October 1st, 2011, a happy day for many in China – National Day – going away day, not-going-to-work-this-whole-week day! Hence, not many people were really bothered by the extremely inefficiently run check-in line at Aeroflot’s desk at Shanghai Pudong International Airport because we were all going on holiday – or so we thought. Boarding was a little late too, but who cares – it’s vacation time!
On the plane people laughed and joked about not taking off on time because it is apparently customary for flight SU 528 to never leave on time. I did see some people freak out due to very short connections, and if you’ve ever visited Sheremtevo “Int’l” (really deserves quotation marks) Airport in Moscow, you would know just why one hour transit time would make you feel a little frustrated with your original flight being delayed an hour (and even without the delay, mind you).
It turned out we had been waiting for some passengers to finish their shopping – we actually went through passport control together, so I figured it must have been shopping or a very, very, very spicy chilli. You might be surprised, but I’m not angry at them anymore – more like grateful, I suppose.
We started taxiing to the lane and I dozed off, finally ready for my journey to begin, when all the lights went out except the emergency ones – not much of a reassurance. Their plane went straight back, the doors were unsealed, and more people boarded, but passengers they were not as they were wearing bright vests and dungarees. Nobody really knew anything, and that ignorance seemed quite genuine. Two hours after the scheduled flight should have departed, the passengers were beginning to feel a little… hungry – but still in a holiday mood, so no anger involved… yet.
The doors were sealed again, but nothing happened. They went unsealed again, a guy came on with a cloth in his hands and a slightly helpless expression on his face. We were asked to collect our belongings and leave. Outside the gate we got a nice view of our vessel – engine covers were open and a huge puddle of oil was underneath. Somebody said this had already been reported on the way from Moscow to Shanghai, but Aeroflot decided to save some money and try to go back and change the plane there – instead of sending an empty one all the way from Russia. Hail Chinese engineers and technicians who didn’t let us take off!
It took one hour for all passengers to get a silly piece of paper that entitled us to get out through immigration, and then reality kicked in. We got huddled up around the airline’s 8 square meter office and there were no Aeroflot representatives there, only airport employees. They told us to go to a hotel and wait for their call. Some did. Others demanded that their flights be immediately re-booked.
I stood in that office for 5 hours. We all did – no drinks or food, and going to the loo would mean you might lose your precious spot in the queue. People were sent to random cities in Europe – without a guarantee of having their connecting flight refunded by the airline – or in other words, with a guarantee that they wouldn’t. I got my ticket rebooked for the same flight two days later! No refund, no food, not even an apology, and God forbid it would be the same plane.
So, here comes the question – Should I Stay or Should I Go?
The answer is out there somewhere…