Hangzhou Xiaoshan International Airport is putting on its best face this weekend for the Group of 20 (G20) summit. Floors have been scrubbed, acres of flowers carefully arranged and the building has been decked out with large “Welcome” banners for the international visitors.
To outsiders, it looks the very model of a modern major metropolitan air hub. But residents such as Ai Siwen, a local technology company worker, know firsthand why the Chinese authorities have taken the facility to task.
“It’s quite normal to be delayed for one or two hours, in particular for flights in the afternoon or at night,” said Ai, who makes regular business trips to Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Beijing.
The city’s airport was named among the four worst-managed in China by the nation’s Civil Aviation Administration in August.
The others were Shanghai’s Pudong and Hongqiao airports, plus Lukou airport in Nanjing, which were criticised for flight delays and cancellations.
Ai said he was stranded at the airport one day in August up to 3am until his carrier booked him into a hotel. His flight to Beijing eventually left at 11am the next morning, 14 hours after it was supposed to take off.
“I understand that the delay was caused by bad weather, but the airline and the airport should provide more information instead of just keeping us waiting,” he said.
“We were sent to a hotel arranged by the airline at 3am, but before that we got no updates about flight times.”
The wait and the lack of information had angered passengers, who kept up a constant stream of complaints to ground staff, he said. The solution, he said, was for the airport and airlines to dramatically improve communication with passengers.
Hangzhou entrepreneur Jiang Xinmin said he took into account possible disruption at the airport when booking flights out of the city.
“I prefer morning flights, when there is less chance of a delay,” Jiang said.
According to the Civil Aviation Data Analysis, an organisation that tracks the performance of airports around the world, only 43.98 per cent of flights at Xiaoshan airport left and arrived on time in July – putting it fourth from the bottom of its ranking.
Pudong airport was the worst performer in the world, with a punctuality rate of 37.79 per cent.
Amid widespread complaints from passengers about flight punctuality, the Chinese authorities have stepped up efforts to address the problem by slapping penalties on the worst performing airports and airlines.
Despite Hangzhou airport’s low ranking, marketing executive Yan Qing said its record on punctuality was not too bad when compared with Beijing and Shanghai’s air hubs.
Yan’s bigger concern was the lack of international routes from the airport.
“Many people in Hangzhou need to go to Pudong if they want to fly to the US and Europe,” she said.
Earlier this year when she travelled to Paris, she flew direct from the Shanghai air hub.
“I had to take a three-hour bus ride to Pudong from Hangzhou, but the flight was just eight hours and I didn’t need to spend extra time in transit.
“ If I went from Hangzhou airport, it would take me 20 hours including transfer time,” she said.
As the city pursued closer ties with the rest of the world, Hangzhou’s airport should expand its international routes, Yan added.