Friday, August 04, 2006

Back to the Motherland

First of all, sorry for not updating the blog sooner - the past couple of weeks have been pretty crazy. If you're wondering what happened to me, I spent my last few days in Japan in Hiroshima, then got a nightmarish flight home from Osaka.

Word of advice: Never, EVER, fly with Air China. No matter how cheap it is.

Flick and I had a bad experience with Air China before on our trip to Thailand (the plane was delayed after smoke began pouring out of one of the engines before take off) but we decided to give them one more chance for our flight home. This was a big mistake.

The first leg of the journey went relatively smoothly. We landed safely in Beijing after a short flight from Osaka, but very quickly it all began to go a bit pear-shaped. The queue for transferring flights was insane - after queuing to obtain our boarding passes from the unforgiveably rude staff at the Air China desk, we had to queue again to go through immigration. Bear in mind that we weren't actually leaving the airport, yet we still had to have our passports checked, have our boarding passes stamped several times, fill in two entry and exit forms and then go through a security check. Despite having 2 hours between our flights, we only just managed to make our connecting flight on time because of all the bureaucracy we had to go through.

That was only the beginning though. Our 747 bound for London eventually took off after boarding delays, but about an hour into the flight a message came over the loudspeakers in Chinese which caused several passengers to wail in dismay. A strangled, almost inaudible English translation followed, which we managed to decipher as: "The plane has a mechanical fault and will be heading back to Beijing". Not exactly the kind of thing you want to hear whilst flying over Siberia.

After the plane turned around, Flick spotted something coming out of the wing. At first we thought it was smoke, but then I realised it was fuel - the pilot was dumping fuel. Oh. My. God. Isn't that the kind of thing you do before performing an emergency landing or something? Images of us perishing in a giant plane-shaped fireball flashed through my mind for the next hour, as Flick and I continually exchanged nervous glances. Needless to say, I was just a little tense as the plane came in to land...

Luckily we touched down safely, and we never did find out what the mysterious "mechanical fault" was (although I think I'd actually rather not know). However, the next 12 hours became equally hellish as we were churned through the machinations of Beijing airport, starting with a shocking evening meal served in the dismal confines of Gate 1. It was awful - everyone was served a can of Coke which went out of date a month previously, and Flick discovered a maggot in her vegetables after eating half of them, yet when we complained the catering staff just laughed at us. Eventually, Flick did receive some compensation for the meal after finding a manager to complain to, but the damage had already been done.

After that the airline informed us that we would have to spend the night in a hotel about 40 minutes away from the airport, so everyone wearily piled onto buses for the next stage of our hellish trip (after passing through immigration AGAIN). Upon checking in at the hotel we discovered our flight was scheduled to leave at 5am the next morning, meaning we had a wake-up call at 2am, and a grand total of about 3 hours sleep. Joy. To cut a long story short, we eventually made it home (after one more trip through Chinese immigration) approximately 2 days after we left Japan. Never. Again.

Interestingly, although on an unrelated note, I found out about a year ago that the Chinese government actually blocks my blog, so I'd like to say a big hello to any Chinese censors who may happen to be monitoring this post right now. Hello Chinese censors!

Anyway, now that I've finished ranting about Air China, here's a pictorial guide to what happened during my last week in Japan, starting off with the final, final, final sayonara party in Bear's Bar...

4 Comments:

Blogger Jeff D said...

Lewis,

I really wish you'd posted this before I booked my flight from Boston to Bangkok...on Air China.

Boston-NY-Beijing-Bangkok. On the positive, I have a 3 hour layover.

I also heard that Chinese have little regard for standing in line and will simply cut to the front. They can expect a very large American to be standing in front of them if I witness that :)

Oh well, the die is cast. I'll cross my fingers and hope for the best!

Jeff

2:12 am  
Blogger Jeff D said...

Oh, and dumping fuel is more about reducing the weight of the plane (much of which is fuel for such a long flight) so it can land more safely.

And if the was a problem on landing...less fuel means a smaller explosion.

This is what I get for knowing commercial airline pilots.

2:13 am  
Blogger Lewis said...

Blimey. Well, good luck with your flight - and don't let those Chinese passengers push you around. Sharpen yur elbows in anticipation.

2:43 am  
Blogger The Funky Drummer said...

Lewis,

Just got back from 3 week in China. It's not just Air China that is shite. It seems all Chinese airlines are; I spent 3 hours sitting on the runway waiting for the my 3 hour internal flight to take off, only to then be sent back into the waiting room for another 3 hours. In total - a 6 hour wait for a 3 hour flight. In many ways - China sucks bad.

I will be covering their manners and rip offs in future additions of thefunkydrummer.

PS All blogspot.com sites are blocked, along with numerous other useful sites such as the BBC and wikipedia.

9:09 pm  

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