Express air service between Beijing and Shanghai launched

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Will China's new express service end airport delays?Flights between Shanghai and Beijing just got faster and more reliable, at least that’s the word from five Chinese airline companies who launched an express air service between the two cities yesterday.

Operated by Air China, China Eastern, China Southern, Hainan Airlines and Shanghai Airlines, a total of 36 express flights taking off almost every half hour between Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport and Beijing Capital Airport are available.

The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) is promising a maximum three-hour turnaround from final check-in to baggage claim. According to a CAAC spokesman, the service includes dedicated express check-in, security check, boarding gates and baggage claims at the two airports.

The service, which aims to turn the Beijing-Shanghai commute into something resembling the eastern U.S. Boston-New York-Washington corridor, will allow passengers for to transfer their ticket among any of the five participating airlines. The advent of this service however, has seen the airlines do away with the huge discounts previously offered on many weekday flights.

While one was previously able to get up to 30 percent off weekday fares, all tickets for the five participating airlines will now only be sold at the full price of RMB1,130 the Shanghai Daily reports.

According to CAAC statistics, the Beijing-Shanghai route was used by 4.18 million passengers in 2006, making it the busiest domestic commercial route. With a booming economy, the summer Olympics and the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai, domestic airlines are struggling to meet demand.

An express service will come as welcome relief to many business travelers that regularly have to commute between the two cities, though it still remains to be seen just how efficient the new system is. While express service between New York and DC has become as effortless and routine as flying in the United States can be, the Beijing-Shanghai connection has not always been, as Howard French of The New York Times found out recently. He writes:

Waiting for a flight at Hongqiao, Shanghai’s older, domestic terminal, is hell, though, because whether you’re there for 30 minutes or for three hours (more likely), you will be bombarded almost nonstop with blaringly loud announcements expressing “terrible regret” about delayed flights, about canceled flights and about changed gates. Anything else would simply not be a normal day at Hongqiao.

Console yourself, dear passenger, with the thought that you are at least receiving a free lesson in Chinese geography while you wait, as the names of virtually every city of note in China are read out – again, with “terrible regrets” – over the bad news concerning these flights.

So while the business traveler has a streamlined service from Beijing to Shanghai and back to look forward to, they are still ultimately at the mercy of the CAAC and its seemingly arbitrary flight delays and cancellations. Hardy travelers take heed, a book and a good set of headphones may come in handy.