Chinese – The World’s Worst Airplane Passengers

Getting Around — By on 28/07/2013 3:37 pm

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

pixel Chinese – The World’s Worst Airplane Passengers
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  1. sam bennett says:

    That is a very good review of flying within china, and a good understanding rather than being upset about it. Good job!

  2. Ula says:

    great review; interesting, informative, with a good understanding of Chinese culture.

    I travel in China usually by train as the countryside is simply so beautiful that it would be sad to miss it, the trains are fast, usually on time and really well organized (except for buying the tickets where you have to spend time in long lines sometimes). The Chinese travelers are often simply bored with slow train journey and want to chit chat while on plain things are moving much faster – with TV screens and entertainment. I personally observed few times Chinese shouting and screaming but never fighting – not yet:)

  3. Lorenzo says:

    please notice that they are "Mainland" chinese, not Hong Kong chinese.

    In Hong kong, most hong kong chinese also dislike "Mainland" chinese.

    They are dirty, they would poo in shopping center, on the street…

    Moreover, they are also very rude…



  4. Maxine says:

    Totally agree with this insightful article. Been living here for 4 years, and I think it hits the nail mostly on the head – but I would agree with passenger actions when being kept on a plane in excess of an hour standing at a gate! happened a few time (max 2hrs, for a 1hr 20 flight) extreely frustrating. If you can, try fly from Nanyuan Airport (S. Beijing). Tiny, but a lot more efficient.


    As for the Airlines in China, avoid Spring Air like the pest. They might be cheaper on some routes, but you will be subjected to non-stop monotonious read outs by some flight attendent for promotions and advertisements in Chinese, at max volume. Safe your sanity! I had quality headphone on high volume and could still hear this going on for excess of 45min flying HKG-SHA. You been warned

  5. W. Leong says:

    The comments & write-up above about travelling in mainland China by air and the Chinese behaviour at the airports and on the planes are accurate.  I have had travelled a lot by air as well as by trains domestically for the past 2 & half years while living & working in China.  You see more the real common people on the trains with ordinary, fast and very fast speeds.  However, I must stress that one also must remember, we are in the most populous country on earth and hence, more & bigger challenges that come with it, when looking in as a foreigner.  It took me awhile to come to terms with this fact, even though i'm of Chinese background, born overseas. We in Australia also have people misbehave badly too or do not observe the travelling decorum. The difference is the Chinese majority would behave civilly but the very small minority, even though its small, can proportionally magnify the problems many folds in comparision to the population size of Australia, for instance.  I always thought the " right" or appropriate administration is enough on the numerous passengers, travellers, visitors, holiday takers, and people you list them anyway you like, while waiting for boarding or disembarking,  I still believe appropriate admin, either draconian or stern measures initially at least, is still needed to keep the masses in line.  Stern measures in other part of the world are already in place re smoking at the Hong Kong airport or taking more than the restricted amount of infant milk powder out of the territories, both would incur heavy fine and jailed sentence respectively.   Even in Singapore, supposed to be a liberal democratic city state with a population of mid- size cities of China, such as Suzhou, Dalian, Ningbor or Wuxi etc. it has one of the most draconian laws against chewing gums and spitting in public. I am quite sure those unsettling, aggressive and violent behavours as descibed above would immediate dealt with by the Singaporean police,or probably the same way in a major airport in Australia in the names of security.  I 'm quite sure in all security conscious airports in the US and in other western countries would take action immediately, as mentioned in the KLM case.  The appropriate measures in China is to have more police on the beat at the airport and can respond to incidents immediately  – like most of the times in the cities and general speaking, police presence can be a phone call away. Those still misbehaved after warnings in the airport should be led or taken away and kept in the police station or put behind the bars in the airport for hours then to be charged in serious violent cases and their flight schedule to be disregarded.  Invite the media to "propagade" the bad cases around the nation that the national civil authority is serious about clamping down serious misbehaviour in any airport.  This would have immediate salutory effect on putting the masses in line, a fact that's not new through out the Chinese history.  Tough measures can be relaxed when people, the minority we talked about even though how massive they are in comparision, are conditioned to the more civil and acceptable behaviour in public.  Of course, education in schools are important.  I observed in my own experience at the tertiary edacational level, there is a need to learn more about simple etiquettes, coming from a land of  "Confucian classics". The other side of the equation of the problems is the airlines themselves,  Domestice airlines are notoriously having delays.  There may have reasons such as bad weather or unforseen events, but their PR and customer's service are left much to be desired in the world practice.   Training and good leadership are major answers.  Again, to be fair and much like to see a lot more progrsss to be made, given it has just been opened up  in the last 30 years, China needs to be given more time and world exposure and experience to reach the world standard of practices we know of in the west.  No one at the end of the day can be immune from misbehaviour of a small number of its citizens including the civil & civilised west we often like to identify with but the question is how the nation can deal with it in a manner which is fair, just and appropriate to keep the peace and order.

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