KLM denies racism behind Korean-language sign

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines denied racism was involved in an in-flight crew decision to post a Korean-language sign outside an aircraft lavatory that denied restroom access for passengers.

Dutch airline KLM dismissed racist motives following an incident involving a Korean-language sign denying passengers access to a restroom facility on a KLM plane this week. File Photo by Toussaint Kluiters

Guillaume Glass, general manager for Japan and Korea at KLM, said Friday during a press conference at the Four Seasons Hotel in Seoul a crew decision to post a Korean-language makeshift sign that read, “Restroom for exclusive use by cabin crew” was a “basic stupid mistake,” local television network MBC reported.

During the press conference, Glass and other KLM executives apologized for the incident while bowing deeply before South Korean reporters.

The Korean-language sign came under fire after a Korean passenger aboard a KLM 855 flight uploaded a photo this week. The plane had left Amsterdam for Incheon on Monday. South Korean nationals comprised 135 out of the 279 passengers on the plane, according to the Korea Herald.

A KLM executive who declined to be identified suggested to MBC that though there were more non-Korean nationals on the plane, the move may have been necessary.

“If you look at the situation in Asia, there are a lot of health issues,” the executive told the network, referring to the coronavirus outbreak in China. South Korea has reported a total of 28 cases since the outbreak, well below the number of cases in China, Japan, Singapore or Hong Kong. MBC’s source did not say why signs were not posted in other languages.

On Friday Glass offered a formal apology but stopped short of calling the case a racist incident, which is how it is being viewed in Korea.

“What I believe today is that it’s not a case of racial discrimination but a basic stupid mistake,” Glass said.

Glass also attributed the outcome to a “miscommunication between the Dutch crew and the Korean crew.” The airline will conduct an independent investigation, he said.

ByElizabeth Shim