In case you’ve missed it, KLM has been in the limelight this week for a handwritten note on a napkin that designated a lavatory for use only by the crew.
But here’s the twist: this happened on a flight from Amsterdam to Seoul and the note was only written in Korean.
When confronted, the crew defended its actions on the basis of coronavirus concerns and claimed it meant to write the note in English as well.
Let’s Deal With The R-Word First…
Check out the comments over at One Mile at a Time for a fascinating discussion on whether the crew was “racist” for posting that note in Korean only.
The crew claims that it meant to post the sign in English as well and just forgot. But a crew member also demanded the Korean passenger who brought the matter to his attention delete the picture above. You can watch what happened here.
I wasn’t there. I also don’t know the genuine intention of the crew members. I’ve flown KLM many times and always encountered excellent crews.
But here’s what I will say: imagine if this had been a Korean Air flight to Seoul and the note was only written in English. Imagine if this had been an Air France flight from Frankfurt to Paris and the note was only written in German. Imagine if this was a Delta flight to Sao Paulo and the note was only written in Portuguese.
I’d feel singled-out and hurt. Call me a snowflake if you will…but I do empathize with the Korean passenger, especially as people continue to link the coronavirus to “Asia” (as if it is one homogenous place).
That said, I’m not excusing his unreasonable demands in response to the sign (again, watch the video) and circumstantial racism does not necessarily mean actual racism.
KLM Offers An Apology, Sort Of
With outrage growing and major South Korean media outlets running with the story, KLM staged a press conference at the Four Seasons hotel today to offer a formal apology. That included bowing to the audience, a sign of respect.
Guillaume Glass, KLM’s General Manager of Japan-Korea-New Caledonia, spoke to the press. Here are some quotes:
“We would like to express our sincere apologies to all passengers who were offended by the operation and the announcements of the crew on the lavatories.
“This is a human mistake, but we don’t take it lightly, and again we apologize for it.
“We take the allegations that we have discriminated against a part of our customers very seriously. We are deeply sorry that this was viewed as discrimination, which was absolutely not the intention of the crew.
“The issue is under investigation internally. To prevent this from happening again, our executive vice president for inflight services, will take all necessary measures.
“The members of that particular crew will talk with inflight senior management when they will arrive in Amsterdam.
“In addition, we have reminded yesterday to all KLM crew worldwide that it is not allowed to reserve lavatories for the sole usage of the crew, and we will remind this at every crew briefing prior to the flights departing or arriving in Seoul.
“We would like to take the opportunity to apologize to the passengers who have been inconvenienced onboard this KLM aircraft, and to the people of the Republic of Korea, who have been offended by the incident.”
Note that despite the great optics, this really comes down to a “sorry if you were offended” non-apology. KLM defended its crew, claiming there was no ill intentions. It also made clear that lavatories can no longer be reserved exclusively for crew member use.
This issue will blow over, but the damage is done…even if no harm was intended in the first place. It’s a reminder that our actions, even if unintended, can have very serious consequences.
Do you view KLM’s apology as sincere?