(Japanese 日本語 here)
(Portions made public October 12, and December 11, 2001)

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Date: Wed, 10 Oct 2001 16:39:28 +0900
To: debito@debito.org
From: Arudou Debito/Dave Aldwinckle <debito@debito.org>
Subject: AIR-DO and its treatment of "foreigners"

Hello Hokkaido International Business Association Mailing List and Friends.
I write you this just to inform, not necessarily to advocate any action or

I am disappointed with "Hokkaido International Airlines" (AIR-DO,
http://www.airdo.co.jp/) and its treatment of people it considers "foreign".
As HIBA has always been a supporter of this enterprise (see HIBA NEWS May
1999 essay at http://www.debito.org/airdo.html), I think it should be

On urgent business, I was scheduled to fly Sept 25, 2001, on the AIR-DO 8:10
flight down to Tokyo. At 7am that morning at the check-in counter, we
sorted out several matters (payments by credit card etc) in problem-free
Japanese. I was then asked what seat I would prefer.

I said, "The seat by the emergency exits, so I can have more legroom."

The staff at the counter then asked if the seat in front of the screen (in
the center aisle) would be okay.

I said no, as the bulkhead would be in my way. I reiterated my preference.

To this, she said that the bulkhead seat has the same legroom. This, I know
from flying AIR-DO's sardine seating in the past, is simply untrue. So I
re-reiterated my preference.

When she started seeking the approval of other ground staff, I asked if
there was a question about my language abilities. I know that Japanese
airlines have a policy of not seating people by the emergency doors who may
be unable to assist with evacuation procedures. She indicated that yes,
there was a question.

I asked her what language we had been speaking so far, and if it truly
seemed I would be unable to cope with instructions in Japanese. I added
that in the past I have sat in emergency seats in other Japanese airlines,
including AIR-DO, and that her deciding that I may have an inability to cope
was only due to my physical appearance. I made it clear that I felt this
was racial discrimination, especially as I am a Japanese citizen, and would
take it up with the proper authorities.

I got my preferred seat.

Anyhow, this should have ended here, but the problem was aggravated later by
the attitudes of AIR-DO's administration, whose ground staff I talked with
after arrival in Tokyo that day, and later that afternoon by telephone with
the Tokyo office. I got the standard apologies, and upon return to Sapporo
on September 27 (the whole airline seemed to know who I am, and when seat
assignments came up, this time the staff asked if I "would be willing to
assist with emergency procedures if necessary"--which is the right
approach), I found in my mailbox a sokutatsu-ed letter from Mr Fukuki, head
of customer relations at AIR-DO, with more apologies.

Unfortunately, Mr Fukuki's letter was a textbook set of pat polite
platitudes with little apparent understanding of the problem, i.e. that of
judging passengers by their skin even when security is not an issue. It
wasn't even signed--which to some Japanese is a grave rudeness (see it at
http://www.debito.org/airdoapology092501.jpg). My Japanese friends said it
was simply a missive with no heart or sincerity, written by a bureaucrat
just wanting to cover his ketsu by going through the motions and following
the rules. So I called Mr Fukuki on Sept 28 to explain how he seemed to be
missing the point.

Mr Fukuki took an interesting stance. Filtering through his by-the-letter
verbal apologies, he made two points I had a problem with:

1) The ground staff were not intentionally discriminating against me.
2) The manual states that all foreigners
(he even used the word "gaijin"
here) must be given special consideration in the case of emergency seats.

To point number one, I countered that discrimination does not necessarily
need to be willful to be discrimination. The facts of the case were that a)
the ground staff deemed that my Japanese skills may be suspect solely due to
my skin, not my demonstrated abilities, and b) the ground staff
intentionally tried to steer me away from my seat preference by offering me
an inferior choice, even misleading me about the legroom quality of the
bulkhead seat. Not once, but twice.

Believe it or not, Mr Fukuki defended that decision as a consequence of
following flight manuals, which lead us to point number two.

To point number two--foreigner considerations for emergency seats--I noted
that despite my appearance, I was not a foreigner. I had to pass a very
difficult test to become a Japanese national. I disliked being assigned to
that category then, and disliked Mr Fukuki doing the same to me now,
especially with the "gaijin" choice of words. To me, as a representative of
the airline as a whole, his attitudes were quite disappointing.

In conclusion, I told him that the same thing had happened to me on AIR-DO
two years ago, before I naturalized, and I had complained then too. Two
years later, nothing seemed to have changed. This policy of AIR-DO (and
only AIR-DO--the other airlines have asked questions but never misled me)
was the reason I had stopped flying them before. Its inability to
accommodate properly even naturalized Japanese citizens shows just how
"international" Hokkaido International Airlines actually is. If other HIBA
Members were treated like this, AIR-DO might find fewer feeling the need to
fly them. I certainly would choose another airline from now on.

This is where Mr Fukuki remembered that we had met, in April 1999 when I was
HIBA Secretary, and that I had written an essay
(http://www.debito.org/airdo.html) saying that we should support AIR-DO, in
order to stop the other three airlines gouging us on the lucrative
Tokyo-Sapporo air corridor.

Mr Fukuki hoped that I would reconsider my decision, but I said that given
his attitudes, I would have no choice but to inform HIBA and others that
AIR-DO seems oblivious and intransigent to changing times.


The point: I am not sure how indicative my case is or how representative my
stance is, by any means, and I am sure plenty of people will have qualms
with how I approached this issue. Fine. I'm used to that.

However, AIR-DO has been and remains in serious financial trouble. Given
its visibly bureaucratic, inflexible and uncreative attitudes to customer
relations, to me it is no wonder why some people might prefer to fly other
companies. At least those airlines know how to word things more
professionally for increased customer satisfaction, and I get my seat
preferences filled with no bull. Time for AIR-DO to snap out of these
tendencies if it wants to remain aloft.

Arudou (not Air-do) Debito



Readers of my emails may remember early October, when I brought up an issue concerning local airline AIR-DO (http://www.airdo.co.jp/): On September 25, when boarding the 8:10 flight for Tokyo, AIR-DO's ground staff saw me as a foreigner with a language problem (despite a problem-free check-in in Japanese), and, despite my request for a seat by the emergency exits (available, with more legroom), I was thrice steered to a more-cramped center-aisle bulkhead seat in front of the screen.

Although a seemingly small matter, I considered this poor customer sevice. I disliked the airline's attempts to deny my seating preference for no other reason but my physical appearance, not to mention wilfully mislead me about the quality of a different seat. So, like any customer with a complaint, I called AIR-DO's head office (011-252-5533) for a chat.

Talking with AIR-DO's Customer Service rep Mr Fukuki, I was told that airline emergency procedures require emergency-exited passengers to be able-bodied and able to understand Japanese, just in case assistance was necessary in the event of an accident. My being inadvertantly gaijinized (his word) was a matter of "incomplete enforcement of the manuals" (manuaru futettei), and Mr Fukuki, both on the phone and in a letter of apology (http://www.debito.org/airdoapology092501.jpg), assured me that:

  1. this was the mistake of an individual ground staff member, meaning AIR-DO has no deliberate policy to steer all foreign-looking people away from the emergency exits (although he refused to show me AIR-DO's rule books),
  2. there would be an internal memo making it clear that Japanese-speaking foreigners would be accorded the same treatment as Japanese from now on (though he also declined to show me this memo), and
  3. this would not happen again.

Well, guess what. It did happen again.


When I was giving a presentation on naturalization at JALT on November 24 in Kokura, Kyushu, a reader of my emails asked me whether it was worth naturalizing if I still get gaijinized time and time again, like recently on AIR-DO. I tried to counter that after raising the issue with gaijinizers, they do change their ways, never fear. However, in attendance was a Mr Anthony S. Collins, who raised his hand and said AIR-DO had just done it to him.

On the November 8, 2001, 3PM AIR-DO flight to Tokyo, Mr Collins, who works for a law firm, has lived in Japan for five years and speaks fine Japanese (I checked), was steered away from his expressed preference for an emergency-exit seat. And yes, reassured by the ground staff that the legroom was the same, he was plunked into the center seat by the screen to enjoy the bulkhead. (Verify this with Mr Collins yourself at tcollins@typhoon.co.jp)

The fact that his treatment was procedurally exactly was the same as mine indicates a pattern, meaning AIR-DO in fact has a policy towards foreigners to give them inferior seats (unlike any other Japanese airline I've flown--ANA, JAS, or JAL--which does sometimes ask if you speak Japanese or would be willing to assist, but never steers you away or lies about legroom).

To confirm this, I called up the Ministry of Transportation (Unyushou) at (03) 5253-5533, and talked to the people at the Kokuro Koutsuushou Koukuu Kyoku (Department of Roads, Airlines Division), Mr Numata at Ext 48517 and Mr Akema at Ext 48516, and ultimately Kachou Hosa Mr Yamano. After consultation and callback, MoT made the following points:

  1. There is no MoT regulation on seating non-Japanese in the emergency-exit seats. In fact, according to Mr Yamano, there are no MoT guidelines on emergency seating at all--it is left up to the airline.
  2. Having called AIR-DO to investigate, MoT noted that Mr Fukuki said he had apologized in writing to me, had issued an internal memo, and wanted to know the name of the newly-gaijinized passenger so he could apologize to him too.
  3. Mr Yamano added, in a conversation with AIR-DO's Soumu Buchou Mr Tanaka, that Mr Tanaka said this third occurrence was probably a counter staff member individually freaking out (enryo shiteru) at a foreigner and throwing a seat at him (though this reaction seems too methodical to look like a matter of panic; and anyway, Mr Collins is a black-haired, olive-skinned gentleman who looks more Japanese in his law-firm attire than most Japanese twenty-somethings).
  4. So isn't that that?

I said no, and told him that these incidents probably constituted an unfair policy. It ignores individual language ability, assuming that people who look foreign cannot assist in emergency procedures (although for the life of me I can't see what the heck someone would have to do in an emergency other than open a heavy door and shoo people out). Moreover, AIR-DO seems to be unable to keep its word and quit it. Three strikes, in baseball at least, constitutes an out.

Messrs Yamano and Akema said they understood the problem and yes, could not condone this practice. So I asked for MoT to send a written caution to AIR-DO to tell them to rescind this policy. He said that this would be considered, but telephoned warnings have already been issued.


I bet some people are saying, "Jeez, it's just an emergency seat, so aren't you molehilling here?" But hear me out. I believe this matters now because:

  1. Before it was just the ignorance of a startup airline. Two years ago, when I raised the issue, my complaints clearly fell on deaf ears. So I took my business elsewhere with no fuss. Two months ago (I only flew AIR-DO because I had urgent business) it was stupidity. But a promise was made by the airline to change. Two weeks ago, it now amounts to a broken promise, which deserves to be known about.
  2. I accept the notion that nobody has the "right" to sit anywhere. But if the emergency seat is open and the person has no real language barrier, then why not let him or her enjoy the preference like anyone else? Assuming that a language barrier exists due to the color of one's skin, moreover despite demonstrated evidence to the contrary, is simply discrimination.
  3. No other airline has this policy. And no airline should. Even the MoT does not condone it.

In my last email, I made it clear I was not advocating any action. This time though, I say that if an airline breaks its promises, people should consider whether AIR-DO is worthy of their support. I have given it plenty of my own finances and support in the past (http://www.debito.org/airdo.html), but it seems for naught. Only if people show that this silliness will result in lost sales is troubled airline AIR-DO, asking for our tax money from the Hokkaido Government to stay aloft, going to start understanding that customer preferences, even if they come from a "foreign" face, carry as much economic weight and respect as if they came from a Japanese.

And that includes this Japanese.

Arudou Debito
December 11, 2001

This is being proposed as one Community Project



有道 出人(あるどう でびと)、米国系日本人

 飛行機をよく乗車する人として、私は北海道国際空港(株)(AIR-DO, http://www.airdo.co.jp/)について不満を述べたいと思います。「外人」とみられる人の待遇には問題があります。
 しかし手紙を読むと、いかに「北海道コクサイ航空」の国際意識が乏しいかと感じてしまいました。一応、正式な謝り言葉、決まり文句があるが、原因は「マニュアルの不徹底」でと書いて、人権問題の可能性には触れません。例えば、「外見でこう待遇してしまいましたので、深く反省してこれから二度と外国人みたいな人がこの目に遭わないようにします」のようなことはありません。かえって、手紙の雰囲気は「社交ルールに従って、口先だけで誠意がこまらない官僚的な手紙」だと他の日本人の友達も感じました。福木氏は署名しませんでした。(ここで読めます: http://www.debito.org/airdoapology092501.jpg


 なお、私個人、AIR-DOのサポーターとして特に絶望が深まりました。実は福木氏と会ったことがあります。99年4月、彼は北海道ビジネス協会(HIBA, http://www.voicenet.co.jp/~hiba/)の会議でゲスト・スピーカとして出席して、AIR-DOの創立、運輸省の認可の得ることの困難について教えました。私はHIBA書記としてHIBA NEWSでレポートを書いて(http://www.debito.org/airdo.html 、英字)、「今までの千歳ー羽田線で航空会社はカルテルして、どさん子に世界一高い路線を保ったのでずっとぼったくりった。でも、ようやくAIR-DOは安い値段で競争を導入する。が、運輸省は自由市場競争を制限する行為により、またはライバル会社の不公平取り引き、AIR-DOは大変イジメを悩んでいる。我々HIBAはAIR-DOをできるだけ飛んで、サポートしなければいけない」と唱えました。

有道 出人

北海道「国際」航空 (AIR-DO)は約束を破る

2001年9月25日午前8時10分発、AIR-DO (http://www.airdo.co.jp/)の東京行きの便に乗る私には、「足が伸ばせる非常口の席にして」のリクエストに対して、数回も「画面前の席はいかが?足のスペースは同じ」と不真実を述べて違う席に移動しようとした。私が日本国籍を取得し問題なくカウンタースタッフと日本語で交流したものの、スタッフは言語の問題があれば「外国人」を非常口席に座らせられないように言った。詳しくは和英でhttp://www.debito.org/airdomondai.html







ところが、もう一人の出席者、Anthony S. Collins氏は「2週間前にAIR-DOは同じことを私にした」と。


私はこれを聞くと、やむを得ずにこの客扱いはAIR-DOポリシーだと思って放置ができない決心した。よって、11月26日は運輸省((03) 5253-5533)に電話して改善を要請した。国路交通署航空局の沼田氏(内線48517)と明間(あけま)氏(内線48516)と上司、山野課長補佐の話し合う上、このポイントは明確になった:






2)しかも、この選別はAIR-DOのみ。私は我が国の他の航空会社国内線(JAL, JAS, ANA)に全部乗った経験がある。非常口席のリクエストに対してもれなく「非常の時お手伝いが必要であるかもしれないが、よろしい?」を言い、または何も言わない。私のみではなく、他の外国の友達はチェックインの際、カウンタースタッフから「非常口でもいいですか」と聞くケースもあった。しかしながら、AIR-DOについてコメントすると、ある外国人にとって評判が悪くて「AIR-DON'T」ともアナダる。



有道 出人

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