GUANGZHOU — Consumer complaints filed with domestic air carriers in China have risen unusually sharply recently, with 7,000 coming in March alone, a more than tenfold increase from two years earlier, according to aviation industry regulators.
The unprecedented jump in complaints from flyers is traceable to unlimited flight tickets sold by airlines to stimulate demand for air travel, which shriveled during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We demand that airlines clarify their terms of service and offer after-sale services,” a senior official with the Civil Aviation Administration of China said, referring to the unlimited passes, at a regular news conference in mid-April.
“We support airlines’ innovative service, but will strengthen the management and supervision of [carriers] to protect the interests of passengers,” the official said.
The warning follows a spate of consumer headaches in recent months. In 2020, China Southern Airlines, China’s largest airline, and other carriers, including China Eastern Airlines, introduced discount tickets one after another, such as offering unlimited weekend flights during a set period for several hundred dollars.
As demand for international flights plunged due to the pandemic, discount tickets were issued to keep domestic flights going. The market for domestic air travel was expected to bounce back fairly quickly.
Unlimited passes had the desired effect, as people took to the air, but also generated complaints: “It’s impossible to book flights with unlimited flight tickets,” “Flight options have decreased,” and “Phone calls cannot get through,” are typical of remarks seen on Black Cat Complaint, a website where consumers can vent their frustrations.
China’s aviation market is recovering. China Southern Airlines carried 11.84 million passengers in May, double the year-ago figure and just short of the number of passengers flying in May 2019, before COVID-19 became widespread.
As demand for domestic flights picks up, passengers suspect…