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Cathay Pacific has found itself in hot water recently after a passenger took to social media to complain that flight attendants on her flight had mocked and discriminated against non-English speaking travellers.
According to her post on the social media platform Xiaohongshu, she took a Cathay Pacific flight on May 21, 2023, CX987, from Chengdu, a city in south-west China, to Hong Kong.
“If you cannot say ‘blanket’ in English, you cannot have it.”
In her post, the passenger, who claimed to be a Chinese national living in Hong Kong for 11 years, said she was given a ticket through the airline’s recent giveaway promotion.
She said she chose a seat in the back row, which she thought would be quiet. Little did she expect that she had instead acquired “front row seats” to hear the female flight attendants’ mockery of the flight’s non-English speaking passengers.
She claimed she heard the following from her seat (the flight attendants were, apparently, not afraid to be heard) and recorded portions of the conversation:
- Throughout the flight, which lasted for around 2.5 hours, the flight attendants mocked non-English speaking passengers multiple times, saying, “If you cannot say ‘blanket’ in English, you cannot have it.”
- When a young lady who sat close to her asked the flight attendant how to fill in the immigration form in English, the flight attendant replied extremely impatiently.
- When she saw an elderly Chinese man standing up to bring a child to the toilet after the plane took off, a female flight attendant announced in Cantonese, “The cabin light has yet to be switched off. Please return to your seat.” However, she turned around and told her colleagues, “They don’t understand human language.”
To support her claims, the Xiaohongshu user also uploaded a 56-second audio recording of the flight attendants’ conversations via a follow-up post.
While the engine sound rendered parts of the conversation (in English) inaudible, the following bits could be heard clearly:
Flight attendant A: (presumably to mock the passenger who didn’t know the difference between the words “carpet” and “blanket”) “Carpet [is] on the floor.”
Flight attendant B: (presumably mimicking the passenger who requested a blanket) “Excuse me, can I get a carpet?”
Flight attendant C: “If you cannot say ‘blanket’ in English, you cannot have it.”
Flight attendant D: “True.”
People shared similar experiences online
The Xiaohongshu user also highlighted that the airline’s ticket giveaway was aimed at reviving Hong Kong’s tourism industry after it took a hit during the Covid-19 pandemic.
She felt it was unacceptable that the airline would tolerate such behaviour on the passengers by their flight attendants.
While a handful of commenters said they didn’t face such issues before, many others claimed they had similar experiences with the airline.
Others joked that the issue might have been avoided altogether if the airline provided blankets to every passenger in the first place — like many other full-service air carriers.
Response from Cathay Pacific
After the post went viral on Xiaohongshu, Cathay Pacific responded on the evening of May 22, 2023, by putting out a statement on its Weibo account.
In the statement, the airline said it was aware of the passenger’s unpleasant experience onboard CX987 and apologised for the incident sincerely.
The company also added that they took a serious view of the incident and had contacted the affected travellers to understand more before launching an investigation.
The following day, Cathay Pacific’s director of service delivery, Mandy Ng, put out a follow-up statement, updating the public that the company had temporarily suspended the flight attendants involved in the incident.
The airline had also launched an internal investigation and said that it would publicise the findings within three days.
The company also promised to deal sternly with any inappropriate behaviour uncovered during the investigation.
Statement from CEO
On May 23, Cathay Pacific uploaded its third statement on Weibo — this time from its chief executive officer, Ronald Lim.
In the statement, Lim apologised again on behalf of his company for the unpleasant experience CX987 passengers underwent on May 21.
He also updated that the airline had completed its investigations into the incident, and the three flight attendants involved were fired per the company’s rules and regulations.
Lim also said in the statement that to avoid repeating similar incidents, he would spearhead a work group to conduct a comprehensive review of the airline’s procedures, personnel training, and relevant regulations to enhance Cathay Pacific’s quality of service.
He added that the most important task is ensuring all Cathay Pacific staff will respect passengers from different backgrounds and cultures and consistently provide professional services in all regions where the airline operates.
At the end of the statement, the CEO also promised that the company will learn from the mistake and strive to provide passengers with a more satisfactory travel experience.
Top images via Cathay Pacific/Weibo & Xiaohongshu