Cathay Pacific Fires 3 After Mandarin Discrimination Incident

By Alistair Baker-Brian, May 25, 2023

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An incident involving a conversation about a blanket on Cathay Pacific flight CX987 from Chengdu to Hong Kong on May 21 has sparked a debate around discrimination against Mandarin Chinese-speakers and has led to three Cathay Pacific crew members getting fired. 

Here’s how it all unfolded. 

On Chinese social media platform Weibo, The Paper shared an audio recording from the aforementioned flight in which a passenger is heard speaking to a flight attendant in English. 

The passenger mistakenly asks the flight attendant for a “carpet,” while they meant to ask for a “blanket.” 

The flight attendant responds, “Carpet is on the floor. If you cannot say blanket in English, you cannot have it.”

The comment is then met with a chorus of laughter. 

Cathay Pacific was quick to act. On May 23, the airline’s CEO, Ronald Lam issued a statement in which he unreservedly apologized.

He confirmed that three crew members had been dismissed from their positions, adding there would be “zero tolerance” for behavior which did not conform to the airline’s standards, and that cross-departmental training would be implemented to avoid such incidents in the future. 


The simplified Chinese version of Ronald Lam's statement. Image via Weibo/@晓磊

The incident sparked a debate about relations between the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) and the Chinese mainland.

SAR Chief Executive, John Lee said on May 24 that the case had “hurt the feelings” of compatriots from both the Chinese mainland and Hong Kong. 

He added that he supported additional training for staff. 

An opinion piece in state-run media outlet, Global Times argues that the incident “shows Hong Kong needs to do more to boost national identity.” 

“It is 2023,” the article reads. “Yet there is a small proportion of Hong Kong people who are mentally stuck in the era of colonial rule, and have forgotten what their mother language is.”

The Chinese mainland is of great importance to Cathay Pacific, not only because of the aviation market, but also because of financial support. 

Air China is Cathay Pacific’s second-biggest shareholder with an approximate 20% stake. Moreover, Cathay Pacific is also a shareholder in Air China, with around 16% of its shares, reports CNN. 

[Cover image via Pixabay]

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