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Air China

Air China has no excuse for prejudice in London travel guide

The national flag carrier should have a corporate culture that is in tune with the world whose people it connects

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 September, 2016, 3:51am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 September, 2016, 3:51am

Travel is supposed to broaden the mind through exposure to new experiences. That does not mean that airlines, cruise lines and travel agencies should leave travellers to learn first hand about every local law, cultural difference and custom, without alerting them to or reminding them of the consequences of any disrespect. For example, violation of some countries’ drug laws can have tragic personal consequences for a traveller. And every society has particular mores of its own which can bring about misunderstanding or unintended offence.

Air China is blasted for ‘racist’ article about London that warned of ‘Indians, Pakistanis and black people’

That said, the diversity and difference of other societies remain the staple experience of travel. People do not need to be shielded from it. So it is difficult to know what possessed Air China to publish a gratuitously offensive passage in its in-flight magazine on visiting London. It read : “London is generally a safe place to travel. However, precautions are needed when entering areas mainly populated by Indians, Pakistanis and black people. We advise tourists not to go out alone at night, and females always to be accompanied by another person when travelling.”

British MPs representing large Asian communities have received an apology for the article, with one describing it as an insult to all Londoners. Sadly, the sentiments in the magazine jar with China’s own past as a civilisation, rather than a nation state. While there is no denying it practised discrimination, this tended to be projected as a cultural barrier such as language which could be overcome by people from other parts of Asia. In modern China, the rise of nationalism can be negative for social diversity, along with limited contact with other cultures and exposure to distorted perspectives through western media such as movies.

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However, Air China has no excuse. As the national flag carrier it should have a corporate culture that is in tune with the world whose people it connects, instead of projecting a disturbing image of prejudice and alienation. The apology should be followed up with a promise to look into such sensitive areas and root out ignorance.