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Airline to compensate for delays
By Wang Zhuoqiong & Qin Jize (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-07-06 01:16

Compensation is available now if an unfortunate airport wait takes a toll on your travel plans.

The air carrier in South China's Shenzhen Monday released the first detailed rule in the country to compensate affected passengers with cash for delayed or over-booked flights if the trouble was the airline's responsibility.

The rule notes that compensation of maximum of up to 30 per cent of the ticket price will be due if the flight is four to eight hours late and the passengers can benefit from a full refund of the ticket when the delay is even longer.

Compensation for delayed airfreight goods and over-booked flights are also included in the rule.

"Delayed flights are the most concern among the increasing complaints about aviation services in recent years," said Deng Jiaben, vice-manager with Shenzhen Airlines Co Ltd. "The introduction of the compensation rule is not only a great opportunity but a challenge for us."

Similar compensation rules are in the works at other major airlines in the country, including Air China, officials said.

General Administration of Civil Aviation of China (CAAC) in late June issued guidelines laying down levels of economic assistance passengers should be given depending on the circumstances of their flight delays.

A flight reporting system has also taken effect since m July and any flight delays four or more hours should be reported to the aviation management authority.

Although six airlines, including Air China and China Southern have produced customer service plans in response to the guidelines, none of them states precisely what they will do for customers whose flights are delayed or cancelled.

The CAAC has pointed out that it is only a guideline and the details of the policies should be handed down by the different airlines themselves.

But the industry's watchdog has asked all the airlines to draw out and publicize their customer service plans focusing on flight delay compensation by the end of this year.

Airlines are inclined to be circumspect about the sort of compensation they are prepared to give and there is still a limit to how much airlines are willing to do for customers.

The most controversial provision is stating whether a flight is delayed for reasons outside the airlines' control -- bad weather, say, or state security concerns.

"There should be a kind of arbitration agency within the industry to judge the complicated circumstances," said Yan Changzheng, director of Xiamen Airline's general office.

His voice represents a lot of airlines who hold the opinion that they are responsible to take passengers to their destinations in a reasonable time but the definition of reasonable time comes down to individual cases.

Thunderstorms delayed more than 100 flights across Beijing on Sunday and none of the airlines is under any obligation to provide compensation to passengers because the delay was beyond their control.

"Complaining to the airline seems to be a waste of breath," said Peng Jianzheng, 52, a frequent traveller. "They always have various excuses."

He said he was looking forward to the introduction of the detailed compensation rules.

"Passengers understand uncontrolled factors but if a problem stems from something within the control of the airline, like a mechanical breakdown or staffing difficulties, relevant compensation in cash is necessary," he added.

Gao Feng, an aviation lawyer with Grandall Legal Group in Beijing, said a lot of countries in the world have passed laws that passengers whose flight doesn't take place are entitled to refunds and China should also legalize compensation.

China's overall aviation transportation witnessed big growth in the first five months as profits jumped for the first time by a large margin in recent years.

Statistics from CAAC showed in the first five months the country's overall aviation transportation turnover reached 58.86 billion yuan(US$7.09 billion) and profits rose to 4.63 billion yuan(US$561 million), 3 billion (US$363 million) more than that of the same 2002 period.

More than 46 million people flew in the first five months, an increase of 36.8 per cent compared to the same 2002 period, among which, the number of passengers of international air routes grew most.

The average occupancy rate of the industry also saw an increase of 9.1 per cent in the first five months from the corresponding period of 2002 to stand at 67 per cent.

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