In a post on its official Weibo account, Chinese state-owned airline Air China announced it had suspended a flight attendant for allegedly leaking the personal details of up to 20 celebrities that he had obtained from airline records. The statement posted on China’s largest social media platform said the “employee’s behaviour seriously violated Air China’s data management regulations”.
In July, an aviation industry blogger called Chao Cewei made an official complaint to Air China about posts he had seen on Weibo from an Air China employee converning various celebrities that had flown with the airline. Details including frequent flyer membership card status, nationality and date of birth were part of the trove of data leaked online, prompting Air China to start an investigation.
“After verification, the person involved was a flight attendant of Air China,” a spokesperson for the airline explained on Saturday evening. “At present, the company has grounded the employee and will follow up with the company in accordance with relevant regulations,” the statement continued.
The spokesperson warned that the flight attendant faces “severe punishment” if the allegations are proven.
“We express our most sincere apologies to the passengers involved. Strict protection of passenger personal information is Air China’s consistent position.”
The flight attendant, who’s Weibo account name is Ruo Chen, even posted a photo of himself in his uniform stood alongside Chinese actor Jin Dong inside an Air China plane.
Celebrities to have had their personal details allegedly leaked by the flight attendant include the actors Jing Boran, Bao Beier, Deng Lun, Ni Ni and Jiang Yingrong, singers Zhang Jie, Zhou Bichang, Han Hong and Zeng Yike, supermodel Du Juan, athlete Su Bingtian and television host Ju Ping.
Back in August 2019, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) strongly rebuked Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific for its own data breach that saw at least one airline employee leak details of passengers who were said to be police officers travelling to Beijing for a soccer game. The leak came as some Cathay Pacific employees voiced their support for mass pro-democracy protests.
CAAC warned that such data breaches as well as Cathay Pacific staffers taking part in the protests “posed latent dangers that might severely compromise aviation safety.”
By threat of removing Cathay Pacific’s licence to operate in China, the civil aviation regulator ordered any staff member who had taken part in “illegal protests, violent actions, and who has overly radical behaviours” to be prevented from operating flights to mainland China or on any flights that flew over the Chinese mainland.
The unprecedented order from CAAC led to major upheaval at Cathay Pacific and rumours of mass dismissals to meet compliance with the regulation.