Share this article

print logo

Fed-up Chinese air travelers protest delays

Simon Meng's flight to Harbin, China, was supposed to take about five hours.

Instead, he had a two-day delay, arguments with airline staff, a nighttime wait in the rain, a trip to the hospital and a dispute with police.

About 30 other passengers on the Shenzhen Airlines flight also forced their way onto a Shanghai Pudong International Airport taxiway after being stranded for about 15 hours.

That April 11 demonstration was followed by a similar incident two days later as Chinese travelers begin to get fed up with delays affecting at least one in four flights.

"I totally understand why passengers protested," said Meng, 28, who runs a consultancy in Harbin, northern China, and flies every couple of weeks.

Shenzhen Air declined to comment.

Chinese airlines are struggling to stick with schedules as they contend with military restrictions on airspace, bad weather and procedures that haven't kept pace with demand in the world's fastest-growing aviation market. That's hampering operations even as carriers spend $600 billion on new planes through 2030, according to Boeing.

"Passengers simply can't avoid delays," said Li Lei, a Beijing-based analyst at China Securities. "It's an industrywide issue."

According to Civil Aviation Administration of China's statistics, 23.5 percent of flights were delayed last year. That only measures when the plane door closed, not when the aircraft took off.

The regulator has begun tracking takeoff times this year. By comparison, 85 percent of U.S. flights arrived on time last year, according to Department of Transportation statistics.

About 42 percent of airspace in eastern China is closed to commercial flights and reserved for the air force, the official China News Services reported last year, citing a military study. That region includes Beijing and Shanghai, the country's most important cities.

Meng's 2,200-mile trip from Shenzhen to Harbin via Nanjing was also affected by storms, which caused the Shenzhen Air flight to divert to Shanghai, touching down at about 8 p.m. The passengers got off the plane, waited two hours, then reboarded before waiting in their seats for another couple of hours.

The passengers got off again at around midnight, as the crew didn't know when the plane would be cleared for takeoff, Meng said. They walked to the terminal, discovered it was locked and waited in the rain for about half an hour before someone opened it.

The police arrived soon afterward, while Meng took his wife to a hospital for checks because she felt unwell, he said.