Nightmare at Shanghai International Airport. A story of desperately trying to find the silver lining for 27 hours!

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When traveling in Asia, or at least when traveling from South Korea to South East Asia, you usually have a layover. The flight paths and schedules are sooo ridiculous! Every single time I look at flights it seems like there is an overnight or at least 5+ hour layover in another country along the way. I have tried to make the best out of these layovers by extending them out so that we can leave the airport. On our way to Thailand last year we did a 15-hour layover in Hong Kong and we tore up HK from 3pm to 6am. We did sleep for a few hours, but ultimately we found their Burbon Street and had a blast.

When planning our trip to Cambodia, I really wanted to do a direct flight, I don’t have a lot of time off work, so I wanted to spend it all in Cambodia. Another really frustrating thing about traveling this part of the world is that booking flights through the airlines can be impossible. Your card won’t process or they don’t even take American cards. For this trip I tried everything with the one airline that flies direct from South Korea to Cambodia, I even considered borrowing my Korean friend’s card to purchase the ticket, but changed my mind because if they asked to look at the card it would have his name on it. Long story short, we chose a flight with a layover and extended our layover to 22 hours. Of all of the layover locations in the same price range, Shanghai was a place I wanted to go to, but not for an extended trip. I had seen a FB video on the Venice of China, which I determined was an hour from Shanghai, boom, now our plan was beginning to form.

Immigration and processing into China Through Shanghai;

If you read my blog at all you know that I have a 10-year Chinese Visa. However, my sister and friend, who traveled with me do not. We planned to just get the 24-48hr Chinese visa upon arrival in-country. We read up on it, it seemed pretty simple, so that became the plan.

After landing, we followed the crowds and the signs, which were in English, to immigration. The first step is to scan your passport and add your fingerprints into a machine. Since I had been in China before, all I had to do was insert my passport and place my thumb on the sensor, and a ticket that said “OK” popped out. For Maxine and Elyssia, they had to answer some questions and pop… “OK.” we made sure to save these and moved into the foreigner passport line; this took quite a while. We had to fill out the standard immigration forms that they give you on the flight, handed it to the immigration agent, and moved right through. Because of my ten year visa, they didn’t ask me anything. For Max and especially, Elyssia because she had a nosey immigration officer. It just depends on who ya get. They asked more questions about why they were visiting, where they are staying, when they are leaving etc. Whenever you get stopped or questioned at immigration it makes you feel a little nervous, especially in China! Screen Shot 2019-12-15 at 2.46.11 PM

The Part that was fun:

When we got to the hotel and checked in, after a 30-40 min drive, we were pretty impressed with our hotel. It was on a canal with a bridge and the rooms were pretty. It was late in the evening by the time we got to the hotel, so we asked if there was anywhere to eat, they said no, but that they could help us order takeout for. While we were waiting for the takeout to arrive, we found the hotel bar, THAT SERVED FOOD! This became especially irritating because the delivered food was pretty bad, and the food served at the bar was likely better. I ordered a fancy drink that they lit on fire, but it was terrible, tasted like rubbing alcohol, so I didn’t end up drinking it… “let’s just go to bed.” Poor Elyssia’s bed was an inch thick mattress which she endearingly referred to as “Traditional.” Shit is shit in my book! I was mad that she had such a terrible mattress, she didn’t sleep well. Too bad the drinks weren’t better. Too bad Shanghai’s Airport was so far from the inner city, we could have had fun like we did in HK. I won’t EVER do a layover in Shanghai again! Never! Nor will I ever willingly visit Shanghai. Ever!

Screen Shot 2019-12-15 at 4.50.10 PMThe next morning the nicest little female Chinese tour guide came to pick us up with a male driver. It was nice that the guide was female. We would have gone with them if it was two men, but it probably would have made us uncomfortable, initially, as feisty and fierce as we are. Off we went to the temples and shops along the canals. Elyssia ate something crazy! I am going to put all of that good stuff in a different blog post since it was nice and this blog post is about everything that made Shanghai a nightmare for us.

We rushed to get to the airport, we had our bags with us on the day trip, so we could be taken straight to there. We rushed hoping we didn’t hit any crazy traffic. Since we didn’t, we were there more than 3 hours early. We walked in, went to the ticket counter, got our boarding passes, oddly the attendant said: “Don’t miss your flight.” We scoffed about this, we were three hours early… and DUH! Then went through security, back through immigration, everything was very normal. Once we found our gate, we had 2 hours until we were going to board. We stopped at one of the few restaurants they had, and got smoothies and fried rice, it all sucked, frankly. As we are sitting there I get a notification that our flight had been delayed for a second time to be 30 mins later that the original flight plan. What’s 30 mins? We didn’t care we were just ready to get to Cambodia!

SH*T hits the fan!!! The Nightmare Begins! 

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We began to head toward the gate, there was Starbucks right next to it, and we debated getting coffees. As the girls stood in line, I decided that I would check to see if they were lining up to board… Odd… no one was there… NO ONE! Not even the attendant. I look at the board, it says Cambodia and it says 7:05, the later time. I go back to the girls at Starbucks and I frantically yell, “No one is at our gate, you guys come on.” We can see a plane at the gate, the lights were all on, it was dark outside. I said “hold this, I am going down there,” referring to my suitcase. I fly down the stairs to these closed glass doors. I started to bang on them, “Hey, let us in! Don’t leave without us!” A man comes out, I tell him, “We are supposed to be on that flight! It’s 6:40 you are supposed to still be boarding right now! Please let us on the flight, please! Please don’t leave us here!” I was pointing to my watch, I had my boarding pass in my hand, I was making a walky-talky hand-signal and a phone signal, and pointing to the plane. He looked at his watch and shrugged is shoulders, I said: “Please! please!” The guy walked through another set of glass doors that locked behind him! I was floored. I ran back up the stairs where Elyssia and Maxine were watching our plane detach from the tunnel. I grabbed my suitcase handle and say come on guys, and I start running to another ticket counter. I ask the guy at this counter “Can you stop our plane? It’s about to leave without us! It is not even supposed to be leaving for another ten mins, please call them please, please.”This the guy was doing nothing but arguing with us about what time we were supposed to be at the gate and that we were not there on time. It was infuriating. We could see our plane driving off. I was so mad that he was doing nothing, and I told him I wanted his name, of course, I couldn’t read it on his name tag and when he said it, I wasn’t getting it. So I took a picture, and look at what this douche-bag did… Covered it up! These people embody the epitome of quality airline employees! Let me tell you! Whew!

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I deflated, I was defeated. I asked the guy when the next flight was and he told us he didn’t know. He said that we needed to go all the way out to the front of the airport, back out of immigration and security, back to the ticketing counters. As we walked out, we asked for directions and had to tell each person that we missed our flight. They all looked at our passports, it didn’t really occur to us what they were looking at. Of course, we were hoping that we would be able to get on another flight that night. We felt like they were wasting our time with each person looking at our passports. We wanted to hurry and try to make whatever the next flight would be. When we got out to the ticketing counter, the first person that we talked to reissued our tickets without argument, which seemed normal and appropriate. He didn’t really apologize, but with the language barrier, there was basically no talking at all. They only do that flight once a day so we were going to be stuck in Shanghai for another 24 hours. We were going to miss an entire day in Cambodia. This now started our plight to look for the silver lining.

Silver Lining #1: It was just a shopping day, so the tours we had already paid for were not going to be affected. Sadly we hadn’t packed much, because we planned to buy most of our clothes once we were there. 

Now we felt that they needed to do something for us, like cover our hotel room, obviously, and upgrade our tickets to First Class for their error. I had an email, directly from the airline, that stated that the flight was delayed, and the digital board at the gate said 7:05. We were sent to the manager on duty at the customer service desk. After telling the manager what happened she began to claim that we were in the wrong and that we had missed the flight due to not being at the gate on time. We said, “We were there,” in unison, over and over again to this lady. I showed her the email, but she held her stance. At this point, it was after 9:30. We were all getting tired. In fact, this lady was refusing to reissue the tickets. Good thing we already had them.

Silver Lining #2: We only had carry-ons, so at least we had all of our belongings and our bags weren’t on their way to Cambodia without us. 

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She refused to upgrade our tickets, she refused to pay for our room, and now she was fighting with us about the flight leaving early! This was seriously pissing us all off. She called the attendants from the gate and they offered to pull the security camera footage to show that we had not been there on time. We waited for another 45min-hour for her to get a picture that would prove that we weren’t there. When she finally got the picture she claimed that it proved that we were late. I had to ask to see the picture. When she showed the picture to me it was of us walking away from the gate at 6:53. Which was when we had given up trying to get into the gates and still 12 mins before the flight was supposed to take off… so technically, only 8 mins into when the flight was supposed to be boarding… if it has been done at the correct time. I asked to see the rest of the video because I wanted her to see that we had already been there for at least ten mins by the time that picture was taken, and of course she refused! A part of me was shocked that a manager, of an airline’s customer service, would fabricate such a thing, and also that it proved that we were there when the plane was still supposed to be boarding, according to the email sent directly from the airline. She continues to claim that we were late and that they had waited for us, and she claimed that they had called our names for 15 mins! This was obviously ridiculous because we were right next to the gate. The whole area at this airport is small. Even if we had been on the other end we would have heard our names called, if that is what happened!

Silver Lining #3: It was a good thing we already got the tickets changed by someone else who wasn’t a total Bitch! 

We finally gave up and decided to get a hotel room at the airport hotel. We decided that we would take advantage of the extra day we had there and do some shopping IN Shanghai the next day… since we needed clothes.

Silver Lining #4: At least there was a hotel at the Airport. 

When we went to book a room at the hotel airport.. guess what… it was completely booked, and there were no rooms, but at least we could book at another hotel with a shuttle service and they would give us a discount.

Silver Lining #5: Easy to book another room with a shuttle.

As the guy walked us to where the hotel shuttles were, I was texting with our tour guide who advised us to check our passports for the amount of time our visas had been granted. Crap, it was 24 hours… so they were about to expire in an hour. We decided we would just play dumb the next day, we had a valid reason for being stuck there anyway. So we got in the shuttle, and guess what… it took us back to the same hotel we had been at before!

The thing that kept circling through my mind was how many people looked at our passports on our way out, and not one of them mentioned the fact that our visas were going to expire in a matter of hours! In fact, they had directed us to go back through the immigration security area, those guys looked at the passports, and didn’t think to extend them, or mention to us what a complete f’ed up issue this was about to become!

Silver Lining #6: At least the hotel had a hot tub and we had brought out suits. We were tired and our feet were sore. It sounded like a nice idea to have a soak and a drink after all the drama. 

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The shuttle took off leaving us at the front desk. They asked us for our passports, and I went to the bathroom. I returned to two weary long faces…”What is it now?” “They won’t let us stay here with expired visas…” “Are you kidding me?” I tried slipping the guy a $50 to look the other way. He wouldn’t but offered to take us to the police station to see if they could extend our visas.

We took a taxi to the police station… and it drove off. The hotel desk clerk went with us to explain to the cops what was happening while we waited. They told him that we would have to go to the embassy the next day when they open… but in the meantime, they could not let us stay at the hotel. Our only option was to go to the airport. We waited impatiently for 40 mins at the hotel for the next shuttle to come. We planned to go back to the airport, get our visas extended there, and try to get back to the hotel around midnight, we hoped.

Silver Lining #7: At least we could sleep in beds, and get some rest, and maybe get a late checkout and still shop. 

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When we got back to the airport, we could not figure out what we needed to do, and no one could tell us. Of course, all websites are banned in China, so we couldn’t even google it. The only thing we could do was text my husband, my mom, and my best friend, for them to google and see what we were supposed to do. It seemed as though the only option would be the embassy the next day… which was also Veteran’s Day… so it was not even going to be open. I thought, maybe if we could get our boarding passes we could go through immigration, get the damn stamp, turn back around and still get to the hotel at 3-4 am. Silver lining#7 again.. but NOPE! They do not give you your boarding passes until you are 3 hrs out. My husband found us another flight on another airline at $350 per person, but we didn’t want to spend another $1050 on flights. The night manager told us that the day manager might know of another option when she gets in at 6am. so we had 5 hours until then.

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There seemed to be 50 other people in the same position, so there were no seats for us to sit in. We found a quiet corner, with a cement floor, to post up for those 5 hours.

Silver Lining #8: At least I had some movies saved to my phone since I couldn’t use any of my steaming or video services to watch anything. 


Some time around 3am, we were all freezing, turns out we were in an outdoor walking path. It was a cement floor, that was super uncomfortable. We still had 3 more hours to wait, so we looked for another spot. We decided to be near the customer service desk so we could be the first ones to talk to this lady… maybe Silver lining #7?????? Turns out all she could do was issue us our boarding passes early. We had to go through a different area to get through immigration because the visas were expired. They took Max and Elyssia into interrogation rooms, I swear it felt like we were in a movie!  I had gotten so little sleep that I passed out sitting up waiting for them to return. When we got into the international section of the airport to wait for our flight we had 10 hours left.

Silver Lining #9: Only 10 more hours until our flight

There was nothing to eat at the crazy time we were stuck at the airport… so this is what we had to make due. Look at Elyssia’s face, she was spent! We all were!

Silver Lining #10: There were actual seats for us to layout. 


Again the flight was delayed, it was posted plainly on the gate’s digital sign. Again the flight was boarded and took off before its original time! We were there standing and waiting at the gate an hour beforehand to ensure that we would not miss the flight this time. The plane was almost empty! We took off so early that we all sat there wondering if they were leaving other people behind this time too!

Unfortunately, I was never able to recover. I spent the rest of the trip dragging my tired ass through everything. Needless to say, I will never fly China Eastern Air again, and I suggest no one else do it either… nor do I have any desire to go to Shanghai, it even has me questioning whether I would ever go to China again. Although, I love Beijing, and Hong Kong, so we will see, but for sure, never Shanghai, EVER!

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