Out of China: The hard way to overcome fear of flying
Saturday 26 March 1994
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.
Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts
Follow the latest updates from the Monday night Premier League fixture
Met Police confirm there was a 'minor disturbance' and that no-one was arrested
George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios
Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?
Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets
Concerns raised phenomenon is threatening resort's image as a family destination
I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title
Peter Biaksangzuala died from his injuries in hospital on Sunday
- 1 Indian footballer Peter Biaksangzuala dies after injuring spine doing somersault celebration
- 3 Drink alcohol and eat meat to improve male fertility - but cut down on coffee, studies suggest
- 5 Lynda Bellingham dead: Loose Women presenter dies after battle with colon cancer
Banksy arrest hoax: Internet duped by fake report claiming that the street artist's identity has been revealed
'Russian submarine spotted' by Swedish military off coast of Stockholm
Kentucky gang rape: 15-year-old boy left in critical condition after sexual attack by group at party
Hurricane Gonzalo: When will it hit the UK and how strong will it be?
Oscar Pistorius sentence: Athlete's wealth and notoriety provoke an overdue debate on South African prisons
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Sorry Judy Finnigan – Ched Evans is no less sickening than an alleyway rapist
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Workers 'could be forced to pay £5 a week' to get benefits
Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
London bus driver allegedly kicks gay couple off for kissing
£80 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Year 5 Teacher KS2 teaching job...
£35000 - £45000 Per Annum Pensions Scheme After 6 Months: Clearwater People So...
£35000 - £37000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Busines...
£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Senior Change ...