Racism With Middle East Airlines (MEA). Again.

I recently got a tip from a reader regarding another racism incidence with Lebanon’s airline carrier MEA that is not dissimilar to the one that became everyone’s talk a few months ago, culminating in firing the employees involved.

The story goes as follows:

The export manager of a Chinese company was visiting Dubai for a few days after which he was sent by his company to Lebanon to work on a certain deal with a local business. Once his work in Lebanon was up and he had to go back to China, he presented at the MEA counter at the airport but the employee refused to issue him a ticket.

She said he didn’t have a visa for Dubai, which he did. He was also going through Dubai simply as transit to China, which is allowed even if you don’t have a visa. So shouting at the Chinese man, the employee talked down to him, dismissing him. A quarrel ensued, which was only stopped up by another employee interfering and issuing the ticket in question.

I wonder: how difficult is it for MEA to vet its employees before actually hiring them when it comes to the most basic of qualities that people who handle international customers should have? Or how difficult is it to actually have MEA’s employees go through some trainings in dealing with customers in respectable ways to bring them to the 21st century where a passenger isn’t dismissed based on the color of his skin or how stretched his eyes are?

Racism isn’t exclusive to MEA. It spreads to a lot of people across Lebanon with municipalities illegally banning Syrians (and officials who don’t want to do anything about it) to severe discrimination against migrant workers even in the media that should be helping to lessen this among people (link). But the least we should expect is for one of the country’s major companies – especially one that represents Lebanon to the entire world – to be stringent with the image it wants to give to the world.

As for how I believe racism in Lebanon should stop, I quote something I wrote (link) when the first racism incidence with MEA happened:

Racism isn’t also a Lebanese problem. It is a worldwide problem that takes many forms. It transcends the hate towards others based on skin color. It is the intolerance towards another’s religion, the intolerance towards another’s nationality. And if a country doesn’t have a predominant problems with someone’s race, then they probably have a problem with differing religions. It is the problem of “difference.”

We dislike those with whom we can’t easily relate.

So what’s different between Lebanon and those supposedly racism-free countries? It’s quite simple: accountability. And that’s what works most with us Lebanese: a slap on the wrist when we do stuff wrong (fines for smoking, for not putting on the seatbelt, for speeding….)

People who get accused of racism in those countries have consequences to deal with. In our country, racism is met with indifference. A prominent TV anchor was blantly saying that an Ethiopian maid who committed suicide a few months ago was deranged (click here)- and he found no trouble at all in passing his ideology to his viewers. I’m sure he got high ratings for that episode as well.

If that anchor had met the same fate as the employee, people would have known that what he said was wrong. They would have known that talking badly against someone else just because you don’t like the skin they were born in is unacceptable. And they would have realized that it is no longer accepted to have it happen.

Their racism would then regress – it would get suppressed. And that is how other countries do it.

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MEA Fires Racist Employee

MEA did the only thing acceptable in the situation the company found itself in over the past few days. The employee who was front and center of the racism incidence was fired, as reported here.

While I do not agree that the  name of the employee should have been announced, I obviously fully agree with the steps taken. Not only is firing the female employee and her male accomplice the right thing to do but it’s actually a “pioneering” step in the Lebanese fight against racism.

Never has a racism event gone this public and been met with accountability – and that is the only way we move forward with the issue of racism.

People like to preach about the importance of education in overcoming the issue of racism in Lebanon. I am all for the distinction between a racist country and racist individuals and based on that, I work on never trashing my country when I talk about racism. However, I also believe that education in Lebanon would lead nowhere in the issue of racism.

Education is important, definitely. But the education we get is one that the majority of Lebanese don’t – that’s the majority which lives in the rural regions of the country – the regions we very easily categorize as extremist. Those regions have such high poverty levels and so little educational levels that another solution needs to be devised.

Racism isn’t also a Lebanese problem. It is a worldwide problem that takes many forms. It transcends the hate towards others based on skin color. It is the intolerance towards another’s religion, the intolerance towards another’s nationality. And if a country doesn’t have a predominant problems with someone’s race, then they probably have a problem with differing religions. It is the problem of “difference.”

We dislike those with whom we can’t easily relate.

So what’s different between Lebanon and those supposedly racism-free countries? It’s quite simple: accountability. And that’s what works most with us Lebanese: a slap on the wrist when we do stuff wrong (fines for smoking, for not putting on the seatbelt, for speeding….)

People who get accused of racism in those countries have consequences to deal with. In our country, racism is met with indifference. A prominent TV anchor was blantly saying that an Ethiopian maid who committed suicide a few months ago was deranged (click here)- and he found no trouble at all in passing his ideology to his viewers. I’m sure he got high ratings for that episode as well.

If that anchor had met the same fate as the employee, people would have known that what he said was wrong. They would have known that talking badly against someone else just because you don’t like the skin they were born in is unacceptable. And they would have realized that it is no longer accepted to have it happen.

Their racism would then regress – it would get suppressed. And that is how other countries do it.

MEA Responds to Racism Incidence

Following the news about racism with MEA employees (click here) at Beirut’s International Airport (I refuse to call it by that other name), MEA has issued a statement. Of course, they were sort of forced to seeing as the story went viral.

This is their response:

To our loyal customers and fans,

We are aware of the purported incident that took place on the 6th October 2012 at Beirut International Airport, and appreciate your patience while a full investigation by MEA is underway. Please rest assured that MEAs policy is not to tolerate discriminatory or racist behavior in any form from our employees, and that appropriate measures will be taken once the facts of the incident are brought to light.

Yours sincerely,
The MEA Team

Is it lackluster? Yes. Does it feel forced? You bet. Is it color by number? Definitely. Will it calm people down? Perhaps it will.

A couple of days from now, few will remember that there was an employee with MEA who insulted people just because of their citizenship, fully knowing that the passport those people have can get them access to much more countries than the miserable piece of identification she has stashed in her pocket. You know, that blue booklet with the cedar on it – our pride and joy. You can start crying out of pride now.

I really hope that people keep talking about this until MEA lets everyone know what those “appropriate measures” will be. Racism in Lebanon needs to be tackled sure. But raising awareness gets you nowhere. And if there’s anything that works with people like the Lebanese, it’s a tap on the wrist. Or a slap across the face. Once they see that being racist outloud will get them fired, they will think twice about publicizing their stupidity.

Let’s face it, bottled in racism exists everywhere – even in countries that proclaim they don’t have it.

And there’s nothing I’d rather see than that woman and the man who supported her fired. Am I harsh? Absolutely not. They deserve much more than that.

Racism With Middle East Airlines (MEA)

Situate yourself in the following scenario: you are waiting to board a plane. There are people of every nationality you could think of there. And the hostess decides to single you out. Only because your nationality is not something she likes.

This happened to Filipino and Nepali workers who were waiting to board an Air Arabia flight, which was managed by MEA. This is the story in detail (link):

Yesterday on the 6th of October I was at gate 11 with a friend of mine waiting to board the Air Arabia flight at 20:25.

While waiting to board there was a group of foreign workers sitting with the rest of the passengers waiting for their turn. They were behaving normally as any other group of passengers would.

Then sadly, the lady (looking at her uniform she apparently works for MEA Ground Services and not Air Arabia) at the gate announced on loud speaker (over the whole system covering the airport) the following: “Filipino people stop talking” ; then she started giggling about it with the macho gentleman who was with her at the gate.

They continued their racist behavior by announcing again “Filipino Nepal people talking not allowed here” and on and on.

Shocked, I obviously became furious and approached them and explained that this racist and discriminatory behavior is not acceptable, impolite and does not at the least reflect what employees at Beirut Airport should stand for (not to imply it’s acceptance in any other situation of course).

This unfortunately sounded like a joke to them and they went on to say “we do whatever we want and we don’t care about what you are saying”, then “management doesn’t even want this kind of people on the flight” and “even if you complain this will be thrown away and we dare you to do anything about it”.

When I asked her “how would you feel if you ever wanted to travel to Europe and while queuing for your visa they told you the same thing?”, she replied “these people are different”; The macho gentleman seeing that his female friend, whom he was trying so hard to impress with his imitating giggles, was cornered with her twisted racist logic even went further to ask me to back off the counter and threatening to make a problem and to void my ticket!! When I asked for the complaint form they answered (While still laughing of course) “take it from the flight attendants and good luck sitting next to such people on the flight”

I did file an official complaint with Air Arabia and their staff was very helpful and promised to reach the message out to their management.

However Air Arabia is paying MEAG for such services and they need to use their power to do greater efforts too to ensure that the people behind this are held accountable. I also sent an email today to Mr. Richard Mujais from MEAG, explaining what happened and asked him to further discuss this with me and to show us that these employees were held accountable for such racist behavior.

Until then, and as a friend suggested that they also need to be exposed please help me exposing such intolerable behavior…

Abed Shaheen

It’s very easy for MEA to know who was working during the flight in question. They only need to look through their database. And there’s honestly only one acceptable solution in this situation.

Fire them. No severance package. No goodbye gesture. Just get them out of your company and let them try to find a job with their narrow mindedness and backward mentality elsewhere.

It is beyond unacceptable for a person working at a flight company, which naturally means dealing with people from all across the world, to have a hateful attitude towards people just because of the color of their skin, their language or their passport. Perhaps MEA should start doing a better job at choosing people that would represent it to the world especially that it is the first thing that people see of Lebanon before they get here and the last thing they see before they leave.

Shame on MEA for hiring unqualified people to do jobs. Shame on them not even having a complaint system that would get their employees to panic and shame on those employees for being downright nauseating.

 

 

Middle East Airlines (MEA) Responds Regarding Flight 427

For the sake of being fair, MEA responded regarding what happened on flight 427, which I told you about yesterday. In a Facebook statement, they said the following:

To our fans, customers and readers alike,

In the past week or so, videos and pictures have been circulated on the web pointing out problems customers have faced on a couple of MEA flights. They included service quality issues such as an out of use seat and a dysfunctional display unit amongst others. These videos and pictures created with the intention of raising awareness about MEA’s customer service, and which have caused others to provide valuable comments and feedback, have been taken on-board whole heartedly.

Anyone who flies regularly will probably have experienced at some time or another that service on an airline can vary from flight to flight. As such, our company’s priority is to strive to deliver a consistent service across the board. The best way to provide this consistency in our view is to listen to customers’ feedback addressing their issues whenever possible, to implement the latest technologies and systems throughout the company as they become available, and finally to undertake all our usual measures to assess consistency through thorough quality control of flight safety, in-flight services, entertainment and overall passenger comfort.

Here at MEA, we feel it is our duty not only to our customers, but to the country as a whole to accurately represent our nation by reflecting our reputation for outstanding hospitality in every aspect of the service we provide as an airline. Currently, our fleet is being expanded as some may already know from our recent campaign “5000 Mabrouk” where we unveiled our brand new A320 aircraft. We’re expecting two more aircraft to be delivered in coming months. We have also finished planning the new cargo center which will be spread over 20,000 sq. m. of land, will contain a hangar with a 5,000 sq. m. capacity for exports and another 10,000 sq. m. hangar for imported goods, in addition to a large parking lot.

In light of the videos we have seen, the comments provided in social forums and the valuable feedback we are receiving online, we are glad to announce that we will be increasing our presence in various social media to provide dynamic interaction with our customer base worldwide. While we encourage everyone to describe their experience on MEA flights through social media and contact us by whichever means available, we’d like to remind our customers that the most direct means of communication for requests and complaints to be handled effectively within the shortest timeframe is by emailing saader@mea.com.lb (Customer Services Department).

Sincerely,
The MEA Team

As I said in my post regarding the matter, I refused to crucify MEA, as some were doing, for what happened on the flight. I’m sure it happens on other airlines as well. But I blamed them on the way they handled things. This is a step in the right direction. I hope they continue with it and it doesn’t become another Lebanese “saff 7ake” as they say.

Based on many emails I got, as well as comments on other blogs that wrote about this story, many have not been happy customers with MEA. If Mr. Dajani’s story, despite some flaws in the way it was handled, has gotten them to be more aware, then I’m one happier person. And in the long run, if MEA truly ups their game, I’m sure they’d be a happier company as well.

In the age of Facebook, twitter and blogging, Lebanese customers need to know that they have a stronger voice than before and that they can speak up in case something out of line happens. Odds are they will get a response. Good job MEA. Crisis averted?

MEA Flight Number 427, Dubai – Beirut: Broken Tables and TVs, Dirty Floor, Bad Customer Service

Hussein Dajani is like any other Lebanese expat who feels a belonging to home. His airline of choice is to go and see his land and family is non-other than his country’s own Middle East Airlines (MEA). Why not support your country’s company that’s supposedly among the world’s top airliners?

Once he boarded flight number 427, taking him from Dubai to Beirut, Dajani felt something was wrong. The scorching heat of Dubai was blowing full force inside the plane. There was no AC. He figured it was a glitch. But when the AC refused to start, he knew something was wrong. As the plane took off, his attention turned to other things. Some of the tables were broken. The entertainment system in the plane was all messed up. He looked around and noticed the plane was seriously dirty. Looking in front of him, he saw a safety leaflet. He opened the safety leaflet and there was a chewing gum sticking it together.

Dajani was outraged. He called for the hostess to see what was wrong. Instead of being calming and reassuring, the hostess was patronizing in typical Lebanese ways “ya 7ayete, ya albe….” So he decided to take it into his own hands. He went around and started to interview people on the airplane. He wasn’t the only one who was suffering on the flight. In business class, he met with minister Jihad Azour who also thought the flight was all kinds of wrong. They exchanged contact information to pursue the matter.

Once he landed, Dajani took it to MEA’s Facebook page. Even though he found response from people who shared his ordeal, MEA ignored him. They eventually deleted his Facebook posts and banned him from their page.

Today, Marcel Ghanem’s Kalem el Neis and MTV’s Enta 7or are interested in pursuing the matter. I’ve decided to help Dajani as well. Why do I want to do that? Because Lebanese companies trampling on their customers needs to stop. We, as people, have become used to horrible customer service that we take it as part of the package. This shouldn’t be acceptable. Buying a product or a service doesn’t mean you need to put up with typical Lebanese mentality of “dabber 7alak” as soon as the purchase is fulfilled.

If MEA didn’t know the plane was in bad condition, the least they can do is issue an apology and a refund. If MEA knew about the plane’s condition, then that’s way worse.

Sure, other airlines experience such problems as well. It is not out of the ordinary. But other airlines assume responsibility as well. I don’t judge MEA based on that flight – after all, they are rated very well. But I judge them on how they handled it afterwards. You cannot simply ban a person who’s complaining from your Facebook page and expect no response whatsoever. You simply can’t offer such horrible service to people and expect them not to talk back.

It gets worse. While interviewing people, someone told Dajani he overheard the crew saying this plane should have been put out of service a while back for repairs and maintenance. Then why wasn’t it? Why was it still used for transporting people if they knew it was in bad shape? Or do the lives of people not matter in front of a money? Or are we seeking another national tragedy to feel relevant?

MEA might have lots of good publicity. But it takes one scandal to put it way back. I’m already reconsidering using MEA for my flight this summer. And no, that doesn’t make me unpatriotic.

I’ll leave you with a few videos and pictures.

A Lebanese Fight On MEA Plane from Paris to Beirut

Leave it to the Lebanese to forget every bit of “civilization” they’ve learned in Paris the moment their plane leaves the tarmac to their home country.

The first is “ebn l Chouf,” the second is “ebn Baalbak” because one’s region is enough threat apparently. Soon enough, the crew is involved in calming the men, followed by calls for every Holy figure known to man. Yes, a typical Lebanese fight – at several kilometers in the air – down to those filming planning to post it on YouTube the moment they land.

Well, the video is on Facebook and you can watch it here or on YouTube:

Does anyone know why they were fighting in the first place?