TOP LINE REVIEW: NEVER AGAIN. ONE OF THE WORST EXPERIENCES WITH AN AIRLINE, EVER!
Tokyo, Japan has always been in my Top 3 dream destinations. So upon discovering a $780 flight deal on Air China from New York City to Tokyo, Japan connecting in Beijing, China, I was excited to book. $780 is almost half of the typical cost of getting to Tokyo.
As usual when considering an airline that I'm not familiar with, I did my research prior to booking. Especially considering this was my first flight to Asia and my first flight of this length, I wanted to make sure that I wasn't about to embark on a journey that I would regret.
So.. I read reviews. The most recurring complaint seemed to be that the seats were too tight. That was a point of concern as I am over 6 feet tall and broad shouldered and all. But still, for the cost, if the only issue I had to deal with was tight spaces, then I was going to suck it up for the flight. Shoot, I would stand up the whole flight if i had to! But little did I know that the seating was actually going to be the least of my issues.
While in JFK airport, after having checked in to my flight and all, I kept receiving email alerts from expedia that my flight had changed and to check in with my airline. So I went to Air China's kiosk to find out that our flight to Beijing was delayed three hours, which would be fine except our layover in Beijing to catch our flight to China was only two hours. So with this pending missed connection, I had no idea what to do. The Air China customer service representative at JFK seemed to not care much. Not even making eye contact with me, he advised that I should still board the flight and that they would sort out my connection in Beijing. I was weary about this advice, but what exactly was I supposed to do?
So I boarded my late flight and surprisingly, the seats weren't bad at all. They weren't as spacious as I expected for a long distance flight, but I've definitely been in tighter spaces. Air China provided us with tasty meals like chicken and broccoli, beef lo mein etc. I was actually pleasantly surprised by the food.
My only real gripe with the flight itself is that you are not allowed to use phones, ipads or computers. WHAT? Where they do that at? Mind you, I had downloaded all seasons of The Wire to my phone and ipad JUST so that I could have constant entertainment on this super long flight. Needless to say it was very much a struggle and I kept praying for sleep to take over me.
We land in Beijing and have no idea what to do about our missed connection. Beijing airport is a mess. Everyone is running in circles and into each other. No one even attempts to help you if you are not speaking their language. We also don't know where our luggage is and if we can expect to receive it in China or when we finally get to Japan.
Keep in mind, we are already tired and cranky from this 14 hour flight. So we join a customer service line, where literally customer service reps and customers are yelling at each other, some in Chinese, some in foreign languages. But everyone is upset. Chinese people are skipping the line and the customer service reps are speaking to them first, I guess because it is easier. But me being from Brooklyn, it didn't take too long for me to shut that down.
Finally after about 30 minutes of chaos, we get to the front of the line, only to be told that we need to go to a different line upstairs. When we get on that line and wait 45 minutes, we are told that we are yet again on the wrong line. At this point I am LIVID, tired and just not sure if I'm going to grown-ass-man cry or choke someone out. These are really the options I play out in my head.
After three hours of going from line to line in the airport, we finally arrive on the correct line to learn that the next available flight isn't until the next morning at 8am. Mind you, it's now like midnight in Beijing. Even though they offered us a hotel, I contemplated just sleeping in the airport, but then I decided, no, you absolutely OWE me a good night's sleep.
So we board a bus with about 50 other people who had missed connections (exactly). The bus is a seated bus most similar to Greyhound. Meanwhile all seats are full and they force people to stand in the middle aisle as we travel over an hour to this hotel that seems to be in the middle of nowhere. We're slightly nervous because now it seems like we've left the city limits of Beijing. We get out of this bus and there is literally nothing around us. We get a room key, the room is ice cold, the bed is hard as a rock, there's no wifi and the only food available is fried rice that smelled rotten. It felt like a scene out of American Horror Story: Hotel.
We sleep with our valuables on us, and set the alarm for 4am (so I guess you might as well call this a nap) for when we need to re-load in the bus for the journey back to Beijing airport. At this point it definitely would have been easier just to have an uncomfortable sleep right in the airport.
Anyway, we arrive, board our plane and head to Tokyo, which is the complete and total opposite of Beijing. Peacful, tranquil, helpful people -- stay tuned for our amazing Tokyo experience. But you must be warned about Air China. I will never fly with them again.
Oh and think it's a coincidence that this happened to me? You can read an almost identical account from my travel blogger homie Globe Trotting Stiletto who took Air China on her way to Thailand.