The photo was first posted by the unidentified woman on Weibo, a Chinese microblogging website similar to Twitter. It was identified by a Chinese aviation blogger on Sunday. The woman is seen making the V-sign with her fingers in the photo. Some media reports have claimed that the woman in the photo is in a romantic relationship with the pilot, but this has not been confirmed. Chinese state outlet People’s Daily has attested that the woman is a student at the Guilin Tourism University and is in training to be a flight attendant.
— Global Times (@globaltimesnews) November 4, 2019
The original photo has since been taken down.
In a statement Monday, the airline confirmed that the incident took place on January 4 on a flight from the Chinese city of Guilin to Yangzhou in China’s Jiangsu province. The statement added that the pilot, whose name was not revealed, has been grounded for violating aviation guidelines. In addition, several members of the flight crew have been fired in relation to the incident, although it is not clear what their roles were in it.
"We will enhance our rigorous safety guidelines, to avoid incidents like this from happening again," the statement also noted.
Zhang Qihuai, deputy head of the Chinese Aviation Law Association, told the Global Times that the woman will face five days of detention in addition to a $284 fine.
“Aviation safety comes first. No one can be careless, let alone break the law,” Zhang commented. The Global Times reported that the pilot has been suspended from flying for life. However, it’s unclear if that means that the pilot is suspended from flying with Air Guilin or all airlines.
According to travel blog One Mile At a Time, most if not all airlines have rules against passengers visiting the cockpit due to safety reasons, especially following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The US Federal Aviation Agency has had a “sterile cockpit” rule since 1981 that bans pilots from participating in any distracting behavior during important parts of the flight, including take-off and landing.