Part XI: Airplane Faux Pas

Xi’an, May 16th—A funny little thing happened that might have derailed more than our moods. We gave ourselves ample time to get to Xi’an’s airport. We passed through security and confirmed our gate number and found it and sat. At least according to our tickets, boarding would begin at 11:35 am with the aircraft closing twenty minutes after. While sitting at our gate, a line formed. A gate agent posted a note written in Chinese on the check-in counter and much of the line dissipated. At 11:50 boarding began. Since it was not so much later than the scheduled time, it did not perturb us and we stood up and got in line. At my turn, the ticket scanner rejected my ticket.  The agent glanced at it and said, “No, no. New gate.” Then she indicated the hand-written Chinese sign for my benefit. None of us present—agent, mom, me—had the mental readiness to realize the silliness of the agent’s gesture, but its futility was evident. We sprinted to a monitor to check the new gate number, and while sprinting there, complained of the unfortunate coincidence that the flight which took over our old gate had a boarding time that exactly aligned with our actual flight’s closing time.

A lone clerk, idle, stood at the check-in counter of our new gate. He became wide-eyed—shocked—as two huffing, half-delirious with panic Westerners scrambled up to him, pointed eagerly at the gate, thrust their tickets towards him, and blabbered high and worried the story that they hoped would put into perspective their whole wild-eyed, out-of-breath shtick.

So approached, the man nodded, accepted the tickets (albeit, still confused) and scanned them. We walk-sprinted down the jet-bridge and readied ourselves for our last-minute appearance in front of a plane full of Chinese travelers.

When we entered, feeling full of luck, the stewardess about hopped up in surprise. She halted and welcomed us, pointing down an aisle that we saw was flanked on either side by 100 empty seats and not a single passenger present.

“Will this really go off with just us?” I asked Mother.

Mom joked to another flight attendant, “Very full flight!” She exaggerated her indication of the empty space.

He was lost. “Yes,” he said, “Very full.”

“I don’t think he got the joke,” Mom said.

But then, neither did we. A person boarded, then another, and another. The usual gangplank backlog was behind them, the over-head space wars, the excuse me while I put my bag thirty rows behind my seat can I scooch by requests. I wondered what went through their minds as they sat in the terminal waiting to board and saw two Americans sprint to be first on a flight delayed over half-an-hour.

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