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China Focus: Chinese passengers chastised for brawl on Thai flight

BEIJING, Dec. 14 (Xinhua) -- In the latest scandal to taint the image of Chinese tourists abroad, four Chinese passengers grabbed headlines for causing chaos on a Thai budget flight, forcing the aircraft to return to Thailand.

The incident occurred on Thursday night, when a couple on a China-bound AirAsia flight, coded FD 9101, had a spat with the flight crew over the seating arrangement and hot water, according to Zhang Xiao, a TV host who broke the story on microblog Sina Weibo.

The couple, who were not seated together, demanded to switch seats so they could sit together when they boarded the plane. They then requested hot water when the plane was climbing, which was served only after the plane reached cruising altitude, according to Shenzhen Satellite TV, citing a passenger surnamed Wu.

The man, already annoyed by the water delay, had another fight with the flight attendant over payment and a receipt for the hot water, Wu said.

"A flight attendant who could speak Chinese came over to explain the situation, but when she turned around, the woman poured the hot water on her back," said another passenger surnamed Zhou.

Pictures on Weibo show the flight attendant crying while covering her face. A video posted online by a passenger on the same flight shows a man screaming at flight attendants while threatening to bomb the aircraft.

After the air crew demanded an apology, the man's girlfriend climbed over the back seats, threatening to jump out of the plane, all while punching the plane windows, Wu added.

The in-flight brawl forced the plane to return to Don Mueng International Airport in Bangkok, where the couple and two other passengers involved were taken away by Thai police. They were required to pay compensation of 50,000 Thai Baht (1,525 U.S. dollars) to the flight attendant, and all four passengers were fined a small amount of money.

AirAsia said they will not sue the passengers.

But the drama did not end there. According to an online commenter writing under the name "Lvluonuanuan," after the couple arrived in Nanjing, they refused to get off the plane, asking the air crew to issue a statement to "clear all the rumors" on the Internet. The man even threatened to hit the air crew and onlookers at the airport.

On Saturday night, China National Tourism Administration issued a statement, saying the passengers' behavior has "severely tarnished the image of Chinese people."

It vowed to probe the case and punish the passengers involved by including them in a travel blacklist system in their home province of Jiangsu. The tourism agency that arranged the couple's travel has also been criticized publicly.

The scandal spurred a storm of criticism on Chinese social media, with embarrassed netizens writing scathing comments.

"Whoever you are, wherever you go, you should remember that your behavior represents your country," said one comment.

Some angry citizens even started a "human flesh search" for the identity of the passengers involved.

Luo Guo'an, a research fellow with Guangxi Academy of Social Sciences, said the case has tarnished the image of Chinese people, and tourists should learn to behave themselves.

Outbound tourism is booming in China on the back of rising disposable income, with roughly 97.3 million passengers traveling overseas in 2013, according to official statistics. However, stories of public vandalism abound and have largely embarrassed China.

In 2013, a boy was caught carving Chinese characters in the Luxor Temple in Egypt. In 2012, two Chinese passengers had a brawl over seating arrangements on a Swiss flight, forcing the aircraft to return.

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