If you’re even remotely tuned into global affairs, you know that America and China don’t get along very well.
Many people blame the vast cultural differences between the two great nations, to which I say…
Cultural differences, Schmultural differences.
I booked my flight to Beijing a few weeks ago and they sent me a nice email.
It is our pleasure to inform you that your booking with Air China has been received. Your reservation is guaranteed.
We wish you a pleasant journeys.
Something about this email was unsettling. Maybe it was the grammar errors. Or maybe it was because it was sent to me from a Hotmail account. So, just to be safe, I showed up to the airport a good 3 hours before the flight.
Terminal 1. You can find the Air China kiosk in one of two ways.
1) Look for the Air China signs
2) Look for the only airline kiosk without an organized queue, a swarm of Asians waving their fists and yelling incoherently.
This time around, I went with option 2…not that I had much of a choice. My heart dropped at the sight of dozens of traveling groups (14-15 people per group). It made me wonder if the Chinese travel everywhere in large tour groups, even to their home country.
But here, my experience in Shanghai taught me at least one useful lesson: Go to where the large Chinese groups are.
This may sound counter-intuitive as my normal human instinct would be to run away and never look back. But if you’re ever in a pickle, and you find yourself in the group of non-Chinese foreigners, Go to where the large Chinese groups are. Chances are, they know something you don’t, and no one is going to come over to help your sorry ass.
After fighting my way to the front, I confronted an Air China representative.
What happened? I asked.
The flight has been overbooked.
Yes. There are no more seats on your flight.
I looked at my watch. Yup. Still 3 hours before I was meant to take off.
How can it be overbooked? I ask.
The flight can only carry 250 people. The airline booked 290.
So, aside from the idiocy of overbooking, you’re trying to tell me that 250 people showed up earlier than 3 hours before the flight?
Yes. And then he talked to me like I was dumb. You know that the airline is allowed to overbook.
In what universe is this true? I ask.
In Air China, it’s first come, first serve.
Complete lunacy. People, it’s not that hard. I buy ticket, I get seat. Not…I buy ticket, I have to show up 5 hours early to fight for a seat.
I understand that there are cultural differences between the way western airlines do business and the way Air China does business. But at some point, there is a wrong way and a right way.
Whatever the case may be, there’s no doubt that cultural differences were at play in this situation. For instance, I was shocked to discover that most passengers just sort of shrugged their shoulders and walked away. Me, on the other hand…My American sense of entitlement and indignation hit Code Orange.
I yelled, I screamed, I exhorted for basic consumer protections. Where is the accountability? Where is the justice?
Before I knew it, I was drawing from a deep well of engrained notions of basic human rights and liberties, which I’ve always criticized China (as a nation) of sweeping under the rug.
I got on my soapbox and made myself into a rallying point for the hordes of slumped shoulders sulking away into defeat. I drew my inspiration from Braveheart, crying out… “They may take our time and money but they will never take our inalienable rights as ‘honored’ passengers!”
In short, I led a mini-revolution in Terminal 1. The proletariat masses of disgruntled travelers looked at me with shock and awe, and soon enough, we were asking…no…demanding proper compensation.
Soon, the stone-faced elites of the Air China counter began to relent. They offered us an Air China voucher in the amount of $580.
I threw it back in their faces. Why in the name of Liu Xiaobo would I even consider flying Air China again? I bellowed. I demanded more. I DEMANDED MILEAGE POINTS.
The people began to nod their heads. They said YES, He is right. Where is our justice? Where are our miles?
But before my wild hair-pulling could ferment into a truly organized, grassroots boycott campaign, the manager came back at me.
What about 40,000 miles? We’re a Star Alliance member and you can use the miles on most American airlines.
And so the leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Disgruntled Airline Passengers was ultimately placated by some miles.
Lucky for me, they booked me on the last flight to Los Angeles where I’ll overnight it to Beijing. In true Air China fashion, they scribbled my official boarding ticket on a piece of paper.
As for my baggage, I’ll consider it a minor miracle if I ever see it again.
I’m in transit now, my Mao moment glistening ever so proudly in my rearview mirror, and I’ve concluded that, there are cultural differences, sure. But at some point, there is a right way and a wrong way.
William Wallace would be proud:
“You may take my core democratic principles, but you will never take my mileage!”