A strike by China Airlines pilots yesterday caused long delays and commotion at Taiwan’s major airports, with the airline flooded with complaints after passengers found that their bookings had been canceled and ground staff scrambling to arrange alternative itineraries on other airlines.
Travel agencies and consumer groups denounced the disruption as a severe breach of passengers’ rights and called on the airline to provide refunds free of charge.
China Airlines yesterday canceled nearly 30 inbound and outbound flights, including on mainline routes to Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, Tokyo, Manila, Bangkok, Phnom Penh, New York and Los Angeles.
The Travel Agent Association of Taiwan, which represents agencies and their employees, in a statement condemned the Taoyuan Union of Pilots for proceeding with the strike with little advance warning.
“Consumers are being held for ransom and used as bargaining chips in a labor-management dispute,” the association said.
“The strike has affected China Airlines flights to the US, Japan, Hong Kong and other Southeast Asian destinations, resulting in the cancelation of at least 28 flights” yesterday and today, it said. “It has led to disruptions and severely inconvenienced people traveling abroad and returning home during the Lunar New Year holiday.”
“The strike will also see people stranded abroad and we deeply regret that it has come to this situation,” the statement said.
The association recognizes the need to fight for better labor rights, but strongly disagrees with the action, it said, adding that it was like a “surprise attack” against the airline.
“We believe that the union should have given advance warning, so that the public could have better prepared,” the association said. “The timing of the strike is taking a high toll and has led to the waste of public resources.”
Association officials said that they would provide all necessary assistance to help members handle the situation and defuse disputes to protect the rights of passengers and travel agencies.
“However, the strike has affected many sectors and we urge the government to mediate in the conflict to ensure that it ends as soon as possible and contain the damage as much as possible,” they said.
China Airlines should not ask passengers to pay additional fees if they seek a refund or rebooking on other airlines, Consumers’ Foundation officials said.
They said that passengers should keep all receipts if they need to pay for hotel stays, meals or transportation due to the strike, so they could claim back the expenses from the airline or their travel insurance after returning to Taiwan.
Meanwhile, China Airlines urged passengers to check the latest updates before heading to the airport.
A “pilot union strike information” page on the airline’s Web site that includes a refund function can be accessed at news.china-airlines.com/emer/info_en.aspx
It said its Taipei customer service hotline (-412-9000) would be available around the clock as long as the strike continues.
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