HONG KONG (May 23) (Reuters) – Cathay Pacific Airlines Ltd (0293.HK) said it has fired three flight attendants after a passenger accused them of bias against non-English speakers, drawing criticism from Chinese state media and a Hong Kong leader vowing to do so. It won’t happen again.
Cathy said the experience of passengers on board Flight CX987 from Chengdu, southwest China, to Hong Kong on Sunday caused “widespread concern” and said it sincerely apologized.
The airline’s CEO Ronald Lamm said the airline had fired three flight attendants involved after an internal investigation.
“I would like to reiterate that Cathay Pacific takes a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to, and will not tolerate, serious violations of the company’s rules and ethics by individual employees,” Lamm said.
He added that he will lead an interdepartmental working group to conduct a comprehensive review of service operations, personnel training and related systems to enhance service quality.
“Most importantly, we must ensure that all Cathay Pacific employees respect travelers from different backgrounds and cultures and provide professional and consistent service in all areas served,” Lamm said.
A passenger on the flight from Chengdu wrote in an online post that flight attendants complained to each other about passengers in both English and Cantonese. They said the flight attendants mocked the others for asking for a rug instead of a blanket in English.
“If you can’t pronounce blanket in English, you can’t have it… carpets on the floor. Feel free if you want to lie on it,” said a flight attendant, according to a recording widely circulated online. Reuters could not verify the authenticity of the clip, which sparked criticism on social media.
Hong Kong’s major airline is trying to rebuild itself as it emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been hit hard by COVID-related flight cancellations, border closures and strict crew quarantine measures, which have led to significant staff cuts since 2020.
Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee said on Wednesday that the discrimination incident was serious and could not be repeated.
He said, according to a post on his Facebook, that “the flight attendants’ words and actions hurt the feelings of Hong Kong and mainland compatriots and destroyed Hong Kong’s traditional culture and values of respect and courtesy.”
The Cathay Flight Attendants Association did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
China’s state-owned People’s Daily said in an online commentary that it was shocked by the incident against passengers speaking Mandarin Chinese and criticized Cathay’s culture of “worshiping foreigners and respecting Hong Kong people” but looking down on mainlanders.
“Cathhay Pacific not only can’t apologize every time, but it must firmly rectify, set rules and regulations, and stop the unhealthy trend at its root,” she said.
The newspaper went on to say that Hong Kong’s level of Mandarin was improving “by leaps and bounds”.
“In Hong Kong, the reverse trend of worshiping English and looking down on Mandarin is bound to disappear.” The newspaper said.
Farah Master Report. Editing by Sharon Singleton
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