The Flight to Beijing

What are the chances of an aircraft having not one, but two flat tyres? Not ours. The one hemming us in at Sydney Airport this morning.

When our captain (who had a very sexy voice, by the way) first told us about a flat tyre on the Pacific Blue flight (which had hemmed us in), he sounded reasonably philosophical about it all. But when he informed us of a further delay because the flight had TWO flat tyres, you could hear the sense of frustration in his voice. The problem, he told us, was that we couldn’t move until the Pacific Blue flight had their tyres repaired.

And so we sat and waited. And I read the paper, tweeted about the inconvenience, and sent some emails.

The delay also gave me some time to reflect on some of the interesting things I noticed at the airport. First, the automated flight information announcements with the American accent. Second, that although the urinals now are “eco friendly” by using recycled water, the taps in the hand-basin are those press button ones which deliver a torrent of water that you can’t turn off. One seems to defeat the purpose of the other eh?

And then came the good news: the sexy-voiced captain told us they were able to maneouvre the other aircraft in such a manner that we could “squeeze” through and take our place in the queue for take-off. There was a massive, collective sigh of relief when word came that we would soon be on our way.

Being possibly the world’s best plane sleeper, I then managed to sneak a brief “power nap” in the minutes before take off. Deep in sleep, I snored loudly and woke myself up, as we took to the air only 60 minutes after originally planned. A slight delay only adds to the drama of it all, though, doesn’t it?

And I love the sense of “occasion” associated with overseas travel. You’re in the queue, you have all your documentation ready (well, I do, though some people in the queue in front of me struggled to locate theirs). You’ve filled in the departure card. You’ve gone through Customs and Security, and then you just have to sit and wait.

It ain’t gonna change soon, although recently Richard Branson did mention he thought two or three hour flights between Sydney and London were in the realm of possibility within our lifetimes.

So what did I think of Air China? The first thing you notice in economy (at least) is the fairly “dated” inflight entertainment system. The screen had seen better days. In addition, there were just a few movies to watch. As none of them particularly interested me – a combination of Chinese soap operas and B-grade Hollywood, I mostly watched the flight map. Having read a review which mentioned how crap it all was, I had also loaded my computer with some of my own inflight entertainment.

The food and wine? The food was good, though not great. I had some chicken with vegetables for lunch. It was “enough”, though I would have liked a little more. I would have also liked a second glass of wine with lunch, but that wasn’t to be. Dinner was beef with rice, and finally a Chinese bun with a meat-like filling. After the wine came out for lunch, it was never to be seen again. In fact, I swear there were only two bottles of wine on board the entire aircraft, and they were both consumed at lunch-time.

The service was good, though not great. Everyone spoke some English, and all they smiled when I responded in Chinese with “please” and “thankyou”. Best of all? No babies. It wasn’t until we were somewhere over the Molucca Sea that I noticed there wasn’t a single child on the aircraft. Almost everyone travelling was from an Asian (assuming Chinese) background, with just a few Caucasian faces on board (including a group of “grey nomads” who are members of the Australian Tai Chi Fitness Group, according to their name tags).

I shared a seat with, at first, a middle-aged Asian woman from Sydney, and then later a younger woman, though I have no idea of her story. She just looked young and surly. My favourite neighbour on the flight from Shanghai to Beijing was a bloke with three mobile phones: an i-phone, a blackberry and a nokia. I assumed was a communications businessman of some form until I noticed he was just using the i-phone to play games.

Despite the late start to our flight in Sydney, the turn around in Shanghai was seamless: we were in and out of customs in a couple of minutes. I even had time to sit down and give Kate an update call.

A few hours later and I was safely ensconced in Kate’s place, as we sat and chatted until late in the morning.

3 Replies to “The Flight to Beijing”

  1. I flew China Airlines (confusingly similar to Air China in name) to Amsterdam and noticed the same thing about my fellow passengers. It was almost as if the airline had gone through the list of passengers and singled out the “white” names as I was seated right next to a Dutch family, and there were no other white people on board.

    We did have some children on board through. *grumble grumble*

    1. Hi Liam – my friend Kate explained to me it was probably so the one or two fluent English speaking staff they had could deal with you all at once, which makes sense I guess.

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