People line up to get off an American Airlines flight in Miami on April 5, 2017. Photo: Reuters
People line up to get off an American Airlines flight in Miami on April 5, 2017. Photo: Reuters

United Airlines has come under fire after a video showing a passenger being dragged from an overbooked aircraft went viral. But if you find United’s treatment of a paying customer extreme, you’ve probably never flown in China.

Last year a similar event took place in Shanghai. But instead of one passenger being “bumped” from the China Eastern flight, no fewer than 48 people were told to give up their seats.

To make things worse, the airline’s manager-on-duty reportedly offered the stranded passengers compensation of 200 yuan (US$28) – provided they sign a waiver absolving the airline of liability. Most passengers refused.

Overbooking by airlines has for years been a headache in China. According to state-run Xinhua news agency, it’s common for Chinese airlines to oversell 5% of their available seats, roughly 3 percentage points above the international standard.

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In 2011, China Eastern prevented a pregnant lady from boarding only 50 minutes before departure time, provoking national outrage.

China’s aviation authorities have sharpened their tone in urging airlines to set up or clarify overbooking and compensation policies.

The country’s flag carrier Air China says on its website that it “may occasionally overbook certain flights” that are likely to have empty seats. “We will limit the number of oversold tickets and therefore, passengers with confirmed reservations rarely will be denied boarding.”

Cold comfort for those that do get bumped.

What’s more, the phenomena of “air rage” is probably more common in China than in any other nation, with media frequently reporting on violent incidents both in the planes and before boarding.

Last year, a man attacked an airline check-in clerk, leaving her lying in a pool of blood. In another incident, police arrested two men who charged the cockpit as their flight was taxiing for takeoff.

Indeed, traveling by air in China can be a turbulent experience even before getting airborne.

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