Passengers stuck in Kunming airport run riot

Travellers trapped by fog in Kunming smash check-in counters and clash with ground crews

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 07 January, 2013, 6:28am

Chaos reigned at one of the mainland's newest airports at the weekend after heavy fog stranded more than 10,000 passengers in Kunming, Yunnan province, for up to three days.

Travellers stuck at Kunming Changshui International Airport from Thursday until the fog finally lifted on Saturday grew increasingly frustrated with the airport's response, tussling with police and even seizing check-in counters.

By Friday night, Yunnan Vice-Governor Liu Ping had visited the airport in an effort to calm down the crowd. At one point, riot police were called in to guard against an uprising.

The chaos finally subsided on Saturday evening after the last stranded passengers boarded their flights.

A similar fog stranded 15,000 passengers at Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport until yesterday afternoon, although without disorder on the scale reported in Kunming.

The situation in Kunming grew particularly chaotic on Friday after more than 440 flights were cancelled, the Beijing Times reported. The hordes of trapped passengers quickly overwhelmed services at the airport, which opened six months ago after an investment of 23 million yuan (HK$28.6 million).

After flight updates stopped, passengers smashed check-in counters or took them over to check flight information themselves. They clashed with ground crews and demonstrated in the departure hall.

The China News Service reported that hundreds of anti-riot police were deployed to the airport at night to replace the defenceless grounds crews. But angry passengers later clashed with policemen.

"The departure hall became a garbage dump with rubbish everywhere," a passenger told CNS. "[There was] no water and no food, furious passengers shouting and crying in the airport and throwing garbage everywhere."

Another passenger from Zhuhai said the crowds were so large in the departure hall that exhausted passengers desperate for a place to sit down crowded into the toilets.

"Grounds crews who didn't know how to deal with thousands of angry passengers simply ran away," the passenger said, adding that some frustrated travellers took over the airport's broadcasting system to summon ground crews back to their posts.

Mainland media reported that the airport's heating system was not fully operational, jeopardising the health of the many children and elderly trapped inside. The airport's site has also been questioned, because some meteorologists say the area is more fog-prone than the old airport's location.