Air China's magazine says media, readers misinterpreted London travel advice

Haze Fan | Special to CNBC
Air China retracts feature, blames 'misinterpretations'
Air China retracts feature, blames 'misinterpretations'

Air China's inflight magazine pinned the blame on "misinterpretations among media and readers" for outrage over its advice to travelers to avoid multi-racial areas of London.

In a Chinese-language statement, translated by CNBC, the in-house "Wings of China Office," apologized to Air China, the Chinese flagship carrier, for "some improper expressions" that had hurt the airline's brand.

"This is at odds with our original purpose of promoting the beautiful scenery of London, further triggering misinterpretations among media and readers and creating significantly negative impact on your company's operation and brand image," the magazine's team said.

"The inappropriate expressions in the article are merely the mistakes made by the editors, but in no means represent the views of the magazine," the statement continued.

"We will immediately withdraw all the publications, carefully learn this lesson, improve our management to make sure there will be no more similar mistakes. We also would love to send sincere apologies via Air China to all the readers and passengers who felt uncomfortable because of this."

The statement came after CNBC drew attention to a special feature on London travel in the September edition of Wings of China, which warned tourists, "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 traveling," the magazine said in a section called "Tips from Air China."

The travel advice caused outrage in London, where lawmakers called for an apology from the company and was picked up by media outlets as far away as Australia and India.

Virendra Sharma, the Labor Member of Parliament for Ealing Southall, which has a big Indian population, told the BBC on Wednesday that he was appalled that "blatantly untrue and racist statements" were considered fit for publication by Air China.

"I have invited representatives of Air China to visit my constituency of Ealing Southall to see that a very multi-cultural area is safe, and would be of great value for those visiting London to see," he said.

The apology tweeted, then deleted, by @AirChinaNA.
Haze Fan | CNBC

Air China also released a statement on Thursday, translated by CNBC, in which it did not apologize, but called the advice was "inappropriate," and said it had ordered the removal of all copies of the magazine from its planes immediately.

"Air China has also demand Wings of China editorial team learn the lesson, enhance content scrutiny so as to avoid similar issues from happening again," Air China said.

"Air China always highly respects the cultures and traditions of people from different ethnicities in the world ... Air China has hired a large amount of local employees in many places and everyone gets along with each other, jointly dedicated to building the bridges for cross-nation friendship and equal communication."

The decision on where to lay blame for the debacle and whether to apologize was clearly a difficult one for the airline group.

The @AirChinaNA twitter handle operated by Air China's North American business tweeted an apologetic statement just hours after news of the advice broke, but subsequently deleted the tweet.

Some Twitter users had tweeted angrily to the airline over the comments in Wings of China.

Almost 700 Twitter users supported a tweet on the issue from Kunal Nayyar, the actor best known for playing Raj Koothrappali on hit sitcom "The Big Bang Theory." Nayyar was born in London and raised in New Delhi, India.


But Chinese media sought to downplay the incident. The Global Times reposted Nayyar's tweet and reported that within a few hours it had attracted more than 1,000 comments, mostly voicing support for Air China.

Some Chinese social media users championed Air China's comments - one Weibo user called BBBetterman said, "There's nothing wrong with Air China's advice, it's merely truth" - although others noted that the magazine erred by writing the travel tip in English as well as Mandarin.

Media site, meanwhile, published a story that criticized Britain, which it said "on one hand accuses Air China of racism but on the other hand builds a Great Wall to stop refugees."

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