Slow airline response among key gripes when taking flight

Meals, extra services like WiFi and the handling of unexpected situations ranked at the bottom of a satisfaction survey on airlines, the Shanghai Consumer Council revealed.

Meals, extra services like WiFi and the handling of unexpected situations ranked at the bottom of a satisfaction survey on airlines, the Shanghai Consumer Council revealed on Thursday.

The council surveyed 1,799 respondents, among whom 602 were randomly interviewed at Hongqiao International Airport, while the remainder were questioned online. It involved eight airlines including China Eastern Airlines, Spring Airlines, Air China, Hainan Airlines and China Southern Airlines, all of whom operate flights from Shanghai.

More than 64 percent of on-the-spot interviewees said they encountered abnormal situations when taking flights, while the figure was 50 percent for online respondents, according to the council.

Among online respondents who encountered abnormal situations, 72.3 percent said they encountered flight cancellation, 45.7 percent for on-the-spot interviewees.

Luggage being delayed, broken or lost, and overbooked flights were also among the most mentioned emergency situations, said Liu Bo, an expert with the Shanghai New Consumption Research Center.

"We found that consumers are not the most angry about these abnormal situations, rather the effectiveness and timeliness of airlines in handling the situation," said Liu.

When flight cancellation affects passengers' schedules, airlines operators often fail to provide an effective solution such as arranging temporary accommodation or changing them to another flight with the closest time, he said. Instead, they use excuses to handle the situation, he said.

In terms of luggage problems, they use the same "strategy," the council revealed.

The council received 836 complaints about airlines last year, among which 203 were related to abnormal flights and 107 to luggage.

Over 80 percent of the complaints resulted from the response of airlines, Tang Jiansheng, deputy secretary-general of the council, said.

"Information is lagging as consumers are usually informed of the situation very late, and a timely solution cannot be provided," said Tang. "Passengers are just told their situation will be recorded, in most cases, when they seek help from airlines."

"I once waited overnight for my luggage which was delayed when traveling in Europe," said Jane Liu, a Shanghai resident. "From that time on, I bring a small case containing items such as a towel and toothbrush with me on every flight."

"My flight from Guangzhou to Shanghai was once canceled and the handling response of the airline was desperately slow," said another consumer, surnamed Ding, whose flight took off the next day. "The counter was packed with anxious passengers and everybody was complaining."

The satisfaction score of the variety and quality of flight meals was 64.6, according to the survey.

"Consumers hope airlines will pay more attention to their personalized needs instead of providing standard food all the time," said Liu.

The council suggested airlines replace bread, cakes and waffle with Shanghai's specialty products.

"These specialty products can include palmier cookies or White Rabbit candies, which represent the traditional flavors of Shanghai and are widely recognized by consumers," he said.

The convenience of flight ticket purchase and the variety of flights available were the most satisfying items, according to the council.

Last year, Pudong and Hongqiao airports received 118 million passengers, a rise of about 5.4 percent from a year earlier.

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