Sunday, February 28, 2010

Regional and Global Airlines: Air China Fail

I know I rant about airlines often - so often I'm starting to feel like some sort of hater. I don't think it is too much to ask to be treated like a person and not a sardine being squeezed into a tin can and hurtled through the air for long distances. And some airlines really GET it and they get my business (Virgin, Continental, Delta - here's a big wink to you guys). As for the rest of you...

There are a couple of regional airlines I want to try: Singapore Airlines and Korean Air. I have heard rave reviews about them and I'm looking for an excuse to travel on them. I was also hoping to try Japan Airlines (JAL) but they recently filed for bankruptcy - not sure what their future holds but I hope they survive.

Now - about Air China. While in China on business, I traveled Air China from Beijing to Chengdu. Fortunately for me, on my first flight I was traveling with someone who spoke Mandarin. I arrived at the airport only to be told I didn't have a ticket. Excuse me? I had my American Express business travel schedule on my cell phone and had AMX travel on the phone in a heartbeat (who were unable to help me). Something about a missing eTicket number... finally after my co-worker chatted with them for a bit, I was provided a boarding pass and was able to get on the plane.

I swear the seats are even smaller on Air China than they are on US airlines. With less legroom (how is that even possible?). It was not a comfortable flight and the service was average, at best. No amenities on the plane I was traveling on either (no TV, radio, etc).

The mistake with my ticket - it could happen. Once is a mistake. However, on my way back I connected through Shanghai to SFO and I had the same problem. I was told I didn't have a ticket. I did have a ticket. After much arguing I was given a boarding pass which security seemed very suspicious of and examined in detail many times. At this point I just wanted to get to Shanghai and connect to my United flight (I was looking forward to flying United at this point, it was that bad) and get home to SFO.

Finally, I board the plane heading to Shanghai - airport code PVG. This is VERY important. Every piece of paper I had, every sign I saw, said we were headed to PVG airport. This is the airport with most international airlines and from where my United flight was departing. I landed in Shanghai and after searching for the United ticket counter, I asked information. They were completely puzzled why I was asking for United Airlines when I was in Shanghai airport - code SHA.

Talk about absolute panic at this point! I was traveling alone and had no idea what to do. I called American Express who helpfully told me United had no flights out of that airport (ever) and I had to get to PVG. I had two hours till my connecting flight took off and I started hauling ass. I had a hard time being understood at the taxi stand and only had a limited amount of cash on hand. Another gentleman at the taxi stand stepped in (thank goodness for the kindness of strangers) and told the driver what I needed. Luck was with me - Shanghai traffic was light on that Sunday afternoon. The taxi driver drove like a maniac and got me to the other airport in about 45 minutes. I gave him all my available cash which resulted in a healthy tip for him. At the time, I had Premiere status with United and was able through check-in and security and still have 15 minutes to chill in the Red Carpet Club.

Whew! Disaster avoided. However, I still have no explanation for why I ended up at the wrong airport. I went back and re-checked all my documents and everything said PVG - same flight number, same time, everything. No idea.

For the record, this spring there will be a connector subway will be completed between the two airports. Gee. Just in time for the 2010 World Expo. Could have really used that a year ago.

Lesson for you: avoid Air China. Period.

Happy Travels to your correct destination!

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