Every airlines has a contract of carriage and a plan for delays. Airlines do things slightly differently but overall there are standards across the airline industry. To my surprise, Dragon Air now Cathay Dragon, a fully owned subsidy of the larger Cathay Pacific does not have an actual ground delay plan, or not at least from what I found or experienced.
Two days in a row in February 2017, my flight from Hong Kong to Kunming, China suffered a 3-4.5 hour delay. Usually I would welcome a delay, especially if this means I get more time at the Pier, Cathay’s first class lounge; yet this was not the case. On Feb 24, 2017, Cathay Dragon boarded the plane, closed the boarding door, and then announced a 4-hour delay! Yes, that is right, a 4 hour delay after boarding!
Having flown, well over a million miles in the last ten years, I know delays happen. Yet how an airline handles a delay is what makes or breaks it for me. In this case, Cathay Dragon delay plan is among the worst in industry. While sitting at the gate, boarding door closed, the captain informed us we would sit there until China Air Traffic Management (ATM) cleared us for takeoff.
As one can imagine, passengers let out a collective sigh, and many people left their seats. I approached the purser and asked to get off the plane. The last place I wanted to be was stuck on a plane for four hours. Especially when the flight time is only two hours. The purser told myself and several other people that we would not be allowed to disembark the aircraft. “What? You’re holding us on the plane, despite being at a gate?!” No one was happy.
About an hour later, a flight attendant approached my seat and asked me if I would like to get off the plane still. Absolutely, who wouldn’t?! Yet then to my dismay, I was told that if I disembarked I would have to pay a change fee to fly the next day! What? My flight is delayed for 4+ hours and now Cathay Dragon wants me to pay to change my flight. That is just poor customer service. I explained that I was not willing to pay the change fee, but wanted to leave the aircraft.
A few minutes a later a ground representative found me at my seat and asked me to collect my belongings. She guided me through the airport and through customs. Along the walk, she made a few phone calls and by the time I reached the non-secured part of the airport I was told my flight was changed for the next day and I would just need to check in the next morning. Awesome, problem solved and I was off the plane! In the end, no additional fees were charged.
A Second Delay
The next day, I arrived as scheduled and boarded my plane again to Kunming. Being a new day I assumed the airline would not make the same mistake twice. WRONG! Shortly after boarding and having the cabin doors closed the pilot announced a 3 hour ground delay! Again the plane was parked at the gate and we were trapped inside!
How could this happen? Two days in a row? To my dismay I searched China ATM and discovered that Kunming was under fog. The airport had a ground stop earlier in the day and was slowing down flights. A ground stop sucks, but they happen. If Cathay Dragon knew there was a ground stop and a slowdown, why would they even board the plane?
— Rocky (@doublewidesfly) February 25, 2017
Nearly 2 hours after the delay we were still sitting at the gate with the boarding door close. There was no further announcements from the captain and passengers were becoming increasingly restless. Several people were pacing in the aisles and several people were screaming at flight attendants. To help ease nerves meal service was completed on the ground. Drink service was also provided in the same fashion it is done at 35,000 feet.
— Rocky (@doublewidesfly) February 25, 2017
The meal service calmed some nerves, but after the cabin was cleaned up, people were up again and not happy about the delay. Finally, after three and half hours of sitting at the gate, without any type of announcement, we suddenly pushed back from the gate. A collective sigh ringed throughout the cabin and people returned to their seats.
Right of Passengers
Sadly, from my research I could not find a bill of right for passengers in Hong Kong. Passengers suffering long tarmac delays are at the mercy of the airlines. The EU and the USA both have regulations to protect passengers during lengthy ground delays. For example, in the United States passengers must be allowed to disembark the aircraft after three hours.
China has introduced similar regulations as the United States. The new “Flight Regularity Administrative Regulations” went into effect on January 1, 2017. The flight regulations cover everything from ground delays to flight cancellations.
In the case of this flight, sadly I do not believe the laws of China apply to Hong Kong. If delayed leaving China, then Article 33-35 would have addressed this issue. But Hong Kong has it’s own government that is somewhat separate from the mainland.
Article 33 In the event of a tarmac delay, carrier shall report to passengers every 30 minutes the reason(s), estimated delay period, and other dynamic flight information as it becomes available. If a tarmac delay is caused by either air flow control issues or military activities, ATM shall report to carrier every 30 minutes the dynamic flight information as it becomes available. Article 34 In the event of a tarmac delay, carrier shall ensure the availability of lavatory facilities under the premise of safety. If a tarmac delay is exceeding 2 hours (including 2 hours), carrier shall provide food and water for passengers. Article 35 If a tarmac flight delay is exceeding 3 hours (including 3 hours) and there is no definite take-off time, carrier shall arrange for disembarkation as long as safety and security regulations are followed.
Cathay Dragon did feed us after two hours; however, there was never a chance to get off the airplane at the 3-hour mark. In addition, there was no communication from the captain after the initial announcement informing us of the delay. If this flight was from Kunming to Hong Kong, Cathay Dragon would have violated the law. Yet, as this flight was from Hong Kong, I do not believe the airline violated the law. Instead, the airline just made several passengers angry.
Response from Airline
After my dissatisfactory experience with Cathay Dragon, I did send an email to Cathay Dragon’s customer service. The airline needs to be held accountable and be aware of the distress. The airline response follows.
…Unfortunately, your flights KA760 delay was due to air traffic control restrictions caused by bad weather conditions in Kunming, which was beyond our control. I apologise for the inconvenience this delay caused you. However, as this was imposed by Air Traffic Control, our flights could not operate as scheduled.
Furthermore, I acknowledge your view on the boarding process in case of a delay. Please allow me to share with you that every flight is given a slot to take off by the Air Traffic Controller. The decision to board is mainly with the anticipation that the weather will improve and we should be prepared for departure to ensure we do not miss our slot. Having said that, I sincerely apologise if the handling of this delay fell short of your expectations. I have forwarded your feedback to our Airport Services Management team in Hong Kong for their review.
In view of your poor experience with us, as a goodwill gesture, I have arranged for USD50 in service vouchers to be posted to you.
Thank you once again for bringing your concerns to our attention. I very much hope your next experience with us will be more enjoyable.
I find this response to be unsatisfactory in all honesty. Blaming the delay on weather is fine, as it was caused by fog. Blaming the ground delay on take-off slot times in a joke. If each airline is provided a slot, and the airline knows the takeoff slot is 2-3 hours in the future, boarding should also be delayed for 2-3 hours. This is just common sense!
Cathay Dragon and Cathay Pacific operate as two different airlines yet try to harmonize the flying experience. The airlines are extremely similar operating similar seats and inflight services with a similar livery. I have never experienced a ground delay on Cathay Pacific like the one I experience on Cathay Dragon two days in a row. Yet, I must admit, due to the lack of communication from the captain and lack of care from the airline, I will avoid flying Cathay Dragon in the future. A $50 voucher hardly makes up for hours of being stuck on a plane at an airport. When parked at a gate, being stuck on a plane for hours should never happen! If your future travel plans include Cathay Dragon, fly with caution!
Have you had a extended tarmac delay? What was your experience? Please share below.