It all started innocently enough Thursday morning. Sarijan had volunteered to take me to the ferry terminal at 7 a.m. And we just made it in time for the 7:30 ferry. I bought the ticket the day before. The ferry over to Singapore was uneventful, as was the taxi ride to Changi airport. I arrived too early but I wanted to ensure I had an aisle seat for my bad leg.
The first leg of my trip would take me to Guangzhov, China, or at
least it was supposed to take me to Guangzhou, China. Thunderstorms over Guangzhou forced the flight to divert to Hai Kou, about an hour from Guangzhov. I should have read the writing on the wall then but I figured this would only be a blip on the screen. We sat in the airplane for about 45 minutes and then we moved into an empty terminal check-in area, all 100 or so of us. To keep us occupied, the airline, China Southern, brought out some sort of instant, flavored rice stuff in a container, which you add hot water to eat. There was also some tea and warm soda provided. I just had some tea, figuring we wouldn’t be long. I did have a four-hour layover in Guangzhov and a short delay would not jeopardize my connecting flight to Los Angeles.
On the plane, I met a group of seven young people from Singapore
who were a band that was on its way to do a tour in China. They spoke English. The group’s name is Micappalla; they sing acappela rock and roll. I kidded them that maybe they should sing for the passengers while we waited, and sure enough, they did. If you’re interested, check them out at facebook.com/micappella.
We sat in that terminal past the time for my connecting flight. I knew I was screwed.
Finally, they boarded us back on the plane, we sat for awhile and finally took off for Guangzhov. By now, I’m an hour late for my connecting flight. I had already alerted my friends in Atlanta that I would not make the poker game the next night.
And it just got better in Guangzhov. After passing through Customs, those of us with connecting flights were sent to the “Transfer Desk,” an ominous-sounding name but just a counter where several young people were trying to rebook about 12 of us. When it was my turn, I was told I would be booked on China Southern’s next flight to LA, at 9:30 the next evening. Since my connecting flight to Atlanta was also affected by the delay, I made sure that was changed, as well. I was assured it was. They put us up at a hotel and would buy you breakfast and lunch the next day. Trouble is, I had not yet had dinner and had eaten very little all day. By now, it was at least 2 a.m., and we waited another hour for our ride to the hotel.
Turns out we didn’t need to hurry, as the hotel, the name escapes me, was about as bad as you can imagine. The first clue was the stench. The stains on the carpets and the ripped wallpaper were next. The fact the hotel did not have a restaurant had me worried about food. It was too late for anything to be open (about 4 a.m. when I finally registered). The door of my room was ajar when I entered and I wasn’t too sure it was secure. The bathroom shower was open so that the water drenched the toilet as much as the person taking a shower. The bathroom sink did not drain. There was wireless but my laptop soon ran out of power and I discovered I didn’t have the right kind of wall plug for China.
They did have a lot of food in the lobby, cookies and crackers and sodas and juices, so I grabbed a package of cookies and two China Cokes and tried to make the best of it. Fortunately, I carry a flask so had a couple of drinks and went to bed. But as I laid there, I felt unsafe and double locked the door. I may have managed four hours sleep.
When I woke and showered, I decided to walk the neighborhood, looking for a bank to get some cash so that I could eat a real meal. The hotel sits in the middle of an industrial area, with lots of open shops making furniture, metal products, construction equipment and motor parts. I finally found a bank ATM – but it would not accept my bank card. Two restaurants refused to take my credit card. So it was back to the room to finish off the cookies and watch Chinese TV.
I still had seven hours before they would bring us back to the airport.
Finally, I figured it would be better to wait at the airport, which was new and huge, then to stay at the flea bag hotel, and had them drive me over about 11 a.m. Then I spent the next 10 hours wandering around the Baiyurport Airport, looking in all the upscale shop windows, having meals at two of the many restaurants, and doing a lot of people watching. The Guangzhov airport is gleaming new, a huge three-story hangar-type sturcture. The top floor was for departures, the second for arrivals and I don’t know what the bottom floor was for.
The arrivals floor had most of the shops and restaurants and was where I spent much of the day, feeling like Tom Hanks in that movie where he lives in an airport. There was also a money exchanger available but they did not exchange Indonesian rupiah, which was the only cash I had. Fortunately, there were ATMs and these accepted my card. There were no power outlets, however, to recharge my laptop.
I did enjoy a good lunch at an upscale restaurant that also had a large
wine sales operation. The KingLong Restaurant was very busy and had an extensive Chinese menu. I opted for a beef-flavored noodle soup they were advertising out front, and a Chinese Pearl River beer. (They didn’t have Diet Coke.)
I was brought a huge bowl of soup with thin, spaghetti-like noodles and a few bits of mystery meat. It was quite good. The meal cost just $4.50, which was quite surprising, given how nice the place looked inside and the fact it was in an airport. Of course, they provided me with chopsticks to eat my soup. (OK, there was a small plastic Chinese spoon, too, but you had to eat the noodles with the chopsticks, an interesting experience.)
Several hours later, I ate again, at a Japanese restaurant this time – barbeque pork, cabbage and rice,and a Quindon beer, but it wasn’t nearly as good.
Finally, it was time to check my bag (through to Atlanta, I thought) and begin my wait in the departure area. This was a very long terminal with endless duty free shops on both sides of a moving walkway. At the end, there were flights going to Sydney, Bangkok, Paris and Los Angeles.
At this point, I’d like to say that nice airplanes does not a good airline make. China Southern’s fleet consists of Airbus aircraft, smaller 319s for the Singapore-Guangzhov route and 380s for the run to the States. They are very nice planes, although the space for passengers is not great. The crews are very accommodating.
However, if you send your customers to a dirty, nasty hotel, it doesn’t matter how new orclean your planes are. And if you don’t make sure your customers are rebooked correctly, you certainly are asking for trouble. That’s why I’m still in LA.
The flight over the Pacific was 12 ½ hours. Not too bad, and my seat was good, if cramped. The airline, however, does not serve alcohol, other than beer and wine. And they only had a few bottles of wine for about 350 passengers. Yup, the flight was very full. Each seat did have a TV, with movies, music, games and such, and the beer and wine was free, as were the meals. The 380 is a marvelous plane in flight, and we had as smooth a takeoff and landing as I’ve experience. But then things went from bad to worse.
Customs was very backed up, with several lines stretching more than 100 meters each. After about an hour of this, I finally made it to an agent, who looked at my passport and waved me through without an x-ray scan. I thought things were finally on the right track.
My checked bag had to then be rechecked, which I did, and watched it whiz away on the belt. I wonder where it is now.
Then I had to walk about a quarter mile to terminal 3, where Delta was, to get my ticket for the trip to Atlanta in a couple of hours. Except I couldn’t find anything on the self-service kiosk. I was told to get in the special services line, where I waited for more than an hour. Then the fun began – again.
I was told that I did not have a reservation. Apparently, the girl in Guangzhov either lied or did something wrong. I would have to go back to the international terminal to have China Southern rebook me for the next day, but I was going to miss my flight and would have to stay overnight.
What about my bag, I asked? I had handed it over to them, with a “send to Atlanta” tag on it. The agent could not find it. He tried for an hour, frequently wandering away to make calls or whatever, and even going to the tarmac to try to find it. No bag anywhere, and no record of it. All the gifts I had bought were in it, as well as my clothes. I said I needed it if I was going to stay overnight. And I still hadn’t rebooked my flight, and it was nearing midnight. And, again, no dinner.
The guy helping me, Sal, probably didn’t have the brightest bulb in the room, but he was trying, and I was getting more frustrated and loud by the minute. He finally introduced me to his supervisor, who said they would rebook my for the 6:30 a.m. flight in the morning, and that her “guess” was that my bag was already on its way to Atlanta. So I would have to hope she was right, and if not, when it showed up they would bring it to me in Asheville. I will believe that when I see it.
I did mange to get to a McDonalds just before it closed and here I sit in an empty terminal typing this out, but with no wireless to send it. I have gotten off the floor, however, as I found a bunch of unsecured handicapped wheel chairs. So I’m sitting next to the only live wall socket I could find while I type this out. Three other people have taken my cue and are also sitting in wheelchairs. Only five more hours before I get on the next plane. Hope my car reservation will still be good in Atlanta.
UPDATE: It was chilly in the check-in area where I was typing so I decided to see if any other parts of this part of the terminal were open. Found the bagge claim area and saw a few bags against the wall. When I went to see if one was mine, a man came over to ask what I was doing. I told him and he went to another area to see if my bag was there. It wasn’t but he was told by another man that my bag has already been sent to Atlanta. I should know tomorrow. And it’s much warmer in the baggage claim area. I have a 6:30 a.m. flight and it’s past 1. Maybe I can get a couple of hours sleep. Haven’t had but about 5-6 in the last two days. And the laptop is now fully charged.
MORNING UPDATE: Slept on a wooden bench in the empty baggage claim area. Maybe 3 hours. Now at departure gate and have free wireless. Should get into Atlanta about 2:30 p.m.