Cathay Pacific Airways has fired three flight attendants after receiving a complaint that a passenger’s English was ridiculed during a Chengdu Tianfu International Airport (CTU) to Hong Kong International Airport (HKG) on May 21, 2023.
A fellow passenger on the flight was able to make an audio recording of the conversation that transpired, which has since been uploaded numerous times to different social media channels.
“If you cannot say ‘blanket’ in English, you cannot have it.”
A passenger who spoke limited English wanted to ask the flight attendants for a blanket but confused it with the word carpet.
In the audio recording, a voice can be heard enunciating the word “carpet” followed by “the carpet is on the floor”. Another voice can be heard saying: “If you cannot say blanket, you cannot have it.” Group laughter followed.
Cathay Pacific initially issued an apology on May 23, 2023, saying that it apologized for the passenger’s experience and it was conducting an investigation, the result of which will come out within three days.
The airline received a considerable amount of social media backlash, particularly from China. The audio recording received more than 70 million views and comments on China’s Twitter-like social media platform Sina Weibo, where more netizens shared similar experiences of being discriminated against by Cathay Pacific cabin crew.
The incident triggered tension between Hong Kong and Mainland China, with the discriminatory behavior believed by the Chinese to signify Hong Kong looking down on Mainland China.
On May 24, 2023, Cathay Pacific’s CEO Ronald Lam gave a public address in Mandarin, China’s official language, apologizing for the incident.
In a statement Lam said that, “Cathay Pacific will uphold a ‘zero tolerance’ attitude and will never condone any individual employee’s behavior that seriously violates the company’s rules and ethics.”