Helsinki – Hong Kong – Wuhan

When I was traveling towards Wuhan, China, to attend ISSI 2017 conference things didn’t exactly go smoothly. When I checked in on my first flight I could only get the boarding card for the first leg of my journey; from Helsinki to Hong Kong. This has happened before, so I wasn’t worried. I knew that I just had to find the transfer counter in Hong Kong to get the boarding card for my next flight to Wuhan and I had plenty of time between the flights to do that. On the about 10-hour flight to Hong Kong I relaxed, listened to a book, watched some movies, and had a nice meal and a glass or two of rather nice red wine. Overall I had a very nice flight with Finnair, the “Gateway between Europe and Asia.”

In Hong Kong I quickly found the transfer counter, however, the lady at the counter said that it was too early to check in on the flight to Wuhan (I had about three hours between the flights) and that I had to come back in one hour. Then after an hour (of dosing on the airport benches) I headed back to the transfer counter, only to learn that the flight had been cancelled because of the approaching typhoon Khanun. The lady also told me that she couldn’t book me on another flight; for that I had to go to the check in counters in the departure hall.

At Hong Kong airport

After weighing my options (and realizing that I really didn’t have any options) I went through immigration and straight to the airport information desk to ask where the China Southern counters were. From the China Southern counter I was redirected to the China Southern check-in counters. The lady at the check-in counters explained that she can’t do the rebooking and gave me a piece of paper with a printed phone number to call. I called it. Despite a huge language barrier I could understand that they couldn’t reissue a new ticket because the booking was originally made through Finnair and that Finnair has to do the rebooking. I then called Finnair’s customer service number which I found in my travel documents, but there I only got a recording saying that the service number is only available from Monday to Friday between 8 and 16 (it was Sunday). At this point I was getting a bit annoyed with the situation. I headed to the China Southern counter again. They found a different number to Finnair’s customer service; one that should be operating 24/7. I called them and to my relief someone answered (I now have that number stored in my phone). I explained the situation and they said that it is the company that has cancelled the flight that has to reissue to ticket. I called China Southern again and they said the same thing again: they can’t reissue it because the ticket was originally booked through Finnair (at this point I was getting really annoyed). I tried to explain the situation again and explained what they had said when I called Finnair, but I’m not sure how much of it got through because of a language barrier. The call wasn’t getting me anywhere so I just hung up.

Typhoon warning at the Hong Kong airport

I called Finnair again, with the intention of asking them whether they can buy me a new ticket, any ticket, to Wuhan. I explained the situation and the guy (new guy this time) straight out said that they are lying at China Southern. He said that they (China Southern) do fully know about the standard international agreements between airlines; that it’s always the company that have cancelled a flight that is responsible for reissuing new tickets to the passengers. He wrote some comment to my booking “in the system” (I assume stating this fact) which I assume would be visible also for the China Southern staff in Hong Kong and recommended that I go to the check in counter and be a bit more “demanding”. He also said that rebookings are usually done by the airline’s staff at the airport, not by phone at some “head office”. He recommended that I ask them to call the head office if they are not willing to make a new booking at the counter. So I went to the China Southern check-in counter again. At this point I had been at the airport for probably about six hours and I was getting properly angry but I didn’t even get to show it to anyone. This time, without any problems or explanations, they immediately booked me on the flight to Wuhan the next morning (the next morning it turned out that I had even been upgraded to Economy Plus or something like that, which I appreciated). Now I had the word of the lady behind the counter that I had a new ticket booked for tomorrow morning. I was still a bit skeptical, but I decided to trust her word. I guess she saw my skepticism, as she wrote her name on a piece of paper and told me to ask for her should there be any problems the next morning.

As it now was certain that I wasn’t traveling anywhere today, I decided to hunt down my checked-in luggage, as I wanted to have that with me to the hotel, which I had not yet booked. So I went to the luggage service office or whatever it was called.

The organized office of the luggage service center at Hong Kong Airport

A helpful lady there said that it will take 2-3 hours to locate my luggage, asking whether this really was something that I wanted to do. Fine, I said. That gave me time to find a hotel for the night in Hong Kong. After trying a couple of free wifi’s at the airport (and fearing to be hacked while using them) I found one at a café that I could use to make a booking. Tired after travelling for a day decision making was admittedly a bit difficult, but I eventually booked a hotel close to the airport. After all, because of the approaching typhoon sightseeing would not be an option. Then after about 2 hours I got my luggage and headed out from the airport. Yet another half an hour standing in the taxi queue (all public transportation from the airport had been suspended due to the typhoon and people were recommended to stay indoors) I was finally on my way to the hotel, with my luggage. The hotel (Novotel Citygate Hong Kong)turned out to be quite luxurious, which was a pleasant surprise.

View from my room at the Novotel Citygate hotel in Hong Kong

A minor disappointment was that the outlet mall connected to the hotel was closed, probably due to the typhoon. So I headed back to the hotel and had dinner and a beer or two, after which I went to bed and slept like a baby.

Next morning everything went really smoothly in Hong Kong and after about 46 hours of travel I was finally about to board the plane to Wuhan. In Wuhan, I immediately got totally screwed by a taxi driver, but that’s another story.

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