Snowed-in passengers stormed a major Chinese airport, smashing computers, furniture and equipment during a “riot” Feb. 7.
The violence marred the last day of China’s New Year festivities, one of the busiest travel times in the country with tens of millions of people trying to get home at the end of the weeklong holiday.
Media reports said police tried to calm the crowd of more than 2,000 angry travellers at Zhengzhou International Airport. Photos on Chinese social media showed chaotic scenes of crowds packed shoulder to shoulder around check-in counters, debris littering the lobby and a sign for China Southern Airlines dangling from the wall.
One disgruntled passenger reportedly broke into an airport co-ordinator’s office, hit her and poured a soft drink over her head.
“I had been working for 30 hours non-stop and had only had one meal in between,” Hu Xiaoyu, the airport staffer who was assaulted, was quoted the South China Morning Post.
Some passengers had been stranded at the airport since the day before as winter weather disrupted travel in China.
The chaos erupted after heavy snow forced the Zhengzhou airport to close, delaying about 100 flights.
Reaction to the riot was mixed on social media. Some wrote the troublemakers deserved to be put behind bars or blacklisted by the airlines. Others had some sympathy.
“While we should condemn all the smashing, making passengers wait for hours, without offering them an explanation, food or accommodation [is unacceptable],” said one unnamed person in The Telegraph’s news story. “How could they expect those with hot-tempers to keep their cool?”
Air travel is still relatively new in the Asian nation of 1.35 billion and both airlines and passengers struggle with growing pains. Flight delays are chronic despite billions spent on new airports. Passengers have a reputation for venting their air rage by ganging up on airport and flight staff. There is even a new Chinese term for it — “kong nu zu” or “air rage tribe”. Such attacks have prompted drastic measures. Hong Kong Airlines now requires its staff to undergo six hours mandatory training in Wing Chun, a martial art.
The Zhengzhou New Year’s brouhaha is tinged with irony. 2014 is the Year of the Horse according to the Chinese zodiac. TravelChinaGuide.com says the “spirit of the horse is recognized to be the Chinese people’s ethos — making unremitting efforts to improve themselves.”
Perhaps China can look to North America when it comes to “civil” aviation. There wasn’t a single riot even though more than 50,000 flights have been cancelled this winter alone, often leaving travellers stranded for days.