I’ve flown domestically in China a considerable amount, both during this trip and last year’s. It’s never a completely pleasant experience, but it’s never been a bad experience. Until yesterday.
We left our hotel in Dalian around 10:45am for our 12:40pm flight to Shenzhen. The Dalian airport is relatively small, with only one terminal. We arrived at the gate to find that our flight was delayed due to aircraft delay. This is not unusual in China, but of course, inconvienent. We were flying into Shenzhen because it was much cheaper than flying to Hong Kong. Once we arrived in Shenzhen a driver would pick us up and take us to the Hong Kong border, where we would board a train to take us into the city. That was the plan.
They announced that the plane would take off at 1:55pm, but boarding did not begin until 1:50pm. Because it is such a small airport, the aircraft did not park at the gate, rather we had to take a bus over to the airplane which was parked in the middle of nowhere. So in the usual Chinese fashion, we pushed and shoved our way through the line and onto the bus, where we crammed in like sardines. “What is the hold up?” I asked Stephen. “They can’t fit any more people on this bus.” Stephen was laughing. “That little boy is peeing!” That’s right–our bus was held up by a young boy peeing on the steps right in front of the bus. He was wearing what I call “butt pants,” pants with a slit up the back so that the kid can easily relieve himself whenever–and apparently wherever–he pleases. “Eww! That’s gross!” said the little girl who had a front row seat to the spectacle. Finally the boy and his mother boarded and the bus took off for the plane, where we encountered more stairs. I was starting to regret not checking my wheely carry-on. Everyone boarded the plane and we sat there. And sat. Every minute a flight attendant call button would go off so a passenger could ask the flight attendant when we were leaving. Finally they made an announcement–we were being delayed because of paperwork (?!) but would be taking off shortly. At this point it was around 2:30pm, two hours after we were supposed to take off. We sat around some more before I noticed the drink cart coming down the aisle. Not a good sign. It was followed by the meal cart. An even worse sign. Not that I wasn’t starving at the moment–I was, enough to eat Shenzhen Airlines food–but it meant we were not taking off anytime soon. Everyone angrily ate their meals while continuing to buzz the flight attendants to complain to them. It was now 3:30pm, three hours after we were supposed to take off and an hour since we settled on the plane. According to Stephen’s translation, several men were so angry they got off the plane. Everytime they made an announcement in Chinese, there was an uproar, so I knew it wasn’t good. Stephen talked to the flight attendant who said there were some problems with paperwork as well as the amount of cargo we were carrying. The problems were resolved, but our plane was now in the back of the queue so we had to wait. Suddenly there was another Chinese announcement and more uproar. Immediately everyone got up and starting gathering their luggage. “What is going on?” the Australian guy sitting next to me ask. Stephen told him we needed to get off the plane. So we gathered our luggage and got back on the bus, which didn’t move. Two police cars arrived. Stephen talked to the flight attendant. “Since several people got off the plane without reason, they could have left a bomb, so now they have to do a thorough inspection of the plane,” he told us. Awesome. Finally around 4:15pm we were allowd back on the plane. At 4:45pm we finally took off, four hours behind schedule. This put us in a tricky situation. According to the English-speaking guy from Hong Kong we met on the bus, the final train to Hong Kong leaves at 10pm. After that you have to use the 24 hour train, which isn’t as nice and takes longer. So we were fighting against the clock. The flight was three hours long. I don’t usually get nervous when flying, but I was nervous during that flight. The plane was making noises during takeoff and there was a good amount of turbulance during the flight. “Please God, do not let me die in between Dalian and Shenzhen,” I prayed. Not to mention our seats wouldn’t recline because we were sitting in front of the emergency exit. It was not a pleasant three hours. We landed at 7:45pm and had our bags by 8:10. Stephen had hired a driver to take us to the boarder. We quickly found him and were soon in the parking lot. “This is good, we’re going to make it,” Stephen said–a bit too soon. The driver put our bags in the van and squeezed out of his tight parking spot. Right as we were heading for the exit, a man emptying the garage garbage stopped us. “Hey! You hit that car!” he said in Chinese. Our driver got out and the garbage man showed him a scrape on a Lexus parked horizontally in the middle of the garage lane. Stephen and I couldn’t believe it, we hadn’t felt anything. Stephen hopped out to assess the damage. Sure enough, the dent on our van matched the car. So much for smooth sailing to Hong Kong. We waited around as the cops showed up and took pictures. It was now 8:45pm and we had a good 30-45 minute drive to the boarder. Our driver came over and said something, then we hopped out and gathered our bags once again. “We have to take a taxi,” Stephen told me, as we rushed back into the airport. The whole reason we had hired the car was so we didn’t have to deal with the local taxis. Our driver was very gracious and paid for our taxi. The poor guy probably lost a lot of money that night. Not only did he not get our business, but he had to pay for our taxi and the damage to the car. Thankfully the boarder was not very crowded, so we made it through quickly and got on the train. We didn’t arrive at our hotel until 11pm, a full 12 hours since we left our hotel in Dalian.
Thankfully, we are done flying within China. All that’s left is the 14 hour journey back to Chicago on Monday. Great.