The Hong Kong government announced on Friday that it would push ahead with plans to make pilots and flight attendants arriving in the territory from any other country apart from China quarantine for 14-days in secure hotels. Local carrier Cathay Pacific had pleaded with the government not to impose the tough new isolation rules, but a government spokesperson said it was calling on “the (airline) industry to join our concerted efforts to fight the virus”.
Under the new rules which are set to come into force on February 20, local flight attendants must quarantine in a designated quarantine hotel for 14-days before being allowed to return home. They will also be subject to COVID-19 testing on their 12th day of quarantine, as well as days 15, 19, and 20 after their arrival in Hong Kong.
Only after they have tested negative on all four tests will they then be allowed to operate a flight again. The effect will be that flight attendants and pilots will only be allowed to operate one long-haul flight per month. Cathay Pacific has warned that it might have to slash its already decimated schedule by a further 60 per cent to reduce costs and pressure on crew once the rules come into effect.
There will, however, be an exemption for pilots who operate freighter flights between Hong Kong and Anchorage – a major cargo hub located in Alaska which is a popular point of entry and exit for goods coming and going from the United States. The exemption will only apply if pilots self-isolate in specially designated hotels during their layovers.
Cathay Pacific had previously warned that the quarantine rules would force it to slash its dedicated cargo operation by up to quarter. The limited exemption may help the airline reduce its predicted cash burn of HK$300-$400 million per month.
Most foreign cabin crew will be allowed to continue self-isolating in a designated hotel until their next flight. However, aircrew who have been in so-called ‘Group A’ high-risk locations including Brazil, Ireland, South Africa and the United Kingdom will be subject to a mandatory 21-day quarantine with tests conducted on days 12, 19 and 20.
The isolation period cannot be broken to travel to the airport to operate a return flight.
The new rules apply to crew members who have “stayed” in a foreign country which does open up the possibility for Cathay Pacific to operate ‘turnaround’ flights in which pilots and flight attendants don’t get off the aircraft after a long-haul flight and return straight home. Hong Kong’s civil aviation regulator would have to green light exemptions to existing fatigue rules to make this possible.
Cathay Pacific and other airlines will be attending a meeting with the Hong Kong government on Monday to hammer the finer details of the new rules.
“The Government understands the impact on airlines’ and shipping companies’ operations, and that on air crew and sea crew members to be brought about by the new arrangements,” a spokesperson said on Friday.
“We will adjust the relevant arrangements in accordance with the development of the epidemic without prejudice to safeguard public health so as to maintain Hong Kong’s status as an international aviation and maritime hub,” a government statement continued.
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 used by some of the biggest names in journalism.