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How do you (try) to beat the chronic delays when flying in China?

How do you (try) to beat the chronic delays when flying in China?

Old Oct 19, 13, 11:42 am
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How do you (try) to beat the chronic delays when flying in China?

As many of you who have traveled in China already know, that country has one of the worst (if not the worst) air traffic delays in the world. If you are in China, it's not an exaggeration to say your flight departing on time is the exception rather than the rule, particularly from Beijing, Shanghai or Guangzhou.

The reasons range from the fact that all Chinese air space is military-controlled to lack of sufficient air routes and unreasonably rigid ATC. This all leads to the chronic congestion we see today.

But how do you try to get around them (if you can)? Some of my colleagues try to fly on the earliest possible flight on a given day (usually before 8 am, if it is possible), as that is when the traffic flow is low and chance of delays consequently lower. Others try to avoid traveling to China during the Chinese holidays. Of course, those options are only available if you are fortunate enough to have flexibility in your travel schedule. Often times you do not. What do you do then?

My employer has resorted to issuing us high speed train tickets instead of plane tickets for certain trips. For example, we have been using more and more the high speed train service between Shanghai and Beijing. On more than one occasion, the train we sat on has beaten the plane by arriving earlier, due to delays the plane experienced.

And I personally quite enjoy the high speed train, it's smooth, quiet and comfortable. And it doesn't have the low air pressure and cabin dryness issues that afflicts passengers on flights. Most importantly, unlike the planes, it's on-time rate is way better.

But what about you? What tricks (if any) do you have to beat or at least alleviate the delays that afflict airplane journeys in China?

Last edited by WindowSeat123; Oct 20, 13 at 2:58 am
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Old Oct 19, 13, 11:59 am
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Is it more for local intra-China or international as well?
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Old Oct 19, 13, 1:41 pm
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How do you (try) to beat the chronic delays when flying in China?

The app (feichangzhun 飞常准) is a great tool
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Old Oct 19, 13, 4:07 pm
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How do you (try) to beat the chronic delays when flying in China?

I've flown intra-China, intra-Asia from China, and TPAC in and out of China for years and I can't remember the last time I was delayed more than 30 minutes.

I do remember a few years ago, not being able to fly ICN-TAO during an entire day because the military closed TAO for military exercises, but the closure was announced in advance
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Old Oct 19, 13, 6:52 pm
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Moving thread to China forum
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Old Oct 19, 13, 7:32 pm
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Originally Posted by WindowSeat123 View Post

But what about you? What tricks (if any) do you have to beat or at least alleviate the delays that afflict airplane journeys in China?
As the Op said, BJ-SH HSR is on time more often and the early AM flights before 9am departure do seem to leave on time.

-Also In the summer storm season, the storms seem to peak in late afternoon.

-The survey done indicated that Air China had the best on time service, abet above 50%. and IMO i would never fly MU.
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Old Oct 19, 13, 8:53 pm
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Flight delays have never been a major problem for me, train delays are another story...
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Old Oct 19, 13, 10:04 pm
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Originally Posted by USHPNWDLUA View Post
I've flown intra-China, intra-Asia from China, and TPAC in and out of China for years and I can't remember the last time I was delayed more than 30 minutes.

I do remember a few years ago, not being able to fly ICN-TAO during an entire day because the military closed TAO for military exercises, but the closure was announced in advance
I guess you are either very lucky or don't fly enough to experience the delays:

http://www.marketwatch.com/story/fli...tor-2013-08-13

Officially, China’s domestic passenger airline flight takeoff and arrival punctuality rate fell to an all-time low 74.8% in 2012, after dipping below 80% in each of the previous two years.

But many industry experts say these official calculations are too generous. The actual on-time rate for flights at the Shenzhen Bao’an International Airport — one of the nation’s busiest — was less than 50% on average during good weather, according to an Shenzhen airport staff member. And when weather conditions turned bad, less than 20% of all flights were taking off and arriving as scheduled.

In June, timetables were even less reliable at Beijing’s airport and Shanghai Pudong International Airport, the city’s largest, according to the U.S.-based civil aviation website FlightStats. The website gave the airports on-time ratings of 18.3% and 28.7%, respectively, putting them at the bottom among 35 major airports surveyed worldwide.

Every airline has been affected by the contagion of lateness. Bad weather and-or “air traffic control” are among the oft-most cited explanations announced to delayed travelers.
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Old Oct 19, 13, 10:05 pm
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Originally Posted by ThePointsCollector View Post
Is it more for local intra-China or international as well?
Can be both, so long as you are departing somewhere in China...
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Old Oct 19, 13, 10:11 pm
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Originally Posted by USHPNWDLUA View Post
I've flown intra-China, intra-Asia from China, and TPAC in and out of China for years and I can't remember the last time I was delayed more than 30 minutes.
Originally Posted by Black Adder View Post
Flight delays have never been a major problem for me...
You two have led charmed lucky lives indeed. Have you considered buying lottery tickets?!?

Originally Posted by WindowSeat123 View Post
But how do you try to get around them (if you can)? Some of my colleagues try to fly on the earliest possible flight on a given day (usually before 8 am, if it is possible), as that is when the traffic flow is low and chance of delays consequently lower. Others try to avoid traveling to China during the Chinese holidays. Of course, those options are only available if you are fortunate enough to have flexibility in your travel schedule. Often times you do not. What do you do then?
There are practical limits to what you can do to protect/insulate yourself and keep a schedule on track. Some methods you've already identified:
1) High speed rail on routes where possible. I would generally say where fast train journey is within 6 hours, or 8 if bad weather is predicted at origin or destination. These days, I'd nearly always choose the bullet train on the BJ-SH route; even if the skies are clear and the flights on time, I'd rather save myself the hassle of heading to the airport and dealing with security. Train is much more relaxing and conducive to getting something done enroute.

2) Early morning flights generally better....except in certain seasons in certain cities where morning fog is common (i.e. Beijing/Xi'an in November-December). In those cases, midday flights are better if you have an option.

3) Obviously avoid major holidays. For business travelers, this shouldn't be difficult since there isn't much business being transacted in China anyway during times such as Chinese New Year and October National Week.

Also:
4) Overnight sleeper train if you can cope with that. D service where available or standard service in lieu of that. This is not always a good choice for the very tall or heavy, if burdened with tons of luggage, or if needing to be fresh for an early business meeting in the morning. But in times of bad weather, I'd rather be rolling towards my destination than stressing about plane go/no-go in evening or next morning. Of course, getting those sleeper tickets might be a challenge on short notice on some routes at any time, and on all routes at busy times of year.

5) Consider buying a second "backup" ticket for a different flight, in case the first is delayed or cancelled for any reason. Refundable tickets of course, which may be more expensive due to higher booking class. Consider the refund penalty for the unused ticket as cheap insurance. Note that this will not be useful if the entire system is slowed down for ATC or weather delays, but it can be very useful if your flight gets cancelled due to low loads (a favorite Chinese trick) or delayed for MX or other airline-caused reason.

6) Unless you have a clear schedule or flexibility for the next morning, don't book last flight of the evening. Also, be careful of booking anything via a connection city for time-critical missions.

7) Consider proxy cities. For instance if needing to fly Kunming to Shanghai and the flights to Shanghai are all delayed due to some ATC or weather issue in Shanghai airspace, try to grab a walk-up ticket on a flight to Nanjing, Wuxi, or Hangzhou instead and finish the journey by rail or road. Viability of this depends on how much you'd lose on the already-purchased air ticket, availability of flights to a proxy, and the criticality of moving onwards. For some destinations, there aren't any proxies (or any cheap ones). Business travelers may be able to justify last-minute workarounds; leisure travelers often aren't willing to incur additional costs. The difficulty here, is trying to guess what the problem is in the information vacuum. Chinese airlines and the aviation system are not prone to communicating honestly with passengers. Sometimes you have to take your best guess from experience and intuition, then decide what your action plan will be to resolve your situation. Sometimes the best answer is "sit tight and suck it up." But not always.

8) Avoid travel entirely if substitutes are available. Tele- and videoconference. Yes, I know this doesn't work for all business situations and not at all for leisure ones. But sometimes travel can be substituted---during SARS in 2003, everyone suddenly found reasons why conferencing for business meetings was so much better than travel and face-to-face time! It helps if one is in a "boss" position and able to dictate methodologies, which may not be applicable to most people reading this thread.

9) Perhaps most importantly, just assume there will be issues. Build in extra time in a schedule to allow for delays. Don't overschedule yourself for business engagements; it just adds to stress. Assume that if travel goes smoothly and better than expected, you can find a way to fill the unused time cushion productively whether traveling for business or leisure.

Last edited by jiejie; Oct 19, 13 at 10:24 pm
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Old Oct 19, 13, 11:18 pm
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Take trains whenever possible. I won't do HK-BJ/SH by rail because in all but the worst delays, flying is faster, but BJ-SH is a no brainer... bring your own food.
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Old Oct 22, 13, 9:15 am
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Originally Posted by WindowSeat123 View Post
Can be both, so long as you are departing somewhere in China...
I have less frequently encountered ATC delays on international flights.

BTW, I think one benefit of morning flights is that the endemic delays haven't rippled through the system. Sometimes the problem is simply that the incoming equipment hasn't arrived yet because of delays, thereby delaying the later flight.
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Old Oct 22, 13, 10:01 am
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Originally Posted by drewguy View Post
I have less frequently encountered ATC delays on international flights.

BTW, I think one benefit of morning flights is that the endemic delays haven't rippled through the system. Sometimes the problem is simply that the incoming equipment hasn't arrived yet because of delays, thereby delaying the later flight.
I would venture to guess that few of your international flights have to use the busy air corridors in the BJ-SH-HK triangle. The ones that have no other options are subject to the exact same delays (e.g. PEK-SIN/BKK is every bit as bad as PEK-CAN/SZX when the skies are clogged). Inbound performance tends to be a little better because ATC has (a tiny bit of) mercy for planes that are already in the air, but holding patterns over Changsha or outright diversions are also fairly common.
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Old Oct 22, 13, 11:36 am
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Originally Posted by moondog View Post
I would venture to guess that few of your international flights have to use the busy air corridors in the BJ-SH-HK triangle. The ones that have no other options are subject to the exact same delays (e.g. PEK-SIN/BKK is every bit as bad as PEK-CAN/SZX when the skies are clogged). Inbound performance tends to be a little better because ATC has (a tiny bit of) mercy for planes that are already in the air, but holding patterns over Changsha or outright diversions are also fairly common.
My international flights have all been into/from PEK and PVG. PEK may avoid those corridors because they're flights to US, so head generally north. Perhaps PVG comes in enough over the ocean to avoid the issue.
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Old Oct 23, 13, 3:12 am
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Originally Posted by Black Adder View Post
Flight delays have never been a major problem for me, train delays are another story...
Vice versa for me. But all my flight delays in China have been domestic.
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