Frequent traveller: The wrong trousers

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  • Anonymous


    The wrong trousers – In which our correspondent discovers an ingenious use for ice tongs in-flight, loses his luggage on the way to Shanghai and finds himself feeling a little on the large side…

    It’s another Sunday and another tearful child, as I leave the house at lunchtime to fly for the third week out of four, back to China. As I turn up at T3, I’m amazed to see much of the building work removed and what looks, from the outside, like a modern terminal. It’s bathed in purple light, but it’ll take more than fancy illuminations to make me feel cheerful.

    I’m flying Air China for the first time. I’d heard a few months before about an incident at Heathrow involving a Chinese carrier scraping along the runway, but I had done my homework and found this was a different airline. Air China has a good safety record, and check-in is efficient, inspiring confidence. I head to the London Lounge, which reminds me of Ikea – you can never get directly where you want to go and I hate visiting it, especially at weekends.

    Boarding the plane is very British, with lots of queuing and no separate line for business. After the usual Heathrow delays, we are airborne and food is served quickly. I decide to watch a film over dinner but the in-flight entertainment system has other ideas. The screen won’t come out of the seat and after much gesturing (my Mandarin is as poor as the English of the majority of the crew) a man returns with a pair of ice tongs and pulls the screen from the armrest. He goes off feeling very happy with himself, while I decide to forgo ice in my drinks for the rest of the flight. But the success is short-lived as the screen soon freezes – could the ice tongs be responsible?

    Although my system has been reset, all it shows is “film one, film two” etc, so I need a programme guide. There isn’t one. Mr Fix-it is nearly beaten, but ten minutes later, he returns with one. Sadly, it tells me there are no recent releases and as I’ve seen everything else, I watch Garfield, which is more fun than you’d think. After a few hours of fitful snoozing I’m woken by the breakfast trolley, but can only face some fruit and a croissant – well it is 2am. I look in the amenity bag for a toothbrush and find a pot of “whitening emulsion” – is this for my skin, my teeth or a wall?

    Landing in Beijing makes me feel very at home – lots of circling and then a 35-minute wait for a stand. I retrieve my bag and check it back in for my next flight to Shanghai, which turns out to be a more modern Air China plane with a nicer seat than the one I came out on. They serve dim sum and fruit, but I find my appetite diminishing each time the woman to my left clears her throat into her sick bag.

    Finally, after nearly 24 hours, I arrive in Shanghai – but there’s no sign of my luggage. The domestic luggage desk can’t find any record of it, so they take me through to the international luggage hall.

    I stand there for 20 minutes, feeling almost invisible, as my luggage tag is passed from person to person until they eventually speak to me. There is no record of my bag on the system – it’s after nine o’clock in the evening, I have meetings in the morning and no suits, only what
    I’m wearing.

    Due to the language barrier I’m not sure if there is an apology, but I do have a slip of paper and a number to call in the morning. I leave the baggage hall to find my pick-up gone. At least the hotel has an overnight laundry service, so my clothes will be clean when I get up, but if there’s a fire drill I’ll be outside on the street in a dressing gown.
    I phone the Amex Platinum 24-hour customer service helpline to check what I can claim, but find the number engaged. On my fourth attempt I am successful. Now for the decision – what will I buy with my £300? I need shoes, a suit, a shirt – everything. Being six feet tall this will be a challenge in China.

    The next morning, three hours is wasted looking for clothes. I feel a real fatty as I try about 30 outlets and nobody has a suit big enough. I eventually find one for £300 – but frankly, I’d rather have gone to Marks and Spencer. Shirts are a little easier and I end up with a pink Pierre Cardin number with a big blue kipper tie. I see a Clarks shoe shop, but spending £100 on footwear seems foolish, so I buy a pair of Chinese USA-Camels – they’re clunky but functional and at only £40 I can manage to wear them for a couple of days. I then spot a Uniqlo shop – just £30 for a shirt, boxers, socks and a T-shirt. Feeling equipped, I return to the hotel to change into what looks like a costume from Life on Mars.

    Tonight it’s the gala dinner – lots of speeches and then a formal banquet. There must be a job to be had translating Chinese menus into English. My favourites are “mushroom with webbed goose feet” and “greasy garoupa in chicken oil”. When the food arrives I realise these were pretty good descriptions and fear the minibar will be raided later. When I return to my room I find my bag’s arrived. Now the challenge is to figure out how to get through the security seals which have been put on all the zips, before my wake-up call in six
    hours’ time…


    A flight with BA to St Lucia and return. Having had a hard case damaged (and replaced foc) on a previous trip around the Caribbean, I took an old but serviceable hold case, which had a large dent in one corner, where it had been dropped from a height, somewhere.. It arrived fine, However, on eventual return to Heathrow, when I collected the case, last to arrive on the carousel, despite travelling in Club World, the dent had ….. vanished, and the case was ….cleaner!

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