A blanket, Cathay Pacific and the PR kerfuffle


Hong Kong's flagship carrier created quite a stir on Chinese social media platforms after a glaring discriminatory incident involving its crew against non-English speakers on a flight from Chengdu came to light.

Hong Kong-based airline Cathay Pacific faces a social media backlash in China after cabin staff allegedly teased and discriminated against a non-English-speaking passenger on flight CX987 from Chengdu to Hong Kong on Sunday (May 21). 

Following that flight, a passenger who claimed to have witnessed the incident shared a post and audio recording on Red (Xiaohongshu), one of China’s social media apps. In it, the passenger said they had filed an official complaint to Cathay Pacific, claiming the cabin crew had been “discriminating [against] passengers who are not able to speak English”. 

Red post

This passenger also posted an audio recording which is said to have been recorded on the flight, though Campaign has not yet verified this. In the recording, people can be heard laughing and talking about a passenger who made a mistake in requesting a "carpet" instead of a “blanket”, saying, “carpet is on the floor”, and “if you cannot speak blanket, you cannot have it”. Soon after, the posts went viral on Chinese social media channels such as Red and Weibo.

Describing the incident as “unpleasant, shocking and heartbreaking”, the passenger demanded the cabin crew apologise and that the airline “pay more attention in terms of staff training”. 

Sources from Red: the passenger's letter of complaint filed to Cathay Pacific

On Monday night, Cathay Pacific posted a statement on its official Chinese account of Sina Weibo, apologising for an incident on flight CX987 and stated that the airline would conduct a further investigation. 

And the statement in Chinese is loosely translated like this: “We are aware of the passenger's unpleasant experience on Cathay Pacific flight CX987 and apologise for this. Cathay Pacific has always been committed to providing high-quality service to our passengers and takes this incident very seriously. We have contacted the passenger concerned for further information and will conduct a serious investigation. We would like to express our deep apologies again for the distress caused by this incident.”

Campaign contacted Cathay Pacific for further details. Mandy Ng, director of service delivery expressed “sincerest apologies for the incident,” adding that the airline is “taking this incident seriously and [has] contacted the customer at the earliest opportunity to understand the situation. We have already suspended the flying duties of the cabin crew members involved, and an internal investigation is underway. We will announce the findings of the investigation within the next three days.”

She insists, “any speech or behaviour that violates our policies or Code of Conduct, when confirmed, will be dealt with seriously and diligently. This is our strong commitment.”

This is not the first time the brand has been struggling with accusations from passengers of discrimination against Mandarin speakers. The two posts triggered a flood of more complaints and comments about Cathay Pacific on Chinese social media, sharing more unpleasant experiences over the past few years.

Chinese netizens have been referring to Cathay Pacific as "Carpet Airlines” and even joked that complaining about Cathay Pacific is now becoming a ploy “to attract more traffic” on Chinese social media channels. 

Social media comments on Weibo

[The story was first published on Campaign Asia-Pacific]

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