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KLM hit for 'racial discrimination' against Koreans

The image captured from Instagram shows a notice in Korean posted on the KLM aircraft's toilet saying the toilet was reserved for crew only. / Yonhap
The image captured from Instagram shows a notice in Korean posted on the KLM aircraft's toilet saying the toilet was reserved for crew only. / Yonhap

By Jun Ji-hye

Dutch carrier KLM is facing mounting criticism for its "racial discrimination" against Korean passengers by treating them as potential carriers of the coronavirus, according to airline industry officials Thursday.

This comes at a time when an increasing number of people of Asian appearance around the world are being subjected to racist and xenophobic comments since the virus emerged from the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.

A 28-year-old Korean passenger, surnamed Kim, who boarded the flight KL855 from Amsterdam to Incheon, Monday, found a notice posted on the wall of one of the aircraft's toilet cubicles.

The notice written in Korean reads, "Toilet for crew use."

Kim was curious why the notice was written only in Korean while passengers of various nationalities were on board.

She took a photo of the notice and asked one of the crew members about it.

The crew member said it was a protective measure against potential carriers of the new coronavirus, asking her to delete the photo.

Following Kim's complaint, the KLM crew belatedly added a notice in English.

Kim wrote on Instagram, "Flight attendants are exposed to the risk of a secondary infection with the new coronavirus, thus having their own toilet in the aircraft is fully understandable. But a significant point is this ― why they noticed passengers about a crew-only toilet only in Korean."

KLM President and CEO Pieter Elbers speaks during a press conference in Seoul in May. / Courtesy of KLM
KLM President and CEO Pieter Elbers speaks during a press conference in Seoul in May. / Courtesy of KLM

KLM later offered an apology through its official Instagram account, saying the company will conduct an internal investigation.

"When a flight is not fully booked, sometimes a toilet is reserved for crew only. KLM deeply regrets that the passengers on this specific flight were offended because the sign announcing this was in the Korean language only," the company said. "We will conduct an internal investigation and will make sure the crew involved understand why the passengers are upset about what happened."

As the incident has provoked controversy, the Korean government gave a "strict warning" to the Dutch flag carrier, according to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport.

"We also officially asked KLM to draw up measures to prevent a recurrence," a ministry official said. "The ministry will firmly monitor situations to prevent Korean people from being discriminated against in planes of foreign air carriers."

Sungshin Women's University professor Seo Kyoung-duk, known as a Korean public relations expert, said it was a "shocking incident" and "overt racism."

"The KLM incident was obviously caused by ignorance about the coronavirus," he said.

The new coronavirus has now killed about 1,300 in China and has spread abroad, with about 30 countries confirming infections.


The image captured from Instagram shows a notice in Korean posted on the KLM aircraft's toilet saying the toilet was reserved for crew only. / Yonhap
The image captured from Instagram shows a notice in Korean posted on the KLM aircraft's toilet saying the toilet was reserved for crew only. / Yonhap

By Jun Ji-hye

Dutch carrier KLM is facing mounting criticism for its "racial discrimination" against Korean passengers by treating them as potential carriers of the coronavirus, according to airline industry officials Thursday.

This comes at a time when an increasing number of people of Asian appearance around the world are being subjected to racist and xenophobic comments since the virus emerged from the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.

A 28-year-old Korean passenger, surnamed Kim, who boarded the flight KL855 from Amsterdam to Incheon, Monday, found a notice posted on the wall of one of the aircraft's toilet cubicles.

The notice written in Korean reads, "Toilet for crew use."

Kim was curious why the notice was written only in Korean while passengers of various nationalities were on board.

She took a photo of the notice and asked one of the crew members about it.

The crew member said it was a protective measure against potential carriers of the new coronavirus, asking her to delete the photo.

Following Kim's complaint, the KLM crew belatedly added a notice in English.

Kim wrote on Instagram, "Flight attendants are exposed to the risk of a secondary infection with the new coronavirus, thus having their own toilet in the aircraft is fully understandable. But a significant point is this ― why they noticed passengers about a crew-only toilet only in Korean."

KLM President and CEO Pieter Elbers speaks during a press conference in Seoul in May. / Courtesy of KLM
KLM President and CEO Pieter Elbers speaks during a press conference in Seoul in May. / Courtesy of KLM

KLM later offered an apology through its official Instagram account, saying the company will conduct an internal investigation.

"When a flight is not fully booked, sometimes a toilet is reserved for crew only. KLM deeply regrets that the passengers on this specific flight were offended because the sign announcing this was in the Korean language only," the company said. "We will conduct an internal investigation and will make sure the crew involved understand why the passengers are upset about what happened."

As the incident has provoked controversy, the Korean government gave a "strict warning" to the Dutch flag carrier, according to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport.

"We also officially asked KLM to draw up measures to prevent a recurrence," a ministry official said. "The ministry will firmly monitor situations to prevent Korean people from being discriminated against in planes of foreign air carriers."

Sungshin Women's University professor Seo Kyoung-duk, known as a Korean public relations expert, said it was a "shocking incident" and "overt racism."

"The KLM incident was obviously caused by ignorance about the coronavirus," he said.

The new coronavirus has now killed about 1,300 in China and has spread abroad, with about 30 countries confirming infections.


Jun Ji-hye jjh@koreatimes.co.kr


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