‘It was edited’: Tony Fernandes defends AirAsia from sexism allegations after F-bomb incident with Thai CEO

Fernandes said that the company is committed to promoting diversity and supporting its female employees. — Reuters pic
Fernandes said that the company is committed to promoting diversity and supporting its female employees. — Reuters pic

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KUALA LUMPUR, July 28 — AirAsia Group boss Tan Sri Tony Fernandes has defended the airline against sexism allegations after a video of its Thailand chief executive officer (CEO) Tassapon Bijleveld cursing at a female colleague went viral.

During the virtual launch of his podcast Talks With Tony today, Fernandes addressed the elephant in the room and said that AirAsia has a long track record of uplifting women in their careers.

He admitted that Bijleveld’s conduct was “appalling” but sympathised with his position of having to run an airline during a pandemic that has ravaged the aviation industry.

“It was appalling behaviour from a great leader, to be honest, who slipped up.

“He’s under a lot of pressure and people don’t realise what it’s like to run an airline when all your planes are on the ground, you’ve had to lay off people, and you’re struggling to keep things alive.

“People respond to pressure in different ways but it’s inexcusable. It could’ve been a woman, it could’ve been a man that (Bijleveld) abused,” said Fernandes.

The airline tycoon added that AirAsia’s board of directors is addressing the incident and will listen to both sides before deciding what action to take against Bijleveld.

Fernandes also believes that the viral clip of Bijleveld dropping the F-bomb and telling a female colleague to “shut up” had been deliberately edited to smear AirAsia’s reputation.

Fernandes said the video didn’t include Bijleveld giving him the same treatment during the call by constantly interjecting him, thus creating the impression that he only acted that way towards women.

“It didn’t have (Bijleveld) abusing me as well, by constantly interrupting me. I was shocked.

“Secondly, (the video didn’t show) me trying to calm him down and defend our Thai staff who happened to be a woman.

“Thirdly, what wasn’t shown was me calling our staff to remove (Bijleveld) from the call.”

Fernandes emphasised that AirAsia is committed to upholding diversity and listed off examples of the company supporting its female employees.

This includes AirAsia being the first airline in the Asean region to hire a female pilot in 2009 and increasing the percentage of women in management positions from 15 per cent in 2019 to 24 per cent in 2021.

The controversy with Bijleveld erupted earlier this week after a video of him swearing at a female colleague and berating her during a virtual town hall meeting made the rounds online.

“What’s your f***ing question? Come on. What’s your question? Come on, don’t talk a lot,” said Bijleveld in the clip.

The female employee in question is a senior manager at AirAsia’s logistics arm Teleport and was answering a question about the airline’s acquisition of Gojek Thailand when Bijleveld interrupted her.

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