Maskless foreigners on flight from Bali panned over ‘privilege’

The incident took place on Citilink flight QG 634 headed to Labuan Bajo from Denpasar. Photo: Twitter/@KSwazey
The incident took place on Citilink flight QG 634 headed to Labuan Bajo from Denpasar. Photo: Twitter/@KSwazey

The issue of privilege resurfaced on Indonesian Twitter over the weekend, after one user showed a photo of foreigners without masks when boarding a Citilink flight from Denpasar. 

The post, which has gone viral recently, alleged that airline hostesses kept quiet despite the apparent violation of COVID-19 protocol. 

“Another flight from Bali, another scene of bule (foreigners) free and allowed to enter the airplane without masks, the air hostess just stayed quiet and didn’t say anything to them @Citilink,” user Kelli Swazey, who is also a foreign national, tweeted on Saturday morning.

“The plane is only half-full, passengers are forced to sit closer at the back row with no social distancing while the seats at the front remain empty,” she said in a follow-up tweet. 

The tweet quickly gained traction, garnering nearly 7,000 retweets and over 18,000 likes at the time of writing. People were dismayed by the blatant disregard for basic health protocols amid an ongoing pandemic, which also called to mind the fact that foreigners make up the majority of mask rule violators in Bali’s Badung regency.

Kelli told Coconuts that after airing her grievances on Twitter, Citilink only gave her “the standard sorry for bad service reply.” Meanwhile, the airline has responded to the controversy by issuing a statement that said the flight crew of that particular flight, QG 634 headed to Labuan Bajo from Denpasar, did personally reprimand the passengers without masks. 

“After they were reprimanded, the passengers who did not use masks put them back on again,” said Resty Kusandarina, a spokeswoman from Citilink, adding that the mask requirement during the flight was also announced in both English and Indonesian and that the airline enforces strict health protocols throughout its entire operation. 

Yet a photo speaks a thousand words and people’s testimonies also carry weight. Replies to the viral tweet show that other Indonesians also witnessed something similar on flights they have taken during the pandemic, although they are not necessarily flights with that same airline. Kelli also took to Twitter last December to complain about a foreigner who was allowed onboard despite refusing to wear a mask on an AirAsia flight.

Across the province, particularly in places popular among foreigners such as Ubud and Canggu, foreigners without masks are a pretty common sight throughout the pandemic. Many restaurants, cafés, and clubs have also gotten flak for failing to maintain health protocols, with the leniency appearing to have been disproportionately granted for non-Indonesians. 

In December, the chief of Badung regency’s Public Order Agency (Satpol PP) I Gusti Agung Ketut Suryanegara acknowledged the many health protocol violations happening across his jurisdiction, but said that a place going viral on social media is a key consideration to closing it down.

There’s certainly an issue in enforcing health protocols throughout Indonesia, but evidence suggests that foreigners (especially in Bali) brush them off time and time again, and face little to no consequence. As such, many Twitter users commented how this is white privilege at play.

“Racism and white privilege are a serious problem in healthcare responses to the COVID-19 virus worldwide,” Kelli, formerly a lecturer at the Center for Religious and Cross-cultural Studies at Gadjah Mada University (UGM), said.

“Letting one group of people bend the rules because of their privileged position as foreign tourists only hampers efforts to get the virus under control, and therefore is detrimental for everyone, local and foreigners alike.” 

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