Long lines. Crowded terminals. Delayed flights. Bad food choices. And acres and acres of duty-free. Welcome to flying in China!
Air travel has grown exponentially across China. While the USA remains the number one market for air travel in the world, with some 800 million passengers last year. Yet within 20 years China is expected to surpass the USA, and later this year Beijing is expected to be named the world’s busiest airport. (Taking second place after 15 years at the top is Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport.) [Source: USA Today]
The new airport terminals across China are architectural marvels. The roof over the Beijing Airport is one of the largest in the world. The terminals are clean, efficient and well-managed.
Yet for the similarities in scale between America and China, air travel in the two countries is different. Flight paths across China are controlled and rationed by the military. The number of air corridors hasn’t kept pace with the growth of air travel. Flights delayed by rain, mechanical problems or other issues can lose slots to fly. That leads to inexorable delays. Last month, only 18 per cent of the 22,000 flights out of Beijing’s Capital airport departed on time, Whereas American travelers will gripe, shout abuse and phone the airline, Chinese travelers take it to the extreme. There are reports of groups storming airline offices, hitting ground staff or kicking flight attendants to the ground. [Source: The Telegraph]
In February this year KLM de-planed six passengers from first class when they refused to use seat belts or switch off phones – and then physically abused cabin crew. [Source: China Travel Go]
To manage delays, China has introduced “unrestricted take-offs” which require planes to depart when told – even if they do not have a landing slot at their destination. While that means a hasty departure it also may lead to air time spent circling the destination. [Source: The South China Morning Post]
On most flights within China you are still served complimentary meals or snacks. On flights to Hong Kong a hot meal is served and movies are shown. It’s a little like the “chicken or beef” days of old, except here it’s usually a Western and a Chinese choice. One China Eastern flight from Beijing to Guangzhou offered a snack of “Prunes in Donkey Hide Gelatin”. Given that most US domestic flights no longer serve free food in economy, that means passengers board planes with bags of fast food creating a godawful odor.
But a few days ago one passenger boarded a flight in Guangzhou, China. He’d brought on board a hamburger from KFC. Problem was he’d tampered with the meal. Seems he didn’t want to leave his favourite pet at home. So int he middle of the hamburger he hid his turtle. It was the “odd protrusions” on the x-ray that brought the matter to light at security. Sadly Mr Li had to leave his turtle under the care of a friend while he traveled. It was not reported if Li later ate the hamburger. [Source: The South China Morning Post]