Everyone I know is terrified of air travel.
They have infinite power and zero accountability.
When you're in an airport, you're at the mercy of the people there. If they don't like what you're doing, they can do anything they want to you, and you have no recourse.
I understand the necessity of that coercive power - but such immense power requires immense accountability.
Who am I? I'm just a guy, I'm not particularly special or interesting.
I was flying from Beijing to Taipei, via Hong Kong.
Cathay made screw-ups with my booking. Repeatedly. Multiple screw-ups.
That's not a big problem - mistakes happen. I've traveled through, I think 60 countries now? My dream was to travel the whole world, and I've slowly worked my way through it. Mistakes happen a lot. Delayed flights, reservation mix-ups, emergencies, and so on. Mistakes are normal - and normally, people just fix the mistakes and keep going.
Cathay made multiple mistakes, and then I paid them more money that I think should have been unnecessary, even. I wanted a business class ticket.
Why? Am I some fat-cat jerk that thinks I'm special?
No, actually. I've spent a lot of my life living on $500 or less per month, traveling through developing and impoverished countries. Oftentimes I'd stay in a youth hostel, friend's couch, or go camping to save money, even when I had cash in the bank. I always tried to not be a slave to money, so I kept my expenses low.
I did border crossings on land, I hiked across places, I went camping to keep my room costs down, I'd eat very cheap food from convenience stores or I'd go eat where the laborers eat - I'd usually look for construction workers, since they tend to eat good food at good prices.
So, why business class?
Because lately I've had a run of good prosperity and creativity. The last two years I'd been studying and training constantly, and things have been working out... but I didn't do this for comfort.
I don't like comfort. I think it can blind us, and make us weak.
Rather, business class is better equipped for working. I was writing a piece on American History, and I was feeling highly creative.
It's hard for me to write when I'm not creative, so when creativity is going, I'll pay whatever money I need to keep it going. Writing, art, science, and philosophy are precious to me, and more important than any money. I'll spend whatever I possibly can to facilitate one of those four things.
That day? I was actually writing about Bruce Lee. No kidding - I've got the original documents with time stamps on it. On Cathay's flight from Beijing to Hong Kong, I was writing about how Bruce Lee was an iconoclast, and how I think that, if he'd lived longer, he could have re-shaped how Chinese people are viewed in the United States, and how his untimely death changed the course of Asian-American history - there's been no replacement for him, no one has filled his giant shoes.
Perhaps writing about such a man is what gave me confidence to stand up to the threats and violence that happened later. Eventually I found myself surrounded by something like a combined 23 police officers and Cathay Pacific staff and management, just me and an iPhone audio-recorder app addressing the police and management, saying I'm peaceful and don't want to hurt anyone, and please don't hurt me - but we will make things better.
I'm basically a Confucian, and I respect virtuous authority. I kneel to virtuous authority.
I've studied many ethical systems and many eras of history. One of the most influential on me have been the teachings of Confucius and Mencius.
I respect authority. But authority does not come from giving orders. It comes from being humane, resolving problems, understanding people, and taking care of everyone under your authority.
The greater the level of authority, the greater the accountability that the person in authority must hold. This is the burden of command - when you assert command over the world, you take ownership for outcomes.
A weak and abusive middle-manager, Murphy Chan, did not want to do that. While the flight was still boarding, and after multiple mix-ups, I showed him the mix of tickets and receipts that I had.
The day was already screwed up - I had an economy ticket after asking for business on the phone, I paid to have it upgraded, they gave me a receipt that said First Class but I was still seated in business, they didn't change the ticket just had me use the paper receipt, and then the business class lounge said I was in First Class when i asked if everything was okay, and...
...you know, just one of those days. If you're confused, I am too. There were many, many mistakes made.
I tried explaining this to Murphy Chan, and instead he commanded me under threat of violence.
I told him I'd comply, but he has to write it down and sign his name to it. In response to me questioning him, he called the police against me.
This a person that wants power, but doesn't want accountability.
That doesn't work.
The Disturbance Is Really Unfortunate
I dislike that I'm causing a disturbance. I don't like it.
I waited at the police station for a Cathay representative for three hours, and none came.
I asked Senior Inspector Lai to call Cathay and mediate to see if we can resolve this without it getting really big. Inspector Lai, truly a gracious and heroic professional, was kind enough to mediate in a neutral fashion.
The Cathay representative, Kenny Lau, showed up quite late after the agreed time, disrespecting both the Inspector Lai, the other police officers on the scene, and I.
He was arrogant, laughing, and refusing to discuss or be reasonable. This entire interaction is caught on audio. (And I repeatedly told him he's on audio.)
I said, "Look, this has happened. You'll review it internally. I don't want a war with you guys, I'm supposed to be on vacation..." and I explained that I'd settle for a mutual apology, them agreeing to internally review the situation, and we'll move on.
I said to Kenny that I know how corporations work, and right now Cathay management/security is working against me. You're going to try to ban me, make this like it's my fault, and otherwise do bad things to me.
Kenny agreed with that.
Kenny refused to give me his card, refused to give me his manager's name, and instead gave me a "general customer service complaint number."
I said to Kenny, "Look, you people are already preparing to fight me. I'm saying I'll take peace right now, investigate on your own, and we'll move on with our lives. I have more important things to do."
I said, "Kenny, there's no middle ground here. There was a serious violent incident. If you won't make peace, you're making war. Do you understand? You're saying you're going to fight me, to hurt me... whatever..."
He said he understood.
He said I'd have to go through a "security review" to fly out of Hong Kong airport, which I believe is a strong-arming, coercive event.
(Later, with legal counsel we're going to try to subpoena their "security review process" - I believe it's likely to be coercive, an abuse of authority, and otherwise a big problem on many levels.)
They refused to make peace, to compromise, to investigate, they gave me no reports or info about the situation, no one's business card or information, nothing.
They said I couldn't fly on Cathay any more.
Kenny said I'd have to go through "a security review to see if you're dangerous" to leave Hong Kong Airport, which sounds completely totalitarian and designed to break people to Cathay's authority and protect Cathay management from question, and not resolve situations.
(The American Consulate earlier gave me the info of the duty officer at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, to prepare against them retaliating by putting me on a no-fly list.)
Kenny didn't address or say anything about my complaints that the middle manager repeatedly violently escalated the situation, and I was prepared to leave peacefully at any time if records were made.
The police said - on audio - that I committed no crime that they're aware of, that they're not going to investigate or bring any charges against me.
This is on Cathay's management. I asked the police to mediate, and Senior Inspector Lai graciously did so in a neutral fashion, but Cathay wouldn't even acknowledge that they might might have made a mistake, and they refused to be held accountable, either as individuals or a company.
Kenny Lau refused, on audio, to say who his boss is and who made this decision, refused to give me anyone's business card, and refused to give me an incident report.
It took me two days to secure top legal counsel, and I've been stranded in Hong Kong and unsure of my flying status. I haven't been contacted by Cathay in that time, despite the fact that they have my email. They've shown no concern for telling me what's going on, and no concern for my safety or welfare, and no concern for investigating an extremely serious situation where a power-crazy middle manager put the police in harm's way and delayed 200 passengers in order to "save face" and look powerful.
Last night I filed my police statement, which is published in full under "Fight Corporate Violence: Marshall vs. Cathay Pacific Management." That's signed by me and I have written confirmation of acceptance into evidence by the HK police. (I delivered it directly to Senior Inspector Lai, who is truly a gentleman and a professional.)
What This Means For You
According to their website, Cathay Pacific employs over 28,000 people.
I think it's very likely that 27,950 of them are great people.
The other 50 or so bad apples?
They ruin people's lives. Murphy Chan called the police rather than put a decision in writing or say it on audio.
Imagine that! Every time the police are deployed, there is a chance that an incident gets out of control. And there were a lot of police on the scene.
He could have resolved this by just committing his decision to permanent record, and instead he went for violent retaliation.
I addressed the cabin crew during this incident, and they were trying not to smile. Some did smile, and the cabin crew cheerfully gave me water to drink.
I get the impression that Murphy Chan is abusive to everyone he meets. From what I saw, he seems to lack all integrity, decency, humility, and virtue.
If you're employed by Cathay Pacific, I want you to know I mean no harm to you. I'm on the same side as everyone virtuous, decent, and good at Cathay.
Actually, the reason I didn't mind taking a two-leg flight instead of going direct from Beijing to Taipei is because Cathay has always had such great service. The cabin crew, pilots, lounge staff, and everyone at Cathay? You guys are great.
I want to clean house of abusive managers. They should reform or be terminated.
I'm going to reach out to the pilot's union (who also recently had a serious dispute with Cathay, were Cathay broke labor law to terminate pilots enforcing the safety code). I'm pro-pilot, and respect all pilot's authority. Murphy just caused a violent incident on an airplane. You can't let middle managers escalate situations on your airplanes - the pilot has to have authority.
I'm going to reach out to the relevant unions for cabin crew and other staff. You guys are fantastic, and I'm sorry if anyone is scared or intimidated. I already retained top legal counsel and am in touch with humans rights organizations, and am getting in touch with labor organizations today. If anyone at Cathay reprimands or intimidates you, we can help you.
I'm going to reach out to relevant police associations. It's absolutely unacceptable for middle mangers at corporations to lie to the police and use the police as "enforcers."
Young men and women join the police force to guard and serve society. The police need to make sure the law happens and take a situation at hand. The police need to be able to assume that powerful citizens (wealthy older managers) are telling them the the truth and whole truth if the police are to be deployed against a civillian under their duty of care. It's unacceptable that a gang of managers lies to the police to deploy them against an innocent civilian who questioned their authority.
Yesterday, my report absolved all the police of any wrongdoing and noted the police's professionalism in handling an extremely bad situation as best as they could. You're professionals doing your job. You should not be put in harm's way falsely like this. I respect the police, appreciate the police, and am grateful that the police help us. Senior Inspector Lai had officers escort me out of the terminal at my request when I was scared of what Cathay would do to me, and he protected me from them at a tense and dangerous time. He was a voice of reason and dignity, and I'm extremely grateful to him and all of the police force.
The immigration officials and government officials of Hong Kong have always been professional in my experience, and I appreciate them.
Finally, the air passengers.
Aren't you tired of being afraid?
We must be balanced, intelligent, and reasonable here.
Air crew and pilots do need extraordinary responsibility and power to make things go smoothly. It's a business where seconds matter tremendously, and things getting imprecise could screw everything up.
However, with this extraordinary power comes the need for extraordinary accountability.
It's shocking and beyond conscience that a middle manager could threaten someone, deploy police resources against them, and no formal report is made to a person violently taken off an airplane - for the reason of questioning the manager.
The police must write incidence reports every time something like this happens.
And inside an airport, the managers have unchecked authority and power like no police officer has ever had in a free and liberal country during peacetime.
And no accountability.
Aren't you tired of being afraid?
Doesn't it seem wrong that these weak bullies expect you to back down?
Isn't it absurd that the police, the defenders of society, are being called in to clean up a manager's mess?
Isn't air travel a nightmare?
Shouldn't things get better?
Thank you for being with me. Please share this with everyone you know, and let's get air travel back on a virtuous path. I understand the need for their coercive authority being high, but there absolutely needs to be accountability for decisions to engage in violence.
I'll leave you with a quote from John Dalberg-Acton from 1887, he's better known as "Lord Acton" -
"I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men, with a favorable presumption that they did not wrong. If there is any presumption it is the other way against holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely."
You can get more information about the bamboo curtains and godfathers from http://www.amazon.com/Asian-Godfathers-Money-Power-Southeast/dp/0802143911/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1325659943&sr=1-1
And I never knew you were in Hongkong.. me working in there just over 2 months..!
Wow, after recently having a couple of bad customer service experiences I have nothing but the utmost request. Take not, this is what 'going to war' looks like :D
I've always traveled with Cathay before and enjoyed their service as well so it's makes me kinda sad to read about what you have gone through. I hope Cathay comes to their senses and do what's right here.
Whether you win or lose I hope you do it loud. There are far too many people like this who use the authority they have to bully people.
Good Luck with this. Having worked in the cellars at Cathay for over 10 years and seeing things that made my toes and hair curl - you are now up against one of the strongest bamboo-curtains in Asia.
You need to look deeper and you will see that Cathay/Swire's history goes back to before there was ever a police force in Hong Kong - as a result the puppet masters are not the government and police.....
That Guy Down There
I predict you'll end up getting free upgrades with them forever.
You like the airline, just not the one guy (or fifty). If you presented the story accurately, they'll probably want to settle. Free upgrades are cheap for them, likely valuable to you, and can be done quickly.
If you like that outcome you have to be careful not to create perverse incentives for other people to provoke altercations to try to repeat your success, although needing to retain lawyers and losing time out of your life is a major hurdle.
Marshall, AWESOME stand and great post. We should speak of these people and make them take it PERSONALLY. lousy middle managers have to leave. I had good and BAD experience with Cathay and kinda like the company, so I truly believe that we help big companies to improve if they could actually hear. I wrote a post about bad customer care from Groupon and it made difference. Stand up. We actually pay money for all this.
PS There's nothing wrong with Business class. Never tried it yet, but would really like.
Statement to the Hong Kong Police DepartmentRegarding the Abuse, Violence, Fraud, and Mis-Use of Police Resources by Cathay Pacific Management on 26th December 2011
My name is Sebastian Marshall. I am an American citizen who was traveling from Beijing to Taipei via Hong Kong on DragonAir, which is owned by Cathay Pacific Airways.
In Hong Kong, I questioned an abusive manager’s authority, and he immediately deployed police resources against me in retaliation. This led to my violent removal from the airplane, a fight almost broke out, and he recklessly endangered the health and safety of myself and other passengers. Cathay representatives went on to lie to the police and make outright false statements.
The dispute was after Cathay Pacific, in my opinion and view, had repeatedly made mistakes with my booking.
After Cathay refused to fix their mistakes two or three times, I paid additional money that in my opinion should have been unnecessary to fix the situation – but I was working on a piece of writing on Bruce Lee and American History, so I simply paid to be upgraded so I could continue my writing.
I found the young man, sitting low below the small bulb of the street lamp. He was homeless, his clothes disheveled, his eyes bloodshot, and his hair and beard caught and twisted in knots. I had seen him a couple of times before then, though never in such a state. He was...sadder than usual. I went up to him, and asked if there was something bothering him, more than the usual I mean. I made sure that I made that clear. He looked at me, his jaw slack, and his cheeks sunken.
“What...What time is it?”
I looked down at my phone and told him it was eight at night.
Upon hearing this, he put his head in his hands and began to sob.
I stood there, upset at myself for coming over to talk to him. What had I been thinking? What did I expect was going to happen? He stopped suddenly, his cries silenced, his breathing shallow. What he said next distresses me to this very day.