29 February 2020
Chinese tourists have earned a bad rap for several things, including loutish behavior on airplanes. Photo: Bloomberg
Chinese tourists have earned a bad rap for several things, including loutish behavior on airplanes. Photo: Bloomberg

Chinese air travelers: Some plane truths

Chinese tourists are back in the media glare following fresh incidents of unseemly behavior, this time on airplanes, adding to their already bad reputation in the global travel community.

Last week, a Chinese couple threw a big tantrum on a Thai AirAsia flight as the cabin crew couldn’t meet some onboard service demands. The pair threw hot water and food onto attendants and also made some violent threats, prompting the pilot to turn the plane around and head back to Bangkok.

In another case, passengers from Chongqing came to blows on a Hong Kong-bound Air China flight this week after an argument over seat positioning and disturbance caused by children.

Incidents such as these prove that a cabin full of passengers is no deterrent for some mainlanders to let their emotions fly. The loutish behavior can be well beyond our imagination.

In an online post, a senior Emirates flight purser, who is a native Chinese, has revealed her bitter experiences when serving her fellow countrymen.

According to her, Japan-bound flights are the most coveted by the cabin crew simply because Japanese “are perhaps the most polite and self-disciplined travelers on this planet”. And once the plane has landed, there’s almost no need to clean the cabin as the Japanese won’t leave behind even a tiny piece of garbage, she noted.

In contrast, China-bound flights are the least popular routes among her colleagues.

She wrote that last year a giant Chinese state-owned conglomerate sent batches of its employees, more than 20,000 in total – for pleasure tours to Dubai and other destinations in the United Arab Emirates. The company chartered 77 Emirates flights – mostly Airbus A380, the world’s largest passenger airliner – and occupied 40 hotels in Dubai and even booked the entire Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi for three days. But serving the VIP guests turned out to be a nightmare for her.

On one of the Dubai-Beijing chartered flights, more than a dozen passengers pressed the help buttons on their seats quickly after takeoff. Their needs ranged from how to search a TV drama on the inflight entertainment system to wanting their meals immediately.

Normally meals wouldn’t be served until around 30 minutes after takeoff as attendants need time to heat the food, but many Chinese kept on grumbling and some even grabbed the attendant by her skirt, demanding something to eat, the Emirates staffer wrote.

After meals were finally served, she was faced with another challenge – things that could only happen on a China-bound flight. As an Emirates A380 can carry over 600 passengers, some may have to wait for a relatively long time before an attendant come to collect food trays but obviously many Chinese didn’t have the patience so they simply placed their trays and table scraps on aisles and all other possible places. Some even made full use of the space near the safe exits and piled up trays there.

After the meal many wanted to go to the bathroom. They ignored repeated calls – in Putonghua – asking them to go back to their seats and buckle up when the plane encountered some turbulence.

In a separate post, a Cathay Pacific attendant named Kelly notes that there is a proven law regarding Chinese: if more than one third of the passengers are from China, the bathroom will surely be in a complete mess.

The situation was even worse about 10 years ago, as she recalls, when many Chinese passengers – who might be on their first air trip – would take away virtually all things on the plane, from safety manuals, blankets and cutlery to life jackets. Their logic was indeed simple: I’ve paid for the ticket, so I am entitled to all these.

Some argue that Taiwanese and South Korean tourists were once equally bad in the 1980s, but they changed over time. Thus, Chinese travelers also can be expected to improve their behavior gradually and become more polite and considerate, they say.

Michelle, a Cathay Pacific attendant, says most mainlanders don’t feel their actions are wrong, given that they do things the same way back at home. If you tell them gently, most of the time they are willing to cooperate and some of them are quick learners, she said.

“It has nothing to do with their nature or their Chinese nationality but just the lack of guidance.”

The Chinese government indicated recently that those causing trouble and damaging China’s image will face punishment, including a ban on future travel. This may help speed up the learning process.

Nevertheless, given China’s huge population, it will probably take a while before we can see some real change.

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EJ Insight writer