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Airlines sidestep discount limits
( 2003-06-12 10:18) (China Daily)

Airlines sidestep discount limits

The impact of SARS may have delayed the expected public hearing on a more flexible ticket policy in China's civil aviation industry, but some domestic airlines are beginning to find their own ways of dealing with the situation.

The public hearing, which had been due to take place in late April, was expected to relax ticket price controls.

A 20 per cent discount limit introduced by the industry regulator in 1998 is expected to be expanded to 40 per cent at the hearing if passenger representatives agree to this move.

"The hearing will not take place in the near future because of the unstable SARS condition in the country," a source at the General Administration of Civil Aviation of China (CAAC) said in a telephone interview yesterday.

The official, who wished to remain anonymous, said the former ticketing policy will remain in place until the new one is officially endorsed.

In other words, he said, the 20 per cent discount limit is still in effect on domestic airlines.

Domestic airlines had apparently lost their patience with the delayed implementation of the new policy, and many had publicly sold their tickets at discounts ranging from 30 to 50 per cent.

Ticket agents in Guangzhou began to provide 30 to 50 per cent discounted tickets to most domestic cities early this month, and in Central China's Wuhan a 50 per cent discount is also available.

Wu Guoxiang, deputy manager of the Wuhan branch of China Southern Airlines, said the discounted tickets could stimulate the stagnant civil aviation market hit hard by SARS.

A ticket agent in Beijing, who declined to give his name, said nearly all the airlines are providing heavily discounted tickets.

"Some airlines only filled 30 per cent of their seats in May, so they will have to find some attractive measures to get passengers back," he said.

Foreign competitors

International airlines are more aggressive in business promotion, given that the discount ban does not extend to them.

Passengers taking a round trip from the Chinese mainland to Singapore pay only 1,450 yuan (US$175) if they are one of the first 15,000 people in the world booking tickets from Singapore Airlines from this Monday.

Sources with the airline said the company's operation was severely affected by the SARS outbreak, and hope the new promotion could win passengers back.

United Airlines is also selling a 2,888 yuan (US$349) ticket from China to the western United States this summer, a 1,500 yuan (US$181) reduction from the normal price.

United Airlines China General Manager Sidney Kwok said the move is to warm up the stagnant air market between China and United States, and prepare for the upcoming peak travelling season this summer.

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