Understanding China, One Blog at a Time

An American in China

Flying a “No Frills’ Chinese Airlines

Posted by w_thames_the_d on September 16, 2010


Possessing a death wsh I decided to take a no frills discount Chinese airline. I don’t remember the name, but think it ws something like lucky dragon star arilines…the following is a stream of conscouisness about the expereince.

I should have known better, it already didn’t look good, the plane wasn’t parked anywhere near the terminal so we had to hike. There were about 200 of us, so I was happy, figured the plane had to be a good sized one to hold all the people.

We approach some relic, an ugly old thing with propellers and ‘mechanics’ clambering about it, turning screws, adjusting the wings, that sort of thing, I congratulate Beijing on their upkeep of such vintage aircraft and keep walking, I m herded back, this thing, this marvelous weapon of antiquity is our plane. The ‘pilot’ opens the cockpit window, he’s wearing a scarf a la the Red Barron, cheeky grin, he looks about 15. I pause assuming there is a mistake, I am nearly trampled by the others, there is no mistake this is our plane. I look open mouthed at the ‘pilot’ he gives me the old thumbs up, and winks.

I hurry to board and pray my seat is in the back, supposedly the safest part of a plane, I think I will need it. Although im no mechanic by trade, black smoke billowing from any engine is not a good sign, but then again that crack squad of ‘professionals’ was on it, they had Palmolive bottles, were washing the wings, playing with the propellers, smoking blunts.

I turn the corner and get in ‘line’, which for this airlines means you wait behind the other passengers standing on a wooden ladder that reaches the cabin of this old relic. I move to the front and begin to aid in hoisting up the elderly and ill pushign them in the gaping hole that serves as the doorway. The scene looks like the marines bailing from Saigon in ’75, refugees clawing scrapping scratching just to board the plane. I tread on the fake LV purse of an elderly old sprite then spring to the door frame, I’m aboard.

I pass through first class and am greeted with smiles, when I show that I am just passing through and do not have a sat in this coveted zone, I am pushed away told to go to the rear. I move out, settle in.

The plane is quickly filling with peasants (Chinese word for worker or laborer), farmers and middle class, all in equal amounts. A batch of elderly Chinese are in the front, they’ve died their hair a jet black, but apparently couldn’t reach the back portion or crown, as that part is bone white, making it look like a bevy of baboon asses.

I sit and reach for the in flight manual on the chair in front of me, I finally notice that our chairs are literally chairs as in lawn chairs and the seat back in front of me has a baggie carefully hung upon it in it must be the inflight manual. I never read them, but this plane has me shaken…my chair almost falls forward, the staples holding the legs to the carpeting need to be re-affixed, I adjust myself and snatch the bag off the chair. A couple of Chinese cartoon mags, Mao’s little Red Book, that’s about I usually don’t read that crap anyway.

There is a problem, we have to wait, in broken English they say something about an earthquake or engine troubles, or something like that, 40 surly stewardesses pass through, they look like prison matrons, sharing about a dozen teeth between them, they march about, their main goal apparently is to tug at their saggy breasts and pester the clientele….

we wait, the air is off, sweat is cascading from my brow, a sweet stewardess happens by offers her sleeve, I smile, wipe off the sweat then my fingers, she says San Q(Chinese English for thank you). Without air its humid and hot, like a Houston afternoon, the plane reeks of ass and garlic, must be the guy next to me or the old lady, maybe both. This flying coffin has the feel of a bus, its a flying Greyhound, , but less spacious…

I glance at my neighbor pray hes not talkative, he’s probably praying the same thing. No one comes in or out of the plane, but miraculously the pilot announces that yes we had a mechanical problem but its now fixed,, they wind up the propellers, sprint away and wave us on.

We’re cleared for take off, the thing shimmies sakes rattles and moves, the chair in front of me is rebelling, nuts and bolts quivering falling out, I pray and grab the seat white knuckling it. We’er airborne and the flight isn’t too bad, we’ve reached cruising altitude or about 300 feet and it looks like smooth sialing.

The matrons/stewardesses in first class swagger forth bearing meals for the rich, little leggings covering torn nylon stockings their wardrobe. We angrily glance at our hostesses who are holed up in their staging area, apparently our ‘lunch’ will be light. The first class passengers choke down 3 or 4 plates of food and cans of soda trying to fill their fat bellies before we land, too damned tight to pay for a meal at their destination, I am famished.

So far the inflight entertainment , at least for my zone, has been a 62 year old guy and the ’18’ year old girl/woman accompanying him. 360 eyes watch as he gropes, cuddles coddles, her most private of spaces… I yawn.

Excitement comes n the form oaf an announcement the English is horrible, sounds like a rant from the WWF, I think they said we’ve had engine failure or else they will be serving a snack.

Apparently they are serving a snack, the stewardesses are lined up. They fling peanuts at us from the galley then quickly duck down, grab more toss them amidst the pack who is now pushing shoving prodding screaming yelling, the peanuts come with more rapidity now, the stewards have joined in. Chinese are now climbing on one another backs like ruggers from the New Zealand All Blacks during an inbounds pass. There is now calm, the peanuts are gone.

The guy in front of me takes off his shoes, his socking feet look make him look like Grinch or any Dr. Seuss character, he sits back, rests his feet on the wall, begins to snore, gaping holes expose his big and smallest toe.

We continue on for about two hours and I start to relax, Its odd but I feel as if we have all bonded in some cosmic form, through it all, we’d survived, the plane was only 20 minutes from its destination, I sat back, a little sad it was over. Moved by the experience I waved over a stewardess who offered me water from a plastic bag, I quaffed, grinned at her, she pulled back the bag and grunted, the jail house tatoo on her hand probably the name of the guy she first loved or maybe her uncle, maybe both. I push a 20 RMB bill at her, a tip or a SOP of sorts, I gently place it in the space where he middle finger used to reside, I shutter to think of how she lost it or the surgical procedure to follow, she snatches the bill shrieks at me or maybe said thanks and lumbers off.

I allow myself a smile, though it all, I cannot bitch, entertainment like this for free, yeah, I really love China!

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