Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd apologised after a passenger accused its flight attendants of discriminating against non-English speakers, prompting China's state media to criticise the airline for "worshipping foreigners".
Cathay said the experience of passengers travelling on its CX987 flight from the southwestern Chinese city of Chengdu to Hong Kong caused "widespread concern" and said it sincerely apologised.
"We have suspended the flight attendants concerned and launched an internal investigation," the airline said, adding that any "inappropriate words and deeds" that violated its rules and professional ethics would be dealt with seriously once confirmed.
A passenger on the flight from Chengdu to the global financial hub wrote in an online post that flight attendants complained among themselves about passengers in English and Cantonese. They said the flight attendants made fun of others for asking for a carpet instead of a blanket in English.
"If you cannot say blanket in English, you cannot have it... carpet is on the floor, feel free if you want to lie on it," a flight attendant said according to a recording that was circulated widely online. Reuters could not verify the authenticity of the clip, which triggered criticism on social media.
Hong Kong's flagship carrier has been trying to rebuild the airline as it emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic. It was badly hit by Covid-related flight cancellations, border closures and strict quarantine measures for crew, resulting in drastic headcount reductions since 2020.
China's state-owned People's Daily said in an online commentary that it was shocked by the incident against Mandarin-speaking passengers and criticised Cathay's corporate culture for "worshipping foreigners and respecting Hong Kong people", but looking down on mainlanders.
"Cathay Pacific can't just apologise every time, but should rectify heavily, establish rules and regulations, and stop the unhealthy trend from the root," it said.
The newspaper went on to say that the level of Mandarin in Hong Kong is improving by "leaps and bounds".
"In Hong Kong the reverse trend of worshipping English and looking down on Mandarin is bound to disappear."