No one likes getting stuck in an airport after one’s flight gets canceled, and heated exchanges with customer service representatives isn’t an uncommon sight in such situations. And while there are better and worse ways to deal with an unfortunate situation, Chinese tourists stranded in Japan may have taken the cake—at least in the opinion of China’s state broadcaster.
On January 24, about 180 Chinese travelers found themselves stranded at Narita International Airport in Tokyo after their flight with Jetstar Japan was canceled due to extreme weather. To make things a little bit easier for the stranded passengers, Narita International Airport agreed to let the passengers stay in the boarding gate area even after the normal closing time at 11 pm. Jetstar Japan, meanwhile, announced a 24-hour delay for the flight while waiting for the heavy weather in Shanghai—the passengers’ destination—to calm down.
The situation escalated into a brawl between Japanese police officers and stranded Chinese travelers
Things turned for the worse later in the evening, in what eventually turned into a brawl between Japanese police officers and stranded Chinese passengers. While accounts on what led to the brawl vary, some tourists quoted in the media claim that they had seen the airline give preferential treatment to five Japanese tourists, and others claimed Jetstar staff had a “bad attitude.” Allegedly, the eventual brawl broke out after a stranded Chinese passenger tried exiting the area reserved for the stranded passengers to buy snacks from a vending machine in another area of the airport. An airport staffer stopped the passenger, and a physical confrontation between airline staffers and passengers occurred, which prompted Japanese police officers’ deployment at the scene.
During the brawl, the crowd of stranded Chinese passengers began chanting the Chinese national anthem, which refers to China’s resistance against Japan during the Second Sino-Japanese War.
Misguided patriotism risks jeopordizing Chinese Tourism soft power efforts
It is not the first time that Chinese tourists decide to start singing the national anthem upon the news of flight delays and cancelations. Back in 2015, Chinese travelers received a lot of bad press for singing the national anthem at Bangkok airport after their flight got delayed by 10 hours—four of which ended up on China’s infamous traveler blacklist.
After this year’s incident in Tokyo, China is now trying to clear things up for its potentially embarrassing travelers. The state broadcaster, CCTV, warned Chinese travelers against using the Chinese national anthem to display displeasure when traveling. “By putting on a ‘Wolf Warrior’ style of patriotism improperly and shouting ‘China!’ whenever you feel like it, you won’t gain sympathy from either foreign airports or domestic compatriots,” the CCTV commentary said according to state-backed Sixth Tone.
An opinion piece in People’s Daily also went on to lecture Chinese travelers after the incident. “There are many ways to pursue legitimate demands other than singing the national anthem,” the opinion piece reads. “Try effective communication with airline staff for accommodation in the case of a delay or cancelation and get yourself a hotel room or reschedule your ticket if the airline is not obliged to provide them.”
Chinese embassies are encouraging travelers to read LCCs’ terms and conditions before traveling
In response to the incident, Chinese embassies around the world have also issued statements that encourage Chinese travelers to make sure they read and understand their airlines’ terms and conditions when purchasing flights with low-cost carriers (LCCs) such as Australian LCC Jetstar.
While Chinese travelers and tourist spending remain highly sought after in destinations around the world, some travelers also risk giving Chinese travelers—and by extension, China—a bad reputation around the world. As China increases its efforts to leverage tourism as a soft power tool, the government reining in bad tourist behavior is becoming increasingly important. The incident at Narita International Airport shows that its work is far from over.