Tech and cultural followups on that Air China flight

Two days ago I mentioned the strange results when an Air China flight headed for Beijing was instead diverted to Tianjin. To anyone who receives these posts by email, the results must have seemed even stranger than they were. Because of a glitch in our web set-up, only the first third of the post went out, omitting everything in the "after the jump" section. Sorry! The full version is available here. (Hint: if you saw the picture of a crash involving a "bread box" taxi, you saw the whole thing.)

Several people who were blessed in receiving the full report challenged its main hypothesis -- which, in a nutshell, was that the Chinese traveling public had learned not to waste energy getting furious about things that were entirely out of their control. Two reactions below.

From reader David:

I enjoyed your post about Chinese having "the serenity to accept the things [they] can't change," though your hypothesis may need some honing.

A few years ago I was on a plane that landed in Zhengzhou due to a cracked windshield. We were stuck in Zhengzhou for over 12 hours - including a time in the middle when we were bussed to a hotel - and the entire time the passengers berated the Air China reps for not being able to provide information as to when we would be leaving except that we would not have to wait overnight. At times the Air China reps were essentially surrounded by a scrum of passengers all yelling until finally at about 4am we were able to get back on the plane.

I've seen airport rage in the States but never with that kind of herd mentality, though I do appreciate the fact that Chinese seem to be able to yell and create a disturbance without actually being all that mad down inside. There were moments of levity among the passengers in between the rage. Perhaps the facts in my experience were different enough to give the passengers the sense that they could control the outcome of the situation whether true or not. Also, the youtube of the Hong Kong woman going apeshit when she missed her plane comes to mind. [More about the Hong Kong episode here.]

Next, PT Black, of Shanghai, sends a long and interesting report with a political edge. It  begins this way:

Your comments about the delayed flight from SZ to BJ strike a nerve, though, because just last week I had a very different experience flying from Chengdu to Shanghai, also on Air China.

It continues after the jump. If you don't see anything more, it means that our RSS system is still messed up. Hope not!
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My trip was significantly less copacetic - due to "fog" (read: noxious pollution) at Pudong no planes were landing. Our evening flight was cancelled, and the the next day's flight delayed three or four hours. We ended up circling in Shanghai, landing in Hangzhou first, deplaning, and only later flying back to Shanghai. Total trip time: 23 hours.

I observed in my flight mates a similar kind of resignation that you saw - but I don't think it is due to any sort of calmness. Instead I saw a powerlessness in front of authority. Again and again people on the plane turned to me and asked me to call my embassy - saying "they will pay attention to you. But they don't care about us Chinese". One passenger (shanghainese) demanded that they hurry us to Shanghai because we had so many foreigners on the plane, and it was a major loss of face for China. The awareness and sensitivity to the poor treatment of local travelers reached a fever pitch when the biscuits and water came to us as we cooled our heels in Hangzhou. One passenger erupted in fury "Where did that Japanese tour group go? Have you given them better food? Have you given them *noodles*? How dare you!"

(The gate attendant's response is a topic for a whole other post. She, a young and pretty woman with trendy heavy glasses and a bejeweled mobile phone, turned to the angry passenger and said "of course we haven't given the Japanese noodles! We will never forget the Nanjing Massacre!"....)

Your comments about Americans' tendency to roll eyes self-importantly and demonstrate high levels of inconvenience is interesting, but I challenge that in some cases it is quite useful. While my flightmates played cards and called for more snacks, I started pressing the flight crew on their next steps. Turns out they had none - they were just going to wait. By hour 22 I was pretty much fed up. The last straw was our eventual departure from Hangzhou, which was delayed again because they couldn't find a few passengers in the terminal. I suggested, in my self-righteous American wrath, that perhaps the passengers had just given off and taken a cab around hour 21. After some pushing and waiting an unnecessary additional half an hour the flight crew finally capitulated and we took off. Sometimes being a demanding American does get things done.

Even if it takes 23 hours.

Although, in my experience in China, being a pushy American does require keeping your sense of humor about you and knowing when to back off.

Also, perhaps it's a Shanghainese thing, but on my frequently-delayed flights from Shanghai to Beijing I see a level of frustrated eye-rolling and self-importance at least commensurate with a second-tier American route, if not yet at the volcanic levels of New York or DC.