Doin’ the Shanghai Shuffle – a really tight connecting flight

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26 March 2019. I’m in a bit of a panic. Quite apart from the time crunch we’re in they’ve taken Don away and I can’t even see where. We’ve been standing in line in the cavernous arrivals hall at Shanghai airport for over an hour as hundreds of people are processed through Chinese immigration. Snaking back and forth through the barriers we’re trying not to be impatient, all the while aware that we only have three hours to make the connection. Finally it’s our turn and Don doesn’t have a visa. I have one, though I’m not aware of it until they tell me that my visa from 2018 is still valid. Don has had to follow an immigration officer way down the end of the line of desks to be given a 24 hour visa so we can proceed. I’m a bit perturbed that I’ll never see him again.

I’m processed through immigration and see the baggage claim area down a short flight of stairs, but I won’t go there until I’m reconnected with Don. I have a vague idea of where he is but I’m not allowed to go there though I keep inching in that direction. Finally I see the top of his head in the crowd with the immigration officer. I have no choice but to wait. It seems interminable. It’s not only that we’ve been separated and I don’t know the outcome of his situation, but also that time is ticking by.

It all started back in November when we decided to go to Rishikesh, India for a month in February to sit with Mooji, one of our favourite spiritual teachers. So this is how my mind works as we start looking at flights: To get to Delhi from Vancouver we have to go over the pole via Europe, or across the Pacific via Hong Kong or China. Paris! I think. It’s been years since we’ve been there, and who doesn’t love Paris? And if we have an over-the-pole connection it would have to be Paris or Frankfurt. I choose Paris!

So then I get thinking. Where can we stop on the way back. We can’t go all that way and just come straight home again! It’s a no brainer really. I’d been solo to Japan the year before and just loved it and wanted to share it with Don. I knew he’d love it and I was right. Anyway we had a plan: Vancouver to Paris, Paris to Delhi, Delhi to Kyoto (Kansai), Kyoto to Vancouver.

It seems a bit complicated so we decide to get a travel agent to look into the flights for us. We usually do our own booking but this seems more complex than usual so we think we might need some help. After a couple of days we get an email with an itinerary and cost. Over $11,000! We laugh. Seriously. We laugh out loud. How could that possibly be? A day or so later he sends another email offering an alternative that’s just under $11,000. I suppose we should have gotten back to him but we don’t bother. We just set about booking our own flights and it comes in at about $6000. That’s more like it. The only troublesome part is the flight from Kansai. It’s an Air Canada flight partnered with Air China with a three-hour transfer in Shanghai. We wouldn’t normally book something with only three hours for a transfer. The shortest we’ve done is four hours and still missed the connecting flight!

We phone both Air China and Air Canada asking if we would have to actually enter China, which would mean going through immigration, baggage collection, and customs and officially entering the country (and we know how long that can take!), or could we just go through transit straight to the gate for the next flight?

Neither airline can tell us! They say we’ll find out when we get there! Seriously?!

We decide to risk it.

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Finally I’m reconnected with Don and we race down to get our bags and head to the exit. Then it registers. There’s an enormous crowd waiting to get through customs. Hundreds of people with their bags, all headed to one exit. One. My heart drops. What are we going to do? We’ll never get through in time.

Suddenly I see a person in uniform walking by. I suppose I don’t even think about whether or not he would speak English. I certainly don’t have the Chinese I need so I just blurt out that we have a connecting flight. He immediately opens the barrier at the front of the line for us. We put all our bags through the scanner, and go out through the exit. We are officially in China, in the arrivals area of Shanghai Airport. Now what?

Fortunately there’s enough signage in English that we can find the departure area, and then the checkin desk for the Air Canada flight home. We make it with twenty minutes to spare. With boarding passes in hand we head to the departure gate and finally relax. Phew! That was stimulating.

Photos: The opening shots are the first two photos I took on this trip – quintessential Paris architecture and some sweet street art. The closing shots are the last ones I took on the trip – a street scene at the Kitano Tenmangu Flea Market after seeing a geisha performance, a department store in Kyoto that is so wonderfully Japanese that I just had to share it, and a very fancy, very expensive sushi meal at a restaurant close by our overnight hotel near Kansai Airport.













Next post: Vancouver’s Japanese festivals – Nikkei Matsuri and the Powell Street Festival.





All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2021.