On Friday afternoon the flight from Shanghai to Macau boarded on time, but right after boarding the captain came on the intercom. His message: air traffic control had taken away our start slot and we would have to wait at least one hour. Bad luck, but I had sort of expected it already (Air Macau is always delayed on this route in my experience). Because I had only slept 3 hours the night before I just closed my eyes and went to sleep. I woke up about 90 minutes later, and found that the plane was still at the gate. The captain came on the intercom again and told us he did not know how long the delay would be. According to him it was all the fault of Chinese air traffic control, and that Chinese air traffic control did not care about the passengers (with the emphasis on ‘Chinese’ – the foreign pilot seemed to be very unhappy with Shanghai airport). Soon the message spread on the plane that the reason was that there were military exercises going on, and that no flights were arriving or leaving. Looking out of the window, I realized that all the planes that were next to us before were still there, and that I did not see any plane taking off or landing. Strange, and that on a busy Friday afternoon.
Passengers on the plane started to become unruly, and some got permission to smoke in the gate to the plane. The captain asked the passengers to stay calm, and treat his staff with respect. It was not their fault, but that of Chinese air traffic control. He said the delay would be at least one more hour. Great, we should have been in Macau already by now, and now we were still in Shanghai. I had a good sleep on the plane, but preferred to be in the air of course. Finally after 3 hours the plane next to us left and half an hour after that we got permission to leave the gate as well. There were no delays at the runway, so less than 4 hours after the planned departure time we were in the air.
We did not know why we had this delay, but military exercises sounded like a good reason. This was confirmed the next day when The Standard (HK newspaper) headline was that Shanghai Pudong had been closed for several hours due to military activity. I quickly scanned the article at a news stand, but it did not have many more details, except that the exercises were a state secret. I did not think about it anymore until when on Sunday night I finally had internet access again (my Nokia was not able to connect to the net in Macau, don’t know why) and I was reading several blogs. There it turned out that the real reason of the airport closure might be a fight between Chinese civil avation authority (CAAC) and the military. The armed forces want the CAAC to pay them money, and they are now starting to cause delays for civil aircrafts to force CAAC to pay up. Well that’s really great, blackmailing the others by causing trouble for passengers and airlines. Not good for Shanghai airport’s reputation, or China’s air space in general, that’s for sure. I hope they will sort out this mess very soon.