Stranded in Beijing, and the Awesome Lives of Strangers

{Laptop Life Update}

American friends, close your ears ’cause you might not be able to take this:

I am on the tail end of a freaking FORTY FIVE HOUR FLIGHT ADVENTURE of NOT epic-ness, WITH 2 kids in tow and no husband.

First up for you US folks who are reading: please, for the love of God, do not EVER say anything within my hearing that falls within the realms of bitching about a long flight when you’re flying freaking East to West coast … 6 hours is a baby SNACK flight not a long flight for us Aussies!

The plan WAS to fly 30.5 hours (Melbourne to Barcelona via Beijing of all places, as that’s the flight that fit my schedule), and that was bad enough. 30 hours with kids? Insane! On my own? Madness!

Fast forward 35 or so hours into it and I’m wishing it was 30 hours.

And to be perfectly honest I’m kind of pissed with China Air, although admittedly they have now come to the party and got us on another flight.

I didn’t know our Melbourne to Beijing flight was going to stop in Shanghai – apparently ALL flights into China stop in Shanghai, and you have to clear immigration and quarantine even if not entering the country (random AND annoying), but nobody told me this and it wasn’t on my itinerary which seems weird. I was irritated enough about that as the kids had just fallen asleep and then they didn’t have my stroller for me when I got off the plane – it was 10pm Melbourne time, so I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that trying to walk endless corridors of Shanghai airport with a VERY unhappy 5-year old who was refusing to walk AND crying about it, plus an asleep heavy 18-month old, 2 carry-on cases a backpack and a handbag was NOT fun! In the end a China Air official helped me with my bags, took pity on me when I just about broke down halfway down the hall I think.

All good, on with the journey. Except they grounded the freaking plane when we got back on. We sat on the tarmac for 3 hours – I slept on the floor with Nathan in the end (Alyssa was hogging both seats), very aware that we were going to cut it dangerously close to missing our connection to Barcelona but knowing that if that DID happen I better have got some sleep first. I was envisioning sleeping on the Beijing airport floor until the next flight out … which very nearly happened!

Eventually we took off and OF COURSE landed in Beijing precisely 3 minutes before my next flight was to take off. So – game over.

Flight crew told me to speak to the ground staff about my transfer and I was praying that the next plane had been delayed. I had the same baggage, sleepy / crying kids and no stroller issue but powered through the airport, following directions, and ended up … outside in the arrivals hall! 1am, nobody around, the few staff that WERE there completely uninterested in helping slash couldn’t speak English slash didn’t know where I was meant to go. We’re talking a MAJOR international airport here, and absolutely NO system OR help OR information on what to do when you miss your flight! To add insult to injury I couldn’t get online, couldn’t contact Enzo to let him know we weren’t going to be there when he came to meet us, couldn’t look up a hotel, or anything! I was actually getting pretty teary by this stage, and thank God ran into a few other lost passengers from my flight; all of whom had missed connections to Germany. The German conversation was NOT polite 🙂 I do love a good German rant! It really was freaking ridiculous though – we literally wandered the airport for several hours, being constantly mis-directed and mis-informed and EVENTUALLY found someone who helped us … if you call telling me I had to stay 3 days in Beijing till the next flight helping!

It was 3.30am by then and there was nothing I could do – we all were in the same boat, and fortunately they put us on a shuttle bus to a hotel which the airline paid for. Finally I got in touch with Enzo and let him know what was going on, and then hit the sack for 3 hours sleep before Alyssa woke me up again.

I decided we’d have breakfast, then pack our stuff and head to the airport to try and get another flight ANYWHERE today … I did NOT want to spend 3 days alone with the kids in a very stale-smoky Beijing airport hotel in the middle of nowhere! Low on nappies, hardly any spare clothes, we hadn’t even been able to get any food all night – not fun. I’d be happy to get on a plane to anywhere in Europe at that point!

The funny thing is – after a bit of a sleep and then a good if unusual breakfast – I was actually starting to see the adventure in it. Bonus trip to Beijing! Possible 3 days to kill in dodgy hotel … lots of time to write and workout with kids?! Gotta look on the bright side 🙂

At breaky we ended up sharing a table with our fellow airport wanderers from last night and it was actually really cool.

Elizabeth and Walter are an older, retired German couple from near Cologne and they were returning home from 2.5 months traveling Victoria and Tasmania in a motorhome. They said they are pretty much only ever home for a month at a time, then take off again to travel all around the world in motorhomes. They had some great stories to tell, but also – seriously cool dream life stuff going on there!

The other German was a twenty something woman who’d just finished a month au-pairing in Aus followed by 3 months backpacking, and then there was an Aussie dude who was going back to Germany where he currently lives and works, on the ski fields. So funny to end up in a little compatriot pack with people who all, like me, have said no to the normal life! We’re all seasoned travelers as well, and agreed we’ve never experienced anything so incompetent as what happened after we missed our flights, not to mention unapologetic.

Anyway NOW – China Air has come to the party, like I said. I’m halfway through a flight to Paris – we managed to get on one after lunch today, after arriving at the airport at 10 and having them check every possible flight to Europe, and then we’ll connect straight from Paris to Barcelona, only 13 hours behind schedule.

Funny to think the reason I booked this flight was to AVOID a ridiculous 40-hour travel time. Ha!

I always like to think there are lessons in every situation that goes wrong, and my takeaways from this one are pretty obvious to me:

1) Don’t be stingy booking flights! I’ve been feeling the travel pinch lately, plus Alyssa had a (non-major) unexpected surgery while we were in Melbourne last week and that was quite pricy, so I decided to fly China Air instead of one of my usual carriers. Of course every airline can have delays … but the whole stop in Shanghai and not tell me about it thing; I wouldn’t have flown if I knew that! … and then the complete lack of interest in helping me out or having any sort of system when we missed a flight. It was really quite shocking. So, sorry China Air – you’re blacklisted.

2) I am stronger than I think. Well, to be quite honest and slightly arrogant about it, I do think I’m pretty strong 🙂 and I prided myself maybe too much on flying first from Miami to Melbourne (23 hours) without Enzo for 3 weeks alone with the kids and visiting fam while Enzo went ahead of us to Spain (honest reason: he doesn’t miss everyone as much as I do, we are going back again in June already and he thought I was being over the top wanting to visit again in March so didn’t come … I was homesick plus there are lots of new babies on my side so I came anyway, and it rocked), and then knowing I ‘would’ handle the 30 hour trip from Melb to Barcelona.

3) Carry a lot of chocolate when you travel. Always.

4) Your body can handle way more caffeine than you might think.

I did start to fall apart there in Beijing airport, but I was also proud of myself for pulling myself back together and knowing that we’d be okay and that I’d also make sure we had fun if we did have to spend 3 days there. I was as furious as the angry Germans in the airport, and just plain flabbergasted when they told me 3 days wait, but I was able to step back from it and know it would be okay and that ultimately – it was what it was.

Today back at the airport was like an adventure race as they made me go WAY into customs to get my luggage (checked luggage I didn’t get yesterday), then come back out and check it in, and then the massive trek through Beijing airport … I had the trolley piled high, pushing that AND the stroller (SO happy to see that again, gosh you appreciate it when you haven’t been able to lock your kid down for 12 hours!), and coaxing Alyssa along who bravely helped and kept up but eventually did melt down at it all … honestly I feel like I did a mini Tough Mudder, and I had the dirt, sweat and broken nails to show for it by the time we got on this plane. Not to mention Alyssa had knocked a double espresso all over my already stinky clothes! I think I smell better now actually 🙂

So – this is the toughest flight experience I’ve ever had, but through it all I kept thinking – how freaking lucky am I to be able to live this location free life. Plus, for sure, there are a helluva lot worse flights than mine going on in the world lately. I have to admit I find flying scary already and the world events in the air this past year have shaken and shocked me. I’m one of those ‘I know it will happen to ME’ people. I am trying to work on that, as it’s not a healthy mindset, NOR a preventative one anyway.


2 responses to “Stranded in Beijing, and the Awesome Lives of Strangers”

  1. Deanna says:

    Best story about travel hell I think I’ve ever read! Glad to hear you made it through in one piece! I’m hoping I would’ve made it, but that was a LOT to endure! Bravo!