Emirates says telling cabin crew not to wear Taiwan flag pins per China’s request was an ‘error’

Hours after initial instruction sent to its flight attendants, airline admitted move was ‘incorrect and inappropriate’

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 31 May, 2017, 9:56am
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 June, 2017, 12:23am

In a U-turn on Wednesday, Emirates retracted a demand that all Taiwanese cabin crew remove the island’s national flag pin from their uniforms following the Middle East airline’s decision to support Beijing’s one-China policy.

The original company edict, issued to staff by email on Tuesday, sparked a backlash from Taiwanese employees and the Taiwanese public.

But on Wednesday afternoon, Emirates said the email had been “sent in error” and it had “retracted” the order.

“Our intent is to recall the flag pins worn by all our cabin crew as part of our uniform update,” it said in a statement. “Emirates apologises for the communication error.”

However, the Dubai-based airline was originally specific in ordering cabin crew from Taiwan to replace the island’s flag pin with the Chinese national flag.

“We have been instructed by the Chinese government that with immediate effect, Emirates airline cabin crew are to follow the one-China policy,” Emirates uniform standards and development manager Nicola Parker wrote in her email message.

“This means you must remove the Taiwanese flag from your service waistcoat and replace it with the Chinese flag. This must be followed by all Taiwanese crew without exception.”

Without mentioning any other nationality, it then instructed them not to wear the Taiwanese flag pins “until further notice”, also giving them permission to stop wearing them altogether.

In damage control mode next, Emirates said in its latest statement that all flight attendants, regardless of nationality, would no longer have to wear a flag pin as part of a uniform policy overhaul. It did not explain a contradictory sentence in the email saying “additional stock of Chinese flags have been ordered”.

Under the one-China policy, Beijing regards self-governing Taiwan as a renegade province, and a pin bearing the island’s flag – to highlight a cabin crew member’s country of origin and language skills – would be seen as reflecting independence.

Hong Kong’s flagship carrier, Cathay Pacific Airways, does not use flag pins, and uniform-issue badges show only the names of cabin crew and languages they speak.

While there was no response from Taiwan’s government, outraged residents of the island called for a boycott of Emirates, while others accused Beijing of having a hand in it.

“What’s wrong with the airline?! Let’s start a campaign to boycott it,” wrote one Facebook user.

“What China did will only upset Taiwanese people and make them resentful,” another wrote.