Cathay Pacific apologises after passenger alleges discrimination

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FILE PHOTO: Workers service a Cathay Pacific flight at Hong Kong International Airport, China September 3, 2019. Picture taken September 3, 2019. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

HONG KONG (Reuters) -Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd apologised after a passenger accused its flight attendants of discriminating against non-English speakers, prompting China’s state media to criticise the airline for “worshipping foreigners.”

Cathay said the experience of passengers travelling on its CX987 flight from the southwestern Chinese city of Chengdu to Hong Kong on Sunday caused “widespread concern” and said it sincerely apologised.

The airline has fired three flight attendants involved in the incident after an internal investigation, CEO Ronald Lam said in another statement late Tuesday, in which he apologised again.

“I would like to reiterate that Cathay Pacific takes a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to serious violations of company rules and ethics by individual employees and will not tolerate them,” Lam said.

He added that he will lead a cross-departmental working group to conduct a comprehensive review of service processes, staff training and related systems to enhance its service quality.

“Most importantly, we must ensure that all Cathay Pacific staff respect passengers from different backgrounds and cultures and provide professional and consistent service in all areas served,” Lam said.

A passenger on the flight from Chengdu to the global financial hub wrote in an online post that flight attendants complained amongst themselves about passengers in English and Cantonese. They said the flight attendants made fun of others for asking for a carpet instead of a blanket in English.

“If you cannot say blanket in English, you cannot have it. … Carpet is on the floor. Feel free if you want to lie on it,” a flight attendant said according to a recording that was circulated widely online. Reuters could not verify the authenticity of the clip, which triggered criticism on social media.

Hong Kong’s flagship carrier has been trying to rebuild the airline as it emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic. It was badly hit by COVID-related flight cancellations, border closures and strict quarantine measures for crew, resulting in drastic headcount reductions since 2020.

Hong Kong’s Transport and Logistics Secretary Lam Sai-hung said on Wednesday he was “very saddened by the inappropriate remarks…which seriously violated Hong Kong’s excellent hospitality, consistent values and moral standards.”

China’s state-owned People’s Daily in an online commentary said it was shocked by the incident against Mandarin-speaking passengers and criticised Cathay’s corporate culture for “worshipping foreigners and respecting Hong Kong people” but looking down on Mainlanders.

“Cathay Pacific can’t just apologise every time, but should rectify heavily, establish rules and regulations, and stop the unhealthy trend from the root,” it said.

The newspaper went on to say that the level of Mandarin in Hong Kong is improving by “leaps and bounds.”

“In Hong Kong the reverse trend of worshipping English and looking down on Mandarin is bound to disappear.” the newspaper said.

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