Wednesday, July 6, 2011

My Annoying Aviation Experience

Please note that the above photo of an airplane is for illustration purposes only. We did NOT fly Southwest during this trip.
If you read my previous post When 2 Loves Collide, then you have no doubt been jumping up and down with anticipation for my promised post regarding our return trip from Seoul. Yes, it was so eventful on its own, it deserved its own post. That being said, here goes...

I've flown in and out of Incheon Airport numerous times. It's a truly fantastic airport, filled with stores I can't afford (Gucci, Prada and the like) plus gift shops, Starbucks, restaurants (including Bennigan's!) and fast food. I also discovered this time around that it has nursery rooms which have play areas for bigger kids and private rooms for nursing moms (or ones who need to pump their breast milk while they're away from their baby, like I was) so you don't feel the creepy gazes of strangers staring at your over-sized melons. Incheon Airport truly thought of everything so it's no wonder it has won gobs of awards for being an exceptional airport (see for complete list).

The airport here in Qingdao should take some notes on what Incheon Airport does right. Or at very least, take a look at Shanghai's 2 airports and try to be more like those. I must say though that before this incident, I never had a problem at Liuting National Airport (the official name of Qingdao's airport). I simply found it a horribly boring place to await departure, though once arriving from all of my flights, it has been very quick and easy to get my luggage.

But our annoying aviation experience wasn't solely the fault of Liuting National Airport. It all began long after we'd boarded our China Air flight at Incheon Airport in Seoul, while we were high up in the sky. The flight to Qingdao from Seoul takes about an hour and 10 minutes. I noticed something was wrong after they'd announced we'd be arriving in Qingdao soon but it had been much longer than any person's definition of 'soon.' It was a mid-afternoon flight and suddenly, it became dark as night in the cabin. When we hit such major turbulence that people actually screamed several rows back, I gripped my husband's hands with all my might. While flying the fucked up skies, the plane shook and pitched about and for an instant, I became truly terrified I would never see my daughter again. But the pilot navigated us out of that mess of torrential rain and lightning. The sky began to lighten up too. I then noticed the plane turn in a different direction after I'd turned back to re-reading a Carl Hiaasen novel I'd read several times before that I brought along to entertain me. Twenty pages later, I realized we still had yet to land. Before I could jam my index finger into the flight attendant button to complain, they made an announcement.

While China Air does its best to hire flight attendants that speak a little English, it usually doesn't matter because their pronunciation and accent are indecipherable. Even my husband thought it didn't sound like any English he'd ever heard. Fortunately, he was able to interpret the Chinese announcement which stated that due to severely bad weather, we could not land in Qingdao. The pilot would be landing us shortly and temporarily at an airport not too far from Qingdao where we would await further instruction.

Now this of course is not the fault of the airline. In fact, I'm rather relieved they didn't try to land us in Qingdao during that storm (which, by all accounts of those that were here in Qingdao for that storm, it was extremely bad). I am a bit antsy now though as I was hoping that by this time, we'd be speeding along the highway in a taxi back to our house and I'd be scooping my darling Raelynn into my arms. Xiaolong pats my hand and tells me not to worry. We'll be home to Raelynn soon. But his definition of 'soon' and that of our air carrier's definition of it were vastly different.

We touch down in a city called Lingyi, where we and the other passengers start to jump up and gather our things, thinking we'll all sit at the gate while we wait it out. But no. We're told to please sit back down and we'll be given more information shortly. Meanwhile, they put the 4 shitty songs they have on a recording that they play while you enter or exit the plane. And they LEAVE it on. For over 2 hours. While we all sit there with nowhere to go except to the cabin bathrooms. They promise us some food too, while we sit in eager anticipation to go back down the runway as we'd been told we'd 'soon' be lining up for takeoff. But what they bring us is a snack around 6pm (mind you, we should have been in Qingdao by 4pm) to attempt to make up for the delay. We're hungry and we open these boxes of food to find (I'm not kidding either): 1) a tiny loaf of bread, smaller than the size of a mini-muffin 2) some weird pickled vegetable in a small bag (smaller than the size of your typical bag of airline peanuts) 3) a small bag containing 5 pieces of dried fruit and 4) two vanilla sandwich cookies (which were, sadly, the highlight of this so-called meal). I was so grateful we'd stopped at the Dunkin Donuts near our gate in Incheon Airport otherwise we'd have starved!

And yes, what was considered 'soon' was another hour of sitting on the airplane on the ground in Lingyi. Because I had no where to pump by breast milk, my boobs were now the size of small watermelons and they ached. I kept praying for us to be granted clearance for takeoff and further, clearance for landing in Qingdao.

Finally, my prayers are answered. The horrible music is shut off and we start taxiing toward the runway. Up, up and away we go without further complication. Our flight takes off and lands without incident, much to our great thanks. But the aggravation returns after we've landed. We've been cleared to remove the seatbelts and, as is customary over here, people begin to leap up and charge the door. We're not in first class but we're in the 3rd row behind it so we are up and in line to exit before we get shoved down by the passengers in the back. And we stand, waiting. And waiting. And waiting. Until my usually very polite husband begins to swear in Chinese. What in the hell is taking so long? Ah, well, on a dark, rainy night like ours, complete with thunder and lightning, instead of taking us right up to a gate, the plane parks in the middle of the airway and awaits a staircase to be rolled on over. What. The. Fuck. THERE'S A HUGE STORM! I should point out before you all object to my bitchiness that I can SEE the other gates and they are open. There are NO planes there. So what the hell? Why should we have to get pelted with torrential downpour on a barely-covered staircase, make a run for it to a waiting bus and be driven up to the terminal when you could have pulled the damn plane right up to the building? ASSHOLES!

At this point, I'm beyond pissed but I begin to feel better 'soon' afterward, when both pieces of our luggage come round in a timely fashion. We toss them onto a cart and make our way outside for a taxi. And we both stop short in our tracks. The line for people waiting for taxis was astronimical in length. Even worse, there were NO taxis anywhere to be seen. The rain was pouring down in sheets and bolts of lightning were cracking down very close by. My husband, who was born and raised in Qingdao, reported that he'd never seen anything like this happen at this airport. We line up behind the hoards of other passengers, hoping to get to their destinations in this lifetime. But our hopes dim as in 10 minutes, only one taxi comes through. It was at this time Xiaolong made the executive decision for us to take the airport bus to an area close to our home and catch a taxi from there.

Because of the lack of taxis (which we still have not found out WHY they were not at the airport, which has me completely baffled), everyone is now trying to get a ticket to one of the airport buses. If you come to Qingdao, unless you speak Chinese, I'd advise you to just wait for the taxi. I couldn't have dealt with this without my husband. But the tough girl in me was called on in full force, which impressed my husband greatly. The next bus rolls up and, here, no one lines up for anything...they just push and shove their way onto the bus without any regard for you, your foot or your child (if you have one with you). So now the small suitcase and I are wedged between a bunch of people who desperately need to be introduced to soap while my husband is trying to stick our largest suitcase in the compartment underneath the bus. He's calling for me to come give him the small suitcase too but I can't move. I brought out the big guns.

"ZOU KAI! ZOU KAI! ZOU KAI!" I shout with all my might and everyone freezes as I push and shove and punch all those folks the way they pushed and shoved and punched me. Maybe they were heeding my demands as 'zou kai' roughly translates to 'move it' or maybe they were surprised a white person was using the phrase. Either way, they let me through. With both bags now safely stowed in the large compartment underneath the bus, we pushed our way back on and to the back where we found some seats. I have to say that at least the bus had excellent air conditioning. We rode in cooled silence, smiling as we anticipated seeing Raelynn.

And by OUR definition of 'soon,' we were home, where we discovered my husband's parents hadn't turned on the A/C and it was as hot and muggy inside as it was outside. But Raelynn was alive and happy to see us. Her smile made all our troubles melt away.

As for China Air and Liuting National Airport, I sure hope they get their act together very 'soon.'

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