November 17th, 2011
05:33 AM GMT
Hong Kong, China (CNN) – A nearly 9-hour flight delay turned into a standoff at Hong Kong airport Wednesday, with passengers refusing to leave the plane for 5-hours until the airline agreed to higher compensation.
The incident underscores just how high tensions can rise in modern air travel with passengers and airlines jockeying it out in a low-frill, high-fee world. There is no global standard for passenger compensation in the case of airline delays and wide gulf can exist between passenger expectations and airline offers.
When Hong Kong Airlines flight 752 from Singapore arrived at 530 a.m. Wednesday morning, the airline says 80 passengers refused to get off. The travelers, mainly members of package tours from mainland China, demanded the airline increase the original compensation offer of $50 per passenger.
Hong Kong’s I-Cable News quoted one passenger who said it wasn’t the money, but the attitude of the airline that irked them.
This isn’t the first such incident in Hong Kong. The Standard newspaper reported in February that a group of Mainland tourists staged an all-night protest in the airport over flight delays.
Hong Kong Airlines spokesperson Eva Chan blamed the incident on cultural differences. “Our air staff never had any bad attitude towards the passenger,” she said. “They tried to negotiate and explain that the compensation policy of HK airlines is different from mainland Chinese airlines.”
The irate travelers would likely have been better off if they had been traveling within the European Union. The EU requires passengers be compensated between $330 and $800 if their flight is delayed by two hours or more, depending on the flight length. However, the airline can claim exclusion for “extraordinary circumstances,” including weather and security incidences.
The United States has no federal regulation on delay compensation, but it has instituted regulations that penalize airlines if passengers are stuck in a plane on the tarmac for more than three hours. The Department Transportation just fined an American Airlines’ subsidiary $900,000, in the first penalty since the regulations went into effect last year.
No traveler wants to spend 5-hours of their holiday staging an airplane sit-in. No airline wants the headache and the bad PR that results. Perhaps it is time we move towards a global, transparent standard for compensating passengers.
Airplanes don’t always take off on time, but passengers generally prefer to get off them when they land.
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