Hong Kong's Dragonair refused to allow worshippers of the sea goddess Matsu to set a statue of the deity on a devotee's lap during a flight from Hong Kong to Taiwan, telling them to buy the idol a ticket instead. The offended devotees chose to put the statue in an overhead luggage compartment instead.
The director of Yunlin County's Chaotian Temple (朝天宮), Su Jung-chuan (蘇榮泉), complained on Monday that Matsu is highly respected by believers on both sides of the Taiwan Strait and that in the past airlines had provided the statue of Matsu with a free seat. In one case she was even allowed to ride first class on EVA Airlines.
Dragonair general manager Hsu Kuei-ping (
Dragonair told the temple group to buy a separate ticket for the idol while they were transferring planes in Hong Kong. The group considered not boarding the plane in protest, but reluctantly decided to lay the statue of Matsu in an overhead luggage compartment. Su said that he hoped the temple's board of directors would not fly with Dragonair in future.
Other airlines have officially adopted similar policies regarding idols as Dragonair. China Airlines, for example, allows smaller idols (about 40cm tall and no more than 75kg) to sit on passengers' laps, but says that in general the best policy is to buy an extra ticket for any large object a passenger does not want in the overhead bin, be they guitars or goddesses.
EVA Airlines stated that while they have provided free seating to idols of deities when there are empty seats, such generosity is not the standard procedure.