Out of China: The hard way to overcome fear of flying

PEKING - Call it theory-laden flying. Just the previous week, the International Airline Passenger Association (IAPA) had warned people not to fly in China. 'Even if you're enough of a daredevil to fly in Colombia on a stormy night, don't fly in China,' it had announced. So it was a brave woman who set off for Peking's airport that morning, planning to take the 90-minute flight to Harbin in China's far north-east.

It was an average Chinese domestic flight for a country which, according to the IAPA, is suffering enormous shortages of pilots, engineers, attendants, ground crews and mechanics. And the air traffic control system has had to cope with a 50 per cent growth in passenger transport volume over two years. There have been eight fatal crashes in the past 21 months - all that and 10 hijackings to Taiwan last year as well.

That morning not one domestic flight left on time. When the one to Harbin was finally called, the shuttle bus itself should have carried an IAPA warning for near-misses - we screeched to a halt as a Boeing 747 taxied in front.

Safely delivered to the plane's steps, pandemonium broke out as passengers elbowed each other out of the way in the rush to stow oversized cabin baggage. Then there was the challenge of where to sit; my boarding card did not assign a seat number.

A second-row vacancy provided a fine vantage point from which to check out the IAPA's assessment of airline cabin service 'with Chinese characteristics'. During take-off, two stewardesses sat in front. Once airborne, they stayed there; one reading a newspaper and the other asleep. As the plane reached its flying altitude they were joined by one of the three uniformed men from the cockpit. He sat down, ate a tangerine and decided it was time for a nap.

For most of the passengers, safety was less of a concern than sustenance. The food trolley took its time, but eventually lunch was served: a large packet of egg roll biscuits each and a sachet of strange brown sweets. This did not impress my fellow travellers. Nor, having munched their way through the dry biscuits, did they acquiesce when the stewardesses announced that 'regulations' meant that further beverages would not be served. The Chinese people's revolutionary spirit was much in evidence.

Landings, like take-offs, are the most exhilarating part of flying on Chinese airlines. One friend recently, on an international Chinese flight, was alarmed to see the rear door being opened as the aircraft started its final run to take-off. Four stewardesses repeatedly tried to slam it shut properly, much as one might a car door.

Landings can be alarming because once the aircraft is within sight of the ground, many Chinese passengers are out of their seats, unloading the overhead lockers and making their way towards the exits, despite the best efforts of the cabin crew to sit them back down.

All this is now supposed to change. Three weeks ago the new head of the Civil Aviation Adminstration of China (CAAC), Chen Guangyi, announced: 'Serious flying accidents and air piracy must be put to an end.' Last year 120 people were punished for flying accidents, including three pilots who were discharged and 68 who had their licences suspended or downgraded, he said. Hainan Airlines, said the official China Daily, was punished for letting unlicensed personnel fly passenger jets.

Security at airports, which is cursory at best, will be stepped up in an effort to discourage hijackers. More pilots will be properly trained, though there will still be a shortage for many years. Deregulation of the industry, which caused a rush of new airlines, will be reined in. Flight punctuality will be a priority.

CAAC has just announced that if a flight is delayed more than two hours, beverages must be provided. After four hours passengers 'must have somewhere to rest'. Once in the air, customers are promised 'more tasteful' food. Meals must be hot and served on a plate.

Meanwhile, China's flight paths may be crowded but for the new rich who have nearly everything, the Silver Swallow Ultralights Company of Shashi City, Hubei province, at the weekend announced plans to manufacture 100 super-light airplanes this year.

The company's general manager said that, at around pounds 40,000 each, they were affordable by many wealthy Chinese. And these planes, he added, can be flown after just 30 hours of training.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
News
people
News
Actress Julianne Moore wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award for 'Still Alice' during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
people
Sport
Ross Barkley
footballPaul Scholes says it's time for the Everton playmaker to step up and seize the England No 10 shirt
News
'We will fix it': mice in the 1970s children’s programme Bagpuss
science
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
fashion
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?