News concerning changes to the outfits worn by airline cabin crews has stirred real debate among Chinese-speaking online communities in recent times.
In May, Emirates faced a furious backlash after demanding its Taiwan crew wear mainland China’s national flag pin rather than the Taiwan island pin on their uniforms, following apparent pressure from Beijing. Emirates walked back the order after a number of people vowed to boycott the airline.
This month, Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific airline suspended its new policy of adding Chinese names onto Hong Kong and Taiwan cabin crews’ name tags after the airline’s union spoke out against the decision on privacy grounds.
Name tag politicisation
While the political underpinnings of Emirates’ outfit policy were plain for all to see, the controversy over Cathay Pacific’s name tag policy has mostly been stoked by ‘fake news’ originating in the mainland Chinese press.
The name tag furore was reported in Hong Kong as early as June 1. The union’s arguments that it pushed back against the move in order to protect staff privacy would seem legitimate, since Chinese names are very specific and thus easy to track.
Nor is this a just a hypothetical danger. In fact, a number of air hostesses from Cathay Dragon, Cathay Pacific’s sister airline, which adopted the Chinese name tag outfit last year, have filed complaints to the company after stalkers managed to find their names via social media platforms and send them disturbing messages.
Hong Kong versus China, but not quite
However, the news of the union’s protest was twisted in mainland China on June 11 under an antagonistic headline: “Hong Kong Cathay Pacific Air Hostesses Refuse to Wear Chinese Name Tags Because They Don’t Want to Please Mainland Chinese Passengers”.
The headline deliberately inverted one air hostess’ comment that the company originally adopted the new tags in order to “please mainland Chinese Passengers”. The report went on to suggest that the air hostesses now instead wanted to “please foreigners” with their English name tags.