Airlines flying in China must pay compensation to passengers for delays and cancellations: regulators

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 July, 2016, 3:44pm
UPDATED : Friday, 15 July, 2016, 11:10pm

Chinese and foreign airlines operating on the mainland must pay financial compensation to passengers whose flights have been delayed or cancelled, Chinese traffic regulators say.

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In addition, passengers who are forced to sit and wait on the tarmac after boarding an aircraft for three hours or more should be allowed to get off the plane , according to the draft regulation on air traffic, which will come into effect next year.

The decision, announced by the Ministry of Transport on its website, comes at a time when cancellations or delays involving mainland flights have become an all-too-common experience.

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China has embraced a strong travel demand in recent years after decades of fast-growing economic growth, but according to a report by Civil Aviation Administration of China, Chinese travellers are having to spend an increasing amount of time at airports and sitting waiting on aircraft as flight delays worsen.

The average delay for flights in 2015 was 21 minutes – two minutes longer than in 2014, with air traffic control problems and bad weather the two main causes.

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Financial compensation has long been at the centre of the conflicts, with exhausted passengers complaining that they have found it extremely difficult to seek compensation after many hours of delays because of the current ambiguous rules.

At the same time, airlines have argued that they have not been any position to make decisions about air traffic control matters in China, where military dominates the country’s air space.

Though the ministry did not reveal the full text of the final version of the draft, the document – first announced in 2014 – states that airlines should set out their own economic compensation plans and make them public.

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The compensation plans should include terms such as whether – and how – passengers will be compensated because of flight delays, as well as setting out clear criteria regarding compensation, it said.

According to the regulations, regardless of the cause, airlines must offer transit passengers accommodation and food when their flights are delayed or cancelled.

When delays are caused by non-technical reasons, such as weather, emergencies, accidents, air traffic control decisions of security checks, the airlines must arrange accommodation and catering, although passengers will have to pay the fees themselves in such cases.

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The plans should also involve airlines providing information, such as updates every 30 minutes, on the occasions when flights are delayed while passengers are already on board aircraft – also known as “tarmac” delays.

Passengers waiting on aircraft should be offered water to drink and food if they are delayed by at least two hours.

If such a delay lasts for more than three hours, the airlines – in accordance with air safety rules and with consent from air control authorities – could move the aircraft back to the airport gate and allow passengers to get off.

Any airlines that violate the regulation would face a fine ranging from 1,000 yuan to 100,000 yuan, the draft said.

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Zhang Qizhun, a civil aviation expert, told the Beijing Morning Post that the regulation would be the first involving flight delays.

However, as the compensation plans were going to be made by each individual airline, it would be difficult to maintain uniform rules and travellers would remain in a weak position when trying to seek compensation from the airlines.