How did airline ticket agents dominate the travel market in China?

Dubai, United Arab Emirates (CNN) – When CNN’s Serenity Wang decided to travel outside Hong Kong in early March, the daily number of COVID-19 cases in the city exceeded 50,000. , with the highest mortality rate in the world.

But she was trying to move to Shanghai, China, her hometown, for the first time in more than two years.

Wang knows it will be difficult to travel from the epicenter of the virus outbreak to an area with strict anti-Covid-19 policy.

And she thought she was prepared for all the trouble and obstacles to return to Shanghai, from the endless checks for COVID-19 and the approved work permit, to the mandatory hotel quarantine and the exorbitant cost of travel.

She did not know that the challenges were only in the beginning.

Third party pressure

In late February, rumors surfaced that Shanghai had reduced the number of flights from Hong Kong, reducing passenger capacity by 50% per flight.

This policy has not been officially announced, but the reaction has been swift.

When Wang checked the airline ticket booking sites, she noticed that flight dates in the near future would be unavailable one by one.

In less than an hour, I booked all available appointments for the entire month of March.

In a panic, Wang went to a travel agent he knew.

The next day, her travel agent contacted her and offered her the option to fly to Shanghai on March 8 with a Hong Kong Airlines flight and asked her urgency: “Do you want it or not? Think now, or you can not to be available later. “

Wang would not be comfortable making a decision under pressure, but when she saw how fast the tickets were running out, she decided to choose the available flight.

Three days before the trip, Wang’s flight was canceled. The airline did not give any official explanation, but a popular theory was put forward that this was the result of Shanghai’s additional control over flights from Hong Kong as the city was reporting a “Covid-19” explosion.

It was then that Wang felt as if he was trapped in an endless loop.

Market users and scams

Medical staff collect PCR swabs in Hong Kong, plain textCredit: Lo Ping Fai / Xinhua / Getty Images

Wang then went to another travel agent named Yu, whom he found on social media.

Yu operates its business only on WeChat, a Chinese social media platform for free messaging.

Airline ticket agents in China once sold deep discounted airline tickets.

But as China essentially isolates itself from the outside world and reduces the number of passenger arrivals, international flights have dropped to at least 2% of pre-pandemic level, according to the State Aviation Administration.

However, the demand for Chinese studying and working abroad continues to grow.

The severe shortage of flights to China has turned these customers into market users who resell coveted tickets at exorbitant prices.

She asked Wang how much “premium” she would pay to book a ticket within a month.

“Honestly, it ‘s very expensive these days. I feel it’ s beyond the budget of many people,” Yu replied, “I usually warn my customers as soon as they ask.”

And it’s not just about money, as tickets are mostly sold on public ticketing platforms and no preference is given to agents. However, what they can do is carefully monitor the booking system and quickly pick up the remaining tickets.

Yu noted that she had to work all night to monitor the ticketing system because airlines tend to “cancel some bookings late at night”.

As for the date Wang planned to travel, she was asked for 11,000 yuan, about $ 1,650 to make a new reservation, which was too much for a two-and-a-half hour trip.

During the pre-coronavirus era, full fares ranged from $ 300 to $ 450 per trip.

But Wang thought there was no other choice, so she agreed to the price and paid a $ 450 deposit, which Yu said she would return if she could not secure the booking within 24 hours.

Since airline tickets and COVID-19 test scores coincide, Yu suggested that Wang perform a daily check-up for COVID-19 for the entire week if he finds any last-minute seats to book.

Fortunately, Yu was able to secure the booking on March 8, and she notified Wang just 20 hours before her scheduled departure. At the same time, her PCR test result the day before came out negative and Wang was about to fly.

A ticket is not a promise

How did airline ticket agents dominate the Chinese travel market?
Hong Kong airport traffic has dropped significantly during the pandemic, plain_textCredit: Dale De La Rey / AFP / Getty Images

On the day of Wang flight, Hong Kong International Airport was incredibly quiet, with few checkpoints.

When it was Wang’s turn to register, she confidently presented all the required travel documents, her travel document, the COVID-19 test report, and the QR code for travelers to the mainland.

However, the airline employee said, “Excuse me, Ms. Wang. The flight is full. You can not board the plane today.”

“The Shanghai authorities allow only 50 percent capacity and this space is full. But we can be sure that you will board the flight tomorrow,” he added.

The airline staff apologized to Wang, promising her that she would take the seat on the same flight the next day.

They also said they could arrange a ‘PCR’ check-in at the airport right away, so you can have the required report ready for the next day.

Wang had no choice but to accept, and the airline also gave her compensation of HK $ 1,000, equivalent to $ 128.

When money is not enough

How did airline ticket agents dominate the Chinese travel market?
Photo from a flight from Hong Kong to Shanghai, plain_textCredit: Sereniti Wang

The next day, Wang was finally able to board the plane. Instead of feeling excited, I felt sad and tired.

Despite the difficulties, she was among the lucky ones who managed to return home.

Overall, Wang spent more than $ 3,000, losing $ 160 for a canceled booking, then paying $ 1,726 for a new booking, plus $ 1,130 for a mandatory quarantine hotel.

In some cases, even money can not buy a ticket at home.

Wang learned that the swindlers were targeting the Chinese overseas and were exploiting their despair.

China’s aviation market has been a battleground since the early days of the pandemic.

And in March 2020, the Chinese Civil Aviation Administration announced that it would reduce the number of international flights to just one flight per week on one line for each airline to China.

China’s Civil Aviation Administration has issued regulations on international flight prices – imposed price controls, banned some ticket agents and transfers and exchanges, but the black market continues to flourish.

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