China’s top tennis star has raised a ruckus online, recounting a bizarre alleged incident in which she claims she was harassed and discriminated against by United Airlines staff, in what looks to be yet another public relations disaster for everyone’s least favorite airline.
In a viral Weibo post made yesterday morning, Zhang Shuai, the 34th ranked WTA player in the world, claims that she was recently the victim of “disgusting customer service” on the part of United ground staff, who purportedly did everything they could to prevent her from carrying on her racket bag. Later, Zhang also aired her grievances in an English-language, single-paragraph post on Facebook.
Here’s the basic story from her perspective:
Zhang says that on Tuesday she arrived at her boarding gate at the Tampa-St. Petersburg airport in Florida for a flight to Dulles International Airport, carrying with her two bags just like usual — a backpack and a racket bag.
However, at the gate one female United worker told her that her racket bag was too large to carry onto the flight and would have to be checked. Zhang then took a smaller bag out of her racket bag, causing the worker to accuse Zhang of having three carry-on bags.
Zhang placed the smaller bag back inside before the worker took her racket bag to be measured. As Zhang expected, the bag was the correct size to be carried on to the flight, according to United regulations.
However, after that measurement, the worker opened the bag and intentionally puffed it out to its maximum size, Zhang says, before snapping a photo as evidence that the bag was in fact too large and must be checked in.
“The tennis bag would fit the overhead luggage cabin on the aircraft, and I took the same carry-on bags on my trip from Paris to the U.S. just 2 days ago!” Zhang wrote.
The worker then tried to take the bag away, along with Zhang’s passport and boarding pass. Zhang protested, leading to a confrontation.
“When I attempted to take back my passport and boarding passes and asked her not to touch my personal belongings, she fiercely responded ‘Don’t touch me!'” Zhang alleged
In the ensuing argument, Zhang’s boarding pass was torn “accidentally” by the worker.
Finally, Zhang agreed to just check her racket bag, but more insanity was still to come. Zhang claims that the woman then took out the five tennis rackets from the bag and said that each one of them was a separate piece of carry-on luggage, giving Zhang a grand total of seven pieces of luggage.
Apparently, this bizarre situation was eventually solved by having the five rackets placed inside another bag.
“I’ve been traveling almost every week for many years, and I’ve NEVER run into anything like what happened today!” Zhang wrote, noting that she is a member of the airline’s highest frequent flyer class.
“I felt having been poorly treated by United Airlines, even as a Premier 1K club member, and by this UA staff in particular, to some extent discriminated by her!” she added. “Even though it is not close to the same scale as the other UA incidence where a passenger was dragged and injured which have caught public attention from the globe, I for the first time truly felt the extremely terrible and disgusting customer service of United Airlines!”
Of course, Chinese netizens are already predisposed to hating United Airlines following that infamous incident in April which led to Chinese web users calling for a boycott of the airline. After reading Zhang’s account, some netizens doubled down on this promise, vowing yet again never to fly United for the rest of their lives.
Zhang even took her accusations straight to United, tweeting her account of the incident to the airline’s Twitter account, writing that “This is how @UnitedAirlines treats a @WTA player!”
United soon responded to the tweet, apologizing and asking to speak about what happened in private.
I'm terribly sorry to learn of the issues you encountered during your travel. Could you please DM your contact info to can address this? ^SV
— United (@united) June 8, 2017
However, underneath that post, another Twitter user, who claims that he was on the same flight, gave a different account of the incident, calling the United staff “incredibly professional” and claiming that Zhang had been “throwing a tantrum” and was lucky that she hadn’t been kicked off the flight.
agent didn't "widen it". When she removed the racquets to stuff the bag in sizer – agent gently pointed out that was without the racquets.
— Brian (@BrianTRusso) June 8, 2017
Probably what she meant was that if she was gonna remove the racquets from her gear bag she would have 7 items total.
— Brian (@BrianTRusso) June 8, 2017
For the moment, United is continuing to investigate the incident, though they have released an initial statement, apologizing to Zhang.
“We’re disappointed anytime a customer has an experience that doesn’t measure up to their expectations. We deeply apologize,” the statement reads. “As what this customer describes does not reflect the positive customer experience we strive to offer.”
[Images via Weibo]
Follow Shanghaiist on WeChat