Chinese Airline Etiquette

We’ve discovered that flying in China is very different from flying in America. First, every flight is full to the gills and they do not charge for checked baggage. So everyone checks everything and there is plenty of room in the overhead bins for the stuff people bring on board. Second, check in closes 30 minutes before flight time. Period, end of statement. If you’re not checked in by then, you can take another flight.

Our first flight was due to depart at 10:00 am, with boarding at 9:30. At 9:25 everyone jumped out of their seats and lined up in a big crowd at the gate. Of course all of the announcements were in Chinese so we had no idea what they were saying, except that I know enough Chinese numbers to understand that they were talking about our flight.

In “free-for-all” boarding everyone was on the plane in about 10 minutes. They count the passengers and then push off from the gate. So flight time 10:00 am means “wheels up” at 10:00 am. And they are. We’ve flown three times inside of China and every flight has been out of the gate and in the air by the stated departure time.

Flight attendants turn on your reading light if they see you reading. They provide bottled water in every seat, even on the 35 minute flight from Kunming to Dali. The two longer flights had food – airline food to be sure, but food. And drinks. And entertainment. One flight had excerpts from either Chinese movies or Chinese TV. The one about the Tibetan minority making a trek to Lhasa for his brother was very moving and interesting.

On landing, everyone crowds off the plane almost as fast as they crowded on. I feel like waiting until the crush eases before trying to get off. But, all-in-all, it’s not a bad experience.


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