BEIJING – A video of United Airlines staff forcibly removing a Chinese-American passenger from an overbooked flight in Chicago on Sunday has been viewed by more than 120 million users in China.

The video sparked outrage across Chinese social media as the airlines’ decision to evict the passenger from the domestic flight was condemned as “racial discrimination”.

The 69-year-old Chinese-American doctor was seen being pulled by police officers from his window seat and dragged down the aisle on a plane set to fly to Kentucky in mobile phone footage posted on social media on Sunday night. The passenger was shown later with blood on his face.

By Tuesday afternoon, more than 120 million users on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, had viewed #UnitedForcesPassengerOffPlane posts, making it one of the site’s hottest topics.

On Wechat, the popular Chinese social media platform, articles about the incident circulated widely with headlines such as “because he chose United Airlines, he was beaten and dragged off the plane, with blood over his face”.

Among the most popular Weibo posts was from Chinese-American comedian Joe Wong, who spoke out in support of the assaulted passenger.

“Many Chinese people feel they are racially discriminated against but don’t speak out for fear of losing face, causing Western mainstream media and the public to not take discrimination against Asians seriously,” he said.

Another Weibo user, Qian Qian, commented: “If you beat your customers, we will thrash your reputation and your market share around the world, until we hear a sincere apology from your bleeding mouth.”

United Airlines’ corporate slogan is “Fly the Friendly Skies”, which one Weibo commentator noted was “pretty ironic”.

Calls to boycott the US airline have been rising among Chinese online users.

The airline last year celebrated its 30th anniversary of flights to China, but the incident is likely to upset its ambition to attract more Chinese passengers.

“At United, we want to be the airline that our Chinese customers choose first,” the airline’s director of sales for Eastern China, Eliza Lin, said in a statement in March last year.

In the incident, the passenger protested that he was on his way to treat patients in Louisville, Kentucky, and that the company’s decision to kick him off the plane along with three others was due to his race.

“He said, more or less, ‘I’m being selected because I’m Chinese’”, bystander Tyler Bridges told the Washington Post.

United Airlines chief executive Oscar Munoz said on Twitter that the incident was “upsetting”. One of the security officers involved in the incident has been placed on administrative leave for not following protocol, and an investigation is pending, the Chicago Department of Aviation said in a statement.

The incident was widely criticised in US media and also sparked outrage among American users of Twitter and other social media. – South China Morning Post