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Airlines take flak over poor ground services
By Cao Desheng (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-03-03 01:37

The problems with flying are not in the air they're on the ground.

That's the findings of a survey released yesterday.

An airliner delays landing on the Beijing Capital International Airport on February 15, 2005. [Reuters]
Cramped seats and soggy food are nowadays seemingly taken for granted poor pre-flight service and delayed flights are the main gripes of today's passengers.

The nation's civil aviation authority has been quick to act on the survey's findings and has promised to respond by implementing tough measures to address the chronic problem of flight delays.

"While improving the co-ordination mechanism to reduce delays, quality standards for public air transport services will be revised," Li Jun, vice-director of the General Administration of Civil Aviation of China (CAAC), said.

"A regulation on managing consumer complaints about poor air services is being formulated," Li said yesterday after the results of the passenger assessment survey was made public.

During the four months from September last year, the China Civil Aviation Society conducted a survey of more than 40,000 air passengers, seeking their opinion of services of six major airlines and 32 airports across the country.

Poor ground service and flight delays top the list of complaints. Around 92.4 per cent of the complaints were about airlines not being candid about flight information.

A mounting number of complaints about flight delays prompted the CAAC to issue a guideline last July. Airlines were told they should compensate passengers if a flight delay is the airline's fault.

This well-intentioned move backfired somewhat with complaints escalating and some passengers going to the extremes lengths to cash in, such as refusing to board the plane or leave their seats on the aircraft if their compensation demands were turned down.

"Improving the mechanism in dealing with flight delays still tops the administration's agenda this year," Li said.

According to the survey, the airports' ground services were increasingly poor last year, particularly in giving correct and prompt information on flight delays.

Wu Gaohan, deputy secretary-general of the China Consumers' Association, said: "Civil aviation enterprises should respect a passenger's right to know about flight delays."

The civil aviation authority should work out a suitable mechanism to settle air-service disputes as soon as possible, Wu said.

Besides safety and efficiency, passengers also want convenience and comfort during their air travel, said Yuan Heping, a regular flier who works for Beijing-based joint venture. "Once a ticket is sold, an airline should offer all reasonable services to passengers," he said.

Some airlines said they have already taken measures to respond to the administration's demand for improved services.

Ma Xulun, president of Air China Limited, said his company plans to inject 700 million yuan (US$84 million) to improve cabin facilities in its fleet in a move to boost service quality.

"An airline must improve its service in a bid to win a share of the market amid cut-throat competition," he said.

In addition to flight delays, passengers also complained about complicated procedures before boarding, inflight catering as well as unreasonable charges at airport shops and restaurants.

(China Daily 03/03/2005 page1)

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