Cathay Pacific fires staff over clip about non-English speakers
Controversy comes as Hong Kong airline is trying to recover from years of losses due to protests and COVID curbs.
Hong Kong’s flagship airline Cathay Pacific has fired three flight attendants who drew the ire of Chinese state media after being accused of discriminating against non-English speakers.
Cathay Pacific Chief Executive Ronald Lam said the employees were sacked after an internal investigation into a complaint by a passenger on a flight between the southwestern Chinese city of Chengdu and Hong Kong on Sunday.
In a post online, a person identifying as a passenger said flight attendants had complained amongst themselves about passengers and made fun of customers 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 person can be heard saying in a recording that was circulated widely online.
Al Jazeera could not verify the authenticity of the clip, which prompted outrage on social media.
“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 in a statement on Tuesday night.
On Tuesday, a Weibo account belonging to the overseas edition of the official Chinese People’s Daily newspaper condemned Cathay over the incident.
“It seems that its company culture still maintains a sense of superiority that worships foreigners and respects Hong Kongers but looks down on mainlanders,” it wrote.
Cathay Pacific previously came under fire from Chinese state media when some of its employees expressed support for anti-government protests that rocked the former British colony in 2019.
Hong Kong’s Chief Executive John Lee said on Wednesday that the incident was serious and should not be repeated.
“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,” Lee said.
Cathay is trying to recover from years of losses due to the protests and some of the world’s tough pandemic restrictions.
The airline reported a loss of 6.55 billion Hong Kong dollars ($834.4m) for 2022 – up nearly 20 percent from 2021 when the city was isolated from the world by COVID-related border controls.