The Facebook accounts of Virgin Atlantic and Richard Branson have been inundated with thousands of comments left by Chinese netizens venting their anger at the alleged treatment of a female co-patriot who flew with the airline earlier this month.
In a letter addressed to the Chinese civil aviation authority which was posted on Weibo, the woman claims that a large white man approached her while she was looking for her headphones shortly after boarding flight VS250 from London to Shanghai on March 1 and yelled: “You fucking Chinese pig!!! Get the fuck out of here!”
As the head of the cabin crew came to intervene, she claims that the flight attendant threatened to remove her from the plane despite being the victim of an unprovoked racial assault and was unable to get to sleep for the rest of the flight for fear of being shouted at again.
At time of publication her post has garnered almost 13,000 likes and been shared over 36,000 times. Her story has also been picked up by several other popular Weibo accounts (like this one which saw it gather 60,000 shares) and has set Chinese social media ablaze.
Since our previous article covering the incident, additional accounts of the incident have emerged. Another Weibo user who was a passenger on the flight has posted in support of the woman, largely corroborating her story. One of our readers has also posted a narrative (available in our previous article) which disputes some of the facts as laid out in the original Weibo post.
Regardless of what happened on board that flight earlier this month, Chinese netizens are enraged and have flooded the Virgin Atlantic Facebook page with comments demanding an apology and an explanation for what happened. The most recent post has over 8,000 comments, almost all relating to flight VS250. Click on the comment button (or here) to get an idea of what we’re talking about.
Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, has not escaped netizens’ wrath. He recently wrote a dedicated blog post on the Virgin Group’s website about the incident, but he still couldn’t unveil a shiny new train without taking some flak.
While no doubt a large number of Chinese are both angry and concerned at the suggestion of institutional racism at a foreign airline, there is evidence that some of the people commenting have been mobilized by Di Ba (帝吧), one of the largest message boards on the internet.
Di Ba were identified by Quartz back in January as being responsible for flooding Tsai Ing-wen’s Facebook page with patriotic comments following her victory in the Taiwanese general election. A number of the comments on the Virgin Atlantic page feature the battle cry of the forum: “Di Ba goes to war” (帝吧出征).
Although the comments being racist or abusive towards British people are in the minority, the irony of using racism to fight racism is apparently lost on some netizens.
We will have to wait and see how Virgin Atlantic manages to climb out of what has turned into a full blown PR crisis in the Chinese market that by now must have mobilized the upper echelons of the airline’s management.