Here's a story that will resonate with anyone who has flown in China. On Friday night, after a three-hour weather delay, passengers boarded a Beijing-bound flight in Dhaka, Bangladesh that had a stopover in Kunming, a provincial capital in southwest China. Scheduled to leave Kunming at 8:45 p.m., the connecting flight was delayed until 11 p.m. by additional poor weather. This did not make the passengers happy. Several refused to board and demanded compensation, but by 1:45 a.m. the airline had persuaded everyone to board.
But that wasn't the end of the passengers' problems. After they boarded, the airport staff had to clear snow from the runway, which took over an hour. Finally, the plane began to taxi at 3:15 p.m.—15 minutes after the pilot inexplicably shut off the air conditioning. When passengers complained, the pilot reportedly asked: "Are you going to die soon? If not, just wait." Two passengers then burst open the emergency exits, which resulted in their arrests. And scene.
This was not the first time, even this month, that an airline passenger in China has opened an airplane's emergency exit in a non-emergency situation. More broadly, dramatic incidents of customer dissatisfaction with air travel are remarkably common in the country. After I moved to China in 2004, I witnessed the following over the course of six years, during which I took dozens of domestic flights:
- A passenger leaping on top of a check-in counter and lunging for a staff member who, for whatever reason, would not issue him a boarding pass. He was restrained before he could reach her.
- A group of 25 adults standing on top of a tables positioned near a gate, waving their jackets like fans waving towels at a football game, and chanting. Their flight was delayed without explanation.
- Two men getting into an enormous fist fight (eye gouging attempts and everything) after one accused the other of cutting in line.