What's the problem with the Shanghai-Beijing flights these days?

Yesterday we had a Tudou board meeting, and two of our VC’s had flown in from Beijing the day before. At least that was the plan, because both had about a 12 hour delay (meaning sitting in the plane on the tarmac for 12 hours, with the plane eventually running out of drinks for the passengers). Today I read on Twitter that David Feng had a 7 hour delay yesterday, flying from Shanghai to Beijing.

What I heard from one person is that the pilot did not want to give a reason why they had such a long delay, and for a long time they did not even know whether they would ever take off or not. I wonder what’s the problem on this route? Are there secret military exercises, like I once had with a severely delayed flight to Macau? And why can they not inform the passengers in advance? In one plane it apparently got so bad that passengers started to beat up the airplane crew, and some people had blood on their shirts.

I fly regularly in China, and normally flights are reasonably on time and the service is quite okay (I still don’t eat Chinese airplane food though). But every now and then you hear these horror stories, and nobody really knows why this is happening. If China truly wants to be a modern first-world country this kind of delays without any explanations should not happen. I checked both yesterday’s and today’s Shanghai Daily for the reason of the delays, but as expected I did not see any article about it. Does anybody know what’s going on?

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  1. Unfortunately I have had more than once the same experience. We board the flight, then we are put aside on the strip and get the message that they have no OK for taking off. After that a few more vague announcements. The longest one was more than 5 hours from 7 in the morning till after noon time. I missed my connection in Hkg to BKK. What I heard from one of the chinese passengers is indeed that the airspace is closed for military excercises. Of course they know at forehand, but boarding and putting the plane aside avoids cancellations and refunds of tickets.
    Imagine that they close Schiphol or LA just because the army likes to fly around a bit. Also I noted that this mostly occurs at monday mornings. So now I avoid to fly first flights on Mondays.

  2. What's wrong with Chinese airplane food (compared to other airlines)? I've never actually gotten sick from it and the taste is not so so bad either.

  3. Interesting question. I agree with you that as a paying passenger you have the right to get a decent explanation. One thing I feel is that the system interconnects and is already overloaded. This goes especially for certain airports. This results in the fact that a small problem with 1 airplane in the morning can disrupt the complete system all day long.

  4. Regional thunderstorms @ Beijing those days. You must know that unless Chinese pilots can be guaranteed to land the plane on autopilot they won't land. Which also means they won't take off if the weather forecast is not too good around their destination. Tip: Always fly KA or CX. Those boys REALLY know how to fly a plane, and neither are often delayed. And never, ever, fly Air China to Ulaan Baatar, always MIAT.

  5. @anonymous, sure, CX and KA know how to fly a plane, but they still can't fly through a military-borrowed airspace. I've been cancelled and delayed on KA before for such reasons as well. (at least they didn't get us on the plane and keep us there, but this has nothing to do with actually knowing how to fly a plane).

    And when you're doing domestic flights, well, you usually just don't have a choice to fly domestic lines. If you go through HK to go from Shanghai to Beijing, it's a little excessive.

    As for the food, yeah, Marc, what's so wrong with it? You haven't flown an American airline in a while, have you ? 😛

  6. And one more: @anonymous. For the auto-pilot story, what is your source? CAAC requirement? This is probably in terms of general weather conditions (it's not like they CAN'T land a plane without auto-pilot obviously). If it's a benchmark for choosing whether to land or not, all the better for them, it's an additional safety net.

  7. @Thijs @Yannick I have never been a big fan of airplane food and normally don't eat on board (or bring my own food on long flights, normally sandwiches and sushi). Generally, Chinese airplane food tastes worse than food on other airlines. Ever tried the Chinese hamburgers they distribute on short flight in China? And worse, the food often smells bad as well. I eat food because I like the taste, and that's just not the case on board Chinese carriers.

  8. I'm not expecting domestic flying to / from Shanghai to get any better with the gov't arranged merger of Shanghai Airlines and China Eastern. As one Chinese securities analyst put it, the merger "eliminates unnecessary competition." In other words, get ready to pay more. At the signing ceremony the chairmen of the two airlines pledged that no staff would be laid off. I see that efficiency is not in the cards either. And yes, as awful as the "food" on American carriers is, China Eastern's is at least a notch below. Most disappointing is that Shanghai Airlines actually had a (from my experiences) much more pro-customer orientation than CEA. Unfortunately, CEA will be the surviving carrier. Get ready to pay more for less.

  9. @Carson: totally agree. Shanghai Airlines was possibly the best mainland carrier, while Eastern, easily one of the worst. It is indeed another short-sighted political move from which I can't see any benefits except for the "chosen few" who cleared the deal. Truly a shame.