Southern California -- this just in

« Previous Post | L.A. NOW Home | Next Post »

China-bound passengers stranded at LAX

June 2, 2009 | 10:53 am

About a dozen passengers are milling about the Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX this morning because their flight to Shanghai has been delayed for two days.

The China Eastern Airlines flight was scheduled to depart LAX at 1:30 p.m. Sunday. About 200 passengers had boarded and were preparing for takeoff when the pilot announced they would not be leaving after all. Passengers said they were stuck on the plane for several hours before they were ushered off. 

The airline has been paying for them to stay at a nearby hotel and buying them meals since Sunday, but there's been no definitive word on when their flight will leave, passengers said today.

Although airline officials have not been available for comment, at least one passenger said that as the plane was backing out to the runway, the nose wheel jammed and there might have been a computer system failure.

The passengers were told there were mechanical problems with the plane, and the airline was waiting for parts and a mechanic to come to L.A. from China to fix it.

Passengers say China Eastern has refused to buy them tickets on another airline to get to China.

“I have sympathy for an airline that has mechanical failure, but they haven’t handled it well,” said Victor Suller, a physics professor from Louisiana State University, who was one his way to Shanghai for a meeting to help organize a particle accelerator convention there in 2013.

Suller's meeting is scheduled for Thursday.

“There's no point in going to Shanghai now,” he said, because he will miss the meeting unless he leaves today.

Passengers said they reboarded the plane Monday and sat inside for an hour on the tarmac. They said the plane moved maybe 100 feet, then stopped and they were told to get off again. Some of the passengers got angry and staged a mini sit-in inside the terminal. Airport police were called to the scene but there were no arrests, passengers said.

Passengers said the airline had given them several options, none of which they found desirable: Receive a refund on a one-way fare only; buy their own tickets to China on another airline; or wait until the problem is resolved.

“We just want them to transfer us to another airline. That’s a pretty reasonable demand,” said a college student from New York who did not want to give his name. “They just tell us, 'We provide a free hotel stay, we provide free food,' but that’s not what we want.”

-- Raja Abdulrahim 

Photos: Stranded China Eastern passengers (top) talk to an airline agent at Los Angeles International Airport today.  "I don't know what to do right now," said Qian YaFen, 35 (second photo). She went to LAX this morning after trying to reach someone at the China Eastern hot line.  "The told me I have to wait," she said. In the third photo, stranded China Eastern passengers gather at the China Eastern desk. Bottom,  passengers try to get information at the China Eastern ticket counter at LAX. (Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times)