Whine Wednesdays: China Immigration Chaos

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This weeks edition of Whine Wednesdays will visit Beijing Capital Airport where yours truly had a rather unpleasant, if not horrible, arrival experience last week.

PEK Arrivals Mess

All of us frequent fliers have experienced bad immigration lines before but last weeks situation at Beijing Capital Airport certainly sent me over the edge. Previously I wrote about the great fares Malaysia Airlines offers ex Bangkok to various cities in Asia including Beijing (access related article here). I have booked several of these tickets including one to Beijing to visit some friends. The Malaysia Airlines flight MH360 arrives around midnight at Beijing.

I have already learned that this airport is somewhat unpredictable as far as immigration goes. The frequent delays due to heavily congested Chinese airspace just contribute to this even more.

As it was the case again this time, the plane arrived with ~ 25 minutes delay and I was among the first passengers off the aircraft. The airport seemed empty and as soon as I reached immigration the lines were not too long but had an odd shape of a line up from the previously arriving Etihad flight. Instead of being inside the regular line some immigration officials have moved people around to the Chinese Citizen Arrivals which is where the line started. Obviously the only way was to line up behind these people.

Right away I spotted there were only 2 officers on duty. Those of you who arrived in China before know that it takes ~ 1:30-2:00 min at least per passenger due to visa checks etc. As soon as the passengers from our flight arrived in droves at the immigration counter the chaos broke out since now there were mixed passengers at the Chinese National counters.

What is the chinese way of dealing with this? Just open up the regular line again move all people over. On top of that everyone that has been previously in front of the line (all Business Class Passengers – since we left the plane first – and a few from coach who walked fast) were now standing behind ~ 150 passengers. With one single officer stamping passports at 1:00am in the morning. After one hour, close to 2am another person came (such mercy!) to process passengers. All in all I had the stamp in my passport at 2:50am, 2:10h after my arrival. Not due to overcrowding or capacity issues but because of the sheer incompetence and lack of organization on the side of the Chinese Officials. I voiced my concerns in not so polite terms to the Duty Supervisor who was obviously not impressed at all.

The mess continued at the Taxi Stand. As a local friend told me later Beijing has some issues with taxi drivers right now. Either a strike, a shortage or a combination of both. In short: It was mayhem! Picture 400 people on the left and 400 people on the right at 3am trying to get a cab with people screaming. Marvelous isn’t it? At 4am I got my cab and reached my hotel in Chaoyang around 4:45am. I could have saved myself the money for that night and just do an early check-in 2 hours later as Platinum Member of SPG.

Conclusion

This was by far the worst arrival experience I ever had anywhere in the world during 16 years of traveling. It even beat the horrible lineups back in the day at Los Angeles LAX and New York JFK (nowadays a breeze thanks to Global Entry).

Unfortunately the transportation options from Beijing Capital Airport are quiet limited during the night and UBER was not available in the immediate area either. I have used UBER in China many time the last week and was very happy with the service. Limousine Services are quiet unreasonable these days due to the CNY exchange rate to both Euro and USD.

I guess the bottom line is, if the sh** hit’s the fan then it hits it hard.

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