Air travel is kind of like the proverbial box of chocolates. You never know what you are going to get. Yesterday, I published a post about Spirit Airlines’ above-and-beyond effort to help a family that had been stranded after their daughter experienced an in-flight medical emergency. It was an example of airline customer service at its best. In contrast, on a flight from Tokyo to Shanghai in August 2019, China Eastern Airlines provided some of the worst customer service ever.
We were returning to Thailand after visiting Japan. Using Delta Air Lines miles, I obtained to round-trip tickets in business class from Bangkok to Tokyo. The out bound flights from Bangkok to Jakarta and Jakarta to Tokyo were on Garuda Indonesia, a Delta Skyteam partner and Skytrax five-star airline. The return flights were booked from Tokyo to Bangkok on Delta Skyteam partner China Eastern. There was a connection in Shanghai on the return.
China Eastern Flight MU 522
MU 522 was scheduled to depart for Shanghai Pudong Airport (PVG) around 18:00. We had arrived at Tokyo Narita Airport (NRT) a couple of hours before the scheduled departure. As business-class passengers and because of my Delta Diamond status we were invited to the China Airlines lounge. It is a good lounge that I’ll cover in another post.
The flight monitors in the lounge showed repeated delays. The agents in the lounge did not know why, so periodically I made a few trips to the gate to ask the agents there. The scene was chaotic. The agents had little information to provide. They announced a delay of about an hour and kept moving back the departure each time the previously announced departure time came and went.
About three hours after the flight was to have left, we got a couple of restaurant vouchers for 1,500 yen (about $14).
Finally, the flight was cancelled at about 23:00. They said Shanghai airport was closed because of Typhoon Lekima. I think they knew that was going to happen long before they told passengers. China Eastern offered no assistance with rebooking or finding accommodations. Given the situation at Shanghai, China Eastern’s headquarters, one would think someone would have been making plans to take care of the the customers.
People were extremely frustrated. Some passengers became so upset, I thought physical violence against the agents might result. Police were there but did not take any action. People kept demanding some help in finding other flights and getting hotels for the night. The agents were no help whatsoever. Adding insult to injury, the China Eastern call centers had no English-speaking reps on duty.
Eventually, the airport had to turn off the lights to get people to leave the gate area.
At that hour there were no rooms available in the few hotels near Narita Airport. It was time to find a spot in the terminal where we could camp out for the night, try to get some sleep, and see what was in store for the morning. I don’t object to sleeping in an airport when it is my choice. This inconvenience was not something I’d planned for.
My experiences with China Eastern over the years have been good and bad. The treatment in this instance was one of my worst airline experiences ever. It was a good lesson. Assume the worst. Never take an airline’s statements on travel issues at face value. Explore every option and utilize every resource that might be able to assist. The next morning I was astounded when another airline came to the rescue. That will be covered in a follow up post.