An apology on Wednesday by United Airlines chief executive officer Oscar Munoz failed to quell Chinese furore over the manhandling of an Asian -American passenger on one of the US carrier’s flights.
The apology followed a global backlash over the dragging of 69-year-old doctor David Dao off an aircraft after he refused to be bumped from an overbooked flight in Chicago on Sunday.
Dao – whose lawyers said was hospitalised – was initially identified as Chinese-American but later media reports said he was a Vietnamese-American living in the US state of Kentucky.
“I continue to be disturbed by what happened on this flight and I deeply apologise to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard,” Munoz said in a statement, describing the incident as “truly horrific”.
He told ABC News the carrier would no longer use law enforcement officers to remove passengers from overbooked flights, adding that Dao was not at fault.
The White House also weighed in, with press secretary Sean Spicer saying “it is troubling to see how that was handled”.
Many Chinese have used the incident to raise awareness of racial discrimination.
Chinese American Citizens Alliance national president Edmund Gor called for the carrier to say what steps it was taking to remedy company policy.
“You can apologise today to one guy, but what happens tomorrow?” Gor asked.
Based on initial reports suggesting that Dao was Chinese-American, Zhang Zishi, an 18-year-old from Shandong province studying in Britain, launched an online White House petition for an investigation with the hashtag #Chineselivesmatters.
It had attracted more than 180,000 signatures by Wednesday night.
“Regardless of his ethnicity, he shouldn’t be treated like that. Every human being should be respected,” Zhang said. “Regardless of which version [of the passenger’s ethnicity] we follow, my petition is still relevant because the stereotypes still exist.”
In China, a social media topic page of the saga had been viewed 770 million times by last night.
China’s Communist Party mouthpiece, People’s Daily, said on its social media account on Tuesday that United Airlines was “arrogant and cold-blooded”.
By Julia Hollingsworth and Sarah Zheng