Virgin Atlantic has found itself on the receiving end of a barrage of criticism on social media following reports of a racist incident on a flight to China.
The incident is said to have taken place on flight VS250 from London to Shanghai on March 1 this year.
Whilst reports regarding the precise details of the incident have varied, it is generally alleged that a Chinese female passenger was subject to racist abuse by a man on the flight, whilst cabin crew looked on and failed to transfer the passenger or the victim from their seats to diffuse the row.
Two other passengers, who attempted to intervene to protect the female passenger, were supposedly told by cabin crew to not interfere.
The female passenger claims she complained to the airline after arriving in Shanghai.
Apparently frustrated by Virgin Atlantic's reaction to the incident, she posted a copy of a letter that was sent to the Chinese aviation authorities on the massive micro-blogging site, Weibo, with upwards of seven million views so far.
Since then the airline has been faced with a genuine "social media storm" in China, with its Facebook and Weibo pages bombarded with messages slamming it for allowing the incident to take place and its reaction.
A standard response has been posted by the airline to many of the comments, explaining that it takes such allegations seriously and is investigating the incident.
But this, in turn, has also been criticised by commenters for its apparent lack of empathy towards the female passenger.
An official for Virgin Atlantic says in a statement:
"We deeply regret the unpleasant experience our customer had on this flight. We have fully investigated this incident by speaking with those involved, fellow customers and the cabin crew present.
"We understand that there was an altercation between two customers on board the flight, which resulted in both individuals becoming upset and distressed. Upon noticing the argument, our cabin crew did their best to resolve the situation for all customers, including the female customer and her male companion.
"We would like to reiterate that Virgin Atlantic takes a zero tolerance approach to racism.”
Whilst there is no immediate way to measure the commercial damage from the incident to Virgin Atlantic in China, where it competes with a number of airlines on the busy Far East-Europe routes, including arch rival British Airways, thousands of travellers have pledged to avoid the airline in the future.
Virgin has been flying from London to Shanghai since 1999, with a daily service since 2005.
NB:Virgin Atlantic image via Shutterstock.