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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Collins

How China is responding to the United Airlines Fiasco

Anger has spread throughout the world over the recent United Airlines passenger removal scandal. Dr David Dao, who is of Vietnamese descent, was chosen, supposedly at random, and forcibly removed from an overbooked flight, which he had already paid for and boarded.

China’s reaction

China’s netizens have not taken this lightly. It has sparked online tempers to a whole new level, with the memory of the death of a Chinese citizen at the hands of the French police still close to the skin. Many have taken it as an act of clear racism.

On Weibo, China’s premier microblogging platform, the “United Airlines forcibly removes passenger from airplane” discussion page has generated more than 294,000 posts and 760 million reads in under two days, with over 19,000 users closely following the discussion at any one time.  

Entering “美联” (United Airlines) in Weibo’s search bar, all suggested results are about the incident: “UA forcibly removed passenger”, “UA CEO apologised”, “UA Chinese descent passenger follow up” and more. You’ll find the same search result suggestions on both Baidu, China’s most popular search engine, and WeChat, China’s largest social messaging platform.

On Weibo, multiple user comments can be found accusing United Airlines of (amongst other things) highly unprofessional conduct. One user commented: “I wanted to go, but will I be dragged out of the flight?” Another wrote: “Don’t fly United, they’re the worst of the worst.”

The knock on effects

However, the impact of this incident goes far beyond any United Airlines boycott. It also affects China’s impression of the West and its culture. Netizens also left comments expressing “unwillingness and fear of travelling to the USA”. One user even referred Americans as barbarians.

Despite an apology from United Airlines’ CEO, it seems that Chinese netizens will stand firm with their outrage. As such, this incident will result in a serious loss of business for United Airlines as Chinese travellers look elsewhere on their next trip to America. And it will be tough for United Airlines to regain their brand trust from Chinese travelers.

Mailman is the leading China sports marketing platform. We help global rights holders, athletes, and leagues build a successful business in China. We serve, invest and partner with our clients at every opportunity.

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