Air carriers inundated with consumer complaints in China

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GUANGZHOU – Consumer complaints filed with domestic airlines in China have increased unusually sharply recently, with 7,000 in March alone, an increase of more than two years earlier, according to regulators. aviation industry.

The unprecedented increase in flyer complaints is attributable to unlimited air tickets sold by airlines to stimulate demand for air travel, which withered during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We demand that airlines clarify their terms of service and offer after-sales services,” said a senior official with the Civil Aviation Administration of China, referring to the unlimited passes, in a statement. regular press conference in mid-April.

“We support the innovative service of airlines, but we will strengthen the management and supervision of [carriers] to protect the interests of passengers, ”the official said.

The warning follows a wave of consumer headaches in recent months. In 2020, China Southern Airlines, China’s largest airline, and other carriers, including China Eastern Airlines, have introduced discounted tickets one after another, for example by offering unlimited flights on weekends. for a specified period for several hundred dollars.

As demand for international flights fell due to the pandemic, discounted tickets were issued to maintain domestic flights. The domestic air transport market is expected to rebound fairly quickly.

The unlimited passes had the desired effect, as people flew, but also generated complaints: “It is impossible to book flights with unlimited plane tickets”, “Flight options have declined ”and“ Phone calls cannot go through ”are typical remarks seen on Black Cat Complaint, a website where consumers can voice their frustrations.

The Chinese aviation market is recovering. China Southern Airlines carried 11.84 million passengers in May, double the figure of a year ago and slightly less than the number of passengers traveling in May 2019, before COVID-19 became widespread.

As demand for domestic flights increases, passengers suspect airlines are reducing the number of seats reserved for unlimited passes.

In March, 7,678 complaints were filed with national airlines, up from 700 in the same month of 2019, according to the civil aviation authority. Airline ticket complaints accounted for 33% of the total, an increase of around 5 percentage points from two years earlier. Unlimited passes are seen as a major reason, but not the only one, for the sharp increase in complaints.

The US carrier American Airlines has already issued unlimited first-class passes, hoping to quickly increase revenue, but the campaign backfired by losing paying passengers. Chinese carriers are increasingly seen as trying to pass the cost of their own missteps onto customers.

The market chaos sparked by unlimited passes is expected to ease, as many expired in late June. But there are growing concerns that other new services launched by operators could cause similar problems.

In April, China Eastern Airlines introduced a ticket that allows the holder to travel multiple times, with a fixed amount of credit deducted based on the distance of the flight. They say the ticket is cheaper than regular tickets.

Shandong Airlines, a mid-size carrier, released a limited number of discounted tickets, with destinations determined at random, also in April.

Many airlines see offers to stimulate domestic demand as crucial at a time when they have to operate a number of international flights at a loss. But programs can have the opposite effect of their intended effect if they alienate clients.

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