The Hainan Airlines plane is halfway to its destination when flight attendant Wang Chen steps to the front of the cabin and faces passengers...

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BEIJING — The Hainan Airlines plane is halfway to its destination when flight attendant Wang Chen steps to the front of the cabin and faces passengers for an important announcement.

It’s time, she says, for the on-board auction.

Three other flight attendants station themselves along the aisle to spot bidders.

What’s being auctioned is a ticket to any Hainan Airlines destination in China. It is good for a year and includes a model airplane in a black gift box, Wang announces.

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“Let me remind you this is a rare opportunity,” flight attendant Wang purrs. Her tone is earnest; no Southwest Airlines jokes here.

This particular plane from Beijing to Xiamen is full of Chinese passengers, and none seems the least bit surprised. A few of them start offering bids with a quick raise of the hand, and soon the whole plane is riveted.

Two men in the front keep up a bidding war, raising 10 yuan (about $1.20) at a time. Finally the ticket is sold for about $110 to a young man in a black Versace T-shirt.

Flight attendant Wang offers a polite thank you and bows to passengers.

On-board auctions, typifying China’s headlong plunge toward capitalism, are just the latest scheme for the unorthodox airline whose biggest shareholder is billionaire investor George Soros.

Hainan Airlines prides itself on service and has a penchant for flashy promotions. A brochure in the seat pocket advertises luxury vacation homes sold by Hainan’s parent company. “You just can’t miss Unrestrained Passion Garden in the summit of your life,” the ad beckons.

The airline has been holding ticket auctions on 32 of its routes. It also offers birthday celebrations in the air and refers to flight attendants as “love angels.” Hainan’s Web site proclaims that the “love angels” take on the role of “a good daughter” to aging passengers, “a good aunt” for children and “a good nurse” to the sick.

From its home base in China’s southernmost Hainan Island, a popular vacation spot, China’s fourth-largest airline flies to Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Budapest, among other cities. It hopes to expand to Central Asia, Japan and North America.

The airline also is linked to Seattle. That’s because Hainan Chairman Chen Feng has a second home on the Eastside. In China, his friends like to say he lives on the same street as Bill Gates.

Kristi Heim