Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd (0293. HK) fired three flight attendants after a passenger accused them of discriminating towards non-English speakers, triggering outrage from Chinese state media and Hong Kong’s leader to vow it wouldn’t happen again.
Cathay apologized for the “widespread concern” created by its Sunday CX987 flight from Chengdu to Hong Kong.
CEO Ronald Lam said the airline fired three flight attendants after an internal review.
“I’d 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 added.
He also led a cross-departmental working group to assess service processes, personnel training, and related systems to improve 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 stated.
In an internet post, a Chengdu airline passenger said flight attendants complained in English and Cantonese about customers. For example, they stated flight attendants made fun of others for asking for a carpet instead of a blanket in English.
“If you can’t pronounce blanket in English, you can’t get it. The floor has carpet. A flight attendant added, “Feel free if you want to lie on it,” according to a viral clip. However, the clip was criticized on social media since Reuters could not verify its integrity.
Hong Kong’s flag carrier is rebuilding after the COVID-19 outbreak. Since 2020, staff has been cut because of COVID-19 flight cancellations, border closures, and crew quarantine.
On Wednesday, Hong Kong’s top executive, John Lee, called the discriminatory incident severe.
“The words and deeds of the flight attendants hurt the feelings of compatriots in Hong Kong and the mainland and destroyed Hong Kong’s traditional culture and values of respect and courtesy,” he said on Facebook.
Cathay’s Flight Attendants Union did not respond to a request for comment.
In an online article, the Residents’ Daily, China’s state-owned newspaper, condemned Cathay’s corporate culture for “worshipping foreigners and respecting Hong Kong people” but demeaning Mainlanders.
It said, “Cathay Pacific can’t just apologise every time, but should rectify heavily, establish rules and regulations, and stop the unhealthy trend from the root.”
The publication added that Hong Kong Mandarin is improving “leaps and bounds.”
The newspaper wrote, “In Hong Kong the reverse trend of worshipping English and looking down on Mandarin is bound to disappear.”