Swire Group

Flight to Guilin turns into an ordeal for tourists

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 June, 2006, 12:00am

For 14 mainland-bound tourists, it was a case of so near and yet so far.

They were among 154 Dragonair passengers for whom a one-hour flight to Guilin turned into a 22-hour ordeal.

The 14 yesterday refused to board the Dragonair flight for a third time, after two previous attempts to land at the popular tourist destination failed because of bad weather.

They said they had to endure two attempts to land at Guilin, and on their first return to Hong Kong the flight had to circle over the city for about 30 minutes to get a landing slot.

The Dragonair flight finally landed in Guilin late yesterday afternoon - more than 22 hours late. With Guilin just 500km away, the flight normally takes an hour.

The 14 were part of a 19-member group tour from Sunflower Travel Service who each paid $2,099 for a five-day tour.

Dragonair flight KA700 left Hong Kong at 7.10pm on Thursday but was unable to land in Guilin due to a sudden change in the weather, the airline said.

The aircraft returned to Hong Kong at 9.30pm and passengers were provided with meals and hotel accommodation.

'The flight was rescheduled for 8.12am yesterday. However, poor weather and low visibility in Guilin resulted in the return of the aircraft again, arriving in Hong Kong at 11.36am,' the airline said.

But a Sunflower tour member described the situation in more graphic terms.

On Thursday night, when the plane first returned from Guilin, the plane circled around Hong Kong airport for about 30 minutes before landing, said Maggie Lin Kwan-ting, 22.

And on their second attempt to land in Guilin, word spread in the cabin that the pilot was having difficulty because of low visibility and poor weather.

'People were crying. It was so traumatic. I was afraid I was going to die,' she said.

Ms Lin, who was travelling with a friend from Britain, said most of the tour members were elderly. '[They] needed medication, and some had hypertension,' she said.

The 14 who refused to travel were told they would not be able to get a refund because it was their decision not to board the flight a third time.

Dragonair said it regretted the inconvenience.

'The safety of our passengers and crew is a priority at all times, and something on which we will not compromise,' it added.

Sunflower Travel Service's assistant general manager, Henley Tse Yat-chung, said his agency would refund $1,000 to each group member who cancelled.

Mr Tse said he had been told by Dragonair that because it was 'a very simple case of delayed flight', passengers would not get a refund.

Joseph Tung Yiu-chung, executive director of the Travel Industry Council, said airlines had the final decision on ticket refunds.

Twenty-one arrivals and 17 departures were delayed by yesterday's rainstorm, the Airport Authority said. A trough of low pressure has brought showers and thunderstorms to southern China over the past several days.