A U.S. pilot has described in written testimony the conditions he faced in the same government-run quarantine facility in Hong Kong that a British Airways flight attendant described as being like a “concentration camp”. The pilot, who works for FedEx Express, was eventually “extracted” from the camp by U.S. officials after spending six days in solitary confinement in a small room.
The pilot spent New Year’s Eve in the quarantine camp after arriving in Hong Kong the day before for what should have been a routine overnight stay before operating a flight back to the United States. Instead, the pilot found himself locked up for six days while U.S. government officials worked to secure his release.
Although the pilot repeatedly tested negative for COVID-19, one of his colleagues had tested positive and he was therefore classed as a ‘close contact’. Under Hong Kong’s strict virus prevention rules, close contacts must spend 14-days in isolation in a government-approved camp.
Rather than being allowed to remain in quarantine in his hotel room, the pilot described officials dressed in ‘space suits’ turning up at his hotel and telling him in “raised voices” that he would be transferred to the notorious Penny Bay quarantine camp.
“I arrived at Penny’s Bat at about 1:00 am on December 31 to find a very large facility of two-story blocks of motel-style building, surrounded by high fencing with gates for vehicles, guard shacks, bright outdoor stadium-like lighting, and constant patrols along the perimeter by PPE-clad person, who I assumed were security personnel,” the pilot wrote in a written answer to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
“My small room included a one-person bed, about 5 feet long, made of two pieces of plywood and a thin mattress, a compact modular bathroom (all of which became a shower stall), a cement floor, and limited hot water, only enough for a daily 5-minute shower, and none at the sink tap.”
“The room was drafty, but the heat supply was adequate. I had edible food for sustenance but poor to zero wi-fi,” the testimony continued.
The pilot described being served food through a window and staff who tried to force him to replace his mobile phone SIM card with one their own.
Captain Joseph DePete, president of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) which represents FedEx Express pilots, wrote directly to FedEx chairman and chief executive Frederick Smith last week urging him to suspend all layovers in Hong Kong because of the conditions that pilots faced in the Chinese territory.
He described other pilots who had been forced to spend their layovers in cubicle-style rooms with hundreds of ‘patients’ in a makeshift hospital set up in an exhibition center with only communal bathrooms. Others were subjected to blood tests and chest x-rays.
FedEx Express recently moved some Hong Kong-based pilots out of the city temporarily because of new quarantine rules that require aircrew who normally live in the territory to spend 14-days in hotel quarantine whenever they arrive back from a foreign layover.
“Our union appreciates that FedEx Express management is engaged to support crewmembers and their families regarding new quarantine requirements for Hong Kong-based crews; however, these working conditions are wholly unacceptable,” wrote Captain DePete.
“As a result, immediate action must be taken to protect the health and safety of FedEx Express flight crews,” he continued.
ALPA is currently resisting the renewal of a codeshare agreement between Cathay Pacific and American Airlines, arguing that the draconian quarantine rules benefit the Hong Kong-based carrier – specifically citing an exemption for cargo pilots flying to Anchorage in Alaska which is only available to Hong Kong crew.
Ultimately, the pilot who who spent six days in the Penny’s Bay quarantine camp was released but only after being driven straight to the airport “in a convoy of several vans as if I were a criminal to be extradited”.
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.