I always thought international flight check-in opened roughly 3 hours before departure time. My departure time was 935am. A car picked me up at 6am, arrived at the airport (with no traffic delays, other than the driver himself being terrified of traveling faster than 30kmh around corners) right on 3 hours prior to my estimated time of departure (estimated is used often here as flight rarely leave or arrive on time, visitors be aware). Again, we had the group bomb testing to get in to the airport but still I found the check in counter (which I was hoping was correct) with ample time. My confusion of counter, H or J, was because two were designated for my airline, one of which was empty, the other had 4 passengers milling about. I was taking a shot in the dark but hoped I was in the correct side.
As the crowd grew around, mostly next to and in front of me, I was confident this had to be the right spot as the other counter was still empty. Plus, our counter was having some movements: staff were setting up all the barriers for queues, which is a long process. I reckon it took the girls (literally all women) nearly 25 minutes to set it all up; drawing out the lines with the retractable nylon strips and then redrawing them because it wasn’t quite right. All the while my certainty was still weak because no signage was displayed above any individual desk with flight number, destination or anything resembling the region which the plane most of us were going to get on was going. And more and more people congregated. There were no lines forming, no one paid attention to the fact others had been there 20 minutes before them, they just walked through the group to get close to where they thought the group would be let into the carefully planned queuing area. However right before check-in officially opened (2.25 hours before departure) the check-in attendants had a pow-wow for about 5 minutes. Maybe a run through of how things need to go, how to avoid conflict and how to take as much time as possible with each passenger.
Once the gate was opened, it was like sheep or cattle or even dogs, being let through into the feed trough. Pushing is a way of life here. China has no rules on pushing through or into people. No one notices when they bump you, at any time with anything (car, bike, trolley, etc. etc. etc.). It was a final China moment as Joel remarked in a message, however I still had 2.5 hours before I actually departed so I wasn’t holding out hope that this would be it. Lucky for me, it was my final “China” moment. Security, while very intimate, was quick and easy and mostly friendly. No diplomat traveling with me to use as a line cutter, but that didn’t matter. At the end of it all was a Starbucks, giving me a little taste of what is to come at the end of the journey. In the meantime however, is a nine-hour middle seat with my name on it. And a full flight to boot! All I can hope for is my luggage to make it as I have a few gifts in there I need to get to some adorable little Americans! And it appears the Christmas gifts will make it before the Christmas cards. Wishful thinking China postal services would be efficient. More joys of China to come… but first, AMERICA!