“If God had really intended men to fly, he’d make it easier to get to the airport.”
My family found this out the hard way… 6,000 miles away from home.
In March of 2005, my hometown’s Chamber of Commerce offered an amazing travel deal. 10 days in China, all expenses included, for only $1,200. I was sold! Nowadays, you can barely fly to Europe for this much. Altogether, my mom and dad as well as my grandma and grandpa went with me. Having my family along for the journey added to the fun memories we made on the trip. There were over 160 people from our town on this trip and we felt very safe. None of us wanted to travel to China alone, but with a big group we assumed there would be safety in numbers. Remember, this was before the internet and social media had shrunk the world. Don’t blame us too much.
Our first nine days flew by and we all had such a fun trip. Before we knew it, our dream vacation was coming to an end. We spent our last evening in Shanghai and prepared to fly to Beijing the next morning, where we would then catch our flight home to Los Angeles.
When we arrived at the Shanghai airport for our flight, we had to wait for what seemed like an eternity. It was hours and hours before our flight was scheduled to leave. It didn’t make sense but I was part of a group so I had to follow along with the rules. Ah, those were the days when I actually followed other people’s directions… I hadn’t eaten an
actual meal since I left America over 10 days earlier and I was hungry! Traveling automatically wears me out and being hungry on top of that was not making anything easier.
One of the ladies on our tour, Rose, had purchased a giant stuffed tiger for her grandson that morning. She thought that this would be the perfect time to buy one because we were on our way home and she wouldn’t have to carry it very much. If only she knew…
Our group first knew we were in trouble when our flight to Beijing was delayed. Then it was delayed again. And again. By the third delay, we were all starting to get worried. The airline must have taken pity on us because they gave each of us 500 Yuans cash as compensation for waiting all day ($80).
A gentleman in our tour group grumbled at the fact that we were getting free money (why would anyone question free money???)
“I don’t need any money,” he complained. “Why are they giving us money? We are leaving China. I don’t want it.”
Another man in the group famously commented, “We might not need it now, but we ain’t out of China yet.”
After the third delay in our flight, all 160 of us were relieved when Air China finally announced we could board our flight. We practically stampeded onto the plane because we were so glad to finally leave.
My grandpa happily plopped down in his seat and proceeded to fall asleep within 30 seconds. The stewardesses hadn’t even finished boarding the plane before he was already snoring with his mouth wide open.
The plane was at maximum capacity and we all sat anxiously, exhausted and ready to go. We couldn’t leave quickly enough. Time moved slowly as we sat there for nearly 45 minutes, just waiting.
Soon, the pilot made an announcement. The engine had mechanical problems and our flight was officially canceled. Ensue panic. I then tried to wake up my grandpa from his slumber. Once he finally woke up, I explained to him what had happened.
“Papa, our flight is cancelled. We have to spend the night in a hotel.”
“Stop messing with me,” he said. “I know we aren’t still in Shanghai, we’ve already landed and we’re in Beijing.”
“No, Papa,” I explained. “Our flight got cancelled. We are still sitting on the tarmac.”
“That’s not true”, he sleepily exclaimed. “We already took off and landed, I just took a nap through it all.”
I convinced him to get up and follow the mass exodus of passengers off the plane. As we reentered the terminal, my grandpa finally realized that we were, in fact, still stuck at the Shanghai airport.
Something strange brushed up against my legs and I turned around, startled. It was Rose, who was still lugging around the massive stuffed tiger for her grandson. Poor woman. At least she always had a pillow with her.
The leader of our group stood up on a got up on a chair to address the crowd of stranded, terrified tourists. He explained that busses would take us to a hotel where we would stay for the night and depart again the next morning. Wonderful! It finally seemed like this nightmare was coming to an end.
The hotel we were taken to was nice and comfortable. Our director said that we all needed to be down in the lobby the next morning by 8 a.m. I was happy to oblige and even happier that I had a bed.
We woke up the next morning and traipsed downstairs to the lobby with plenty of time. There was no way we were going to miss our flight today! Everybody else had gathered, eager to leave. Then the tour leader announced that we wouldn’t actually leave until the afternoon because our plane was (once again) late. Some people on our tour decided to return to their rooms and get some sleep. My dad and grandpa saw a little market down the street that they wanted to check out in the meantime. I wanted to accompany them but my grandmother was terrified that something would happen to me. She begged them not to go but the two men insisted that they would be fine. Off they went while I stayed back in the hotel with my mom and grandma.
Roughly 30 minutes passed after the tour guide’s initial announcement. Then, he got up on a chair and asked for everybody’s attention once again. Cool, I thought, are they going to give us more free money?
“There has been a change of plans,” he announced excitedly. “We found another flight that leaves earlier so the busses will be here in 10 minutes to transport us to the airport. Time is valuable so don’t be late!”
Everybody in the tour group quickly got up to gather their things. Except for the three of us. My dad and grandpa were nowhere to be found and my dad was holding both my passport and my mom’s. We couldn’t get out of the country.
My grandma had her passport so we begged her to go and take the flight. She refused and insisted on staying with us. My mom went out into the street and frantically looked for my dad and grandpa but she couldn’t find them anywhere.
The minutes ticked by agonizingly slow as we waited for the two of them to reappear. Finally, our tour guide said that the bus had to leave or else everybody would miss the flight. We watched with heavy hearts as the last bus pulled away from the hotel, leaving us stranded in a foreign country.
My grandmother was so mad by this point that I was terrified. She is a very quiet and private person and I had never seen her mad a single time in my life. To this day I have never seen her as mad as she was then. The ladies at the front desk felt very bad for us and came over to try and comfort me. They played with my hair and ooh-ed and ahh-ed over me like I was a newborn baby. It was slightly weird but I was stressing out so badly it didn’t even faze me.
It seemed like seven years (really only one hour) passed before we finally saw the familiar faces of my dad and grandpa again. My mom and grandma were so mad and chewing them out that the two men had no idea what was happening. After the initial relief of being reunited again, we had to figure out how on earth we were getting to the airport. The hotel called us a taxi and it we were so thankful when it arrived.
“Excuse me,” the concierge said as we were leaving. “But there are two more people from your group still here.”
We looked at him, confused. It turns out that when we had all been told we weren’t leaving for another five hours, one couple went to their room to go to sleep. They had never been notified that the busses were leaving early and they were still upstairs sleeping.
Thankfully we woke the slumbering couple so that they weren’t completely left behind. But our taxis had just arrived and we were not about to be left again. We wished the couple the best of luck and practically ran to the taxi. My grandma insisted that the five of us pile into one four-seater taxi so that we wouldn’t be separated. Our luggage went into a separate taxi that we hoped would make it to the airport with us.
Apparently there are two major airports in Shanghai. I did not know this until our taxi driver pointed it out. My dad and I somehow guessed the right one and we headed for it. Upon our arrival at the airport my dad had to pay the taxi driver. The only money we had were the 100 Yuan bills that the airline had given us. He handed the taxi driver a 100 and we hurried off with our luggage that had somehow made it too. That taxi driver got the best tip of his life.
We hurried to the ticket counter and learned that the flight we were supposed to be on had already boarded so we had to find another flight. The man at the ticket counter chose a flight for us that left in 30 minutes. It was a mad sprint to make it to the gate in time.
Which we did, by mere minutes. The airline even fed us, which is rare these days. Truth be told, it was the best meal I had eaten since arriving in China.
As we began our descent into Beijing, we were happy to finally be landing. I heard the landing wheels drop and we were told to fasten our seatbelts. The plane got closer and closer to the ground as we decelerated. The plane was almost touching the ground but before I knew what was happening, the pilot was flooring the engines and we were airborne once again.
What on earth just happened???
Apparently, the pilot couldn’t land for whatever reason. I don’t know why we had to take off again but it was a feeling that I don’t want to experience again. It was equally strange, terrifying, and thrilling. I was reminded of the saying that had become all-too-familiar on this trip: “we ain’t out of China yet.”
It turns out that this plane had actually beaten our original plane to Beijing. Despite our hassles and delays, we had arrived before the rest of our tour! The five of us wandered around the terminal and hoped that we would find our group. Far ahead in the distance, I saw a huge orange stuffed tiger. Poor Rose was still carrying her tiger! We hurried over to our group and they were shocked and thankful to see that the lost sheep had returned safely.
That was the end of the hassles in China. Our return flight to Los Angeles had no issues and we arrived in the U.S. with a new outlook on flight delays. Unfortunately, the time change was not in my favor. For the next two weeks I wouldn’t be able to sleep until 5 in the morning and I had trouble waking up before noon.
I think it was China’s way of reminding me, “you ain’t out of China yet!”