Cathay Pacific Airways has terminated three flight attendants following a discrimination complaint involving non-English speaking passengers.
This comes after a viral audio recording of cabin crew ridiculing passengers on a Sunday flight went viral.
Chinese state media claimed that the airline was “looking down on Chinese people on the mainland.”
A Chengdu-Hong Kong traveller accused cabin staff of mocking customers who asked for a “carpet” instead of a “blanket.”
In the audio recording, a flight attendant is heard laughing as she informs her coworkers. “If you cannot say blanket in English, you cannot have it.” There is carpet on the floor.”
The incident has been heavily criticized on Chinese social media, with some users advocating for a Cathay Pacific boycott.
Hong Kong’s top executive, John Lee, said the incident “hurt the feelings of Hong Kong and mainland citizens.”
Struggle to recuperate
The chief executive officer of the airline, Ronald Lam, apologized for the incident and stated that he will personally oversee a task force to review the company’s code of conduct.
Cathay Pacific has been trying to recover to profitability since the last pandemic restrictions were lifted.
In 2020, at the height of the pandemic, the flagship carrier was severely impacted by stringent quarantine regulations and border closures, which led to massive job cuts.
“China is a key market for Cathay, both for inbound travel to Hong Kong and transit traffic to Cathay’s larger network,” he said.
“Anyone who offends the Chinese people should be prepared to pay the price,” China’s Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in 2021 in response to a question about Western companies facing boycotts for expressing concern over alleged human rights violations in Xinjiang province.
Since 2019, when mass protests erupted in Hong Kong over an extradition bill proposed by Beijing that would allow suspects from the financial city to be sent to China for prosecution, the relationship between Hong Kong and China has been tense.
In response to the protests, China enacted a contentious national security law that made subversion a crime.
Beijing stated that the law was necessary for the city’s stability. According to critics, it was intended to suppress dissent and erode Hong Kong’s autonomy.
Since the law’s implementation, more than 250 individuals have been arrested and as many as 30 have been convicted.
It is typical, according to Carolyn Cartier, a professor of Asian studies at the University of Technology in Sydney, for linguistic and political differences to spark tensions between Hong Kong and China.
Prof. Cartier, who commutes between both cities, said Cantonese is a “symbol of fidelity to Hong Kong’s culture.”
She told that Hong Kong is viewed as a glitzy and glamorous financial center. “It does not matter as much who is from Hong Kong or China. It depends on who is culturally savvy and cosmopolitan enough to be there.