Not really Shanghai’d

I was hoping to use the verb “shanghai” in this post, because I got stuck on a plane and wound up in one of those crazy travel situations.

Unfortunately, I looked up the word first. Research has the sad characteristic of poking holes in what we wish we could say:

To shanghai:

1. To kidnap (a man or seaman) for enforced service at sea, esp on a merchant ship

2. To force or trick (someone) into doing something, going somewhere, etc.

3. (Austral), (NZ) to shoot with a catapult


I wasn’t tricked into going anywhere, nor was I pressed into naval service. I didn’t fire projectiles at anyone (a sad day, indeed). Nope, I just fell victim to politics.

My first flight from Chengdu to Shanghai almost didn’t happen because they lost my ticket – the first leg of my trip was “cancelled.” I said no, it wasn’t. The woman clicked a few more times – it looked like I cancelled that ticket. I said no, I didn’t. Then they told me to call Delta to fix it. I stood there, ticket confirmation and passport in hand, dumbfounded. Call Delta and fix it?!  My flight left in less than an hour! I couldn’t get snippy, but I refused to leave the second counter to which I had been sent. Eventually they gave me a ticket – Delta had put on a hyphen, and China Eastern doesn’t use hyphens. Or some such nonsense.

So, I get on my bumpy flight. So far two out of my three flights between Chengdu and Shanghai have been very bumpy. I attribute this to two things: 1. The shift in the seasons, and 2. The fact that I’ve been put in the tail of the aircraft twice.  Over the past two years, I’ve become a nervous flyer. It’s the worst – I don’t know why this happened, nor how, and now I have to deal with these stupid panic attacks whenever the plane bounces about. On that first bumpy flight, sitting in the back, I meditatively counted to 1,272. I counted in batches of six! But that’s another topic.

I had a four hour layover in Shanghai’s Pudong airport. Bought a couple of overpriced foodstuffs and a trinket or two. Wandered through the ritzy joke of duty free goods. I say it’s a joke because if you’re spending $500 on a bottle of scotch, saving tax just seems like a funny discount to me. Eventually, I boarded the plane. We all pile in, and there aren’t that many of us. I notice quite a few empty seats. There’s an air of anticipation and patience – we all want to go, and we all know it’s going to be a thirteen-plus hour flight.  The pilot announces the door is shut. The safety video starts to play, seat belts are snapped.

And we wait.

And then we wait a little more.

The pilot comes on and says we’re all set to go, but that the air traffic controllers haven’t given us permission to go yet. We’re encouraged to be patient.

So we wait a little more.

Somewhere around the forty-five minute mark, people are moving about the cabin.

At an hour and a half, they turn on the entertainment system for us. We can use our phones again. Flight attendants offer drinks to those who are missing connection flights. The first officer comes on an encourages us to let those sitting in the middle section move around, as the entertainment system isn’t working on those middle seats. “Thirteen hours is a long time to go without something to watch,” he says, voice full of sympathy. The plane dutifully rearranges.

After two hours, we learn about TSA limits for how long you can stay on a parked plane.

The most interesting part is the speculation. From the get go, the air tower hasn’t said a word. I can hear the frustration building in the first officer’s voice when he says, “Ladies and gentlemen, we are still waiting to hear from the air control tower. We’ve asked what the situation is, and so far they are not telling us anything. As soon as we know what’s going on, we’ll let you know.” It has to be rough being jerked around like that. Gossip spreads throughout the cabin – it’s the government retaliating for some slight. Perhaps the Dali Lama said something and the Western world applauded.  The most popular theory is that it’s because of the big summit in Shanghai.

So we sit, for a few hours, until at last the pilot comes on and announces we’ve been clearance to leave. Muffled applause filter through the now rearranged and far more laid-back passengers. I say “laid-back” because no one bothers to repack or dress up or go back to their original seats. We’ve turned into a dorm – shoes off, stuff wherever. Because a thirteen hour flight has become a sixteen hour endeavor. I have to give the Delta team credit here. They did a fantastic job of keeping people calm and relaxed – real pros.

The reason was the Summit – all the world leaders leaving were given precedent over us.  I think that is ridiculous. Don’t world leaders get their own private planes? Their own separate runways? Shanghai shut down all airspace so they can…what, taxi in front of us? Get to feel special? Being elected/appointed leader of an entire country not making you feel special enough? You have to use approved electronic devices before the rest of us too?

I am giving the Shanghai summit on “Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia” an arbitrary F, by the way.  You failed that one, world leaders. Interaction means telling people what’s going on, not playing dumb. And no one is going to have confidence in a system which springs surprise changes without announcement or explanation.


The thirteen hour some odd minute flight passes fine. My seat was broken so I didn’t really sleep, but I catch up on a lot of movies I’ve been meaning to see.  That’s a good thing about the current state of most trans-Pacific flights – they’ve upped the quality of their entertainment. Now there’s a whole library of movies, old and new.

I am one of the few remaining tense passengers when we land. I had designed a three-hour layover in Detroit to make sure my bags followed me. Unlike those poor souls with thirty minute layovers (the state of our flight system today is ridiculous on how tight they make the turn around times) who have already lost their connection, I have just enough time theoretically. And I push it and make it, landing in Indianapolis at night, fresh after the thunderstorms which would have stopped me.


I will write about my return – but breathing the clean, after-a-storm air? Miraculous.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s