Suddenly as one all the passengers at Beijing Capital Airport jumped up and began queuing. I looked around in amusement... there had been no announcement for boarding. What had happened was that the plane had arrived and passengers were disembarking. This was enough to trigger a few people to stand up, and like a herd of startled goats, the rest began gathering their things and standing as well. It is almost as if Asians are programmed to stand in line at the slightest trigger. I relished the newly empty seats next to me and lounged and stretched my legs. It would be another 10 minutes before anyone was allowed on.
Finally the boarding announcement. There was no priority for business class, elderly or parents with young children. Instead it was a mad scramble to get on board ... and as I finally stood up and walked onto the plane I realized that it was I that was the fool. Every overhead space was crammed with bags, backpacks, and purses. I would have to carry my backpack stuffed with books on my lap for the full five hours to Manila.
Eventually the plane landed and slowed as it approached the gate. Before the seatbelt sign went off, a few people unclicked their seatbelts, and the Pavlovian trigger quickly shot through the cabin. Everyone immediately unbuckled their belts and simultaneously stood up. I looked around from my seat at the masses of people banging their heads on the overhead bins just to able to join the herd. The scrum to get out of the plane was elbow to forehead, I passed on the chance to push ladies and children aside to enter the line. As it petered out, I finally got up and gathered my bag. Behind me, the plane was already vacant and the stewardess looked at me strangely, trying to figure out what was taking so long. In the space of 3 minutes the plane had gone from full to empty. The Asian Airplane Drill was complete.