Mary left the coffee shop in Shanghai Pudong airport where she had spent the last hour passing the time. Her excitement grew as she followed the signs to “Departure”. She had made plans to spend the weekend in Hong Kong with friends before flying home to Sydney on Sunday. She was dying to have a good time after spending a stressful week working in the Shanghai office.
When the automatic door opened, her view was filled with people from wall to wall snaking through impossibly long queues. Her jaws dropped.
Oh Dear God!
Mary froze at the realization of her mistake.
I forgot to clear customs before I sat down for a coffee. What was I thinking?
Mary’s breaths quickened and beads of sweat formed on her temple.
No, no, I can’t be late. People are waiting for me.
She took a deep breath and dove into the crowd waving her boarding pass in front of her.
“I’m so sorry but my flight is leaving in 20 minutes. Will you please let me through? Please?”
She begged every person in the winding queue to let her pass. She was shaking and drenched by the time she got to the front of the throng. The gate was empty when she finally made it there.
“The gate’s closed. You need to pick up your checked bag and then re-book,” a lone airline staff cleaning up the desk advised sympathetically. He handed her a map of the airport and pointed out to her where the baggage area was.
Mary followed the map to pick up her suitcase, and then back to the check-in counter to explain her situation.
“Miss McIntyre, the next flight is fully booked but there are two more flights after that. Wait over at the standby area and we’ll call you if there are still seats available on this flight at the end of boarding,” the airline staff offered.
Mary looked at her watch. She figured that if there was a no show and she could get on the next flight, she could still make dinner. Feeling hopeful, she turned to move to the standby area. As she started to walk away, she overhead the man from behind her, now at the counter.
“Full? What if I upgrade my ticket to business class?” the man in a business suit asked urgently.
Oh no, I’m not the only person who wants a seat on the next flight.
Mary’s heart sank.
“No Sir, I am afraid that business class is also full,” the airline staff replied.
“Hey, can I buy a first class ticket? I can pay for it in cash.” A second man in a Hawaiian shirt behind him butted in, holding up his wallet.
Mary was taken aback by these capitalistic approach to problem solving in this part of the world. She had always worked with a more predictable rule based systems. First come first serve was good. It worked. Stumped by these unfamiliar tactics, she found herself starting to panic.
“No Sir, the flight is completely full,” the airline staff replied.
Thank goodness for that. You can’t just throw money at things. You pig.
This has stirred up her anxiety however. What if the Hawaiian shirt man had said “I can pay YOU in cash?”. She looked at the airline staff. They were in their early twenties. Probably too inexperienced, too idealistic and too frightened to accept bribe in public. She took some comfort in her private judgement.
What am I going to do? Calm down and think.
Mary reasoned that this was a popular time to fly as everyone wanted to land before dinner time. There were two more flights after this one. There should be seats available in the later flights. All she needed to do was to wait. It would be disappointing to miss dinner but her friends would still be there tomorrow. It’s going to be fine.
Mary decided to see what her two potential rivals were up to. The man in business suit had his head down and thumbs frantically working his smart phone. He was probably looking for another flight.
The man in the Hawaiian shirt was at the check-in queue. He was approaching the people in the queue one by one. Judging by the body language, he was offering to buy their seats. With the amount of head shakes, it looked like he needed to up his offers though.
Stay calm. It’ll be alright.
Mary dug out her novel trying to read to distract herself. It was unnerving to see others reacting differently. These men were trying a lot harder than her. Was she too passive? It was impossible to concentrate when her brain raced like a lunatic.
When it was time to board the next flight, Mary walked over to the standby area. She crossed her fingers, her toes, her arms and her legs. The two men were no longer in sight. They may have found an alternative flight.
“Yes,” Mary looked up.
“Here’s your boarding pass. You may board now,” the airline staff smiled and nodded towards the gate.
Mary looked at her boarding pass with more appreciation than she had ever felt for a boarding pass in the past. She could feel a wave of relief washing over her. It felt nice. It felt like she had won the lottery. With a secured seat, she decided to muse.
What if the Hawaiian shirt man offered me $500 for this boarding pass? Would I give it up?
Nah. I wouldn’t swap time with friends for some ill gotten money from some pig.
What about $1,000?
Hmm, this could pay for my hotel tonight and I can take my friends some place nice when I see them.
Mary smiled at her own thoughts.
“Oh Miss, just out of interest, do you know how much was the man offering the passengers for their seat?” Mary asked the airline staff as she walked past her.
“He was crazy. He was offering $5,000,” the airline staff replied.
“Do you know where I can find him?”