China Air Travel:
Are You Dreading It?

I've traveled to China twice. That means that four times I have been in a jet for 14+ hours at a time. You'd think it would be a nightmare, but it really wasn't that bad.

If you've never traveled on an international flight, you'll be surprised to find out how comfortable the seating is. Now, mind you, I've got short legs, so any airline seating is going to be more comfortable for me than for, say, a 6-foot 4-inch man. Nevertheless, on international flights, the leg room is deeper, and every inch is appreciated. Also, on my flights there were little foot rests for your feet, and the seats leaned back further than on regular domestic flights.

I can't ever truly get comfortable on any planes because I find them ergonomically deranged - the head rest hits me in exactly the wrong place and the chair back seems to curve my spine in the opposite direction for comfort - but these international flights were more comfortable than any other flights I'd been on.

One lifesaver is having one of those little pillows for your neck. I used one that you blow up because it was so easy to stow in my carry-on bag, folding up to the size of half a

One of our stewards was very friendly and entertaining. On these international flights, alcoholic drinks were complimentary, and he would walk down the aisles, calling, "Free booze! Free booze!"

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Our steward spoke fluent English and Chinese, and he enjoyed letting passengers practice their Chinese on him. If they were way off the mark, he would laugh and say, "You'd better practice some more!" But if you did pretty well, he would say, "Ah, good! You've been working on it!"

The international flights are fun, too, because you can meet the most interesting people and have a chance to really get to know them. I had some wonderful seat-mates.

One man who sat next to me was an author and psychologist. He was an expert in human potential and was traveling to China to help in training the workers who would be operating the great Three Gorges Dam, the largest dam in the world, which stretches more than a mile across the Yangtze River. If they were to make a mistake in operating it, millions could perish, he said.

A high school girl I sat next to on another flight was coming back from spending a semester in China after living with a Chinese family. She had some fascinating stories to tell about the school she attended and the family she stayed with.

Of course, with any flight, the noise will get to you after awhile. The constant noise of the engines is fatiguing, so having noise-cancelling headphones is a great help.

All in all, I enjoyed the international flights. The service was excellent, the food was good, the seating more comfortable than usual, the company was friendly, and the anticipation of arriving in China was exciting!

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