I was in Shanghai for a quick weekend getaway when I chanced upon this misadventure. I flew into Shanghai Pudong Airport late into the night by a Hong Kong Airlines flight. My attempt at flying back out was what would prove eventful.
I took a taxi to my hotel, making a mental note to check out the fastest train in the world, the Maglev, on my way back out of Shanghai.
My flight out was scheduled for Sunday 7.15 PM. I left my hotel at about 4PM and found my way to the metro. I could go all the way to the airport on the train that I had boarded, but I would miss the Maglev. I might have mentioned before that the Maglev would go really fast. I switched from metro to Maglev at Longyang metro station. The Maglev was indeed fast. It did 35 kilometres in under 7 minutes, limiting its speed to a maximum of 300 Km/hr. I watched in amazement as it took a curve as it accelerated from 120Km/hr to 170Km/hr. Also, it was very quiet. Having no wheels or tyres, it lacks the large number of mechanical parts that add noise to a traditional train.
Anyway I arrived at Shanghai Pudong at 5.10 PM. At terminal 1 I found that there was no flight to Hong Kong and no check-in counter for Hong Kong Airlines. I took the shuttle bus to terminal 2 where the situation repeated itself. An enquiry with the information desk suggested that I was perhaps at the wrong airport. My ticket confirmed that the flight out was at Shanghai Hongqiao Airport. Perhaps it did. I couldn’t say for sure. The woman at the counter warned me that it would take an hour to get to Hongqiao.
I did not panic. I headed to the arrivals hall and moved to find a taxi. A man in uniform and badge asked me whether I needed a taxi. “Yes, I have a flight to catch from the other airport.” He looked at my ticket. “We have no time. It will take one hour and ten minutes!” This was getting worse. He took my trolley and started running. We quickly arrived at a car. “600 Yuan. You pay me now.” This (about USD 90) was a little higher than expected, but the times were desperate. I paid. “Also 100 Yuan for heavy vehicle.” He pulled out a second ticket and started writing. I hesitated and suggested that I did not understand. After a few seconds without any more money to show for it, the man said I could pay the driver directly upon arrival and we were off.
Once we set off, I had plenty of time for regrets. 600 Yuan was a lot of money. It was half the price I had paid for my return tickets to Shanghai. I should have stayed at the Pudong airport and just tried to find another flight to Hong Kong. I took a few deep breaths and looked at my watch. It was 5.30 PM. One hour and ten minutes meant I would get there at 6.40 PM.
We made good time for a while until I had revised my arrival time to 6.20 PM. Then began the traffic jam. The driver found an alternate route which seemed to go off the way my GPS indicated I should go. We were on a highway and I didn’t speak Chinese of any type well enough to try to communicate my worries to the driver. After crawling for a few minutes, we seemed to be going again. I saw a fork in the road ahead. “Terminal 1” I said to the driver. “Not terminal 2?”. “One”. This seemed to worry him. He moved to the road that said “Terminal 1” and tried to get another confirmation from me. I said yes. He shook his head and kept going. So that was why he’d veered off my GPS-suggested path. He had been headed toward the wrong destination.
I started worrying about that 100 Yuan the ticket-seller had told me about. Being overcharged was bad enough. Having to have an argument about not having to pay more when already short on time was going to be very tiresome. I put a 100 Yuan note in my pocket in case of emergency and pulled my trolley-bag from the accessible boot onto the back seat so I could run out with it. We arrived. The man didn’t seem to be waiting for more money – he was just unsure if I was at the right place. I took my bag and ran into the terminal.
After a quick security check I found that there were no check-in counters open for Hong Kong airlines. A security guard directed me to a counter where one man sat. No airline logos were displayed on the screen above. He told me unsympathetically that the counter was closed. It was 6.48 PM. I tried negotiating. “Look, there’s still almost half an hour until departure.” He told me that the gate had closed. Yeah, right. As though a gate ever closes half an hour before the plane departs. I rolled my eyes and called it fucking bullshit.
Actually no, I didn’t say that. I still needed this man who spoke English well enough to converse with me. “What can I do?” “I don’t know.” “Are there any other flights to Hong Kong?” “No.” “How about the other airport?” He looked it up. There was a flight on China Eastern with seats remaining. It was at 9.20 PM. He could not book it for me. I did some quick arithmetic. The man wrote down the flight details on a baggage tag. “Where do I get a taxi?” He pointed to an escalator that led downstairs.
I ran and jumped into a cab. The taxi driver did not understand me. He asked me something in Chinese. I had no idea what. I took Google Translate and wrote down “Shanghai Pudong International Airport” and it displayed some characters in Chinese. We stopped in the middle of a road so he could turn around and ask me “ik – er” raising one and then two fingers. I.e. were we headed to terminal 1 or 2? Very good question. “Ik” – one. We set off. My bowels were bursting. At the same time I had finished my water supply and my throat was dry. I munched on a baked cereal bar to get some moisture in my body and breathed slowly and steadily. We arrived without incident at about 7.40 PM. The metered taxi fare was 230 yuan. I mentally cursed the ticket-seller from two hours prior as I walked into the airport terminal a second time.
I ran toward the ticket counter. It looked as though it was closed. The string of disappointments and near-misses was starting to grate. Then I noticed that there was another counter thirty metres beyond. They did sell tickets and they sold me a flight to Hong Kong. I walked to the automated check-in counter and checked in. Then I found the time to relieve myself and have a drink.
Things went smoothly afterward. The flight departed on time. It arrived in Hong Kong on time. I had no check-in luggage so I was out of the airport within minutes of arriving at the terminal. I tallied my losses: two hours late to Hong Kong, a bit of unnecessary exhaustion and stress – and 2000 Yuan (USD 300).
It was only money.