AIRPORT (almost the movie)!By
Maybe it was something in the water. Perhaps something airborne. But one thing was for sure, it spread faster than a plague of locusts.
It had been raining heavily on and off and before leaving Sim’s guesthouse, Sim warned me that all flights out of Chengdu were experiencing delays.
Getting to the airport was easy, picking up the ticket from the C-Trip desk was easy. Getting through security was even easier! Wearing large heavy hiking boots and carrying 30 pounds of camera gear on my back only piqued the curiosity of the security staff. I never had to remove my boots, they could care less about the heavy metal belt buckle holding up my shorts, and the suspicious handheld HD video recorder only got a yawn. What they really wanted to see and lay with were the cameras in my bag!
At the departure gates, things were starting to get a little tense! Huge crowds of passengers, to a man, were agitated. You could feel the anxiety in the cavernous Chengdu departures hall.
My boarding pass did not give a departure gate. Too early, despite the hour and a half to departure. Strange. Across the hall, at B3, a massive standing crowd was fixing for a fight! One man began to yell, bringing passers by to a halt and fueling the others around the man. The noise grew louder and the crowd, as crowds do, got bolder. The police came and could do little.
Turns out the B3’ers were not budging! They were not going to take it any more! For many hours they had been told to assemble at one gate. Then another and another, only to be told to return to the original gate and perhaps the plane will depart from there! This is very typical. The chain of communication, I am told by a reliable source, is very poor here and specifically and repeatedly by that particular domestic air carrier. So much so, it is often on the State TV news and featured in the blogs and anecdotal writings of many Chinese netizens.
Wandering over, I got the scoop from An Aussie traveler who was himself also similarly inconvenienced, as was his tour group, but were taking all in stride as “Just part of traveling today”. The first man to begin yelling had been punished by the attending police and made to sit like a school boy in the corner on an old wooden stool while they tried to make sense out of the situation.
More yelling and air being punched.
At that time, an attractive lady in a red sweater, clutching a toddler broke past the gate and was stopped near the gangway entrance. The toddler was her ticket to physical safety – the authorities dared not man-handle her so just kept her there. She was yelling to her traveling companions back on the other side of the glass. She was not going back, not going to budge
The situation was becoming interesting and provided a some pre-flight little entertainment. When I found out the whole story, I must admit, I really did feel for the exhausted travelers. No control, being herded by squawking loudspeakers, and in the end, no explanations.
In the end, I did truly feel for those people, because it was about to happen to me! To avoid duplication and avoid monotony, Let me just say, a horse being led by a blind guide stood a greater chance f making sense of things! There was again, total confusion and a farcical level of communication. The staff a the assigned gate were telling us to go to another gate, while the electronic departures board told us to stay put. All the while, the crackling public address system told us to go to another.
Eventually, even my own crowd with whom I was growing ever so complicit, was so angry our gate C17 women – driving her to the edge of tears – that the sniffling gate attendant herself lead the long march out of her home departure lounge, down the old textured steel-floored hall, out into the modern area and left, down the now-darkened and closed lounges and down some stairs to a bus gate where, like the biblical flood, we marched two-by-two into a waiting bus to whisk us away to airline comfort and safety!
You see, the punishing rains that were drenching the region were part of the larges typhoon of the year. That meant many delays and cancellations as well as a much greater number of stray aircraft parked around the airport. The bus eventually found the aircraft, but not before hunting about other blue-tailed South China Airline planes.
Two-by-two, we again filed off the bus and in the driving rain, walked up the uncovered slippery stairs and into the relative comfort of the plane and off to Guilin, our destination.
Inside, timed moved slowly. Turned out we could not take off because other passengers did not get on the bus! Time continued to crawl. Flight attendant were now the new target for our own weary traveler’s anger. Ah! An idea! Break out the food! Drinks and food were served while we waited!
Eventually, all the other passengers were now collected from their various instructed waiting locations and hunted about for their own seats, eyes lowered.
The upsetting thing about all of this was that a middle-aged man whom I had noticed earlier in the evening in a wheel chair had to be picked up by his legs and arms and carried up the slipper wet steps outside and lowered into a seat on the plane.
Some would call that personal service. Lets just call it a night and get on our way. We did. And after the 9:50 flight departure, I got into bed at 6 a.m. and had a short night’s sleep.
Earlier in the afternoon, a call to the waiting hotel assured me a car would be waiting at the airport. That meant the driver would be waiting at 11pm. As the flight arrived in Guilin at 3:30 a.m., there was no chance the driver would be there. But! He was! He had been waiting and sleeping until the plane got in! He said he had never seen such poor flying conditions in over a year.
The drive from the Guilin airport to Yangshuo is one hour – with no traffic!
As I drifted off to sleep I considered the whole ordeal. It occurred to me that this was the eve of the Autumn Moon Festival – the second most popular travel day in all of China! Great! And to make matters worse, and as a possible second explanation…
It was a full moon!