More than 170 passengers were due to leave Kunming, capital of south-western Yunnan province, on three flights operated by China Southern Airlines late on Monday, but the flights were cancelled due to bad weather, Xinhua news agency said.
"All the passengers had to spend the night on the planes or in the departure hall," Xinhua said. "No one came to tend to their food and board."
The passengers clashed with airport police this morning, smashing computers and desks, Xinhua said, blaming the melee on China Southern staff's "inappropriate working attitude".
Around 2:00am (local time), many of the passengers - including toddlers and people over 60 - took taxis to a hotel where China Southern said they could stay, only to be turned away once they arrived, Xinhua said.
Frustration at mysterious delays, diversions and cancellations have at times boiled over into violence at Chinese airports as passengers try to storm grounded aircraft and police are brought in to keep the peace.
There have also been cases in which passengers, after delayed arrivals, have refused to get off the planes in protest.