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FACT CHECK: Baggage handlers filmed hurling luggage are not Korean

Chanapat Komlongharn

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FACT CHECK: Baggage handlers filmed hurling luggage are not Korean
A viral TikTok video shows an old clip of baggage handlers at a Melbourne airport. It was posted amid recent controversies involving Thai tourists frequently being denied entry into South Korea.

Claim: A video shows Korean airport staff mishandling and slamming baggage onto a conveyor belt.

Rating: FALSE 

Why we fact-checked this: The claim can be found in a TikTok video uploaded on October 28 by a Thai user. As of writing, it has 1.5 million views, 46,500 likes, and 244 comments.

The 26-second video is titled “How to call this kind of behavior in our home country?” in Thai and includes the hashtags #แบนเกาหลี (#BanKorea), and #คนเกาหลี (KoreanPeople).

The video is divided into two parts. The first part features a clip of airport staff, claimed to be Japanese, using a pad to prevent luggage from being damaged as it moves onto a belt. The second clip shows the alleged Korean baggage handlers slamming luggage onto a conveyor belt, and later shows pictures of damaged luggage.

The video also has the text “Let’s travel to Japan” and “Korean [airport] staff’s behavior is indescribable.” 

TikTok user userenglish9, which has 8,682 followers, posted the video. The user’s content also features two more videos related to recent online disputes between Thai and Korean social media users. 

The facts: The second part of the video does not show Korean airport staff. They are baggage handlers of Qantas subcontractor Swissport, and the incident occurred at Melbourne airport in Australia in 2022, as reported by The Guardian. The sign “AKE” seen in the video is a reference to a Qantas-branded luggage container.

The 2022 video was originally posted by TikTok user RexRoss79 and included the hashtags #qantas and #melbourneairport.

Swissport confirmed that its staff was involved in the viral incident and denounced the actions of the baggage handlers. In a December 2022 interview with 7News Australia, Stephen Thompson, Qantas’ executive manager of Australian sales, said the workers would “never touch a Qantas aircraft again.” Two of the baggage handlers were later sacked.

Dispute between Thai-Korean netizens: The misleading TikTok video was posted in October 2023 amid disputes between Thai and Korean social media users over alleged discrimination toward Thai tourists by Korean immigration officials.

In November, the hashtag #BanKorea trended on X in Thailand as social media users shared stories of being denied entry into South Korea and immigration officials displaying rudeness towards Thai travelers. Some Thai users expressed a preference to travel to countries like Japan, which also offers visa-free travel for Thais, to avoid the risk of deportation and incurring losses in travel expenses.

Some social media users speculate that the denial of entry stems from the issue of undocumented Thai workers in South Korea, commonly referred to as “Phi Noi” (little ghosts), which has been a longstanding problem between the two countries. 

An estimated 150,000 Thais work illegally in South Korea, constituting one-third of illegal workers in the country, according to the Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn Anthropology Centre in Thailand.

The misleading TikTok video appears to be hate-driven content, aiming to exacerbate tensions between the two countries regarding this issue. – Rappler.com

Chanapat Komlongharn is a #FactsMatter Journalism Fellow for 2023-2024

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