In the aftermath of the global uproar over a passenger being brutally dragged off an United Airlines flight last week, United CEO Oscar Munoz said that he met with Chinese consulate officials in Chicago to discuss the possible impact that the incident could have on bookings in one of the company’s most important markets.
However, United President Scott Kirby told reporters during a conference call yesterday that it was currently too early to tell if the company’s business in China would be hurt by the incident.
Last week, video of the passenger being forcibly removed from his seat on a Chicago-Louisville flight by police officers went viral on Chinese social media, becoming the hottest topic on Weibo with over 1 billion views and 360,000 comments. Many web users vowed to boycott United, charging the company discrimination, claiming that the passenger had been selected to be dragged off the plane because he was Asian. Some even cut up their United membership cards and posted pictures onto social media.
Meanwhile, a #ChineseLivesMatter petition on the whitehouse.gov petitions page demanding a federal investigation into the incident now has over 200,000 signatures with the number continuing to rise even after it was discovered that the passenger was Vietnamese-American, not Chinese-American.
China is a key international market for United. The company operates more nonstop US-China flights than any other airline, including flights to five Chinese cities, handling about 20% of US-China traffic.
During the conference call, Munoz said that he planned to have “further conversations with customers and related government officials” during an upcoming trip to China that had already been scheduled prior to the public relations nightmare. Should be an interesting visit.
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