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?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Training Officer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Training Officer is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Support Specialist - Document Management

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A leading provider of document ...

Recruitment Genius: Legal Secretary

£17000 - £17800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to work ...

Recruitment Genius: Ad Ops Manager - Up to £55K + great benefits

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a digital speci...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent