Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways has fired three flight attendants for mocking a passenger who failed to speak proper English, in a caught-on-tape moment that caused a viral firestorm in China.
The crew members were heard in the clip laughing at a traveler who tried to ask for a “blanket” in English, but instead used the word “carpet” during a Sunday flight to Hong Kong from the southwestern city of Chengdu.
“If you can’t say blanket in English, you cannot have it,” someone is heard saying in the clip.
“Carpet is on the floor,” the speaker adds as laughter erupts in the cabin, according to the recording posted on Chinese social media.
Airline CEO Ronald Lam expressed his apology over the incident in a statement released Tuesday.
“We need to ensure that all Cathay Pacific employees must at all times respect customers from different backgrounds and cultures, and that we provide quality services consistently across all markets that we serve,” he said, CNN reported.
“I would like to reiterate our zero-tolerance approach to any serious breach of the company’s policies and code of conduct. There is no compromise for such violations,” Lam added.
The airline honcho said he would personally lead a task force to improve service and prevent similar incidents in the future.
The crew members were sacked after the passenger complained online that some employees were disrespectful to those who did not speak English or Cantonese, the language widely spoken in Hong Kong.
“During the whole flight, not a moment went by when I was not distressed or angry,” the passenger wrote.
A Weibo account belonging to the international edition of the official Chinese People’s Daily assailed Cathay Pacific over the incident.
“It seems that its company culture still maintains a sense of superiority that worships foreigners and respects Hong Kongers but looks down on mainlanders,” it wrote, adding that the airline should take action to address the matter.
As of Wednesday, the topic was trending for a second straight day on China’s Twitter-like platform, with a hashtag about the firings receiving 320 million views.
Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee called the incident “extremely outrageous and disappointing,” adding that it had damaged the city’s image.
On Wednesday, Transport and Logistics Secretary Lam Sai-hung said he was very distressed by the “inappropriate comments” made by the crew and described the incident as a “serious breach of Hong Kong’s reputation for service excellence.”
He called on Cathay’s brass to improve the company’s services immediately.
The incident resurfaced old tensions between Hong Kong and mainland China.
In 2019, some Cathay workers took part in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests, forcing the company to field angry calls from the Chinese government.
Beijing responded by saying it would not allow Cathay flights crewed by anyone who’d taken part in the protests to enter Chinese airspace.
Cathay also promised to fire any workers found to be joining the demonstrations – but the controversy led to the departures of its CEO and chief commercial officer, according to CNN.
Chinese state media criticized Cathay, which is owned by Swire Pacific, a conglomerate with roots in Hong Kong and the UK.
“Its corporate culture seems to retain a certain kind of admiration for foreigners, relative respect for Hong Kong people and contempt for mainland Chinese people,” according to an editorial in state-run People’s Daily this week.
With Post Wires