Traveling to China this trip, we flew through Beijing - which we had never done before. If you have ever traveled abroad, you know that when you first land in your country of destination you have to go through customs. Usually this is a painless, but time consuming process. For us, never having flown through Beijing to Shanghai, it would be our first time attempting to go through customs in Beijing, collect our bags, re-check them and go back through security. We flew Hainan Air, which turned out to be great. I was really impressed! However, our flight was delayed leaving Seattle. The awesome flight attendant in Seattle who gave us our boarding passes moved us to the front of the plane so we could get off quickly and not be late for our connecting flight. It was glorious as the result of her moving us was lots and lots of leg room. My feet could barely touch the wall in front of us!
Our flight was uneventful, but long. We landed in Beijing and the attendant's reasoning proved correct as we beat the line to customs! It was really nice. After getting our passports stamped (I always love that part), we went to grab our bags and then transfer to our domestic flight. While waiting for our four giant bags to come around the carousel (we packed three extra bags this trip to leave here for when we move this summer), a Hainan employee came over to check on us. He had on the official Hainan uniform and had his Hainan name badge around his neck. Singling us out as one of the few foreigners on the flight, he asked if we were connecting and how many bags we have. The conversation went something like this,
Hainan Employee: Hello! Are you transferring?
The Hubby: Yes, to Shanghai.
HE: How many bags you have?
Hubby: Four bags.
HE: Oh...you are only allowed one bag per person on domestic flight. Hainan will charge you for your other bags.
(We look at each other with quizzical looks)
Me: But they are checked all the way through already. See. (showing him our baggage tags)
HE: It doesn't matter. They will still charge you...but don't worry, I can help you. I am a Hainan Transfer Assistant. Let me see your boarding passes.
So, we actually handed him our boarding passes. We must've been tired. He reassured us to wait right where we were and he disappeared for five minutes. I have to say that I immediately regretted giving him our boarding passes, but fortunately he returned soon with them in hand.
While he was gone, the Hubby and I were trying to decide if he was legit or not. We decided that Hainan must have great service to offer transfer assistants to foreigners who might otherwise get lost. This was confirmed by a similar Hainan employee helping two older women close by us.
He retuned, we grabbed our bags and then proceeded to lead us through the airport pushing our cart of luggage. Right outside customs there was conveniently placed an ATM which he insisted we use. This turned out to be wise as we didn't see an ATM readily accessible at the Hongqiao airport in Shanghai later. After what felt like twenty minutes of walking (we had to change terminals), we arrived at the Hainan counter. Instead of us getting in line with everyone else, he wheeled us over to the "special" line which was empty. The sign above said it was for "senior citizen, infant & passengers with reduced mobility". He told us it was his friend. Whatever it was, it was definitely much faster. They got us checked in, issued new boarding passes and rechecked our bags. And we didn't pay a single penny for rechecking our bags (even with one pushing 70 pounds).
It really would have taken us three times as long to figure it all out and in that way it was very helpful as we now had an hour to get through security and find our gate before we boarded for our next flight. He walked us up to the security line, handed us our boarding passes and we thanked him for his help. Then came the kicker...
HE: Ok, so can I have a tip?
Thinking that he said "have a nice trip", I thanked him again. My husband gave me this weird look, "he asked for a tip." I fumbled for my wallet which had some smaller Chinese bills from a previous trip and gave it to the Hubby who started to pull out a ¥20 bill (about $3, but a fair price), when our Hainan travel assistant said, "Can I please have ¥100?"
We did it. We gave him ¥100, feeling totally ripped off. But what were we going to do? If Hainan would have charged us for our extra bags, we could have paid over $100! Did he save us money? We may never know. But now we do know why he insisted on us stopping at the ATM.
After getting through security, we were waiting for our flight and trying to fathom what just happened. We're we scammed? Was he actually helpful? Did Hainan even know he was doing that? Whatever the answer may be, we do know one thing; the whole ordeal said, "Welcome to China! Your future home."