Wild scenes as passengers vent anger over delays

Thousands of angry passengers were stranded after heavy fog delayed flights at a Chinese airport early on Saturday, as the country was shivered through its coldest weather in almost three decades.

Ten thousand passengers were stuck in Changshui International Airport in the southern Chinese city of Kunming on Saturday morning after thick fog grounded more than 280 flights, state-run Xinhua news agency said.

Angry passengers stranded at the airport for more than a day struggled with airline staff, damaging computer equipment belonging to an airline, while police broke up scuffles, a photographer present at the scene late on Friday said.

"The passengers were really furious, they kept going to the service desk to ask for information, but didn't get any answers," the photographer said.

Flights at the airport resumed on Saturday afternoon after the fog lifted, Xinhua said.

Air passengers in China have developed a reputation for going to extreme measures to vent their anger over delayed and cancelled flights. Cabin crew have been assaulted, passengers have run out on to the tarmac and even opened emergency exits to get off planes.

In October, a Jetstar crew was held hostage by angry passengers at Shanghai Airport after a delay due to fog. On that occasion, up to 150 passengers cornered the flight crew when they attempted to leave after the delay pushed them over their legal flying hours limit.

A witness told Fairfax Media at the time that security, immigration and customs officials stood by and watched while the crew were cornered and intimidated.

In another incident last year around 20 angry passengers dashed towards 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 on to to 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 a further delay.

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.

Air travel is growing rapidly in China, but the country's air corridors remain restricted by the government, creating a clogged, struggling air travel network.

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 people 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.

Over 270 million passengers flew on domestic routes in China last year, up nearly 10 per cent from 2010 and over 70 per cent from 2003, according to government data. The International Air Transport Association projects 379 million will be flying domestically by 2014.

China is suffering its coldest winter for 28 years, the news agency on Saturday quoted China's Meteorological Administration as saying.

Temperatures recorded over the country since November have averaged minus 3.8 degrees Celsius, while northeast China saw average temperatures of minus 15.3 degrees Celsius, its coldest winter for 43 years.

Plunging temperatures trapped around 1000 ships in sea ice off eastern China's Shandong province this week, Xinhua reported, while snowfall delayed more than 140 flights in Beijing last month, the China Daily said.

An annual Ice and Snow Festival in the northeastern city of Harbin, famous for its enormous ice-sculptures, opened yesterday as temperatures in the city fall below minus 24 degrees Celsius.

Temperatures in northern China are expected to pick up this week, although parts of south China will continue to experience snow, Xinhua reported.


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