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Risks of working for airlines in China

By - | Dec 17th 2012 | 3 min read

In China, angry passengers are resorting to extreme measures to protest delays as the country’s restricted air corridors become clogged with millions of new fliers each year.

Airline crews and ground staff are assaulted, passengers storm runways and emergency exit doors are yanked open.

There have been dozens of incidents involving irate travelers on both domestic and international flights this year, as airlines struggle to stick to their schedules — a fact attributed to the fast rise of the middle class and cheap flights.


“When flights get delayed, passengers make a lot of trouble. Sometimes they even beat our staff,” Wang Zhenghua, founder and chairman of Shanghai-based budget carrier Spring Airlines, told Reuters in an interview earlier this year.

“Airlines are actually the weaker party. With the government calling for a ‘harmonious society’, the only thing we can do is to give them compensation to calm them down.”

Some 30 years ago, flying was a travel option only available to top government and company officials who needed to submit a special document from their employer to buy a plane ticket.

While most Chinese still use trains for long-distance travel because of the lower cost, rising income and cheaper flights as a result of increased competition means more are now using planes.

Airlines are increasing the number of flights but with China’s air force controlling much of the airspace, flight delays are likely to become increasingly common.

Earlier this year, around 20 angry passengers dashed toward the runway at Shanghai’s main international airport, coming within 200 metres of an oncoming plane from the United Arab Emirates. Their action was sparked by a 16-hour flight delay.

It was not clear why they charged onto the tarmac, unless they were seeking to create a scene in order to boost their chances of getting compensation. In August, two passengers, furious after being refused compensation for a delay, yanked open an emergency exit door on their plane — resulting in further delay.

An Australian pilot and crew were surrounded and threatened by an angry mob in October after a Jetstar flight, which originated in Melbourne, was diverted from Beijing to Shanghai because of bad weather, Australian media reported.

That incident echoed another involving a United Airlines flight that was delayed for three days in Shanghai. Media reported that frustrated passengers started shouting and rushed at the pilots.


Last week, angry passengers came to blows with ground staff after their flight was delayed from Guiyang in southwestern China, according to a witness.

“The staff’s attitude was bad, so I can understand their anger but I strongly disagree with police not arresting the passengers,” said aß 28-year-old office worker, who only gave her last name as Tong.

There have been other equally bizarre, yet peaceful acts. A group of passengers sang songs over the public announcement system after airline staff deserted the terminal in Shanghai when all flights were grounded due to a thunderstorm this year.

The cause of these protests partly lies with the Chinese carriers themselves. It is not uncommon for passengers to have to wait for hours inside a plane or at the boarding gate without any information about how long the delay might last



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