This is why China's airports are a nightmare

You've never truly been late until you've travelled China's unfriendly skies. And that's a problem for those doing business in the Middle Kingdom.

Danny Armstrong is used to dealing with flight delays and cancellations.

As general manager of China Banking at National Australia Bank, he travels for business around China a couple of times a month. At the mercy of the nation's notoriously unpredictable flight system, Armstrong has had to become adept at contingency planning: booking on a certain carrier he believes has better on-time performance and switching to the high-speed train during times of the year when delays are common.

On occasion, he's taken even more drastic measures to be punctual, including the time when he hired a police escort from the airport to get the CEO of his company, on a visit from Australia, to a high-level meeting after flight delays from Shanghai to Beijing. "We just did it by the skin of our teeth," he said. "It cost us a fair bit of money, as well."

Armstrong's frustrations are common among business travellers in China as air travel has become increasingly chaotic and unreliable in recent years due to the country's chronically - and well-chronicled - overcrowded skies. China's airports are the worst in the world when it comes to punctuality. Airport statistics website FlightStats last year ranked 188 midsized and large airports around the world according to how many flights departed on time.

Of the bottom 20, 14 of them were in China, Hong Kong or Taiwan - all of which had on-time ratings of less than 60 per cent. The least punctual Chinese airport was Hangzhou's at an on-time rating of 41 per cent, second only to Jakarta globally. Shanghai's Pudong Airport (52 per cent), Hong Kong (59 per cent) and Beijing (64 per cent) fared only marginally better. By comparison, Tokyo's busiest airport, Haneda, which handles more flights annually than Shanghai-Pudong, had an on-time rating of 92 per cent last year, among the best in the world.

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