Winter weather bedeviled China’s fourth largest airport last weekend. As with similar situations from the past few years, thousands of travelers experienced delays, flight cancellations and a general lack of up-to-date information regarding flight status in Kunming. Aboard one airplane, anger and frustration boiled over to the point that passengers attempted to open emergency doors while their aircraft was moving.
China Eastern Airlines flight MU2036 was originally scheduled to depart Kunming Changshui International Airport January 9 for Beijing at 8:45pm. However, due to a combination of cold, fog and snow, the flight was delayed five hours and did not begin boarding until 1:45am.
While passengers stowed their baggage and took their seats, several people noticed a distraught elderly woman complaining of discomfort. Further delayed as the aircraft wings were de-iced, passengers began to complain on the woman’s behalf to flight attendants, some demanding to speak with the captain.
At this point, the story becomes a bit confused. The captain apparently addressed the cabin via intercom. What he said is a point of contention, with at least one passenger taking to social media to accuse the captain of going on a profanity-laced tirade so virulent multiple travelers felt compelled to call the police. A spokesperson for China Eastern Airlines has denied the use of any untoward language.
Once the plane began to taxi onto the runway, at least two unidentified passengers — still worried by the condition of the elderly woman and further angered by the pilot’s tirade — tried to open three of the plane’s emergency exit doors. The aircraft returned to the terminal, where 25 people were taken into custody by airport police.
Two people were eventually arrested, a tour guide from Beijing and a woman surnamed Zhao. Both were charged with “inciting [a] crowd and disturbing public order” and will spend 15 days in a Kunming jail.
Changshui Airport authorities delayed 83 flights on Friday — some for nearly 12 hours — and canceled another 23. Those cancellations and continued cold, foggy weather in turn led to more delays on Saturday and Sunday. Other than the drama on flight MU2036, no near riot situations arose as they did in 2013.
This post written by Patrick Scally was originally posted on the GoKunming website on 1/12/15.