Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. fired three flight attendants after a swift probe of recorded comments that went viral in China, showing crew members disparaging passengers who didn’t speak English.
The airline terminated the three just hours after initiating an investigation over allegations of discrimination. In a statement late Tuesday, Chief Executive Officer Ronald Lam apologized to the affected passengers and vowed “zero tolerance” for violations of company rules and standards.
A passenger on the Sunday flight from Chengdu to Hong Kong recorded audio of an attendant allegedly saying that if people couldn’t say “blanket” in English, they shouldn’t be able to have one. The comments are followed by laughter in the background.
Authorities in Hong Kong, where Cathay is based, expressed “deep concern” to the carrier. “The incident is a serious breach of Hong Kong’s reputation for service excellence, long-standing values and ethical standards,” Lam Sai-Hung, Transport and Logistics secretary, said in a statement released late night.
Cathay said earlier it had contacted passengers to investigate the incident.
Bloomberg News wasn’t able to independently verify the audio file. A passenger who posted the clip on the social-media platform Xiaohongshu didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, but in a subsequent post wrote that Cathay executives had called her to learn more about what happened on Flight 987.
Cathay will ensure all employees respect passengers from all backgrounds and provide professional services in a uniform way, the carrier said in the statement. Lam will lead a review meant to prevent similar incidents from happening again.
The autonomous region’s government urged Cathay to complete its review as soon as possible and to make fundamental improvements to the company’s mechanisms and staff attitudes, according to the statement.
A hashtag about Cathay’s apology was one of the top-trending topics on Weibo, with more than 140 million views.
The wrath of China’s so-called netizens over perceived slights has caused plenty of corporate damage over the years, with calls for boycotts of companies from Mercedes-Benz Group AG to Hennes & Mauritz AB.
Cathay shares rose 0.7% on Tuesday in Hong Kong.