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China Orders Airlines To Fly Right

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Government-mandated improvements in customer service.

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China's airlines apparently haven't mastered customer service, so the government has issued an edict: Be nice, or else.

The government says it will punish airlines whose passengers act up over routine problems like flight delays or cancellations due to mechanical problems or bad weather.

At times, passenger frustration over flight delays has erupted in violence at Chinese airports; riot police have been called in to restore order. Some passengers have refused to disembark from planes to protest what they see as poor service.

Beijing's apparent theory: There are fewer airlines than passengers and, if nothing else, going after the carriers shows that the government is, you know, doing something.

This may sound silly, but we act just as illogically.

In the States, we go after Altria Group (MO) for selling a legal product (tobacco). We rail against McDonalds (MCD) for selling wicked hamburgers and knock Exxon-Mobil (XOM) for producing a product people need. (By the way, ExxonMobil and other oil companies pay billions to the government in taxes.)

The Chinese government says: Run your business poorly, and you'll be punished. With infinite wisdom, some in Uncle Sam's government say: Run your business well, and you'll be hammered because we don't like what you do.

It makes perfect sense, in a loopy east-meets-west kind of way.

Yang Guoqing, deputy head of China's civil aviation, says the government is taking the unprecedented step after airlines ignored numerous pleas to respond to passenger complaints.

Yang says the government will ""severely punish" airlines that experience aircraft occupations and "other incidents" stemming from service problems. This could include canceling access to gates at busy airports - a move that's sure to improve customer service.

China's government-run media recently reported that scores of passengers destroyed airline computers and desks at an airport after they were stranded overnight without hotel rooms. Hey, who wouldn't?

About 170 passengers were scheduled to leave Kunming, capital of Yunnan province, on three flights operated by China Southern Airlines, but the flights were cancelled due to bad weather.

A government report on the riot blamed the airline's "inappropriate working attitude."

U.S. airlines talked about a voluntary customer service Initiative after passengers were stuck for hours on grounded Northwest (NWA), American (AMR) and JetBlue (JBLU) flights due to bad weather, but one suspects it was mostly flapdoodle. Airlines made pledges to, ahem, straighten up and fly right; some even posted a "customer bill of rights" on their websites. There will be a next time - and we'll see if the airlines mean it.

As for those riots at China's airports, maybe it's time to go nuclear: Chinese airlines should introduce the bacon double cheeseburger, the pinnacle of Western Civilization. Add fries and a large chocolate shake, and before you know it, surly passengers with riot on their minds will become contented and docile baby whales.
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