Cathay Pacific is to give its employees near-unprecedented access to free Economy Class tickets on flights to 70 destinations across Asia in a bid to boost morale and as a way to reward staffers for “pulling through during the challenging period”. The period in question refers to increasingly violent anti-government protests in Cathay Pacific’s hometown of Hong Kong that have seen passenger numbers at the airline tumble over the last few months.
While many airline employees already have access to deeply discounted concessional flight tickets – known as ID90 tickets because they are sold at a 90% discount – Cathay’s promotion goes one step closer. Around 27,000 staff will only have to pay mandatory taxes during the five-month promotion period which started on Sunday and comes to a close on 28th March 2020.
According to Danny Lee at SCMP who first reported the deal, Cathay Pacific staffers will now be able to fly to a raft of destinations including popular Japenese cities like Tokyo for less than $100 USD. Meanwhile, flights to dream destinations such as the Maldives will set Cathay’s embattled employees back just $220 USD.
On Friday, an internal newsletter was sent to crew, telling them the promotion was being launched “in recognition of so many of you pulling through during the challenging period we are facing.” The newsletter continued: “This represents a meaningful saving on your leisure travel, and makes that well-earned break a real possibility.”
Tom Owen, Cathay’s head of human resources also told staff that he hoped the special discount would be seen as a “meaningful way to thank you all for your continuing commitment, professionalism and support.”
Morale at Cathay Pacific is said to have hit rock bottom after the airline was cowed by aviation regulators in mainland China who targeted the airline for not taking a firm stance against the protest movement. Cathay’s chief executive, Rupert Hogg and its longtime chairman John Slosar have both resigned in the wake of the controversy that has also hit frontline staffers hard.
Last month, the Cathay Pacific flight attendants union said its members felt “betrayed” and “deeply saddened” by the airline’s response to threats from Beijing. The union claimed an “increasing number” of flight attendants had been sacked without reason – which many employees feel is related to anti-government protests that has gripped the territory for months upon months.
Insiders who have spoken out on condition of anonymity have warned of plummeting morale amongst staff and a growing culture of fear in which employees think that every day at work could be their last should they say the wrong thing.
In a poll currently running on the union’s Facebook page 97% of over 1,200 participants said they didn’t think Cathay’s travel promotion was motivating.
But some analysts have even suggested the free flight deal is a way of boosting passenger numbers as regular travellers shy away from Hong Kong amid the ongoing protests. Last month, passenger numbers fell over 7 per cent in comparison to the same month in 2018. Load factor (which is a measure of how full a plane is) also fell by over 7 per cent to just 73.6 per cent.
Ronald Lam, the airline’s chief commercial officer warns that the airline is continuing to “see a significant shortfall in inbound bookings for the remainder of 2019.”
“This has been felt most strongly with bookings from mainland China and our other Asian markets. As previously announced, we are taking a number of short-term tactical measures to respond to this shortfall,” he said earlier this month.