The first Lunar New Year holiday flights this year between China and Taiwan took off yesterday with a frenzy of passengers taking advantage of the direct flights across the Taiwan Strait.
A fully-booked China Airlines charter flight carrying 313 passengers landed at Shanghai's Pudong Airport at 10:34 a.m. after departing Taipei's Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) International Airport two and half hours earlier.
The plane returned to Taipei two hours later.
This year's charter flights have been expanded to allow any Taiwanese to fly, whereas last year's charters were restricted to China-based Taiwan business people and their families.
This is the third year that charter flights have operated between China and Taiwan for the Lunar New Year, which this year falls on January 29.
The non-stop charters will run until February 7.
"There should be direct flights between friendly countries anywhere in the world," said a Taiwanese businessman surnamed Hsu.
"A trip that should only take an one hour now takes six, that's something no one in the world can understand," he said.
Strait Exchange Foundation Secretary-General You Ying-long also went to the CKS airport yesterday to receive Taiwanese businessman Cheng chia-chang and his wife, who was diagnosed with motor neuron disease while receiving treatment for respiratory problems at a Shanghai hospital last June.
"My wife would not have been able to come home if it were not for the direct charter flights during the Lunar New Year holiday," Cheng said.
Cheng's wife, Yeh Ling, was a well-known singer in 1960s.
Yeh's condition has worsened in recent months and doctors said she could not take long flights since she requires access to a ventilator and oxygen supply at all times.
It is estimated that if she had to take a medical chartered flight, it would have cost at least twice as much.
Twelve Taiwanese and Chinese carriers will operate a total of 144 flights, connecting Taipei and Kaohsiung with China's Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Xiamen, for the holiday service this year, compared with 96 flights permitted in 2005.
The restrictions were first relaxed in 2003, when six Taiwanese carriers were permitted to fly between Shanghai and Taipei, with stops in Hong Kong or Macau.
There was no such service in 2004, but it resumed in 2005 with planes being allowed to fly non-stop to Taiwan for the first time since 1949.
Turning the once-a-year agreement into a regular service looks a long way off, however, with Taipei and Beijing failing to tackle their political differences and reach a compromise.
"Under these kinds of circumstances, we realize that in the next couple of years, we do not expect anything major to come out between Taiwan and China," said Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council Chairman Joseph Wu (吳釗燮).