Since the end of August, the Cathay Pacific group has been dealing with a mysterious series of incidents in which emergency cabin crew oxygen bottles have been found either empty or partially empty. There have now been seven incidents in less than a month and in total 18 oxygen bottles have been found depleted. We know that one incident was caused by accident but what was happening to the other bottles remained a mystery.
These oxygen bottles are only meant to be used in an emergency and are specifically intended for crew use in a sudden decompression so that they can move around the cabin. Cathay Pacific has said that safety has never been compromised because the faulty oxygen bottles were found before departure and immediately replaced but that it was taking the incidents very seriously.
Along with Hong Kong’s civil aviation regulator, Cathay Pacific also called in the Hong Kong Police Force to investigate and it’s understood that China’s aviation watchdog was also taking a close interest in the inquiry. Last week, the airline confirmed that the cabin crew on every flight where damaged oxygen bottles were detected had been suspended while enquiries continued.
While some flight attendants have now been cleared to fly again, some remain grounded to “help with enquiries”. Since Friday, there’s been another incident, this time on an Airbus A330 aircraft operated by Cathay Dragon – the regional subsidiary of the Cathay Pacific Group.
Of 16 portable oxygen bottles stored on the plane, one was found to be in a low-pressure state during a routine inspection after it arrived in Hong Kong having just arrived from Kuala Lumpur as flight KA730. As has become customary, the entire cabin crew complement was immediately suspended.
But what’s different on this occasion is that two members of cabin crew have been sacked – the airline has not disclosed the reason for firing the pair but said the dismissals came as a result of the investigation into the oxygen bottle debacle. The Hong Kong Police Force is conducting a parallel investigation.
Obviously, this doesn’t necessarily mean that cabin crew have been deliberately emptying oxygen bottles – the working theory being that it is a form of protest against Cathay Pacific acquiescing to demands from the Chinese mainland. Instead, it could simply mean that the crew did not conduct their safety and security checks to the standard required by the airline.
In recent weeks, Cathay Pacific has imposed additional and enhanced security checks before, during and after every flight. Along with checking oxygen bottles and other emergency equipment, cabin crew are also expected to carry out checks of the lavatories every 30 minutes and to monitor passenger behaviour in-flight.
Insiders say morale at the airline is at an all-time low as Cathay moves to comply with stringent new regulations imposed by Beijing. Some cabin crew say they fear that every flight could be their last for fear of saying or doing something that will result in their dismissal.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.