Everything about this entire situation has been terrible, and the fact that the man dragged out of the plane was of Asian descent has rightly not gone unnoticed. United has a lot of damage control to do when it comes to one of its biggest markets: China, where United claims to have one of the largest networks for a U.S. carrier.
Images of a bloodied passenger being forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight in Chicago drew widespread condemnation in China following a witnesses’ report that the man said he was targeted because he was Chinese.
Video of the violent incident posted on China’s popular Twitter-like microblogging service Weibo had been viewed more than 210 million times by late Tuesday. Many responded with outrage over perceived ethnic bias against the passenger and some called for a boycott of the U.S.-based airline.
“Rubbish!” writer Su Danqing posted on Weibo. “When they were treating this Asian man, they never thought of human rights, otherwise they wouldn’t have done it that way.”
“Damn it! This airline must be boycotted!” said a posting from Liu Bing, a telecommunications company worker.
State-run media fueled the anger with reports that noted the unidentified victim was an “Asian passenger.”
United does considerable business with Chinese passengers and a consumer boycott could cause serious pain. United says it operates more non-stop U.S.-China flights to more cities in China than any other airline.
Rowdiness has long been associated with air travel in China, including passengers getting into fights with crew members and a vicious assault last year in which an enraged customer smashed an airline check-in clerk in the head with a brass plaque.
The United incident appeared to feed into such customer frustrations — only this time the tables were turned and the passenger was cast as victim.
United executives struggled to control the public relations damage.
Airline CEO Oscar Munoz said the unidentified man removed from the Chicago to Kentucky flight had become “disruptive and belligerent” after he was asked to leave the plane to make room for several employees of a partner airline who wanted on the flight.
When the man refused, officers from the Chicago Aviation Department came in and first tried to reason with him before pulling him from his seat by force and dragging him away, according to another passenger, Tyler Bridges, whose wife later posted a video of the altercation on Facebook.
Associated Press news assistant Yu Bing contributed to this report.
Photo credit: United Airlines is facing incredible backlash from one of its largest global markets, China, after the airline forcibly removed a passenger from one of its planes to accommodate its own employees. Mel Evans / Associated Press