Yesterday I had a flight booked from Shanghai to Guangzhou, for meetings with the management and other investors in 1bib.com. I was a bit late, but just in time to check in for my China Eastern flight at 2:10 PM. I arrived at the gate around 1:55, but they were not boarding yet. So I sat down and listened to a podcast on my new iPod Touch. After about 10 minutes there was still no movement at the gate, so I asked one of the flight attendants. She said there had been a gate change, which they had announced 20 minutes before that (when I had just checked in but had not yet arrived at the gate). OK, my fault, I should have probably checked the monitors for a gate change, but because I checked in so late I assumed that the gate was correct, and that they would announce a gate change more than once.
So I had to run to the other gate, because it was 5 minutes before scheduled departure time. I arrived at the gate, and saw that there were no other passengers there and the gate was closed. My first thought was that I had missed the flight due to the gate change, so I went up to the ladies at the gate to check if there would still be a possibility to board. Well, it turned out the flight had not boarded at all, because there had been a mechanical problem. They asked me to go to the departure hall again (so back into the public area) and get my ticket changed to a later flight.
Five minutes later I was at the China Eastern desk, where over 100 people were fighting to get to the front of the line in order to get their tickets changed. That’s one of the things I totally dislike in China, people do not have the decency (or education?) to form a line and wait for their turn. Well, I was in the back anyway, so I decided to just wait until the crowd had disappeared.
However, I was not sure if I was in the right line, and nobody could tell me that. So I went to the counter next to the busy one, but China Eastern staff just ignored me. I had to literally knock one guy on his head (softly!) in order for him to answer my question. His answer was still not friendly (just a gesture that I should be at the overcrowded counter) but at least I knew I was at the right place.
I waited for another 30 minutes, and then found out that all tickets on flights that would depart in the next 2-3 hours had been given out already to other passengers. Most flights were fully booked already due to the Guangzhou Trade Fair… The staff was extremely rude and did not want to give any other information. Very badly trained people, who do not care about the passengers, and have likely never heard the word service before.
So I had to wait several hours, if I would be lucky. I checked if any business class seats were available, but also those were sold out. I finally decided to forget about it, and cancel the trip. I was only going to Guangzhou for one day for meetings, and I did not want to spend half a day at an airport for such a short trip. A pity, because now I would not get to meet one of the German angel investors. Also I had not been to the 1bib office in quite a long time, and I would have liked to see how it has changed. The company has grown to about 40 people since I first invested early last year, quite a change since their first office in an apartment in Guangzhou.
Luckily China Eastern was willing to fully reimburse my tickets, although they sent me to 3 different counters before I got the required stamps for this. All in all not a good experience. Maybe I should just stop flying the airline, because it is not the first time this happens (see e.g. my blog posting from May 10, 2005). Problem is that most other Chinese airlines are quite similar to China Eastern. I guess you just have to cope with the fact that airlines here treat you like dirt if something goes wrong. And anyway, in the rest of the world it is not much better.