Cathay Pacific Cabin Crew fired over Passenger Discrimination

Cathay Pacific fires cabin crew over alleged discrimination against non-English speakers.

Hong Kong’s flag carrier Cathay Pacific faces widespread criticism after receiving complaints from a non-English speaking passenger. The associated passenger stated that he was discriminated against and insulted as they were unable to communicate in English accurately. Formal apologies were issued by Cathay Pacific on the preceding days stating that they will initiate an investigation and decide on disciplinary actions against the staff members involved. On the 23rd of May, the airline made an expeditious decision to fire the three flight attendants involved in the incident.

A350 Cathay Pacific HKIA 2022
Cathay Pacific attempts to rebrand itself post-pandemic with new fleets of A350 and A320|©TravelRadar

Chengdu-Hong Kong, CX 987, 21MAY2023

The incident occurred on flight CX987 from Chengdu, China, to Hong Kong on the 21st of May 2023. It involves a passenger asking for a blanket from the flight attendants in English saying that he wanted a “carpet”. Without any information on how the flight attendants responded immediately, they were heard making fun of the request with the remark “carpet is on the floor, feel free if you want to lie on it.” in a video posted online. Comments such as “the passenger cannot speak the human language” were also said to have been heard after the public announcements were made in Cantonese and English. The occurrence sparked outrage immediately after being posted on XiaoHongShu (which translates to “The Little Red Book”), a major social media platform widely used in mainland China with over 300 million registered users.

Cathay Pacific fires cabin crew for discrimination against non-English speaking passengers
Cathay Pacific faces staff shortage as Hong Kong opened up last year|©Cathay Pacific

Cathay Pacific Apologizes for the Second time in two days

Soon after the outrage surfaced the next day, Cathay Pacific posted a formal apology stating they would look into the matter and give an explanation with disciplinary decisions within three days. The associated flight attendants were also suspended at the time being.

However, the incident fermented as China’s state-owned People’s Daily stepped in and criticised in an online commentary on Weibo that the airline retains its supremacy culture to look down on non-English speakers.

“It seems that its company culture still maintains a sense of superiority that worships foreigners and respects Hong Kongers but looks down on mainlander

It is not the first time Cathay Pacific is involved in the tightening Hong Kong-Mainland conflict in recent years. Back in 2019, the airline fired a pilot for making a public announcement onboard hinting at their political stance to support protests in Hong Kong.

Cathay Pacific fires cabin crew for discrimination against non-English passengers.
Cathay Pacific fires three cabin crew associated with the incident.|©RonLiu-Bloomberg

Expeditious yet Controversial Response

Ronald Lam, CEO of Cathay Pacific, published a second apology in simplified Chinese on the same night. Lam also appeared in public to reinstate the apology in Mandarin, vowing to take the matter into his own hand to reiterate the company culture. Lam highlighted the company’s zero-tolerance toward racial discrimination.

“Our flight attendants are already very international, we will review the combination of the flight attendants and their language capabilities in the future,” Ronald LAm, Ceo of cathay pacific.

Despite the extensive surge of the decision to fire the attendants announced by the airline last night in newspaper and online media, dissenting voices also emerged in online forums. Objecting voices hypothesise the incident was the prelude to a modern-day version of the denunciation rallies in mainland China as an attempt to further suppress foreign-owned conglomerates. Loopholes such as ‘why the passenger started asking the flight attendants in English in the first place’ and ‘why the XiaoHungShu user claimed to have lived in Hong Kong for over 10 years and is fluent in Cantonese and English was unable to communicate’ remain a topic for discussion.

Do you think the expeditious disciplinary reaction from Cathay Pacific was appropriate? Why couldn’t a person who has lived in Hong Kong for over 10 years and claims himself to be fluent in English and Cantonese be able to communicate with the flight attendants? Do you think the airline did the right thing by minimising the impact of the outrage? Let us know below in the comments.

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Leo Cheung
Leo Cheung
Aviation Reporter - Born and raised in Hong Kong, Leo has decided to pursue a career in aviation under the influence of the old Kai Tak Airport back in the days. With a degree in aviation, he has joint Travel Radar as an aviation reporter to diversify his views and apply professional knowledge to anyone who is interested in commercial aviation. He regularly contributes articles with 'inside the cockpit' knowledge.