A Chinese budget airline endangered lives when it failed to stop passengers from smoking on a flight, according to a group of disgruntled travellers who are now threatening to sue the carrier.
Passengers on China United Airlines (CUA) flight 5216 on Saturday said they found people smoking in a toilet as the plane flew from Chengdu to Beijing. They said that when the aircraft was grounded at Taiyuan due to thunderstorms, passengers also smoked on the steps as they left the plane and again just outside the jet as it sat on the tarmac.
The passengers said that a request that all travellers undergo a further security check before re-boarding the plane due to safety concerns, was declined by the cabin crew who said it was unnecessary, according to The Beijing News.
CUA responded by saying on its official microblog that its cabin crew immediately ordered the passengers to cease smoking and confiscated their cigarettes and matches when notified by other passengers.
The airline said that it is still investigating the case and pledged to “punish its cabin crew seriously if they are found guilty of any wrongdoing”.
But the passengers insisted the airline had not done enough to ensure their safety and threatened to bring the case to court.
“We are planning to file a lawsuit against CUA, demanding it attach importance to passengers’ safety,” the group said.
Xu Ke, an aviation safety scholar, said the passengers were right to request that everyone go through another security check after the plane was grounded at Taiyuan, as smoking and matches pose a fire risk.
“Otherwise, how can you make sure other passengers did not also bring matches or other safety hazards?” Xu told the South China Morning Post on Tuesday, saying that passengers had caused fires in the past by smoking in toilets.
“After all, safety is the number one priority,” Xu said.
The incident has lead online commenters to wonder how the smoking passengers were able to bring matches through airport security checks, with posters worried that terrorists may take advantage of any security loophole.
Xu the safety expert said it could be difficult for airport security scanners to detect single matches without a box hidden in a passenger’s hand luggage. He added that only more upgraded scanning technology could be able to detect individual matches.
Smoking on a plane is normally subject to a fine up to 200 yuan, but could also result in up to 10 days in detention under serious circumstances, according to Chinese public security law and civil aviation regulations.
In 2004, a man was caught smoking in the toilet on a plane after he triggered a smoke detector alarm. He was detained for five days.
China United Airlines was formed in 1986 by the PLA Air Force. The airline was acquired by commercial China Eastern Airlines in 2004 and now operates as a budget carrier.
CUA is the only commercial airliner to fly from Nanyuan Airport, a military air base in southern Beijing. The airline owns a fleet of more than 20 planes and has total assets of about 1.4 billion yuan.