Sitting on a plane for 20 hours is going to suck. Worse would be suffering the middle seat the entire trek, so you're smart enough to try and fix that with an online check-in, rather than trying to sort it out when you show up at the airport. And because you know navigating a Chinese airline websites is likely to be painful, you want to give yourself a little extra time. Sadly, neither of those things matter much when your check-in is for a flight on China Eastern Airlines. Perhaps this guide/cautionary tale of woe will help.
Step 1: Pour three fingers of scotch. On second thought, better make that twelve fingers. Because this is going to take a while. And you're going to need calming down. A lot of it.
Step 2: Go to China Eastern Airlines' website and search in vain for the "Online check-in" button or link. Let your eyes flit over the "Self-Service" link several times, because that's a stupid name. I mean, you're on a website, for chrissake. Everything you do on a website is self-service, right? Then finally recognize that's literally the only link that makes sense, and reluctantly click it. And take a drink.
Step 3: Input your passport number, because you have no idea what "ID number" they are referring to... but it's more than a little chilling. And because you bought your ticket through an online service, you have no idea what the ticket number is. Feel free to try your confirmation number or even the reference number. They won't work. But you can try them. Drink each time you try something new.
Step 4: Enter your name and click the big CONFIRM button... though what is it exactly you are "confirming" anyhow? Oh, and don't be thrown off by the two cities and the price next to that button. They have nothing to do with your flight. Just a little thing the boys in marketing though would be a good idea. It's not.
Step 5: Don't panic when you get the "-300001:No booking record within 2 days is found" error message that you again have to "confirm". That's just telling you that you've entered something incorrectly on the prior screen. What specifically doesn't matter and spoils the fun. Have a drink.
Step 6: Try several different combinations, eventually realizing that they're quite serious about entering your name as "Bob slash Smith", though no developer in their right mind would require that sort of input format. Unless of course they, like the UX designer, have never seen a website on the other side of the Great Fire Wall of China. Bottoms up.
Step 7: If you can still see straight, give up on the combinations of data entry and click "contact us". Search for a city near you and call the number, eventually making it through the three-language phone tree to select "English".
Step 8: Become a little disoriented and wonder about your prior choice when the representative (eventually) comes on the line, not with a "Thank you for calling China Eastern Airlines. How can I be of assistance?", but with simply a "Sawatdee kha," or however they say hello in the native language of the country you're calling from. Yes, on the English line. Need another drink?
Step 9: Explain to the person on the other end that you don't speak that language (Thai, in my case and good luck with yours) and that you need someone that speaks English. Luckily, the person who answered the phone also speaks English, and was just fucking with you. Do you need a refill yet? You will.
Step 10: Explain that you are unable to complete the online check-in process for your flight. Be placed on hold for 20 minutes before the same person comes back on the line, again with simply a "hello" in the native language, making you wonder if you're caught in some sort of time loop. It just feels that way. Maybe it's the booze talking.
Step 11: In those 20 minutes, the helpful (?) rep has managed to find your ticket number, and will ask you to once again repeat the online check-in process. No, she can't do it for you. But you're smart enough to ask them to stay on the line while you make the attempt. Which is a good thing, because you're going to need help.
Step 12: Express a fleeting sense of joy as you're presented with a screen that now asks you to select seats for your flight. Only the seats assignment is already listed, and there's no way to change it. Nor is there any sort of NEXT or CONTINUE or even another CONFIRM button. Drinky-drink time.
Step 13: Explain this to the person still on the phone, who will then place you on hold for 30 minutes while they check to see why the website doesn't show you a "next" button. As you wait, finish your drink, contemplating exactly how this person is both the customer service rep for the airline and a webmaster from 1998. For bonus points, ponder this fact: China is a little wider than the USA, yet every city in the country uses the same time zone. Whaaaaa?
Step 14: After the phone tree decides you've had enough, it will hang up on you at the one hour mark. Hey, at least it's reliable.
Step 15: Call back, explain the situation, and be told that a "system error" is happening, but it's not important because you really don't have to check in online. 0_o That's just something you can do for your convenience. Their advice? Just show up at the airport and everything will be fine. Promise.
Step 16: Is there any scotch left? Contemplate your poor choice in transportation providers while you pop out for a fresh bottle.
Happy Holidays. If you survive your flight.