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How your airport experience could be much, much worse

CHINA-AVIATION-TRAVELCHINA-AVIATION-TRAVEL
Passengers pack the waiting hall at Hongqiao Railway Station, which services terminal 2 at Shanghai's Hongqiao International Airport in 2014.Photograph by Johannes Eisele/AFP--Getty Images

Hate airports? Loathe the long, near-static lines and intrusive searches at security? Live in fear of having your work ruined by delays?

Well, relax. At least you’re not in China.

Airport misery is taking on whole new dimensions at some of China’s busiest airports as civilian flights are grounded to allow the military to stage a large-scale training exercise. Flights are being cancelled by the hundred, after the Civil Aviation Administration of China requested airlines to cut flights by 25% at a dozen airports in eastern China, and by up to 75% at two of the country’s busiest airports.

Those flights that do get off the ground are doing so only with multiple-hour delays.

It’s not like China’s airports are a barrel of fun at the best of times. They may boast some visually spectacular modern architecture, but they routinely score among the worst in terms of punctuality.

Data from the website FlightStats showed that, out of the world’s biggest international airports, only Istanbul, Turkey got fewer airplanes (38% of all departures) off the ground on time than Shanghai (43%) and Beijing(56%) in December. Even that was a big improvement from the 29% and 18% they posted in June 2013.

According to the Airports Council International, Beijing is the world’s second-busiest airport after Atlanta, handling an average 229,000 passengers every day last year. Pudong, Shanghai’s international airport, was in 21st place with a daily average of 129,000 passengers.

After a chaotic Monday on which 119 flights were canceled at Shanghai’s two major airports alone, CAAC said things were improving Tuesday. AFP reported it as saying that “operations are already basically normal.”

But it seemed that someone was using a somewhat elastic definition of normality. AFP said Pudong airport had canceled 38 flights Tuesday, while Shanghai’s other, more domestically-focused airport, Hongqiao, canceled 33. FlightStats said the delay situation was “moderate” at Pudong, but “significant and increasing” at Beijing and “excessive” at Hongqiao.

But hey, it’s not all bad news. The curbs will only last as long as the military maneuvers…which will take around three weeks to complete.