CHIBA – Chinese travelers going on duty-free buying frenzies at Narita International Airport are gumming up the works by causing delays to China-bound flights.
But the disruptions, while a headache for airline operations, are also a bonanza as Chinese travelers’ deep pockets are helping to boost retail sales at the airport.
Flight delays are being caused as travelers require extra time to recheck their luggage after buying souvenirs in the duty-free areas that exceed the carry-on amounts. The airport’s operating company has also taken to warning passengers about carry-on restrictions.
In early July, one sightseeing couple joined a long line of travelers at Terminal 1 after finishing embarkation procedures with two carts loaded down with mountains of shopping bags. This was during a peak hour for flights to China.
“I got accessory bags for myself and stuff like chocolate to give to friends for a total of 30,000 yuan (about ¥600,000),” the woman, 30, said with a smile.
Another woman who had come from Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province in southwest China, with her family in a seven-member party had purchased about 20 boxes of cookies and other treats to hand out to friends.
Several airlines have begun consulting the airport operator about delays due to the amount of carry-on baggage on China-bound flights. There were a “startling amount of consultations” about carry-on luggage following the Chinese New Year in February, according to an airport supervisor.
The same situation is seen at Chubu Centrair International Airport outside Nagoya.
“This could affect other, non-China-bound flights,” said an official in charge of airport operations.
Even so, Narita International Airport Corp. says business has been booming because of the boost in duty-free retail sales from Chinese tourists. Profits from retail businesses and duty-free shops made up 33 percent of the company’s consolidated operating profit for the business year through March, it said.
“It is really contributing to a pickup in sales inside the airport,” said company President Makoto Natsume.
To deal with flight delays, the company has been posting stickers in Chinese and English in duty-free shops since last July warning travelers to check ahead of time with airlines about restrictions on carry-on baggage.
There have been some cases of one airline telling travelers who check in with a lot of luggage that they won’t be able to purchase items at the duty-free shops. But that is the exception, not the rule.
“It’s no problem really as long as they get to the gate early,” said an airline executive from the same company.
Meanwhile, Kansai International Airport, which introduced similar measures last year with stickers and warnings from duty-free shop staff, has not had any flight delays.
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