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Fog shuts down Kunming airport, strands thousands

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Although 33.5 billion yuan can buy many things, it apparently cannot buy an airport protection from the elements. Complications due to fog left thousands stranded yesterday at Kunming Changshui International Airport.

A haze that began at 10am and continued thickening throughout the day prompted airport officials to divert flights away from Kunming and cancel all those scheduled to depart. Late in the evening some 7,500 people were still marooned at the airport after 440 flights were scratched.

Planes headed to Kunming were rerouted, often to airports in Sichuan. Flight cancellations led to mass confusion as travelers with layovers in Kunming were left without accommodation. The airport's only internal hotel, which charges by the hour, was fully booked by late afternoon.

Former GoKunming editor Chris Horton was one of those stuck at the airport. Horton's flight was originally scheduled to depart at 4:40pm. After several delays, the flight was canceled at 6:15pm. He received his checked baggage nearly two hours later.

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The inconvenience of his flight's cancellation was compounded by the lack of heating in the airport, he said, adding that it was cold enough inside to see one's breath.

Airport workers tried their best to cope with the circumstances, distributing a limited supply of small blankets and addressing people's concerns when they could, Horton said. However, no announcements were made regarding flight cancellations, refunds or baggage claim procedures, creating an atmosphere of confusion, frustration and sometimes anger:

Nobody was willing to line up and several travelers went behind airline counters to harass already overwhelmed staff. People were yelling and pushing and some were pounding on or even standing on desks and countertops.

Designed by city planners to be a symbol of Kunming's development, Changshui International Airport opened in June 2012. The facility accommodated 23 million passengers in its first six months of operation.

This was the first major test for China's fourth largest, and seventh-busiest airport. Somewhat ironically, news reports published on New Year's Eve commended the airport for its efficiency and overall lack of delays.

As of this writing the airport is attempting to clear its backlog, giving priority to delayed flights. Travelers leaving from Changshui International are encouraged to call in advance to check flight status.

Images: Chris Horton

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Could you put up the telephone number. I have a flight leaving tomorrow.

(0871) 67358125

scally,

Thank you.

We tried (0871) 67358125 a dozen times over a few hours before someone picked up and told us that if we want information on flights we should call 96566. This will give you a mandarin language only machine which told us that our flight was good.

Thanks very much @atomic.

This year has seen much less fog in Songming than normal, drought has some benefits.

Why is fog really a problem with landing/taking off? I have flown many times with dense fogs and usually I think the instruments do their thing... I believe something else is at play.

Just came back from the airport for the second day in a row... my 10pm flight was delayed to 11:30 and it seemed like no flights were managing to take off. Didn't want to spend another five hours at the airport waiting for my flight to be canceled, so I left.

There were several departure gates with angry crowds wanting to get out of Kunming. One small group was chanting "We want to go home!", they were being escorted away from their departure gate by the fuzz.

I saw a few lines of 50 or more people waiting for hot water to drink or for instant noodles. The airport's food and beverage facilities were doing brisk business.

I called the flight info hotline (96566) several times before going to the airport and after arriving and it was out of service.

Given the state of the airport tonight, I would suggest that anyone with flights tomorrow assume that there is a chance your flight will be delayed or canceled tomorrow. If there's any way to avoid checking luggage, I would recommend it. Should your flight be canceled, you won't be in the mood to wait an additional hour or two for your bags.

They have put up a new telephone number to call, 67093616.

Today the weather is completely fine, yet a friend who's flying was told first that her flight was fine, checked her luggage, now the flight is delayed, possibly cancelled, no real info, angry and confused masses, a general mess. How about spending 10% less on fancy infrastructure and putting that money towards improving staff training and management systems?

Turns out that my flight that I gave up on last night was canceled, and I was refunded my money without having to get a flight cancellation certificate like two days ago, which involved fighting my way to the counter and vying for the attention of the overwhelmed staff.

A friend of mine went to the airport today and her flight left on time at two, so I decided, just for a laugh, to try for the third day in a row to fly out of Kunming. Heinz's comment above suggests that the chaos from less than a day of fog two days ago may still be an issue.

It seems that there is very little in the way of contingency planning at Changshui International Airport for emergencies or even normal occurrences such as cold weather. I truly hope the loss of face for the airport and Yunnan Airport Group spurs someone in charge to make sure that the airport is more prepared for emergencies and other mafan in the future... if something like this happens during Chinese New Year it may take ages to get things back to normal.

Hope that service and preparedness at the airport will improve may be misplaced for the next few years, it appears expansion is the priority for the foreseeable future: centreforaviation.com/[...]

Changshui airport announced that they won't take any more domestic freight until maybe Monday,,they have more then 10,000 T of freight currently waiting to get out of KM,,,

You have to love China for it's inefficinecy and stupidety, sometimes.
When I entered Changshui airport the first time I sensed that it's below any international standards,

(hence..not even soap in the washrooms).

Even the old AP was better managed and designed. Like most things in China the package looks great and what you find inside, is rubbish or crappy knockoffs.

Sorry guys you had to go through this, I'm not a fan of airports but I always enjoy Chinese prestige object failing....because there is the only consistency, the only efficiency... efficiency in sucking, with a 99.9% failure rate. :)

bluppfisk
you are absolutely right fog is generally no problem (wind is...as with humans).
There is a CAT scale measuring the fog density and only the CATIIIc requires certain equipment and experience by the pilot and crew. CATIIIc needs autoland sytems (not autopilot) guessing Chinese Airlines don't invest in it...it's quite expensive.

All others are ok to approach and land with ILS... I wasn't there but I sincerely doubt it was CATIIIc that day. Plus usually normal airports have weather reports and are able to reroute in time to avoid what happend to you guys.

Also NORMAL airports have emergency staff...handing out free tea/coffee, soups, blankets, ticket returns and have a relation officer walking around making sure you are, as well as possible. Well, NORMAL airports.

For the cats at China Air Traffic...even rain, the least of all weather problems, brings the new Beijing airport to a complete shutdown. They literally closed all air traffic for as little as heavy rain.

They even have the regulation that there has to be 10 minutes space inbetween take offs in rain.

I guess Chinese airline pilots fly with a compass in their lap and wind speed is measured by licking the finger and hold it out of the window...

Again sorry guys but man I love China for that stuff. Welcome China to the 21st Century and Changshui airport to the 19th, if lucky. Was even reported on CCTV..Great job Kunming!

Oh, i began to worry about my flight back to kunming next Friday...

Apart from freight and luggage,, every things seems back to "normal",, but,,, as I was waiting to pick people up at the airport today there seemed to be a large number of people picking up bags after their flights were cancelled.

I flew in yesterday and had no problems,,so its seems your mileage may vary.

Snow in the north of China caused some flights to those areas being cancelled today.

I was there with my 11 year old daughter freezing and feeling people, smoking and coughing near us. Amazed at how people snatched extra food trays to resell them and others did not get any food. Saw how a few people did freely offer their food to my daughter and me. strange counterdictions. Met folks on our flight who shared that there are no updates and there is no language limitation-no person is being informed.

We were fortunate enough to have our multiple delayed Xian flight to takeoff eventually.

Question: For Chinese New Year- Is Hong Kong, Shanghai or taiwan airports better equipped to handle fog and the such, should they occur?
I mad travel plans and am rethinking my plans through.
Loved Dali- but what a mess at the airport. We have slept overnight at the Kunming airport two weeks ago and the coldness outdoes the Yubulli slopes weather.
Trisha
NY

Apparently a journalist interviewed the locals and they were quite confused on why they built an airport there. This area is known to have dense fog every year, and yet they didn't prepare for it... meh.

The only thing more perplexing is the new law to give tickets for running a yellow light (but I guess that completely backfired already)

Nice bit of info from Global Times, the FOX News of China:

'A journalist from the Kunming-based newspaper Yunnan Daily, who declined to be named, confirmed to the Global Times that the airport, which went into operation just six months ago, was short of ground crew and not equipped with enough support facilities.

"There is no large hotel close to the airport so stranded passengers are sent back downtown, 30 kilometers away. When passengers complained about the low temperature inside the airport, they were told that the heating system was not fully operational."'

I didn't see anything resembling a heating system in the airport. Even if there is one, one would think it might be nice to have it operational by January.

Of course, GT has to be "fair and balanced", so it includes this chap saying that people had no right to lose their cool in the face of incompetence and indifference:

'"These passengers' actions were radical, and violated laws," Zhang Qihuai, a researcher from the Institute of Air and Space Law under the China University of Political Science and Law, told the Global Times.'

Full story here: www.globaltimes.cn/content/753920.shtml

First i'm glad that not only Germany has problems with (still not build) airports.

Second, i remember my visit to the new airports toilet in august last year, where i felt like an earthquake appeared... but the reason was actually the missing (not installed) screws on the toilet. It's a shame... and KM is still a village!

Anybody know what the runway visibility was? Kunming is equipped with a Category I instrument landing system according to what I found on the net. In the US that's good for operations down to 550m visibility. I have a hard time believing it was worse than that for so long. I suspect that there is another reason and they are just blaming the weather to save face. The previous poster who mentioned CAT IIIc is incorrect from what I read. I read that nowhere in the world has Cat IIIc yet which is for flying blind basically. CAT I is what every other airport in China uses from what I read.

Gou Rong Wei - interesting info. where did you find that about the instrument landing system? whatever the visibility that day, having to close an entire airport for FOG is pretty disappointing! glad i wasn't stuck in that mess (but some of the pics on shanghaiist.com are quite funny).

Trisha - things seem to just work as they should in Hong Kong airport. i haven't flown to/from taiwan so i can't comment on there shanghai airport was OK when i was last there but that was 5 years ago.

"Staff's mergency security on the overloaded condition is inexperienced," indeed.

I think that problem is that airlines are sht scared of having an accident so they are way over cautious when it comes to grounding their planes. I remember once "trying to" fly out from Guangzhou to find my airline was not flying while another airline continued to fly. It seems these decisions are made by the airline not the airport, which also explains a bit why the airport might not have up to date information on flight disruptions.

@Gou Rong Wei: 550m visibility is'nt much, remember KM is surrounded by mountains.

The visibility that day was apparently 300-800, according to a local journalist for Kunming TV.

Normally there would be a few problems with any airport around the world when they have their first crisis.

But this is China, so multiply the problems x 3 due to lack of preparedness.
And this is Kunming, so multiply that result x 2 due to general lassitude.

Can't wait for the subway... not that I will be on it for the first 6 months, its not worth my life!

Two friends and their infant were flying in from eastern China last night.

Ten minutes before arriving at Changshui they were rerouted to Guiyang, where they spent the night.

Now my friends say there is fighting at the Guiyang airport and they were hurried onto a plane that shows no signs of moving. I'm flying out of Changshui tomorrow, I half-expect to run into them then.

Kunming has a shame, and its name is Changshui.

Chris, do you know what the problem was at Changshui-was it fog again?
I am due to fly into KMG on Feb 23 and stay overnight til 11am the next day. How is the staying overnight situation now-anyone have any updates?

@Elfin: I do believe it was a little foggy the other day. I flew out on the 19th without any delay. No idea what the weather will be like on the 23rd, but if it is foggy, a delay is likely. Not sure what you mean by "staying overnight situation", it's easy enough to cab/bus between the airport and the city. If flights have been canceled or delayed I'm guessing the tiny 'hotel' in the airport will be full. It's a ripoff anyway, you're better staying at a hotel in the city.

Thanks for the info Chris, and here's hoping it won't be foggy on the 23rd/24th.
Unfortunately, due to severe financial constraints, I will be staying overnight at the airport, waiting for my 11am connection on the 24th. Do you know if the shop on the 2nd level is open all night for cheap noodles/food?
Cheers,
Elfin

"How about spending 10% less on fancy infrastructure and putting that money towards improving staff training and management systems?"

Yeah but the airport looks good......like everything else in China...looks good but dont touch it because it's crap..

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