Punishing airlines whose passengers misbehave

BEIJING Thu Jul 31, 2008 11:06am EDT

Workers mop the floor of the new Airport Express station at Beijing Capital International Airport July 19, 2008. REUTERS/Claro Cortes IV

Workers mop the floor of the new Airport Express station at Beijing Capital International Airport July 19, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Claro Cortes IV

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BEIJING (Reuters) - China will punish airlines whose passengers refuse to disembark or misbehave in protest over problems like delayed flights, an official said on Thursday, as the Olympics host tries to lift standards before the Games.

Frustration at mysterious delays and abrupt diversions and cancellations have at times boiled over into violence at Chinese airports, with passengers trying to storm grounded aircraft and police having to be brought in to keep the peace.

There have also been cases in which passengers, after delayed arrivals, have refused to get off aircraft in protest.

Deputy head of the civil aviation regulator, Yang Guoqing, said enough was enough after numerous warnings to airlines to treat their passengers better appeared to have failed.

"We will severely punish airlines which experience aircraft occupations and other incidents as a result of service reasons which originate with the airline," Yang told a news conference.

"These measures include cancelling slots at corresponding busy airports."

State media reported this week that scores of Chinese passengers smashed computers and desks and clashed with police after a night stranded at an airport without accommodation.

More than 170 passengers were due to leave Kunming, capital of southwestern Yunnan province, on three flights operated by China Southern Airlines late Monday, but the flights were cancelled due to bad weather, Xinhua news agency said.

The report blamed the melee on China Southern staff's "inappropriate working attitude."

Yang said customers must also be kept better informed about delays, especially those caused by bad weather, a big issue in China.

"If there is bad weather, for example, we will tell the media to publicize it so that passengers can be informed ahead of time and avoid long waits at airports due to the weather," he added.

Another worry, with the Games a week away, has been ensuring Beijing's main airport does not suffer delays from thunderstorms, which often strike the capital over the summer, just as athletes and other visitors arrive.

During last year's Spring Festival, riot police had to be called to Beijing airport after passengers angry at fog-related delays roughed up airline staff, attacked service counters and tried to storm grounded aircraft.

Former chief regulator Yang Yuanyuan told Reuters late last year that the threat of thunderstorms in August could be a big headache for air traffic controllers and passengers alike.

Huang Dengke, director of the watchdog's northern region, said records from previous years suggested rain was likely on August 8 and 9 -- when the Olympics open and when the airport will handle some 20 percent more traffic than normal.

But four nearby airports had been lined up to take diverted flights should that happen next week, he said.

(Editing by Chris Buckley)

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