In China, If You Know Your Air Traffic Controller You’ll Take Off On Time

Via Marginal Revolution.

Much of modern air traffic control and the aviation system generally in China was set up in conjunction with Boeing. It was important to describe the process not as modeling the U.S., but as “bringing China up to world standards.”

Nonetheless, the Chinese military controls most air space in China.

There were excellent discussions of these phenomenon in James Fallows’ China Airborne which I enjoyed reading last year.

As a result, with a burgeoning aviation market, congestion around major cities is common.

Apparently priority is given to flights with ‘important’ passengers, international flights, and flights where a crew member knows the air traffic controller.

The latest statistics shows that the flow of air traffic accounts for as high as 40 percent of the total number of flight delays during the first half of this year. And whether the flight could take off in time or not, it depends on the fellowship with the air traffic controller.

Captain Wang Hai said that as long as one crew member on a flight personally knows the air traffic controller, the flight would be given priority to take off in time.

But some air traffic controllers explain that queue-jumping contributes to flights unpunctuality.

“International flights and those carrying important passengers, such as government officials, business tycoons and senior officials in civil aviation, do not have to wait in long queues to take off”, an air traffic controller in south China’s Guangzhou said.

Here, apparently, is a photograph of two Xiamen Airlines flight attendants praying for an on-time departure.

No word if it worked.

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About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Actually things are getting worse, as priority is given to flights where a PASSENGER knows the controller…

  2. Maybe the ATC controllers can set up a system where we can make a donation via Chinese Paypal to ensure ontime departures

  3. “Apparently priority is given to flights with ‘important’ passengers, international flights, and flights where a crew member knows the air traffic controller.”

    This kind of stuff even takes place in the “least corrupt” countries on TI’s list last year.

    That this goes on in China and elsewhere is not surprising. Amongst the countries to or within which I have flown commercially, it would be more surprising if that didn’t happen at least sometimes. I have had flights delayed by each one of the five most recent US Presidents/ex-Presidents.

  4. @GUWonder. Quite, it’s important to remember that government officials here are just as over-entitled as elswhere, if not more so. And, as for graft….

  5. I can pretty much say that the same is true for the US. I won’t name the city for privacy reasons.

  6. Not surprised…this is common in developing countries. I know a colleague in Turkey who was running late to catch his flight due to worse-than-normal bad traffic in Istanbul. He made a call to someone who was well-connected, who made a call to someone at the airport, and the flight was delayed by ATC until he was on-board. I am sure it even happens in the US occasionally for a high-value customers/officials – maybe not overtly, but let’s say the airline has a triple platinum customer who is making a connection that will cause him to be 15 mins late to the gate. If they can swing it within their buffered flight time, possibly the airline holds the plane. We’ve all heard the “we’re waiting for some connecting passengers” excuse for a delay.

  7. I had to buy a little bit expensive air tickets to travel between cities in China provided they are code-sharing with an international company or if they will fly to another international destination after my flight, to ensure it will go on-time. It really SUX

  8. I’ve been one of those connecting passnegers that they hold the plane for on more than one ocassion and I don’t think is was because I had status. If it was becasue I have FF Status, cool, all the more reason to accumulate miles!

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