A Chinese woman was extremely dissatisfied with her in-flight experience on a Virgin Atlantic flight from London to Shanghai earlier this month, after receiving no help from the flight crew when a fellow passenger inexplicably and viciously cursed her out.
With the airline slow to respond to her complaints, the woman decided to go public, posting a letter she wrote to the Chinese civil aviation agency on to her personal Weibo account.
In the letter, the woman claims that she boarded the March 1st flight early and was looking for her headphones when suddenly a large white man — around 55 years old — approached her from two rows back. Pointing his finger at her nose, he yelled: “You fucking Chinese pig!!! Get the fuck out of here!”
The woman was initially taken aback by the random insult, but then shot back angrily: “What did you say to me?”
Rather than backing down, the man repeated his insult and started to hurl more with his fists up like he was ready to attack the woman. She says she then went looking for help.
A British passenger and his Chinese wife tried to stop the man from harassing her, but the man threatened them not to interfere. Meanwhile, the flight attendants stood by and did nothing.
Eventually, one of the flight attendants did respond, but after whispering with the man, the flight attendant sternly told the woman to “respect other passengers” and stop fighting, otherwise she would be thrown off the plane.
“The man insulted me first, and it was him that wouldn’t stop cursing, am I supposed to not say a single word? Why should I have to get off the plane? I demanded that he apologize to me!” she writes.
Later, the flight attendant told the Chinese woman that the man that was abusing her was mentally ill. He said that he would transfer the man to a different seat; however, during the 11-hour flight they failed to do so. During that time, the woman says that she was unable to sleep a wink, constantly worried about the crazed man sitting two rows behind her.
After the plane landed, the woman made a series of complaints at the airport to Virgin Atlantic staff. However, workers refused to give the woman any kind of information about the man that had verbally abused her.
“I will never set foot on another Virgin Atlantic plane for as long as I live,” the woman concluded.
Since her initial post, the woman’s story has gone viral, read by more than 5 million Weibo users online with many commenting in to voice their support with her search for justice. Meanwhile, the official Weibo account of Virgin Atlantic in China has been flooded with comments from angry netizens demanding that the airline issue an official apology for what happened.
On March 12th, Virgin Atlantic did respond to the woman’s repeated requests for more information and an apology in an email that she also posted online for the world to see:
We do take situations like this most seriously and I”m very grateful to you for letting us know what happened. This really does sound like an incredibly upsetting situation for you and I want to assure you that we have investigated this thoroughly with our crew managers.
It”s very disappointing that one of our other customers spoke to you in such a disrespectful manner. I appreciate how shocking this must have been for you and I understand the distress this no doubt caused. We do hope that our customers will be respectful to their fellow passengers and it”s very upsetting that this was not the case.
I understand that Nathan agreed to move the other passenger, however unfortunately there were no seats available further up the cabin and he therefore remained in his original seat.
Unfortunately I cannot disclose any medical conditions that this passenger may have.
We are a multicultural airline and do employ people of all cultures and nationalities.
This answer has done little to satisfy the woman or her supporters with the woman calling it a “template” message, rather than an actual apology.
Facing increasingly criticism online, Virgin Atlantic told China Daily yesterday that it has already opened an investigation into the woman’s complaints; however they “will not comment further until we have resolved the issue with our customers directly.”
The backlash seems to have reached all the way to the top, with Virgin CEO Richard Branson bilingually tweeting in:
Really sorry to hear about an alleged incident on flight VS250. We do not tolerate abuse and @virginatlantic are investigating.
— Richard Branson (@richardbranson) March 18, 2016
— Richard Branson (@richardbranson) March 18, 2016
[UPDATE] 6:00 p.m. A woman who was also on the flight has posted a very different account of the incident on our comments page under this article:
She wasn’t looking for her headphones she was trying to change seats before the flight took off and he told her not to (not a problem in my book as I moved seats shortly after). After an initial exchange they started arguing and it was more of a “did you hear what he said/she said to me” and she was swearing at him too”.
The airline staff told him that he would be removed from the plane if he continued to make trouble and did try to move him to another cabin but the other cabin was full. They told him that he need to calm down and leave her alone – he was acting aggressively but as soon as the plane took off he slept right through the the flight and never even left his seat which was at least 10 rows behind her.
He also said he did have an illness but it wasn’t a mental one. I was unable to hear a short exchange they had but she was equally aggressive at and swearing at him and they also told her to calm down because she was being disruptive – they both were. While he was out of order her account doesn’t match up – she wasn’t looking for her head phones as she was originally sitting at the other end of the cabin and that is not how the exchange started.
To be fair when they spoke at one point I couldn’t hear what they were saying and but I think the Virgin staff handled it well considering that thy didn’t see any of it happen and but they were great for the rest of the flight. He did come across quite aggressively in his manner but never looked as if he was going to be violent. It’s just his voice was quite deep and he was a large man. And she gave back by yelling and shouting down the cabin.
It was his fault arguing over nothing and while I can’t confirm he wasn’t racist (because I didn’t hear everything) the way see is portraying it is completely different to how it actually happened – although I have only read this article and not her account so…