Flying in China is an experience because of the sheer numbers of people who fly, because of all the massive shiny new airports sprouting like mushrooms as China modernizes at an incredible rate and because of the behaviour of Chinese Passengers.
Passengers of all nationalities and cultures can be obnoxious with a plan ticket in their hands but so many Chinese passengers outdo everyone else with their lack of patience, short tempers, complete absence of decorum and utter disdain for rules and etiquette, and disrespect of everyone out side their immediate circle.
This may sound racist but it is not. I have an immense respect for Chinese people and their culture and personally abhor racism. Like every culture though, Chinese have their strengths and weaknesses. Flying tends brings out their weaknesses.
Just How Bad are Chinese Passengers?
In Short, they can be incredibly bad. To give you an idea, some of the higher profile incidents that have recently received a lot of media attention are listed below.
Massive Temper Tantrum – On the 6 of February 2013 a deputy chairman of a state owned mining company in Yunnan and county level communist party official Yan Linkun went ballistic at the Kunming Changshui airport. He arrived with his wife and children at the airport with plenty of time but spent too long eating breakfast so he missed his first flight. He was switched to a later flight but again missed the last call. After he unsuccessfully tried smooth talking and then threatening his way onto the flight, he flipped and threw a massive tantrum.
His wife and he shouted at the airport staff and he then kicked the boarding gate desk, destroyed two boarding gate computers and tried twice to break the glasses doors leading to the plane with a sign board. Security staff were present but did not stop with which is understandable. He was temporary suspended, forced to apologize and given a slap on the wrist.
Seatbelts and Phones – 14 of February on a KLM flight from Beijing to Amsterdam six Chinese first class passengers were late for boarding and once seated refused to fasten seatbelts or stop using their mobile phones when plane was ready to take off. They then became abusive to the flight attendants who asked them to stop using their phones and fasten their seatbelts . The captain of the flight refused to take off until the passengers were taken away by airport security.
Beating Airport Employee – 20 February at Guangzhou International Airport a Melbourne bound China Southern flight was delayed and two Chinese passengers beat an airport employee to the ground.
Stealing Alcohol – 22 February on a Air France flight from Paris to Wuhan two drunk Chinese passengers stole between 7 and 16 bottles of wine from a drink cart. They became obnoxious when confronted with the theft and the pilot had to intervene. The two passengers also reportedly threatened a fellow Chinese passenger with death when she tried to dissuade them.
Aisle Toilet – Some time in February on a domestic flight a child defecated in the aisle of the plane then had their bottom wiped by one of their parents.
Running to the Runway – In early 2012 roughly 20 angry Chinese passengers at Shanghai’s international airport left the terminal and ran across the tarmac towards the runway. They cam within 200 meters of an incoming plane from the United Arab Emirates and caused a 16 hour flight delay. Authorities are not sure why they ran onto the tarmac. Possibly to create a scene and increase their chances of compensation.
Pilot and Crew Assaulted and Restrained – In October 2012 a Jetstar flight from Melbourne to Beijing was diverted to Shanghai due to bad weather. The passengers were kept on the plane for a couple of hours with cabin crew keeping people calm and under control. After the passengers left the plane a group of Chinese passengers lynched the Captain and flight crew who where picking up their bags, assaulted the captain, forced captain and crew against a wall, physically restrained them and took their bags away. Airport officials and staff did nothing.
Bad Habits – As a general law passengers are meant to remain seated and leave their mobile phones turned off until the seat belt light goes off and they are given permission by cabin staff. People from all nationalities tend to bend this law by getting up, turning on phones etc etc once the plane stops or is slowly taxiing on the tarmac. Chinese passengers take this to an extreme by often making calls as soon as the wheels hit the ground and opening overhead lockers to grab luggage when the landing has barely finished.
Kicking an Attendant – At the end of June a mild mannered school teacher at Wenzhou airport slapped and kicked and attendant to the ground when her flight to Beijing was cancelled and she was not offered any water or cake.
Assaulting an Attendant – On 13 July 2013 a passenger at Shanghai airport tried to rip the name badge of an attendant’s uniform and then hit her. Two airport staff were injured in the brawl that followed and three passengers were arrested.
Storming the Runway – 18 July 2013 More than 30 passengers broke through security and stormed the runway at Nanchang airport after their plane was delayed for 7 hours by bad weather
…and the list goes on.
These passengers are not this way because they are horrible people or have a complete disregard for every one they encounter while flying. They are like for a number of economic, historical and cultural reasons. These reasons do not excuse this behaviour but they do explain it.
The Airline Industry – Over the last 10 to 20 years the Chinese airline industry has gone through the largest period of growth seen by any airline industry since the Wright brothers took to the skies. This explosive growth has come at a price with areas such as staff training and passenger management being neglected in favour of infrastructure, flight routes and planes.
Consequently Chinese passengers are have longer waits on planes and boarding gates than their counterparts around the world and the communication they receive is minimal or non existent.
Peak Flying Season – Every year during the lunar New Year around January or February, the world’s largest annual migration takes place in China where two billion journeys are made during the period of two weeks. You can click here for information on travel during Chinese New Year.
During this time the countries capacity for air travel is stretched to the limit, people are under extreme time pressure and there are crowds like you would not believe.
Scarcity and Poverty – Prior to China’s recent economic develop that started in the 80’s and 90’s China endured decades of extreme poverty and scarcity. The most graphic example is the Great Leap Forward in 1958-1961 where approximately 30 million people or 5% of the people starved to death. This led to a culture wit dog eat dog tendencies where everyone had to look after themselves first at any cost.
Money and Power – Many of the Chinese who fly work for the government directly or indirectly and have very powerful positions in one of the world’s most corrupt systems. These people tend to be arrogant, short on patience, limited empathy, believe anything can be bought and are bullies.
Education and Awareness – China has a fairly introverted culture (in Chinese the name “China means the center country) that is quickly changing but many people have a limited awareness of the world outside the confines of their own society. Adapting to international norms and forms of behaviour can be difficult for these people. Many people also have a limited education or education focused on technical skills and deficient etiquette and general knowledge. To put it very crudely, many Chinese passengers are country bumpkins with money.
Expectations – Many of these obnoxious passengers are first time flyers who have unrealistically high expectations. They are familiar with basic service found on cheap trains and buses and expect superior service with the more expensive air travel.
Selfishness – Chinese tend to be incredibly helpful and caring of their inner circle of family, friends and guests but can be extremely selfish and neglectful of outsiders and public areas. You can see this in the way so many Chinese don’t queue, litter in public and drive like they are insane. When you give these people a plane ticket this behaviour of selfishness leads directly to horrible passengers who walk over each other to get their seats, find luggage space, use phones when and where they want and have very little interest in waiting.
Delays - In June 2013 only 18% of the 22,000 flights out of Beijing Airport departed on schedule which makes it the world’s worst for punctuality. A major cause for all these delays is there has bee tremendous growth of air traffic in skies strictly controlled by the Peoples Liberation Army and there are only a few permitted air routes.
March 2013 – Airline Staff Fight Back
Normally with Chinesse airline passengers, the airline staff take abuse meekly. Not so at Beijing Airport in March 2013. Passengers on a China Eastern Airlines flight were repeatedly sent to different boarding gates and a group of 30 of them eventually ran out of patience and found three hapless airline staff manning a desk. The staff denied there was a problem which angered the passengers so a manager tried to placate them.
One passenger threw a wad of news paper that hit the manager in the face who took it calmly and walked away. Another passenger threw a bottle of water which hit the manager again in the face. The manager lost his cool and tried to attack the passenger with a chair and had to be restrained by colleagues who led him away. The passengers where then directed to the correct boarding gate and eventually caught their plane four hours late.
What Should You Do When You Travel By Plan in China?
Understand – These passengers represent the very worst of Chinese and in just about every other situation the Chinese you meet during your travels will be kind, warm hearted and friendly.
Train Travel – Not only do you avoid passenger temper tantrums and arrogance travelling by train, you also get to see much more of the country. Train travel also gives you the opportunity to meet more down to earth, genuine and friendly people than planes. This post gives details on the benefit of train travel in China
Patience – Every culture including your own has its strengths and weaknesses so if the locals want to be obnoxious while they fly, let them. Their poor behaviour is not going to hurt you and they are a part of the interesting and colourful experience you have travelling in China.
Feel free to add your own experiences (good and bad) of Chinese passengers