Flight canceled after angry passengers open emergency exit doors

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BEIJING — Chinese-style air rage is now served both hot and cold.

Last month, a China-bound Thai AirAsia flight was forced to return to Bangkok after a female Chinese passenger threw hot water on a flight attendant amid a heated argument between her boyfriend and the cabin crew over service.

On Saturday, passengers on a plane departing Kunming Changshui International Airport in southwestern China, angry with the crew for turning off the air-conditioning during the de-icing process, opened three emergency exits just as their plane was pushing back from the gate.

The flight was canceled and 25 passengers onboard were detained.

China Eastern Airlines flight MU2036, bound for Beijing, was already seven hours behind schedule at 3:45 a.m. when crew began to de-ice the plane at the Kunming airport, which saw more than 100 flights delayed or canceled that night because of snowy weather.

Frustrated by the lengthy delay, some of the 153 passengers — who had been sitting on the plane for two hours — exploded with rage when the air-conditioning stopped and an elderly passenger complained about discomfort due to the stuffy cabin, airport police told state media Saturday night.

Dissatisfied with the pilot’s explanation about the need for air-conditioning to be off during the 30-minute de-icing process, members of a tour group started quarreling with the crew, according to police.

When the Boeing 737-800 jet finally pushed back from the gate, three of its four over-the-wing emergency exits suddenly popped open.

Photos circulating on social media show two opened exits on the right side of the cabin with passengers still seated, as well as crews and police on board documenting evidence.

Anger common in delay-prone China

After detaining and questioning all 25 members of the tour group, the authorities announced that a male member of the group, prompted by a female tour guide, opened two exits on the right side.

Both were sent to jail for 15 days, while police continued to look for the person who opened the exit on the left side.

As news of the incident spread, some Chinese Internet users sympathized with the perpetrators because of the delay, but many considered their punishment too lenient and suggested airlines should blacklist them for life.

Air rage is a common sight in delay-prone China and Saturday’s episode was not the first dramatic incident involving irate passengers at Kunming airport.

One of the country’s busiest hubs, more than 32 million fliers passed through its terminal last year.

In August 2012, 31 passengers from a long-delayed flight tried to stop other planes from leaving Kunming by forcing their way onto the tarmac and occupying a taxiway for half an hour, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

The following February, some 50 passengers from a canceled flight stormed several gates at the airport in an attempt to prevent other travelers from boarding their flights.

Police had to disperse the angry crowd with pepper spray, according to Xinhua.

Exporting air rage

With the exponential growth of outbound tourism, Chinese travelers now seem to be exporting their air rage overseas as well, with several incidents resulting in flight delays or diversions recorded in recent years.

In February 2012, a Chinese couple was kicked off their United flight from Guam to Shanghai, after they repeatedly yelled at a flight attendant and told her to “shut up” when she tried to move their luggage in the overhead bin to accommodate other passengers.

In September that year, a Swiss flight bound for Beijing was forced to return to Zurich when a fight broke out between two Chinese men over a reclined seat.

In February 2014, a fight erupted between two groups of Chinese passengers before their flight could take off from the Thai resort island of Phuket, resulting in 29 people being taken off the plane.

Then, in April, a Thai Airways red-eye from Bangkok to Beijing turned bloody when a brawl involving three Chinese men broke out.

During an official visit to the Maldives in September, President Xi Jinping personally asked Chinese tourists to behave themselves while traveling abroad.

Last year the government released a lengthy list of do’s and don’ts aimed at turning Chinese travelers into “civilized tourists.”

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