Seats still available on cross-strait holiday flights to Taiwan, Taipei says
There are still seats left for Taiwanese people to return home from mainland China over the upcoming Lunar New Year, Taiwan said on Tuesday, brushing off concern a dispute over air routes could leave thousands stranded.
The dispute has become increasingly bitter, with both sides trading accusations after two mainland airlines cancelled extra flights to self-ruled Taiwan over the Lunar New Year, the most important holiday in the Chinese calendar, potentially leaving thousands of Taiwanese without tickets to go home.
In January, Beijing, which considers Taiwan a breakaway province, opened several new air routes, including a northbound route up the sensitive Taiwan Strait that divides the mainland from the island.
Taiwan says it was done without its agreement, contravening what the democratic government in Taipei has said was a 2015 deal to first discuss such flight paths.
The Lunar New Year begins on February 16.
Seeking to alleviate worries about stranded holidaymakers, Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council said there were already 418 extra flights added for the holidays in addition to 586 regularly scheduled services, serving 50 mainland destinations.
“At present there are still seats on other airlines’ regular and additional services,” the council said.
Taiwan says the new routes could affect flight safety as they pass close to two groups of Taiwan-controlled islands close to the mainland which have regular flights to and from Taiwan.
The council said it sympathised with people being inconvenienced on their return home.
“But safety comes before all else, and the government doesn’t have the space to compromise,” it said.
Beijing denies any safety threat, and says the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) has told them the M503 route – the main point of contention – has been assessed and approved by them.
In a statement sent to Reuters, ICAO said the route had been approved in 2015 by an amendment to an air navigation plan for the Asia-Pacific region.
“These amendments are undertaken through a formal process that includes a consultation with the user and provider states concerned, as well as relevant international organisations,” it said.