This is something that everyone thinks about constantly. Why am I stuck on this stupid bus on the tarmac with 50 other people crammed in, while my plane is right there? Why didn’t I just walk across?
Skywalks (or Skyway or Skybridge or “that tunnel I take from the gate to the airplane) is actually an amenity that most Americans are used to that we really only get upset about when it’s gone. Southwest is our “budget” airline — increasingly hard to imagine as such — so we’re used to good service.
But even though the US certainly has its share of budget airlines, they are nothing like the horror stories you see in Europe. People loathe Easy Jet and Ryan Air immensely. But it’s only cause European and Middle Eastern airlines are so quality, that the budget airlines stand in such stark contrast.
Skywalks in the US are par for the course. In other places, however, budget airlines use them extensively. Go ahead and take a Ryan Air flight to Paris-Beauvais. In addition to it being incredibly far (56 miles from the Eiffel Tower, in fact) you will not be accustomed to such a setup.
You will take a bus. You will be crammed. But I don’t think the mere existence of skywalks abroad is peculiar, but its ubiquity.
This is magnified in China. A hundredfold. For the most part, many airlines don’t have skywalks as standard for the cheaper flights. I have flown every major airline in China: China Southern, China Eastern, Air China and Hainan, in addition to budget airline, Spring, which is an abysmal experience.
I am discluding the Hong Kong gem, Cathay Pacific, as they are straight up one of the best airlines in the world. That being said, Hainan Airlines isn’t too shabby either, per the same article. I am, in no way, saying mainland airlines are bad. In fact, I’ll say the opposite. I think the Big Four (if you will) are fantastic, even better than the Big 3 in the US. Though if you set the bar low enough, you’ll trip over it.
I think all four airlines have stellar service, modern fleets and convenient amenities. This point is more matter-of-fact than judgmental.
China will soon be the world leader in airline passengers, and are already second on the list. The market has absolutely exploded, and they are attempting to enter the same market as Boeing and Airbus, with their C919.
Even as their expansive high speed rail network is connecting more and more cities everyday, the network of planes crisscrossing the sky grows.
That being said, it’s still a very young market, so norms are obviously different from those in more established spaces like the US or the UK. Most Chinese don’t necessarily care about some of the peripheral offerings of a flight; the main deal breaker is price. In that regard, it’s not too different from the American views on flights.
However, that perspective must be contextualized for the given markets. If Americans came to expect being bussed on the tarmac to the flight, then any price would reflect that. But we don’t expect it.
Chinese don’t expect skywalks. (I’m obviously generalizing hard.) And so they are not included in minimum prices by the airlines. Even if flying Air China or Hainan, except for certain flights, you do not get a skywalk. Sorry.
As the market matures, I’m sure they will become standard. However, as they cost airlines more money to have a skywalk (price discrimination in action) than to bus passengers to the plane, the savings craved by a Chinese consumer will be met
Therefore, even as Beijing and Shanghai (among other cities) boast internationally renowned airports, and Chinese airlines rank among the world’s best, you will see something as simple as skywalks be less available than seems otherwise.
It’s not a function of quality, but of market demands and reality. This is not to knock Chinese airlines but to highlight a peculiarity.
Let me know what you think in the comments below! Do you have experience with Chinese airports or airlines?
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