Passenger opens taxiing plane door, gets off with US$5,600 fine
An aviation expert suggests stiffer penalties and public education for passengers with improved service quality by airlines for the safety of aviation in China.
A passenger who opened an emergency door on Western Airlines flight PN6272 while it was taxiing has been ordered to pay RMB35,000 (approx.: US$5,600) in damages following investigations that defined the incident as a misdemeanor without malice.
Violation of safety protocol
The incident took place on January 12 in Chongqing Jiangbei International Airport when a middle-aged passenger on a flight from Lhasa opened the emergency door, releasing the inflatable escape slide on the plane's left side, at around 18:30 pm as the plane was taxiing into the gate after landing, a Western Airlines spokesperson said.
An aviation expert said the act was a severe safety breach and by conservative estimate costs of well over RMB100,000 (US$16,000) for repair, hanger charges, service fees and compensations to passengers for flight delays.
Light penalties and shoddy service hallmark of Chinese aviation
Airlines have been plagued by disruptive behavior from passengers, such as vandalizing waiting lounges, trespassing on runways to block planes, or smoking inflight. At least a dozen cases of such incidents were reported in 2014 alone.
Civil Aviation Management Institute of China professor Jianjun Zou cited that disrupting flight services and causing damages to public or private properties carry a penalty of maximum five-year jail term and a longer jail term for more serious cases. However the ambiguity in defining disruptive acts results in lax enforcement.
In contrast these acts are classified as violations of federal law in the USA and carry a maximum of 20-year imprisonment, whereas they are handled by the Public Security Bureau in China and carry a 15-day detention and fine of under RMB1,000 (approx.:US$160).
Air rage pays off
Aviation authorities' mishandling of such incidents is also to blame for the proliferation of misconduct. In one case, a group of 10 passengers of Western Airlines blocked a plane on a runway at Kunming airport to protest a flight delays and they received RMB500 compensation instead of prosecution.
The aviation expert suggests imposing stiffer penalties and reviewing relevant regulations while promoting public education. Airlines must also address the issues of flight delays and effectively deal with customer complaints to improve the quality and safety of aviation in China.(Translation by David)