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Cathay Pacific Flight Attendants Say Low Pay and High Workloads May Have Contributed to Discrimination Incident

Cathay Pacific Flight Attendants Say Low Pay and High Workloads May Have Contributed to Discrimination Incident

a group of women wearing face masks

The Cathay Pacific flight attendants union has expressed its “deep regret” over an incident onboard a recent flight in which three members of cabin crew apparently mocked a mainland Chinese passenger over their English language proficiency.

Amidst an angry uproar over the incident, the Hong Kong-based airline quickly suspended and then fired the flight attendants at the centre of the furore after a recording of the exchange went viral.

a group of airplanes on a runway
heychli /

During the Sunday flight from Chengdu to Hong Kong, a Mandarin-speaking Chinese passenger asked a flight attendant for a blanket but apparently mixed up the word ‘blanket’ with ‘carpet’. The mistake drew mocking from the flight attendant, who suggested the passenger could lie on the floor.

The flight attendants could then be heard talking and giggling together, while one allegedly told the passenger that they couldn’t have a blanket unless they used the correct English word.

Chief executive Ronald Lam fears the incident has caused “significant damage” to the Cathay Pacific brand in China, where there has long been a perception that mainly Cantonese-speaking staff treat mainland Mandarin speakers less favourably.

The pandemic hobbled-airline has been attempting to rebuild its network following the lifting of Covid travel restrictions, but Lam fears this latest incident will hurt Cathay’s recovery.

In response, the flight attendant union has blamed recent cutbacks that have resulted in “extremely low” morale amongst cabin crew, claiming that “nothing comes from nothing”.

“The union urges the company to address the problem at its root cause, rebuild a reasonable and safe work environment and hence improve employee morale,” the union said in an open letter to the company.

“We notice there is an online appeal for passengers to provoke and record the behavior of crew members,” the letter continued. “This action seriously disturbs crew members’ work. Crew members are currently under huge pressure and extreme fear”.

“As an international brand that embraces and celebrates unique and diversity, Cathay Pacific employs cabin crew members from different countries.”

Earlier this year, the union claimed passenger safety was being compromised due to onboard staffing cuts that had resulted in Cathay Pacific cabin crew serving, on average, more passengers per flight than its regional rivals.

The beleaguered airline slashed onboard staffing levels during the pandemic in order to cut costs and is still trying to recruit enough staff to rebuild the business. The airline insists that it is “well resourced” and that onboard staffing levels remain “above regulatory requirements”.

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