Let cadres fly first – Chinese airlines prioritize those high in the political hierarchy
Do not take it for granted that you can enjoy unparalleled service in China after you purchase the first class air ticket. You’ll always have to take a backseat to a sizeable coterie of cadres, even if they’ve only paid for the economy class.
In fact, serving all important passengers until they cry content is a task that airlines have been carrying out for years. Based on the requirements of the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC), almost all airports and airlines in China have established their own Departments of VIP, which ensures all “very very important passengers” are afforded top-rated services during the several hours on board, and CAAC’s regulations enforced in 1993 have been adopted by all airlines as golden rules.
Interior of Airbus A319, imported by XX Airline in 2008. It was the largest and most luxurious business jet in Asia at that time.
The regulations stipulate that VIPs should be given priority when they book air tickets or reserve seats. By its definition, VIPs include officials of provincial and ministerial level and above (including deputies) and military officials of major general ranking.
In some cases, high-ranking personnel at an airline would have to greet VIPs and see them off at the airport in person, and even fly the aircraft. According to a press release, in 2009, a manager at Shenzhen Airline piloted the plane when a provincial level official was on the flight.
After cadres arrive at the airport, check-in, baggage and boarding are all taken care of by servers at the department of VIP. In VIP lounges, you can tell who are officials at or above the provincial level from the tea sets they uses.
“At our airport, any cadre at or above the provincial level have his personal tea set. The airport will always keep one for him,” said Chen Wei (pseudonym), a server at XX airport in west China, “Academicians of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Chinese Academy of Engineering are not included.”
Servers will note down what tea and refreshments these passengers of premier importance prefer for future reference. “For example, a certain governor of a province likes puer tea best. He also likes pineapple cakes and beef jerky,” Chen Wei said.
Later, a designated vehicle will bypass the security check and take them right to the gate. “If a cadre is in a hurry, he doesn’t need to stop at the airport. His chauffeur can drive him directly from his office to the apron,” an insider said.
Noodles or rice? Soft or hard food? Chinese cuisine or Western cuisine? These elite flyers are free from worries about trivial matters like these. Before boarding, flight attendants have already had an idea their food choices.
Before takeoff, the crew will receive a profile of each elite flyer on the flight that details personal predilections that flight attendants have to know by heart.
Sometimes, when such an elite flyer is stuck in traffic and about to be late for his flight, many captains will choose to wait for him. “Waiting for 15 to 20 minutes is very normal. We usually tell passengers it is due to air traffic control. They are already used to delays,” said Wang Lu (pseudonym), a flight attendant at a VIP department of XX airline.
However, passengers’ wait pays off. CAAC stipulates that any flight with cadres on board cannot be cancelled or rescheduled unless in extreme cases, and letting cadres fly first is a principle that airlines have been sticking to for years.
During the flight, attendants try their best to be quiet in the first class cabin and keep cadres undisturbed. Some attendants recall that when they conduct cabin checks in the cabin where a cadre is present, they often tiptoe to avoid any tapping, and close the lavatory door so slowly and lightly that no squeaky sound is made.
After being up in the air for hours, the aircraft begins landing. According to the regulations, cadres have the right to exit first. Baggage with the VIP label will be placed near the gate of the cabin in order to be unloaded first.
At the moment of the valued customer stepping out of the cabin, everyone is relieved. For the important passenger, this is nothing but a normal business flight, but for those in the aviation industry, it is a challenge of reaching the acme of perfection in their services.
When it comes to selection and training of flight attendants for VIPs, most airlines mention such standards, “Be with exquisite service; be politically tested.” According to flight attendant Wang Lu, attendants must be distinctly elegant, eloquent and with savoir faire. Being politically tested “boils down to safety concern. If a flight attendant bears hatred towards the society, how terribly that would be!” said Tian Baohua, former director of Civil Aviation Management Institute of China. Often times, only experienced attendants in command who are also party members can prove equal to this job.
CAAC’s regulation also provides that all parties in the aviation industry keep information and updates of cadres’ flights known to as few people as possible for fear of terrorist attack.
A word of gratitude from a valued customer is a great honor and surprise to a flight attendant, as it lets her gain extra credit to boost her performance appraisal.
But if s/he is unsatisfied, many more people will have to take blame. Tian Baohua remembered that a few years ago, an important passenger flew from Shanghai to Beijing for a meeting, and quarreled with the captain on board. It didn’t take long before CAAC got notified of the matter.
Li Jun (pseudonym), flight attendant at department of VIP at XX Airline, said complaints lodged by ordinary people will be investigated to confirm its veracity before further steps are taken. But any complaint lodged by the privileged flyers is effective immediately. “If any VIP files a complaint, the entire crew will be demoted,” Wang Lu said.
Li Jun said even if a cadre flies on a private trip and has purchased economy class, the airline company will notify flight attendants to provide VVIP services.
On one hand, airline companies will naturally have a greater room for development if they can win the hearts of local governments. On the other hand, officials of regional level also expect airline companies to boost the local economy.
The win-win situation also exists between airlines and their boss, CAAC. Airlines willingly compromises economic interests to meet any demand and follow any directive from CAAC. But if airlines toe the line and make big customers happy, CAAC will also leave finest plums to them, such as an opportunity of undertaking charter flights.
In 1995, CAAC issued a document reiterating that all officials should fly domestic airlines on business trips abroad, and get reimbursed only with receipts and airline tickets of domestic airlines.
From Southern Weekend (original article deleted, only cached page available)
Portions of the article have been rewritten and reorganized to be better understood.