Alarm as Chinese airport aggro flares

A rise in the number of serious air rage incidents has forced a Sydney tour operator to keep its clients away from Chinese airports if their flights have been delayed.

Alan Alcock, the managing director of the China travel specialist Wendy Wu Tours, said when he learns of a flight delay in mainland China he prefers to reschedule his Australian tour groups on to other on-time services.

In a nation beset by chronic delays and a rapidly expanding air travel industry, incidents have become common. Last week there were disturbing scenes at Kunming's Changshui Airport as angry Chinese passengers, delayed by fog, abused airport staff and damaged equipment, forcing police to intervene.

"The Chinese don't behave the same way Westerners do," Mr Alcock said. "They're noisier and rowdier and they don't perceive personal space in the same way we do."

Industry experts blame the poor communication skills of airport staff, incessant delays and the dramatic growth in air travel in China. The number of Chinese air travellers has nearly quadrupled in recent years, according to the Chinese journal Qiushi, but the number of aviation security personnel remains about the same as a decade ago.

Whatever the reasons, an incredulous global industry has rarely, if ever, seen the likes of Chinese "terminal tantrums".

Last year passengers even stormed the tarmac at Shanghai Pudong Airport, disrupting an incoming Emirates flight.

In another incident an Australian Jetstar pilot, on a flight that originated in Melbourne, was detained at Shanghai Pudong Airport for six hours by furious Chinese passengers. They were angered after a connecting service between Singapore and Beijing was diverted due to heavy fog in the capital.

Airport security staff allegedly refused to intervene. Jetstar chose to downplay the incident at the time, diplomatically explaining that "some passengers became upset when there was a misunderstanding about onward travel options".

Barry Jackson, the president of the Australian and International Pilots Association, points out that there are only 14,700 aircraft in all of China to service the air travel needs of the world's most populous and fastest-developing nation. Industry analysts also cite problems with the large expanses of airspace controlled by the Chinese military and its authority to override passenger plane movements.

"We're very concerned [about the incidents at Chinese airports] and so too should be the travelling public," said Mr Jackson, who believes the Jetstar incident last year should be pursued with Chinese authorities.

"An important part of operating an aircraft is to have security done well on the ground as well as in the air, so as to avoid issues."

Steven Wang, the managing director of New Asia Pacific Travel in Sydney, said the "happiness" of Chinese travellers depended on how much information was effectively communicated to them.

There may be lessons, too, for the tourism industry in Australia, for which China is now the second biggest market after New Zealand and surpassing Britain. Mr Alcock said Australia, which received 573,000 Chinese tourists last year, should expect mainland-China-style terminal tantrums.