A flight is turned back to Bangkok after a woman throws hot water on a flight attendant
Witnesses say the woman's boyfriend grew irate, threatened to blow up the plane
Many Chinese Internet users felt the airline should have pressed criminal charges
Earlier this month, “nut rage” prompted the pilot of a Korean Air flight on the tarmac of New York’s JFK airport to turn back to the gate.
Now, “hot watergate” has forced a China-bound Thai AirAsia flight to return to Bangkok, angering not just the passengers on board but also the Chinese government and public.
Shortly after flight FD9101 took off last Thursday evening from Bangkok for the eastern Chinese city of Nanjing, a male passenger asked a flight attendant for boiling water for his girlfriend’s instant noodles, witnesses told China’s state media.
When told they had to wait for the plane to reach cruising altitude, the young man reportedly dumped food on the aisle, stomped on it and yelled at other passengers who tried to calm him down.
He was allegedly still fuming as a flight attendant of the budget airline brought a cup of hot water and charged him 60 Thai baht ($2) for it.
Another argument ensued when he demanded Chinese currency for change as well as an official receipt, state media reported.
As the quarrel dragged on, the man’s girlfriend threw hot water on the back of a flight attendant, witnesses said. When the purser demanded the woman apologize, the boyfriend exploded.
In a cell phone video taken by a fellow passenger and posted online, a man in a gray T-shirt and jeans can be heard shouting in Mandarin: “You don’t think I have money? …You caused all the problems and I’m going to blow up the plane!”
When the couple realized the flight was being turned back, the woman reportedly grew hysterical, hitting windows and threatening to jump off the plane, according to state media.
The plane – carrying 174 passengers and six crew members – hadn’t even left Thai airspace before it turned around.
“The captain of the flight decided to return the plane to Don Mueang Airport [Bangkok’s secondary airport] deeming her actions as endangering to other passengers and impeding in-flight service,” the airline said in a statement.
Thai authorities reportedly questioned the couple – along with two of their friends who were also involved in the incident – and ordered them to pay the flight attendant 50,000 baht ($1,500).
The woman was also fined 200 baht ($6) and the other three passengers 100 baht ($3) each for disturbing public order.
As news of “hot watergate” spread online, many Chinese Internet users lamented that the airline didn’t press criminal charges, calling the fines imposed by Thai officials a slap on the wrist for such “shameful” behavior.
Air rage on the rise in China
Air rage is a common sight in delay-prone China.
In recent years, state media has reported numerous dramatic incidents involving irate passengers, ranging from blocking moving aircraft on an active runway to fistfights with airport employees.
With the exponential growth of outbound tourism, Chinese fliers now seem to be exporting their rage overseas.
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 this year, 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.”
After the latest incident, the National Tourism Administration said in a statement that actions of the four passengers had “severely damaged the overall image of Chinese people” and demanded local authorities to review the case.
All the warnings and cajoling seem to have fallen on deaf ears, though.
When they arrived in Nanjing on the same Thai AirAsia flight the following day, the four passengers refused to disembark, state media quoted a witness as saying.
They demanded a written statement from the airline that would exonerate them from having caused the incident Thursday – delaying the flight going back to Bangkok.