Travellers turn to trains as military drills delay flights

Rail tickets into Shanghai sell out as airports across eastern region see restrictions on traffic

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 July, 2014, 5:21am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 July, 2014, 7:15pm

At Shanghai's Hongqiao transport hub, the airport terminal yesterday appeared to be deserted, in stark contrast to the railway station next to it, where thousands of passengers crowded ticket offices and restaurants.

Together with another airport in Pudong, at least 71 flights from the two Shanghai airports were cancelled as the People's Liberation Army began an exercise on the southeast coast.

"It is certainly a bad choice to travel by air these days," said Lu Liang, a businessman who often travels around the country. "Military exercise are the last words we want to hear now because it could mean a long delay."

On Monday, the Civil Aviation Administration of China forewarned Shanghai airports that capacity would be cut by 75 per cent yesterday afternoon.

Eight airports across Shandong and Jiangsu provinces were closed for landings, while nine in Jiangxi, Fujian and Zhejiang provinces were only cleared for a limited number of take-offs for northbound flights.

Amid continuing disruption from military drills and from what authorities said was bad weather, more travellers turned to high-speed trains.

By 6pm yesterday all tickets for trains from Beijing to Shanghai before 10am today had sold out. Tickets for some of the trains going the other way from Shanghai to Beijing were also sold out.

All train tickets between Guangzhou and Shanghai for today and tomorrow were sold out. Tickets for most train rides between Shenzhen and Shanghai for today were gone too.

"People are getting smarter now following a series of serious air travel disruptions," said Gao Ping, an employee of Hongqiao airport. "They went to the railway stations to avoid a long wait."

The Hong Kong Airport Authority said that of 70 flights between Hong Kong and Shanghai yesterday, 20 were delayed and 12 were cancelled by 5pm. Seventeen flights to or from Pudong were delayed and 12 cancelled.

Three flights to or from Hongqiao were delayed, but there were no cancellations there.

Last night the mainland's aviation authority said air traffic had returned to normal.

The military controls much of the country's air space - some estimate as little as 20 per cent is held for civil flights. Industry officials say that means longer flight times, less efficient routes and unaccountable delays.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse