Cathay Pacific Changes Website Regions, Pisses Off Facebook…

Cathay Pacific recently changed their website regions to reflect the Chinese government’s “One China” policy, renaming Taiwan to “Taiwan China”. This comes following orders from the Civil Aviation Administration of China, who recently sent notices to 44 global airlines to change their websites to explicitly reflect Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and Tibet as parts of China. Airlines who did not comply would face unspecified sanctions.  Cathay Pacific, along with American Airlines, Delta and United, was one of the last airlines to make the change, doing so right before the CAAC’s deadline.

On Cathay Pacific’s website, Hong Kong is now explicitly listed as a Special Administrative Region, while Taiwan is now called “Taiwan China” (wtf?). In comparison, Cathay Pacific’s previous website menu listed Taiwan as a “region” of China but did not explicitly refer to Taiwan as a part of China. I guess that Cathay Pacific could hypothetically get away with not referring to Taiwan as “Taiwan, China”, but rather as “Taiwan China”, implying that it is not technically a part of China but rather another China…

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New Website vs. Old Website

It’s understandable that Cathay Pacific would want to avoid making such a move, given how important Taiwan is for the airline. Cathay Pacific is by far the largest foreign airline in Taiwan, and Taiwanese passengers make up a considerable amount of Cathay’s overall customer base. Many of Cathay Pacific’s cabin crew also hail from Taiwan. Heck, Cathay Pacific even offers fifth-freedom flights from Taipei to Tokyo Narita, Osaka and Nagoya.

IMG_0542Cathay Pacific operates a massive lounge at Taipei Taoyuan Airport

At the same time, mainland China has grown to become one of Cathay Pacific’s largest market that is arguably more important; if the market were to be taken away, Cathay would lose hundreds of millions of dollars in business, which is not especially ideal considering the airline’s dire financial state. Any sanctions imposed by the CAAC could also have catastrophic effects on the airline’s operations. The vast majority of Cathay Pacific flights enter Chinese airspace, and most of Cathay Dragon’s flights are to mainland China. Any sanctions would effectively ruin the airline.

In a statement to The BBC, Cathay stated that being an airline based in the “the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China”, they are required “comply with the regulations and requirements of the relevant civil aviation authorities,” which is absolutely true. However, Cathay’s relatively late compliance with the directive issued by the CAAC indicates that the airline isn’t necessarily doing so on account of their own free will.

Cathay Pacific is effectively stuck between a rock and a hard place, being forced to choose between alienating a key market or suffering sanctions by the CAAC. Ultimately, they chose the lesser of two evils. Personally, I don’t think that Cathay Pacific is at fault for making these changes, given how they were essentially hamstrung into making them at the risk of experiencing potential sanctions that could cripple their business.

The Social Media Response

While most controversies regarding Cathay Pacific tend to blow over quickly, this one, in particular, has ignited a social media s***storm. As of now, Cathay Pacific’s social media pages are overrun with comments criticising the airline for making the change to their website. In fact, it’s gotten to the point where Cathay’s social media managers have stopped responding to Facebook comments, which is something that they had historically been active in doing.

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The most common comment that I found in the comments section asked if passengers flying to Taiwan required a Home Return Permit (for citizens of Hong Kong or Macau) or a mainland Chinese Visa. While it was funny the first time, it quickly became annoying as more and more people published their own variations of the comment… Seriously!?

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Other commenters defended Cathay Pacific for the decision and told people to instead direct their anger towards the CAAC. The issue got so intense that some commenters started debating one another. Yikes…

Bottom Line:

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Any thoughts?

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