The legislature’s Transportation Committee yesterday passed a motion asking the Ministry of Transportation and Communications to act as a coordinator for different civil carriers to ensure sufficient flight services to Taiwan should the anti-China protests in Vietnam worsen.
Violence in Vietnam’s Binh Duong and Dong Nai provinces erupted in protest against Beijing’s installation of an oil rig in disputed waters in the South China Sea, with rioters damaging Taiwanese factories, attacking workers who look Chinese and looting.
Fearing that the riots would spread, many businesspeople have decided to return to Taiwan. Lawmakers have expressed concern over whether there are enough flights to cater to those planning to return home or if carriers have jacked up prices during this critical period.
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Tsai Chi-chang (蔡其昌) said he was told that a one-way ticket from Vietnam to Taiwan now costs about US$500 — almost twice the normal rate.
He asked the ministry to find out if Taiwanese travel agencies or carriers are taking advantage of the crisis to raise ticket prices.
Benjamin Ho (何登煌), director-general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Department of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said that Taiwanese nationals can borrow funds from the foreign ministry’s office in Vietnam to purchase a plane ticket home, provided they can provide affidavits signed by family members promising they will repay the money that they owe.
Ho’s remarks triggered a chorus of criticisms from the lawmakers.
Tsai described the government offer as “over the top.”
“They have to run for their lives and figure out a way to raise money at the same time,” Tsai said.
The committee passed a motion proposed by Tsai and Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Lee Hung-chun (李鴻鈞) asking the transportation ministry to act as a coordinator to ensure that carriers will be able to provide enough flights to bring back the more than 40,000 Taiwanese businesspeople and their families in Vietnam.
The motion also requires the ministry to monitor airline ticket prices.
Data from the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) show that carriers offering flights to Vietnam — including EVA Airways, China Airlines, Vietnam Airlines, Uni Air and Mandarin Airlines — have either used larger aircraft or offered additional flights to bring more passengers home.
Ticket prices average about US$350 one-way and US$550 round-trip, the CAA said.
As of 3pm yesterday, there were still available seats on flights from Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi to Taiwan today.
Meanwhile, 144 tourists have canceled trips to Vietnam, including those scheduled to leave in July, the Tourism Bureau said.
At another legislative committee meeting yesterday, KMT Legislator Chang Chia-chun (張嘉郡) slammed the foreign ministry for allowing airline companies to raise ticket prices at will when seats are desperately needed by Taiwanese nationals trapped in Vietnam.
Chang said she had received a complaint from a Taiwanese businessman in Vietnam saying that Taiwan-bound fares have jumped to between US$700 and US$800.
Aside from soaring prices, tickets are hard to come by, Chang said.
She also questioned the ministry’s promise of assistance, saying the Taiwanese businessman told her that he ended up asking for help from a German businessman in Vietnam, who asked the German government to help him secure a plane seat back to Taiwan.
“And the ticket price was within the normal range,” Chang added.
The Taiwanese businessman was deeply disappointed at the government’s inaction and failure to quickly respond to the situation, Chang said, adding that the dismay was compounded by the fact that it was other countries’ governments that was able to provide immediate help to Taiwanese citizens abroad.
Additional reporting by Alison Hsiao
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