by NICOLE BEARD
One thing I’ve learned about cliffhangers is that they can last only as long as the author allows them to last. Eventually, the rest of the story must be told. So I feel it is only right that I end the suspense and continue my story.
For those who are just joining us, let me catch you up to speed: I left America for Guangzhou in hopes of having the adventure of a lifetime, but it quickly became all too real when my flight from Shanghai to Guangzhou was cancelled. Forced to spend approximately six hours getting to the hotel, we finally settled in at a decent hotel for the night with a 6:30 a.m. wake-up call to get to the airport, even though we wouldn’t be leaving until 7:30 p.m.
But as I said last time, we didn’t make that flight.
Upon leaving for the airport, our newest Chinese friend Kevin informed us that he and his wife had been able to book a flight to Guangzhou that would leave at 8:50 a.m. My colleagues and I wanted to be on this flight, mainly because the thought of waiting around the airport for more than 10 hours was nobody’s idea of a fun way to start a new adventure.
So we arrived at the airport at 6:30 with every intention to book the earlier flight. The woman at the ticket booth told us that they may have a couple seats on stand-by and the best she could do was allow us to check our luggage and let us see if they would let us on the plane.
As we made our way through the labyrinth that was Shanghai International Airport, the flurry of movement was both disjointing and mesmerizing. We arrived at the check luggage area only after we weaved and wound our way through the intricate hallways that made up this building.
We made our way through the surplus of people and faced our next challenge: the line. It was four rows deep with people waiting to check their luggage -- so packed with passengers that there was a guard at the beginning of the makeshift dividers who allowed the next float of waiting travelers only when the line had thinned out a bit.
But this didn’t stop people from ducking under the ropes and cutting through the dead space to stand behind the last person in line. And being in line first meant nothing. If you didn’t keep close to the person in front of you, the person behind you had all the right in the world to sneak around you and fill up the spot.
After going through the line, we arrived ready to check our bags and wait to see if we would be allowed on the flight. But it seemed that we would not be allowed to check our bags at all. We weren’t in the system, which means we weren’t on the flight.
We assured the woman we were in the system; we were on stand-by. But there was no stand-by. We were either on the flight or we weren’t. The baggage checker assured us that all we had to do was go back to the first woman we talked to, get our passports in the system and come back. At this point, it was 7:30. We had an hour, and it had taken us 15 minutes just to get to the baggage area.
What were we to do? Well, we weren’t about to give up. We gave our passports to the fastest girl in our group and sent her with Kevin, who had been our amazing translator through this whole crisis, to get us into the system and onto the flight.
There was nothing left now but to wait.
And we waited. And waited. And waited.
The minutes clicked away and the departure time for our flight neared. Finally, the girl returned and we got back in line. She returned our passports, and we waited another 10 minutes to get through the rest of the line. When we came back up to the front, we were once again stalled: our passports still weren’t in the system.
Once again, we were told to go back to the airline’s reception desk, the one our friends had just raced across an airport to get to. Well, we had none of that. We stood firm, telling them to call down to the desk to check with them. We stood there for another 10 minutes. The manager yelled at the baggage clerk, the baggage clerk yelled at the airline’s receptionist over the phone, we were yelled at (all in Chinese), but in the end, our bags were checked.
We were on the flight, and it was only 8:15!
And thus the real tale begins. As we realized the time and the fact we had 15 minutes to get on our flight, the baggage clerk left her station and took off on a mad dash with six Americans following her with their backpacks, rolling suitcases, and computers bouncing around them. The clerk took the lead -- an impressive and commendable sight, considering she was wearing not only a skirt, but also three-inch heels!
We passed gate after gate, ran down ramps, skirted around corners, and even sped down two escalators. The biggest fear was whether we would make it in time or be stranded for another 11 hours while our luggage waited for us in Guangzhou.
We got to a security checkpoint, where we had to strip ourselves of our belongings and rush through the procedure of being cleared for the plane before once again taking off at a dead run and making our way through the airport.
Being out of shape and out of breath, I was left at the back of the pack and when one of my friends got stuck on the escalator, I took it as my chance to catch my breath and make sure my friend knew where we were going. As we reached the bottom, ready to continue our run, we found that we had lost track of the whole group. Not knowing which way to go, we took tentative steps passed several gates until our heroic baggage clerk came to our rescue and lead us through the last leg of the race.
She deposited us in front of our gate, where she received heartfelt thank yous from all of us and a round of applause from her co-workers. Talk about going above and beyond for your job.
So we had gotten to the gate, but our story continues. The shuttle arrived and took us out to the tarmac, where we were allowed onto the plane. We got ourselves situated, and wouldn’t you know it: there were more than enough seats available to accommodate us. And of course, we ended up waiting on the runway for another hour. But in the end, we were just happy to be on the plane. I, however, was still trying to decide if I had just made the worst mistake of my life.
But it wasn’t until I arrived in Guangzhou that my decision truly took on a life of its own.
Click here for the first part of Nicole's story, and check back to The Tystenac for a continuation!