yes, we know there is breakfast in the cafeteria, yes, we know there is a bus to take everyone to the airport if we can wait 45 minutes. They eventually acquiessed, and then were singularly unhelpful in finding us a way to get to the airport. The Swiss guy jumped in and explained he’d walked to the airport and back the night before – a much shorter walk than driving around.
The four of us walked up and got some breakfast at KFC (certainly worth the money for something much more edible than any Chinese hotel breakfast). We found the check-in desk for our replacement flight and walked up to the desk – just in time! Right behind us hustled a crowd of people who had obviously just been bussed over from the hotel. We hardly had to wait at the departure gate – after maybe 5 or 10 minutes the bus arrived to take us over to the plane and we were on our way.
From memory I think it was a 15 hour delay, and it could certainly have been worse. I suspect it was a good thing I was flying Air China – a cheaper airline might not have looked after us so well. It wasn’t particularly good food or accomodation, but it was free!
Anyway, this leaves me hoping that my flight back to Beijing tomorrow goes smoothly, since only have 12 hours there before flying out for Cambodia on Saturday morning…