Kunming Airlines, which became the target of an online furore after photos of its stewardesses being forcibly pushed into a plane’s luggage compartment went viral, hit back on Tuesday claiming the facts had been distorted.

An airline stewardess curls into a luggage locker in an airplane in this file photo
An image that went viral online shows a stewardess in a luggage locker of a Kunming Airlines plane

“Several air stewardesses are angry at the online distortion of their happy ritual. Usually a fresh stewardess will be placed in a luggage compartment to celebrate completing 30-50 hours of flying, or a new chief stewardess will celebrate in such a way after finishing her first flight,” the airline said via its official account at Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social platform.

The airline quoted stewardesses as saying that they were happy when being placed in a luggage compartment. It stressed that it was for fun and no malicious actions were involved.

The original post about bullying began to circulate on social media Sunday, claiming that several fresh stewardesses were forcibly ‘stuffed’ into a luggage compartment by security officers.

The post claimed the practice, which was called a “tradition” by the officers, has been repeatedly conducted for four or five years. Stewardesses were reluctant but also concerned at not being cooperative with their colleagues.

Some photos were also posted showing stewardesses curling up in the luggage compartment with hands covering their faces. A male staff member, believed to be a security officer, was also seen and even posed with a huddled stewardess.

The post went viral online and aroused anger among Chinese web users. Some netizens questioned whether the security officers were capable of guaranteeing the safety of passengers when they engage in such dangerous behavior.

“Air stewardesses have it hard enough with difficult passengers and irregular flight schedules. Imagine having to deal with additional trouble from colleagues who should clearly know better,” said a Weibo user.

“Professionals in the aviation industry? They are behaving like children in high school,” remarked another.

According to a report in the Beijing News, Kunming Airline has investigated the incident and claimed it was an individual case.

The airline said such “traditions” happen after crews complete their flight and do not affect public safety.

“This was like a ceremony for new attendants to join the crew. It is prevalent among other foreign airline companies. But the company has paid attention to the incident and pledged to prevent this from happening again due to its negative effect to the image of the company, the airline said.

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