Airlines and Aviation
Flight attendants weigh in on the "who's the worst passenger" debate. Are Hong Kong travelers really the most "frustrating" to deal with? Do they really treat flight cabin crew "like serfs"? Do they really push the call button far too often?
It has become almost an article of faith in recent years that mainland Chinese tourists are the world’s worst travelers.
Try typing "Chinese tourists behaving badly" on to YouTube, and you'll get 13,500 videos. Change "behaving" to "acting" and the number rises to 14,500 videos.
And I must say, while some of these videos are shocking, others are downright hilarious! But I digress …
Chinese travelers have been getting bad reviews in Japan, Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand – the list goes on.
But NOBODY has been more outspoken about the poor behavior of mainland Chinese tourists than their neighbours south of the Shenzhen River.
Hong Kong people accuse them of jumping queues, urinating on the MTR, littering with abandon, talking in loud voices, buying up all the baby formula, driving up real estate prices, and – basically – refusing to conform to local norms.
Time for a Reality Check?
So it might come as a surprise for Hong Kong’s self-righteous citizenry to learn that they don’t exactly top the list of “most thoughtful travelers”, either. At least that is what some Hong Kong-based flight attendants have to say.
According to an article published in the South China Morning Post on 12 August 2017, Hong Kong travelers “were rated the most frustrating passengers to deal with”, treating flight attendants “like serfs”.
“Ask 10 crew members [who the most annoying passengers are], and seven would probably pick Hongkongers,” says a Hong Kong-based male flight attendant.
Hong Kong passengers, he says, have an annoying habit of repeatedly pressing the call button for help with minor things that could be dealt with all at once.
Self Righteous Entitlement
And then there is the sense of self-righteous entitlement.
“Hongkongers love buying fruit and souvenirs when they travel to, say, Japan,” the flight attendant says.
“It’s the honeydew season, and they carry huge cardboard boxes of them on board. This can be a problem because they feel a sense of entitlement to the overhead compartments above their seats and think no one else should be able to use ‘their’ space.”
They also expect help storing their luggage, which isn’t a part of a flight attendant’s job, the flight attendant continues.
Worst Passenger Service
This raises an interesting question: if Hong Kong passengers are the most thoughtless, do American airlines provide the worst passenger service?
We’re all familiar with that passenger being violently dragged off a United Airlines airplane in Chicago O’Hare International Airport a few months back. He was seriously injured in the process.
I flew that very same airline from Hong Kong to that very same airport several years ago, and I heard something over the loud speaker before departure that I have NEVER heard over the loudspeaker on a Hong Kong-based airline – or any other Asian airline, for that matter.
“Ladies and gentleman, may I have your attention, please! If anyone needs help lifting their bags into an overhead compartment, please bring it to our attention and one of us will help you.”
A few years later, I flew that very same airline from Hong Kong to Tokyo's Narita International Airport. Feeling peckish, I pushed the call button and asked if I could have some nuts to go with my wine.
The flight attendant frowned when she heard my request, shook her head, and said, “They didn’t put any nuts on this flight!”
A few moments later, she returned to my seat and handed me a plastic cup full of nuts. I thanked her.
On my way to the toilet a while later, I passed the very same flight attendant, who was relaxing in the galley and munching on some nuts from a small plastic bag.
“OMG!” I said, “That was from your own personal stash of nuts, wasn’t it!”
I was actually quite touched that she was considerate enough to share them with me.
Getting back to the original question, if Hong Kong travelers were the most frustrating passengers to deal with …
The article in question, "Why Hong Kong passengers are a flight attendant's nightmare, and other cabin crew gripes," was based on an interview with THREE flight attendants. That hardly sounds like a scientific study to me.
Which raises yet ANOTHER question: are Hong Kong journalists lazy? Since when does the opinion of three people constitute a consensus?
National stereotypes are always problematic, they are often based on anecdotal information that is not necessarily representative or typical of an entire nationality, and this is how they begin.
Your Feedback Wanted!
Travel seems to be becoming ever more stressful. Would love to hear your own personal horror stories. Better yet, I'd also like to hear about some acts of kindness such as the flight attendant who shared her personal stash of nuts with me.
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