Cathay's takes swift action, fires crew, scrambles to defuse PR crisis


CEO Ronald Lam apologises for the crew discriminating against non-English speakers, stresses on 'zero tolerance' towards any violation of internal Code of Conduct after the incident draws media flak.

Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific Airways has dismissed three cabin crew members after complaints emerged of staff insulting and discriminating against non-English speakers.

Cathay issued three statements in less than two days following the potentially image-tarnishing incident that came to light. On Monday night, they apologised on the official channel and their Chinese account of Sina Weibo, apologising for the incident on flight CX987 and promising further investigation. This was followed by Mandy Ng, director of service delivery, confirming the suspension of the cabin crew on Tuesday afternoon and promising action pending the three-day cross-departmental investigation. Then, in a quick change of events, CEO Ronald Lam's statement came hours after: “We have already concluded the investigation into the incident. In accordance with the company’s policies, we have terminated three cabin crew members who were involved,” he said.

“There is no compromise for such violations,” he said.

“I would like to reiterate our zero-tolerance approach to any serious breach of the company’s policies and code of conduct. There is no compromise for such violations.”

Lam reiterated that Cathay employees are expected to respect customers from different backgrounds and cultures, adding the company appreciated the feedback and saw the incident as a “valuable lesson”. His statement carrying his apology was also posted on mainland Chinese social media platform Weibo.

Screengrab of Cathay's apology on its Weibo account

Recap of events

The sacking came after a passenger took to Chinese social media platforms Red and Weibo to complain about the disrespectful behaviour of the crew for asking for a "blanket" while mistakingly calling it for a "carpet".

Post this, an in-flight audio recording surfaced where 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”.

Screengrab of the initial complain post on Red

Soon after, the posts went viral on Red and Weibo; many described 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”. 

The complainant also said some passengers inquired in English how to fill in the immigration form, but were only met with impatient responses from cabin crew.

The passenger who filed the complaint is said to have used the free ticket offered by Cathay Pacific for the Greater Bay Area campaign but witnessed the cabin crew’s cold response to passengers who do not speak English and teasing for over two hours during the flight when he/she happened to sit at the end of rear cabin and recorded the audio. 

Hello Hong Kong?

More details about the discriminatory incident can be read here. Ironically, the passenger who filed the complaint is said to have used the free ticket as a part of the 'Hello Hong Kong' campaign offered by Cathay Pacific for the Greater Bay Area initiative under the Airport Authority’s ‘World of Winners’ (WOW) programme.

After three years of strict pandemic travel restrictions that plunged Cathay into steep losses, Cathay is working to rebuild its business. In March, the airline reported a loss of 6.55 billion Hong Kong dollars ($834.4 million) in 2022 — an 18.5% increase from 2021. 

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