As more and more Chinese have been traveling by air in the past decade, many for the first time, reports of passengers fighting with airport staff and running out onto the runways have become a common phenomenon. And Chinese passengers often have reason to be angry. Their airports are some of the worst in the world for on-time departures. Average delays at Shanghai, Guangzhou, Xiamen, Nanjing, and Hangzhou were all over an hour.
In 2014 the airlines of China got together and produced a helpful video explaining why delays happen and telling travelers not to fight. It seems to be partially an introduction to inexperienced travelers and partially a PR effort, but it also doesn’t explain one of the main reasons flights in China are always delayed.
1.) It begins by explaining the “main reasons” a flight could be delayed. Those are “weather,” “traffic,” “airline reasons,” and “travelers.” It is nice of them to admit that the airline could be the reason, something some American airlines have a hard time doing. But what’s missing from the four “main reasons”? The fact that less than 30 percent of China’s airspace is open to civilian airlines, while the air force aggressively controls most of the sky.
2.) Why are we stuck on the runway?, this man asks. As the video goes to explain, maybe there are a lot of planes waiting in line. (Maybe they have to wait a long time because there’s a lot of traffic in the skies due to no airspace being open.) This is the explanatory part. There is also an explanation that even if the weather at the departure and arrival airports is nice, there might be a storm in between.
3.) Up until reason #4, all of the characters in the cartoon have had black or dark brown hair, but when it gets to “passenger” reasons for delay, when it shows passengers stupidly being delayed while buying snacks when their plane is about to depart, the characters suddenly have yellow and brown hair! Are only foreigners so stupid as to delay a plane by being late? (A flight wouldn’t wait an hour for a late passenger, however.)
This video divides delays into two categories: Those which are the responsibility of the airline, which the airline will provide compensation for, and those which are not, like weather.
If it is the airline’s responsibility, they will communicate with you, offer food and lodging, get a replacement flight set up, and/or offer monetary compensation. In my experience with Chinese airlines, they really do live up to their obligations. When an international flight was delayed for about four hours at Shanghai Pudong, they provided food, offered to let me stay in a hotel for an hour or two (I declined), and handed us all a few hundred yuan as we boarded the plan. Try just getting transportation and hotel covered when your flight is actually canceled because of airline fault on with an American company and you might have to argue with their customer support for weeks!
Here’s a video of what that kind of fight actually looks like in real life:
I first noticed this video being shown on flights in 2014. It was produced in partnership, the credits show, with Air China, China Eastern Airlines, China Southern Airlines, Shenzhen Airlines, Sichuan Airlines, Xiamen Airlines, and a number of smaller airline companies. The Chinese Civil Aviation Administration is listed as producer.
Mitchell Blatt is a travel writer, editor, and columnist based in China. He is an author of two guidebooks, Panda Guides Hong Kong and Panda Guides China. He has been published in Roads & Kingdoms, Vagabond Journey, The Hill.com, The Federalist, City Weekend, and The World of Chinese, among other outlets. See examples of his published articles.