|Guillaume Glass, general manager of KLM for Japan, Korea and New Caledonia, reads a statement of apology during a media conference in Seoul, Friday. / Courtesy of KLM|
By Jun Ji-hye
Dutch carrier KLM made a public statement on Friday, apologizing for actions taken by its crew that raised accusations of racial discrimination associated with the new coronavirus against Korean passengers who were on board the KL855 flight to Incheon from Amsterdam earlier this week.
The incident was brought to light after a Korean passenger posted on Instagram an image of a sign on the lavatory door, which read "Toilet for crew use only," written only in Korean, while passengers of various nationalities were on board. When she asked a Dutch senior purser about it, he said it was a protective measure against health issues in Asia.
"We would like to express our sincere apologies to all passengers who were offended by the operation and announcement of crew-only lavatories," Guillaume Glass, general manager of KLM for Japan, Korea and New Caledonia, said during a press conference in Seoul.
"The decision was taken by the crew, and the announcement was written in Korean only. The English version was only added after it was pointed out by a passenger. This is a human mistake and we apologize for it."
Glass continued, "We take the allegations that we have discriminated against a part of our passengers very seriously. We are deeply sorry that this was viewed as discrimination, which was absolutely not the intention of the crew."
|Guillaume Glass, second from right, general manager of KLM for Japan, Korea and New Caledonia, along with other executives including Country Sales Manager MJ Lee, second from left, bow during a media conference in Seoul, Friday, to apologize for what was seen as the KLM crew's racial discrimination against Korean passengers. / Courtesy of KLM|
According to the company, a total of 277 passengers were on board the 320-seat plane on that day, and of them, 135 were Koreans.
The Korean passenger pointed out that the notice should have been broadcast over the PA if it was a policy intended for all passengers.
Critics called the incident an act of xenophobia, based on the perception that people of Asian appearance are potential carriers of the new coronavirus.
There have been numerous reports around the world of Asians being subjected to racist and xenophobic comments since the virus emerged from the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.
Glass said the issue was immediately reported to headquarters executives and is under investigation internally.
"To prevent this from happening again, our executive vice president for inflight service, Miriam Kartman, will take all necessary measures," he said. "The members of that particular crew will talk with inflight senior management about the impact on the Korean passengers."
The number of the flight attendants onboard were 12 ― 10 Dutch nationals and two Koreans. The crew members directly involved with the incident were two Dutch nationals including the senior purser.
Glass noted that the company would decide on whether to take disciplinary action based on the results of its internal investigation.
He added that the company has reminded all KLM crew that it is not permitted to reserve a lavatory for the sole usage of the crew.