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April 12, 2012

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Angry passengers halt plane at Pudong

MORE than 20 angry passengers refused to board an airplane at Pudong International Airport in Shanghai yesterday and took their protest onto a taxiway to demand compensation for their delayed flight, airport and airline officials said.

An Etihad Airways aircraft that landed at 11:28am from the United Arab Emirates and was heading for the terminal had to stop because of the group, the Shanghai airport authority said.

Airport officials quickly managed to persuade the passengers to leave the taxiway and took them back to the terminal. The whole process lasted about five minutes and the incident didn't otherwise affect flights at the airport, the authority said.

The airport said the passengers, who are now under investigation, were among 161 people whose flight from Shenzhen, in southern China's Guangdong Province, to Nanjing was delayed by poor weather on Tuesday evening.

The Shenzhen Airlines' Flight ZH9817 had been scheduled to land in the eastern city of Nanjing at 6:50pm and then fly on to Harbin in northeastern China's Heilongjiang Province at 10pm, said Li Weiqi, an airline spokeswoman.

But on the way to Nanjing, the Airbus 320 encountered a thunderstorm and had to land at the Pudong airport at around 8pm.

The airline put the passengers up at a nearby hotel and agreed to arrange other flights the next day to take them to Nanjing or Harbin when the weather cleared, Li said.

"The airline officials have done all that they should do when encountering bad weather," she said.

Most passengers took another flight to Harbin, while the remaining 40 were due to leave for Nanjing at 11am yesterday, but more than 20 of them refused to board the plane and demanded the company compensate them for the delay, according to the airport.

"Since no one was coming up to solve our problem, we decided to rush to the runway," a man who said he was one of the passengers wrote on his microblog.

He uploaded pictures showing the passengers, carrying their luggage, walking on the taxiway.

There were a number of online replies to his post urging the passengers to get back to the terminal, but he responded: "No way, we are going toward the airplane."

Then he wrote: "Seems like an international airplane has to suffer. We stopped it from moving."

The passengers' behavior stirred public anger online with accusations that by acting selfishly the group had put other passengers' lives in danger.

"Trying to block other airplanes just to get some compensation for flight delayed by poor weather? What a shame!" commented a netizen by the name of "Falala."

Shenzhen Airlines later agreed to pay compensation of 1,000 yuan (US$158.5) to each of the passengers on the delayed flight.

But the protesters' victory could be costly. The passengers who went onto the tarmac could be detained for five to 10 days with fines and might face criminal penalties of up to five years in prison under Chinese law, said Liu Chunquan, a senior lawyer with the Panocean Law Firm in Shanghai.

"The passengers should be punished because they have threatened the safety of hundreds of other passengers by rushing onto the runway," Liu said.

The airport should also take some responsibility because its staff failed to stop the passengers from leaving the terminal and entering the taxiway.


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