China Warns Airlines To Be On Time

January 14, 2008

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China has vowed tough punishments on airlines to ensure that chronically late aircraft run smoothly for the 2008 Olympic Games, state media reported.

Airlines that fail punctuality standards from July to September at Beijing and other major cities would have their offending flight routes suspended for that quarter, the official Xinhua news agency said.

Beijing Airport will limit flights to 1,350 daily, providing leeway to ensure that visitors are not stuck on the tarmac.

The steps were announced by the acting head of China's General Administration of Civil Aviation, Li Jiaxiang, who faces the tough task of whipping the nation's crowded, sometimes shambolic airports into line for the huge sporting showcase.

Passengers using China's rapidly expanding airways can face long delays, abrupt cancellations and surly, overwhelmed staff.

Seething passengers have sometimes fought back by refusing to leave aircraft until compensation is paid for late flights, storming runways, and breaking down doors when herded into lounges after unannounced diversions to remote airports.

In 2006, Beijing airport ranked 62nd in an Airports Council International survey of passenger satisfaction levels despite being the ninth busiest in the world in passengers handled.

Only a little more than three-quarters of flights were on time last year, the People's Daily added, while passenger numbers rose a sixth to 185 million. That number is seen hitting 200 million this year on the back of the Olympics.

But China, which is treating the 2008 Games as an historic affirmation of its economic achievements, is determined to ensure that planes and everything else run smoothly during the event.

Capital International Airport, China's busiest, will open a third terminal in late February.

Air China, the official airline partner for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, has vowed to cut delays and improve employees' English language skills ahead of the Games.

The rules announced by Li also require airlines to keep one or two planes in reserve at Beijing and other airports receiving many Olympic visitors. Travel agents will be banned from selling more tickets than seats on domestic flights between July and September.

Airlines that seriously fail the standards will not be allowed to apply to expand services for two years, Li warned.

Even as the rules were announced, thousands of passengers at airports in eastern China were waiting for flights delayed by days of fog, Xinhua also reported.