Chen Guangcheng Flew to the United States in Style, Sort Of
May 21, 2012 at 3:46 PM
United Airlines Flight 88 is a direct, 12.5 hour Beijing-PEK to Newark-EWR flight flown by a Boeing 777-200. Seatguru says that United's particular 777-200 configuration has 8 First Class Suites, 40 new Business class flatbed seats, and a 3-3-3 configuration in economy. So far it just sounds like your average trans-Pacific flight, right? There's comfy accommodations in first and business class, and an economy cabin where people wake up 8 hours into the trip, realize they've still got 1/3 of the flight to go, and want to kill themselves.
But last Saturday this very route became a focus of international attention. It was boarded just before takeoff by blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng (in a wheelchair), plus his wife and their two children. The family had been driven across the tarmac by Chinese officials and deposited into an elevator, which took them up to the skywalk and onto the plane.
The mini-drama marked the beginning of the end of a standoff between American and Chinese diplomats, stretching back to last month when Chen escaped the Chinese guards who were keeping him under house arrestas China likes to do with "dissidents"and fled to the U.S. embassy.
Chen and his family only received their passports shortly before boarding the plane (confiscating passports being another thing that Chinese guards do to human rights activists). Once on board they were seated in Business Class. The flight attendants "promptly drew a curtain around their business class seats" and then kept everybody seated until takeoff to avoid gawkers.
FlightAware has the flight taking off roughly on time and flying the normal 12.5 hours, but then landing two hours later than it should have (6:16pm rather than 4:10pm). That can't be right, can it? You spend seven years under arrest, and then when you finally escape you're delayed by EWR's notoriously crappy infrastructure?
Or maybe the delay went the other way, where people (especially the ones in economy) had to sit on the tarmac for two extra hours because of special arrangements to get Chen off the plane? Can you imagine? It would be enough to make us hate human rights. Also: humans.
[Photo: U.S. Department of State / Wiki Commons]