TIME China

Think Your Flight Delays Are Bad? Try China, Where the Military Hogs Most of the Skies

Airplanes At The Shanghai Pudong International Airport
Air China aircraft stand parked at Shanghai Pudong International Airport in Shanghai, China, on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Even in this era of jam-packed commercial air travel, the armed forces still control most of China’s airspace

Last week, I flew in and out of Shanghai over two days. Both flights idled on the tarmac for more than one hour. I felt rather lucky.

Airport delays are such a constant in China that a mere one-hour wait is practically a gift from the aviation gods. International flight monitors put Chinese cities at the bottom of a list of on-time takeoffs at major airports worldwide. On July 21, nearly 200 flights leaving from Shanghai’s two airports, Pudong and Hongqiao, were cancelled. Around 120 more planes were delayed from takeoff by two or more hours.

The same day, a notice attributed by state media to the Civil Aviation Administration of China warned that a dozen airports in eastern Chinese metropolises would suffer even more serious delays through August 15. The reason? An unnamed “other user” would be hogging the skies. That aerial monopolist is thought to be the Chinese military, which even in this era of jam-packed commercial air travel still controls most of China’s airspace. On July 23, the People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, tweeted a picture of dejected looking passengers camped out on the floor of the airport in Dalian, a port city in northeastern China. The cause, according to the paper, was mass cancellations stemming from “planned military activity.”

On Monday, Jiao Xuening, a resident from the southern city of Shenzhen, described on his Chinese social-media account how he had been stranded at a Shanghai airport for almost six hours. “At first I was disgruntled,” he wrote. But then he listened to a stream of flight cancellations over the loudspeaker. “I was told my flight was merely four hours delayed and was not cancelled, so I became happy again.”

On July 22, the Shanghai Daily, the state-controlled newspaper in China’s most populous city noted that Pudong airport’s outbound on-time rate had nosedived to 26% the day before. “Shanghai’s air traffic control authority has refused to explain” the Shanghai Daily complained of the delays. “With the authority remaining tight-lipped about the reasons behind this, speculation has been rife on the Internet.”

Such conjecture, though, can be dangerous. Earlier this month, some people had speculated online that a dragnet around a “high-ranking official” had perhaps prompted the grounding of planes in Shanghai. The Chinese authorities didn’t take kindly to such gossip; nearly 40 “rumor-mongers” were detained or “held” for wondering online about the flight cancellations, according to the Shanghai Daily.

The chronic flight delays are a huge hassle. But the opacity surrounding their circumstances also speaks to the inefficiencies of doing business in China. In the first half of 2014, non-financial foreign direct investment in China dipped, compared to the same period the year before. Government paranoia about social instability is such that Facebook, Google and Twitter are inaccessible within mainland China. Major foreign news websites are also blocked by censors. Basic things overseas businessmen expect to do can’t be done.

Then there’s the suffocating air pollution, which has dissuaded some expatriates from traveling to China, much less living here. Now, with the routine airport delays, it’s no longer practical to, say, fly from Hong Kong to Shanghai in the morning, attend a few meetings and then return to Hong Kong by the evening. A Beijing-Shanghai-Beijing run makes more sense by the punctual high-speed train service. But that still means committing around 10 hours to traveling the rails.

In the meantime, customer-service representatives for Chinese airlines are trying to cope as best they can. Political sensitivities are such that the carriers cannot complain about the Chinese air force’s monopoly of the skies. Employees for Air China and China Southern said they were only informed about the continuing air congestion the day after the latest round of delays began on July 21. Air China says it will send text messages to passengers’ cellphones to update them on the latest scheduling. “Most of our customers understand the situation,” said an Air China customer-service staffer in a somewhat beleaguered tone. To cope with the long waits in airports notorious for meager services, the statement attributed to the Civil Aviation Administration of China dispensed further advice: “Flight passengers please bring with you food and water.”

with reporting by Gu Yongqiang/Beijing

TIME Malaysia

Malaysia Airlines Flight Did Not Ignore Safety Warnings, Minister Says

Reaction In Kuala Lumpur As Air Malaysia Plane Crashes In Eastern Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines crew closed the counter at Kuala Lumpur International Airport Terminal 1 on July 18, 2014 in Putrajaya, Malaysia. Rahman Roslan—Getty Images

The route over conflict zones in eastern Europe was "approved" and "safe," says Malaysia's Transport Minister

At a press conference in Kuala Lumpur on Friday afternoon local time, Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai denied that Malaysia Airlines had shirked security warnings and approved Flight 17’s taking of a shorter route from Amsterdam over conflict zones in Eastern Europe in order to save time and fuel.

“This was an approved route, and approved routes are safe routes,” he said, adding that 15 of 16 international air carriers from the Asia-Pacific region rely on the flight path over Ukraine, where the Kuala Lumpur–bound Boeing 777 was purportedly shot down by pro-Russian insurgents on Thursday evening.

In the aftermath of the disaster, however, Malaysia Airlines has rerouted its Europe-to-Malaysia flights over the Middle East and India, according to maps provided by FlightAware.com. A flight that departed for Kuala Lumpur from Paris’ Charles De Gaulle Airport shortly before news of the crash broke appears to have been quickly diverted southward while crossing Poland.

The pilots of the doomed airliner, however, had no foresight of the risks, Liow said. He insisted that “no last-minute instructions” had been given to Flight 17’s crew, and dispelled rumors that ground controllers had received a mayday call from the cockpit of Flight 17 prior to its crashing in a rural area of eastern Ukraine.

He also provided an updated passenger manifest; at press time, the identities of only 20 of the 298 passengers had yet to be accounted for. It was learned earlier in the day that the step-grandmother of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak may be among the deceased, and that a number of those onboard — maybe as many as a hundred, according to some reports — were AIDS researchers, health workers and activists en route to the 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia.

Over the course of a hectic press day, Malaysian officials skirted around the issue of culpability, choosing instead to address to emotional magnitude of the tragedy and exonerate state agencies and Malaysia Airlines from any potential wrongdoing. The governments of both the Ukraine and the U.S., however, insist that a Russian-made antiaircraft missile fired by pro-Russia separatists had felled the aircraft from the sky, though it remains unclear whether it was an errant mistake or a deliberate act of terrorism, as Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has insisted.

TIME National Security

TSA Beefs Up Cell Phone Checks at Overseas Airports

Electronic devices that don't switch on won't be allowed on the plane

+ READ ARTICLE

The Transportation Security Administration will ask U.S.-bound travelers at certain overseas airports to power up their cell phones and mobile devices as a part of enhanced security measures amid new security concerns.

Owners of devices that cannot turn on will not be allowed to bring them onto the plane, the TSA announced in a statement Saturday. The owners may also face additional screening.

The news follows Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson’s instructions for the TSA to step up security at foreign airports with direct flights to the U.S. earlier this week.

It also follows reports from ABC News citing U.S. intelligence analysts that terrorist groups in Syria were developing new kinds of bombs to be brought onto commercial planes.

The Department of Homeland Security is also asking airport authorities in Europe and other locations to increase random screenings of U.S.-bound travelers and more closely scrutinize shoe size, ABC reports.

TIME technology

This Blanket Will Tell Your Flight Attendant Precisely How Unhappy You Are

LED lights in British Airways' "happiness blanket" turn red when you're on the verge of a panic attack and blue when you're too drunk to notice you're flying straight into a thunderstorm

+ READ ARTICLE

British Airways wants to make its planes your happy place. To help take your mind off the alarming air turbulence, the hundreds of strangers you’re sardined in with, and the full-body stop-and-frisk you may have endured for flying with them, they’re testing a “happiness blanket” that will convey your “meditative state” throughout the trip.

The blanket doesn’t magically make you happy. (If only …) Instead, it helps the airline figure out what makes you happy other than copious amounts of bloody Marys and a double-dose of Xanax. It works in conjunction with a headband, which measures your brain wave activity, then wirelessly conveys it to the blanket, which is embedded with red and blue LED lights. They flash red when you’re miserable or blue when you’re in “a Zen-like state of mind.”

Not surprisingly, flyers’ moods fluctuate the most when using in-flight entertainment or eating. “What we found was that the blankets turned bluer when people were relaxing, such as sleeping, listening to relaxing music, or eating, as that created a feeling of well-being. However, eating cheese for example can often turn the blankets red, as that releases a chemical in the brain which increases brain activity,” says the airlines’ consumer PR manager, Michael Johnson, who adds that the blankets will not be made available to paying customers.

No word on how flyers reacted to arrival delays, abrupt changes in elevation or news that they’re out of the chicken entrée but the vegetarian meal is still available.

TIME Aviation

Plane Makes Emergency Landing After Evacuation Slide Inflates

All passengers and crew are safe

A flight bound for California had to make an emergency landing in Kansas on Sunday night after the plane’s emergency evacuation slide accidentally deployed while it was in the air.

United Airlines Flight 1463 was carrying 96 passengers and five crew members from Chicago to southern California when the emergency slide deployed by accident, the airline said. Passengers told ABC News they heard a pop and then saw the slide inflate. “It was interesting. Nobody was scared or anything,” passenger Michael Davis told ABC. “The captain made an announcement that we’re gonna land in Wichita. He said, ‘Don’t worry about the emergency trucks, it’s just standard procedure.'”

Passenger Taylor Martinez posted a photo of the deployed evacuation slide on Twitter.

“No one was injured and the flight landed safely,” United spokeswoman Christen David said. The airline provided accommodations for all the passengers in Wichita, and they’re scheduled to fly out on another flight Monday morning.

TIME

5 Reasons to Vacation ALONE This Summer

What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding, by Kristin Newman
What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding, by Kristin Newman

Save some money, build your confidence, and enjoy all the onions and escargots you desire

You need a vacation. Of course you do. Problem is, everyone you know is either too married or too pregnant or too underemployed or too overemployed to come with you. And it’s just as well, because it’s time to go on your dream vacation—alone.

I know—it sounds scary. Will you get lonely? Will you get kidnapped? The risks are great, but so are the rewards. More than likely, you’ll come home with great stories for your next dinner party, and the phone numbers of so many new Colombian friends. Here are a few more reasons why your first solo trip will most certainly not be your last.

1. VEGANS

If you travel with other people, you have to eat with other people. Sometimes they will be only annoyingly finicky. Sometimes, they will be vegans. Which means walking miles past delicious local restaurants because there aren’t any food options for your buddy. Also eating hours after you started being hungry because you can’t find a place in Bolivia with decent tempeh. Or, maybe, eating food containing the bodily fluids of some angry Parisian waiter, even though your friend totally said “s’il vous plait” every time she sent back the fish. I once traveled to Byron Bay, Australia, with a vegetarian who was allergic to onions. That left us the Hare Krishna restaurant, since apparently Hare Krishnas don’t cook with onions since they “root the consciousness in the body” — i.e. taste good. I went to this restaurant twice a day for a week to get my friend food that was so bland it did not alert her body to the fact that it was being fed.

This does not happen when you travel alone.

2. THE WORD “NO”

People sometimes say “no.” Sometimes, people are funny, and say “no” to the darndest things that you will wish they had said “no” to before you chose to tether yourself to them for seven days and six nights. You will often only discover someone’s irrational yet paralyzing phobia of, say, rivers, once you’re already on your dream vacation together through the Amazon.

You will also hear “no” much less from the locals if you travel alone. “Yes,” they do have space for one… for dinner, for the boat ride, for the day tour. “Si,” you can squeeze into their car for a ride to their cousin’s beach bonfire. There’s just one of you, after all. You absolutely can fit on that cousin’s lap.

3. AWKWARD SILENCES

You will run out of things to talk about when you spend twenty-four hours a day with someone, and that can make for some loooooong meals. The secret of traveling alone is that you are not usually alone for long. Especially when you are a woman, your fellow travelers and the locals alike will take pity and invite you to join them, if only out of fear that you are about to get kidnapped if they don’t. Use that. If you fear dining alone — one of those annoying phobia people would say you suffer from “solomangarephobia” — book a day tour where you will be introduced to strangers who will definitely be up to share a drink or meal with a new buddy that evening. Because guess what? They have nothing left to say to each other.

4. MONEY

If you are a single solo traveler and want to meet other single solo travelers, you can’t travel high-end. The fancy hotels and boats and tours will be filled with rich couples and families. So, you will rough it and save oodles on accommodations. Not to worry: most hostels have private rooms and bathrooms in addition to common (and even cheaper) bunk rooms. Because traveling solo doesn’t mean you’re still twenty-one, after all. (If you are twenty-one, have a great time. Being twenty-one is also great.)

5. CONFIDENCE

You will come home filled with it. You will walk into a first Internet date at Starbucks differently. You will go to your eight hundredth friend’s baby shower differently. You will stroll into any job interview or meeting-of-your-new-love’s-parents and know you can handle it. Because you’re the kind of person who sometimes just jumps on a plane alone. That’s who you are now. You’ve come home from your vacation a little bit changed, which is the mark of a truly great trip. And you’ll probably do it again next year.

 

Kristin Newman is a screenwriter (That 70s Show, Chuck, How I Met Your Mother, The Neighbors) whose new memoir, What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding, came out in May.

TIME Travel

British Airways Sued for Sending Traveler to Grenada Instead of Granada

From left: Grenada; Granada Getty Images

This is why you book online

A Maryland man is suing British Airways after the airline flew him to Grenada rather than his intended destination, Granada.

While the spelling difference may be subtle, the geography isn’t. Grenada is a country located in the Caribbean Sea that recalls Ronald Reagan; Granada is an Andalusian city in Spain that recalls Ernest Hemingway.

Edward Gamson, a Maryland dentist, first noticed a problem when the electronic flight monitor showed his flight from London to Spain heading west over the Atlantic toward the Americas. He asked a flight attendant, “Why are we headed west to go to Spain?” he said.

“His response was: ‘Spain?’ We’re going to West Indies,’” Gamson said.

Gamson had been in Portugal for a conference and while in Europe intended to take a quick trip to Granada to take in the city’s rich heritage, including sites like the Alhambra, he said. Gamson added that he told a British Airways agent over the phone that he wanted to go to Granada, Spain.

The airline offered him and his partner $376 each and 50,000 frequent flyer miles in compensation for the mistake, but Gamson had used 375,000 miles to book the first-class tickets and figures that, all told, including prebooked hotels, train tickets and tours, the aborted trip cost him more like $34,000. He’s suing the airline and representing himself, NBC News reported.

British Airways says the company cannot comment at this time, as the matter is in “active litigation.”

In an opinion rejecting British Airways petition to move the matter to federal court, a U.S. judge noted that the situation harkens back to Mark Twain’s comment that the “difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

[NBC News]

TIME World

Man Sues British Airways For Sending Him to Grenada Instead of Granada

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A view of the sunset over the Alhambra in Granada, the Spanish city this man was trying to visit. Getty Images

¡Qué barbaridad!

If you’ve ever mixed up the Caribbean island of Grenada and the Spanish city of Granada, you’re not alone. Apparently even airline officials — whose JOB it is to know things like this — have made the mix-up, too.

American dentist Edward Gamson hoped to visit Granada — a charming city in southern Spain known for its 11th-century Alhambra palace — on a recent vacation. But what he thought would be a two-hour British Airways flight from London ended up being a nine-hour flight all the way to the Caribbean. You know, to Grenada instead of Granada. Whoops.

“I have a lifelong interest in Islamic art. I’m also of Spanish Jewish heritage so it was something I had always wanted to do to visit Granada and the Alhambra,” Gamson told The Independent. “I made it absolutely clear to the booking agent I wanted to go to Granada in Spain. Why on earth would I want to go to Grenada in the Caribbean if I was flying back to America from Lisbon?”

Gamson and his partner never made it to Spain, and British Airways refused to reimburse $4,5o0 first-class tickets. Gamson decided to sue the airline, seeking $34,000 in damages.

It’s obviously a bummer that Gamson never got to take his trip to the stunning south of Spain, but there are definitely worse places he could have ended up, as Grenada is pretty stunning too:

170105598
Flavio Vallenari—Getty Images

 

TIME Drugs

$52,000 Worth of Cocaine Cookies Confiscated at Newark Airport

A Guatemalan citizen was arrested after trying to smuggle 3 pounds of cocaine

Instead of personal belongings, one passenger traveling to Newark Liberty International Airport packed cookies laced with $52,000 worth of cocaine, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said Thursday.

Guatemalan citizen Mauricio Isidro Rivera Hernandez, who landed at Newark Airport on June 5, was arrested after CBP officials found that the cookies he was carrying in his three checked bags had pellets of cocaine baked into them. Officials said that after searching Hernandez’s bags in a private room, they discovered that the cookies contained 118 oval-shaped pellets of cocaine, which together weighed around 3 pounds.

Hernandez, who arrived on a flight from Guatemala City, now faces drug smuggling charges, the CBP said in a press release.

“CBP officers remain ever-vigilant in protecting the United States from the distribution of these dangerous drugs, regardless of the concealment methods employed by these would-be smugglers,” Director of CBP’s New York Field Operations Robert Perez said in a statement.

 

 

MONEY

Why Some Bags Are Not Going to Fly This Summer

High checked-bag fees have travelers carrying on bigger bags. Now carriers are pushing back.

Jamming as much as possible into carry-on luggage has become routine for travelers, considering the fees many airlines charge for checking baggage. But those bags may be barred from overhead bins this summer.

Some travelers are discovering that bags that once were acceptable are now too big and must be checked.

The airlines say it is about space. Industry experts argue that the carry-on crackdown is a ploy to get more revenue. “Airlines have for years turned a blind eye to their own baggage restrictions,” says Tim Winship, editor of FrequentFlier.com, a travel website.

Among the three largest airlines—American Airlines , Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines—only United says it is taking a harder line on the size of luggage destined for overhead bins.

Earlier this year, the airline let travelers know it was going to enforce size limits, disqualifying any bag that exceeded the following measurements: 22 inches in height, 14 inches in width, and 9 inches in depth.

“Customers with the right size bags were telling us that often times there was no more room on the aircraft for their carry-on bags,” United spokesman Charles Hobart said. “This is a response to customer feedback.”

One problem for travelers is that a lot of bags sold as acceptable carry-ons are 15 inches wide, in violation of the three largest airlines’ policies. They are, however, still permitted on the largest of their rival carriers.

While the other airlines say they have not gotten tougher, they acknowledge that during busy times they are more aggressive about policing carry-on bag size. During vacation periods, for example, they pay more attention to what passengers are trying to bring on board, Delta spokesman Morgan Durrant said.

Airlines have tried to keep up with increased demand to bring bags on board by getting larger bins on new planes. “All those bins get bigger and bigger; yet it’s never enough,” said Robert Mann, an airline analyst for R.W. Mann & Company Inc and a former airline executive.

Airlines are trying to catch oversized bags as early as possible, because it is easiest to charge passengers for checking a bag at the counter, Mann said. If the bag has made it all the way to the gate, time pressure often prevents airline workers from even trying to collect a fee.

The three largest airlines share the same carry-on size limits, which happen to be smaller than what is permitted on rival carriers. Southwest Airlines, JetBlue Airways, and Spirit Airlines all allow bigger carry-ons. But Spirit, which is known for low-base fares and a raft of fees, charges as much as $100 for carry-ons.

When choosing a carry-on bag, consider avoiding one with wheels, says Tim Leffel, editor of PracticalTravelGear.com. Wheels gobble up room because they count in the measurement.

Travelers should also avoid over-stuffing their carry-ons, he says. “Nothing should be put into an outside pocket of a 9-inch-wide carry-on except flat things like magazines and papers,” Leffel says. Otherwise, the extra bulge will exceed regulations.

AIRLINE RULES

These are the maximum carry-on bag sizes permitted on America’s largest airlines:

* American: 22 inches x 14 inches x 9 inches

* Delta: 22 inches x 14 inches x 9 inches

* United: 22 inches x 14 inches x 9 inches

* Southwest: 24 inches x 16 inches x 10 inches

* JetBlue: 24 inches x 16 inches x 10 inches

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