Cabin crew at Cathay Pacific have stolen “untold hundred of millions” worth of property belonging to the Hong Kong-based airline according to sources quoted by the South China Morning Post. The story has blown up and apparently “sent shock waves through the cabin crew community” after the airline started a ‘zero-tolerance’ campaign against light-fingered flight attendants.
Private security personnel hired by Cathay Pacific have been randomly searching cabin crew on arrival back in Hong Kong over the last few days and six members of crew – a mixture of senior and inexperienced cabin crew – have been suspended after company property was found in their bags.
According to the newspaper, petty theft has long been considered an unofficial perk – everything from pens, spare amenity kits, cutlery and wine glasses to expensive bottles of Champagne and even bread have been regularly swiped by cabin crew. Sources claim the most popular item are small pots of Häagen-Dazs ice cream and even suggest some crew have freezers “packed” with the product at home.
Some of the theft has been justified because cabin crew are under the impression that anything left over at the end of the flight is going to go to waste. This especially applies to food waste that would otherwise be thrown out – although does rather ignore tough customs laws that require food waste from international destinations be incinerated.
Both Cathay Pacific and the flight attendants union confirmed that random inspections were taking place. A spokesperson for the airline said of the inspections:
“In view of an increasing number of reported losses of company property, we have informed our cabin crew that random inspections will be carried out.”
“We are dealing with cases in a fair and reasonable manner in accordance with standard internal procedure,” the spokesperson continued.
Meanwhile, Vera Wu Yee-mei of the Cathay Pacific Flight Attendants Union supported the move but questioned the methods, calling on independent witnesses to be allowed to watch the searches take place. The union has asked for first-time offenders to receive a warning rather than face tougher disciplinary action.
Cathay’s manager of inflight services, Ed Higgs said the zero-tolerance policy applied to all property irrespective of the value.
It’s highly likely the policy has been introduced as a new cost-cutting measure. In 2018, Cathay Pacific made a profit USD $293 million after three years of heavy losses. But Cathay’s chairman, John Slosar has warned of continuing headwinds with competition as intense as ever, fuel prices increasing and overcapacity putting pressure on yields.
Much of what flight attendants have been stealing could easily be reused on future flights.
Is Cathay Pacific alone?
Most definitely not. That’s not to say that flight attendants are a dishonest bunch but crew at many airlines consider this type of petty theft a ‘perk’ – whether that be taking a bottle of water, a pen or dental kit from a Business Class amenity kit or even sweets, chocolate or other treats that would otherwise go to waste.
We’ve even heard of some crew putting spare passenger meals to one side before they are cooked so that they can take them home at the end of the flight for dinner.
But theft of expensive Champagnes or wines is much less common, although it does happen from time to time. Cabin crew most definitely know that’s wrong and there’s unlikely to be any sympathy for an offender who gets caught trying to pilfer a bottle of bubbly.
But the extent of petty theft by cabin crew really does depend on how much an airline tolerates it (or is able to track loading and waste data). At some airlines, routine searches are a way of life and cabin crew know not to have any company-branded products on them. Other carriers are far more relaxed, while at others there’s always the possibility of bribing security staff when caught!